How much tech do you need in a wedge?
Not want. Need.
I’m not talking sole grinds, face milling or groove depth. I'm talking your Cup Face/Core-Eye/Power Holes type technology.
For many golfers, the answer is “very little.”
The Big 3 in Wedge World - Vokey, Cleveland, and Callaway - all have unique grinds and milling, but the big tech advancement over the past several years is little more than easing the center of gravity away from the heel and more towards the center of the clubface. Cleveland’s CBX wedges feature some imaginative game improvement technology, but by and large, the wedge may be the lowest-tech club in your bag.
And Bridgestone’s new wedge, the Tour B XW-1, isn’t going to change that.
Keep It Simple Bridgestone
Bridgestone is all in on the Tour B moniker. Last year’s iron/metal wood release introduced the Tour B name, and this fall Bridgestone mothballed the popular B330 ball name and replaced it with Tour B. The release of this new wedge suggests all Bridgestone clubs will carry the Tour B name moving forward.
“The Tour B player is, to us, someone who’s serious about their game,” says Zack Kupperbusch, Bridgestone’s Golf Club Marketing Manager. “They want the best of the best, and they’re going to actively seek out what’s best for their game.”
The new Tour B XW-1 replaces the very underrated J15 wedge in Bridgestone’s lineup. Like the rest of the Tour B lineup, it’s very much aimed at the better player, albeit a better player who doesn’t want to get bogged down with too many choices. The XW-1 features a classic teardrop head shape with only one sole grind and only one bounce option per loft. The biggest decision you’ll have to make is between Satin Chrome and Black Oxide.
It is, to be sure, a low-tech wedge.
“I thank that’s fair to say. The main difference you’re going to see with the XW-1, compared to the J15, is the sole grind. The J15 had what we called the Sure Contact Sole, with increased heel relief. The XW-1 has what we call the Tour Grind Sole, with both heel and toe relief, with leads to a lot more versatility and playability.” Zack Kupperbusch, Bridgestone Golf
The XW-1 does feature more evolved face micro-milling compared to the J15. Cleveland, of course, has been aggressively micro-milling for years, but the J14 was Bridgestone’s first face milled wedge. Kupperbusch says the XW-1 is upping the ante with four parallel lines micro-milled between the grooves.
“The idea was to rough up the face for extra friction and increased spin. There were some patterns on the J15, but it wasn’t really noticeable. With this wedge, we designed more of a parallel pattern.”
As with the Tour B X-blades and X-CB irons, the XW-1 wedge is what Bridgestone is calling a premium Japanese forging. Forged wedges aren’t all that uncommon – Mizuno’s wedges, of course, are forged, as are the Callaway Mack Daddy, the Hogan TK 15 and others. Heck, I played a “forged” wedge from Hippo about five years ago (although I’m not sure it would fall under the heading of premium).
Bridgestone’s forgings are as premium as it gets, and the XW-1 is no different. Although feel is a vague and subjective category, eight late-season rounds show the XW-1 to be crisp, soft and responsive, pretty much what you’d expect from a premium, Japanese-forged club.
“It’s 1025 construction, so it’s a softer forging,” says Kupperbusch. “It gives a really crisp feel and some really good feedback when you hit it.”
A key design element with the XW-1 is the hexagonal, B-stamped mass behind the impact area, which Bridgestone calls Forged Mass Construction. The Tour B X-Blades and X-CB irons feature the same technology, which is essentially extra mass right at the sweet spot to create a more solid feel.
Low tech, but hey, it's a wedge.
Performance & Price
You’ll no doubt see the XW-1 included in MyGolfSpy’s Most Wanted 2018 Wedge testing. My own experience this fall shows a wedge that, while it doesn’t necessarily stand out in any way (forged feel may be the one exception), it certainly doesn’t come up short in any way, either. If you like Vokey’s, Mack Daddies, RTX’s or Glides, the XW-1 certainly belongs in the conversation performance-wise.
Price-wise the XW-1 is, depending on your perspective, either in the sweet spot or no-man’s land between forged and non-forged wedges. I know, I know, wedges shouldn’t cost what they do, but the fact is that they do cost what they do, and Bridgestone's pricing strategy is to split the difference.
The XW-1 is a relative bargain for a forged wedge at $139.99, compared to Mizuno’s T7/S18 or Callaway’s Forged Mack Daddy at $149.99. Hogan’s TK 15 at $95 is, of course, the outlier. For the most part, non-forged wedges are in the $119-$129 ranges, with the PING Glide 2.0 ($139.99) and the Vokey SM-6 ($149.99) as outliers.
The XW-1 is available in two finishes – Satin Chrome and Black Oxide. Before you ask, it’s only been eight rounds and some practice sessions, but so far, so good for the Black Oxide finish – it’s holding up very nicely with no wear on either the face or the sole. The stock shaft is the DG Spinner, with a black on black New Decade Multi-Compound stock grip. And sorry lefties - at this time the XW-1 is for RH only.
As mentioned earlier, the XW-1 keeps your options simple. It's available in 5 lofts (in 2-degree increments, from 50 to 60), but only one bounce per wedge. It goes on sale January 3rd anywhere Bridgestone clubs are sold, and this is where it gets interesting.
Changing Retail Options
Bridgestone’s presence in the equipment market is, to put it kindly, largely theoretical. Last year, the company made a conscious decision to sell its Tour B irons and metal woods exclusively through a network of club fitters. Considering Bridgestone’s standard retail presence and its desire to promote the Tour B line as both exclusive and premium, this was a smart move.
But the times they are a-changing. Kupperbusch says that while Tour B irons and metal woods won’t be stocked at your favorite retailer, they will now be able to order them for you if you want. And if you venture over to Bridgestone’s website, you’ll see the entire Tour B line available online, too.
“We’re aware of our position as a club company,” says Kupperbusch. “We’re a ‘challenger’ brand. Right now we’re focusing on letting the world know we have high-end Japanese forgings and technology is a solid package.”
If you want to demo Tour B irons or metal woods, you’ll still have to visit one of their designated fitters. That said, the XW-1 wedges will be available through fitters, online and at retail.
To be a player in the equipment end of the business, Bridgestone faces an uphill – some would say impossible – battle. It’s ridiculous to think the company is trying to compete with Titleist, Callaway or TaylorMade for your golfing dollars – it clearly isn’t. Bridgestone is one of many challenger brands and has a realistic view of where it is, and where it can go in the short term.
“It’s so hard to crack into that market without investing in all the demo carts and fitting carts,” says Kupperbusch. “We did that with the premium Tour B, but we are going to put some advertising behind it. We’re still a golf ball company, and that pays the bills. But we believe to be a complete golf company you have to have a share in clubs, and that’s what we’re working towards.”
“It’s amazing to me, once a week I hear about a guy who hit our clubs and says ‘I didn’t know Bridgestone made clubs.’ We have a lot of equity in our golf balls; now it turns to how do we leverage that equity into golf clubs.”