Nike Golf's Ignite Drivers and ONE Golf Balls - Tiger's Wisdom to Pro Shop Shelves

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Images Courtesy of Nike Golf


Nike Golf's Website

BEAVERTON, OR – Robots.  Science fiction writers love ‘em, consumer products manufacturers depend on ‘em, and Arnold Schwarzenegger made an acting career (political career?) out of playing one.


Maybe it’s because of their ‘human’ quality that robots are so mysterious – or maybe it’s because they can do things that us ‘normal’ folks can’t.  Both in fiction and in fact, they’re able to achieve a level of performance that others can’t duplicate – we can’t build x number of widgets in an hour like a robot, and we can’t withstand the physical punishments that a ‘manufactured’ person can.  Thank God for crash-test dummies.


Tiger Woods and the Ignite Driver.

Or maybe we’re just selling ourselves short.


Nike Golf’s got a golfer who’s able to hone things down to the narrowest of imperfections, and he’s able to tell how he feels when he’s trying out the concept as well.  ‘Iron Byron’ might be able to hit balls in a thousand different ways, but even the famous club testing machine can’t verbalize how he’s done it, and the robot can’t spit out anything more telling than numerical data.


But Tiger Woods can, and he’s helped in creating a wealth of products for the relatively new-on-the-scenes golf manufacturer (including the Ignite Driver and ONE Golf Balls, which we discuss below).


Comparing Tiger to a robot really isn’t fair, though there’ve been times when his performance was nearly void of imperfections (how about the 2000 US Open, where he won by fifteen shots?).  Woods has proven more ‘human’ in the recent times, and this season lost his hold on the world number one ranking.  But that doesn’t mean he’s surrendered the game’s best talent – or the ability to use it to help average players out.

Nike Ignite 460cc.


Tom Stites, Nike Golf’s Director of Product Creation, Clubs, says having Tiger around to do product testing adds an element that just can’t be garnered from our robotic creations in the cyber world:  “What’s really unique and wonderful about working with Tiger is the fact he’s capable of adapting his performance to a lot of different test conditions, and we can get instant feedback from him on what he feels.”


Nike’s paid tens of millions for those feelings, but you’ve got to think it’s been worth it in the promotional value alone – having the world’s most recognizable athlete as a spokesman as well as technical consultant.


Stites continues, “Tiger’s got a lot of friends who certainly don’t play at his level, people he just likes to hang out with and have fun (ed:  Charles Barkley come to mind?).  So he tests equipment and has equipment there that they can use and play, and he can simulate and give us immediate thoughts on it – so we can make decisions for his amateur buddies or his wife.  He knows what equipment works for him, but he also understands what could work for other people.”


Nike ONE Black.

That’s not to say Nike doesn’t use the traditional electronic gizmos as well.  Stites says they also have an Iron Byron machine and telemetry equipment where they hit balls and determine the spin rate and gather telemetry data – and they know if a ball was struck in a certain way, and how it reacts… in the empirical sense.


Stites says they use Tiger’s talents in much the same way.  “We put all the instrumentation on the club and the ball, and he hits it exactly where we tell him to, and he shares with us what it felt like.  It’s a big learning tool we can use in developing the products in the future for the average golfer.”


One of those products is the Ignite Driver, even though the touring pros employ it as well.  The Ignite’s been out for a full season now, and the results have been pretty telling – most of Nike’s Tour staff, including Tiger, have put it in their bags, and several wins have followed on all the major professional circuits.


My Ignite driver is the big boy, the 460cc model (it’s also available in the slightly more down to earth size of 410cc).  There are several 460cc drivers on the market these days, and Nike’s version offers NexTi titanium and ‘Around the Crown’ construction.  NexTi, according to Stites, is the hottest and strongest titanium ever created.

Tom Stites, the man behind Nike Golf's Golf Clubs.


‘Around the Crown’ construction essentially delivers a larger sweet spot – the type of forgiveness we all need off the tee.  The clubface is massive, and even the weakest player should at least get some decent contact with it.


Great players like it too.  “The Ignite is the first time in Tiger’s professional history that he’s got some real serious technology in his driver,” Stites said.  “It’s bigger than anything he’s ever used – it’s faster and has a hotter face.  It’s got a different weight distribution than anything he’s ever played.”


And the beauty is, again, Tiger helped develop it.  That’s where the ‘trickle-down’ benefits aid the average consumer – everyone can use it.  Stites and the scientists do the rest.


Nike's Ignite Metal Woods line includes fairway woods.

Here’s an example of how Tiger’s special gifts did it:  “We were testing the Ignite and I needed to find out how the club performs when hit in different ways – so we took a little sharpy pen and made dots on nine different locations on the clubface,”  Stites said.


“I asked him to hit it in each spot, and he smudged the dots perfectly so you could tell he’d hit them.  We were able to record what the ball did when hit in each location.  We literally just tracked all around the face of the club, the same way I would use an Iron Byron machine, by making minor adjustments between each swing.  He was able to compensate for the differences – it was amazing,” Stites added.


Maybe someday they’ll develop an ‘Iron Tiger’ robot.  You never know, but it might not be as precise.


Tiger’s expertise hasn’t just been devoted to Nike’s golf clubs.  Tiger was also instrumental in developing the company’s premium golf balls, the ONE Gold and ONE Black.

Nike's ONE Gold -- 4 pieces, three covers.


Rock Ishii is the Director of Product Creation for Nike Golf, and like Stites, said Tiger was the man – or more appropriately, the ONE for the golf ball:  “Tiger was very involved in creating the ONE balls.  He told us everything he was looking for in a ball and ‘sophisticated’ is the best way to describe it (he plays the ONE Gold).  We took his suggestions, and gave it a rocket engine for a core – that’s why both the ONE Black and Gold deliver such incredible distance.”


Product specialization seems to be the norm these days, and it wasn’t enough for Nike to stick with the single ONE ball it initially introduced last year (2003).  According to Ishii, the ONE Gold is the industry’s first and only 4-piece construction premium ball with three covers designed to optimize ball performance throughout the bag – complete ball performance from tee to green.


The ONE Black maximizes distance off the tee with its oversized Neodymium catalyzed core (yes, this is Ishii describing it again) and exclusive penetrating 408-dimple pattern, which reduces spin off the driver to improve flight performance, optimize trajectory and maximize roll.


Nike Ignite's 'Around the Crown' construction.

Tiger uses the ONE Gold version, but Ishii says 90% of golfers will probably use the Black, seeking to take advantage of the distance the ball promises.  The main difference between the Gold and the original ONE ball is they added Neodymium to the Polybutadene core to create higher energy repulsion characteristics (ie, more distance performance).


And you thought you left all this stuff back in chemistry class.


But everyone’s looking for more distance, and Ishii says the ONE balls deliver:  “Our ONE balls add more distance because of the quality of our materials and technological advancements.  Nike uses advanced core materials specifically formulated to increase the repulsion forces needed to maximize initial velocity and distance performance.  The more responsive the ball is off the club face and the more you can minimize energy loss after the ball compresses, the greater ability you have to maximize distance.”


“Another part of the equation is aerodynamics.  In order to take advantage of what our technology offers off the driver, it’s critical to generate appropriate ball spin rates – and maintain those rates through the apex of the ball’s flight.  That will get the greatest amount of roll when it lands, otherwise it’ll just drop straight out of the sky and come to rest a few yards from where it landed,” Ishii lectured.

Nike ONE Gold.


Trying out the Ignite driver and the ONE balls, I’ve found that there’s proof in the pudding – or in this case, Tiger’s expertise and Stites’ and Ishii’s research.


The huge head on the Ignite took some getting used to, but I found it very forgiving in general.  It’s certainly a matter of personal preference with drivers, but I personally would choose the smaller head if I had to do it over again.  Swinging 460cc’s through space is a bit of a chore – that’s a lotta volume at the end of the shaft.  Distance and accuracy I estimated as comparable to other high-end drivers.


The ONE balls also delivered on the promises – solid distance and feel.  There’s a noticeable difference between the less expensive two-piece balls and the top of the line choices (like the ONE balls), in virtually all brands.  Whether it’s worth it for the average player to spend the extra money to ‘upgrade’ to the premium golf balls -- that’s a choice you’ll need to make.  But it also seems clear that the most consistent performance will only come with choosing one ball, playing it in all circumstances, and sticking with it.


The Ignite's looks are 'hot,' too.

The way I’d explain the difference between the ‘cheap’ balls and the premium versions – the premium balls fly just as far off the tee, but their higher rates of spin around the greens will help you stop it on the green – dial in those yardages with your short irons and shoot for the pins.


As with all products manufacturers, I’d recommend trying the Ignite driver and the ONE golf balls – to see if you prefer them to the others.  I’d also recommend a fitting by your local pro to put you in the correct shaft for your individual specifications.  He or she might also be able to recommend the right golf ball for your game.


That’s a helpful hint, because Tiger can’t do everything for you – but he’ll certainly put the effort into trying.  


Nike Golf’s Ignite Drivers and ONE Gold and Black Golf Balls


Available at your higher-end golf retailers and club pro shops.


Check out more information about Nike Golf products at:  Like you’d expect from Nike, the website puts on a good show, too.

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