In just three short years with Chrome Soft, Callaway has established a ball franchise that’s second in popularity only to the Titleist Pro V1. With steady gains in market share, Callaway is positioned as the clear #2 in the ball category. And while that might not sound like the type of stuff bragging rights are made of, it’s significant because, before Chrome Soft, it was Titleist and everybody else. After Chrome Soft, it’s Titleist, Callaway… and everybody else.
That’s great for Callaway, but we can’t overlook the fact that the ball market is changing. With USGA regulations stifling innovation in the ball category, small brands, direct to consumer brands, and even Costco have all nibbled away in a category that not long ago was the almost exclusive domain of big OEM brands. With new low-cost upstart brands emerging on an almost weekly basis, what can the industry leaders do to entice golfers to continue buying their higher priced products?
If you’re Callaway, you reinvent the ball that changed the ball.
2018 Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X
While I punch myself in the face for using the tired phrase, why don’t you take 5 minutes to read through what you need to know about the new Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X golf balls.
Before we dig into the really interesting stuff, it’s worth a quick mention that both the Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X feature 4-piece construction. Many a ball designer has suggested that with more layers comes greater ability to tune spin characteristics throughout the bag. Basically, Callaway is throwing everything it has at both balls and not relying on layer count to be a differentiator.
The big story here is the integration of graphene - a one-atom-thick layer of carbon that has all the makings of golf’s next wonder material - in Chrome Soft’s outer core. If graphene is new to you, all you need to know is that, despite its flexibility, it’s believe to be the strongest material on earth.
Graphene is exceptionally strong, lightweight, and flexible. If those don’t sound like the characteristics of a material that lends itself well for use in golf equipment, I don’t know what does.
Thus far, graphene has made its way into Aldila’s new SYNERGY shafts and, of course, the new Chrome Soft. If the material works as well as Callaway says it does, I suspect it won’t be long before we start to see it appearing in clubhead designs as well.
Bigger, Softer, Faster
With respect to Chrome Soft, what the material allowed Callaway to do was make the inner core bigger and softer. Infusing graphene into the outer core allowed that layer to serve as what Callaway describes as a crash helmet for the inner core. Callaway says Graphene allowed it to increase the compression differential (the difference in compression between the two core layers). With the previous materials, Callaway couldn’t make the outer core firmer without the risk of it cracking.
What this all boils down to is a ball that Callaway says retains Chrome Soft’s signature soft feel, while producing more speed throughout the entire bag.
The disclaimer here is that golf ball distance is rigidly capped by the USGA, so anyone who can legitimately claim it’s getting more distance off the driver likely wasn’t near the limit with whatever it's using as its point of comparison. Given the softness penalty incurred by some higher speed golfers with Chrome Soft, it’s likely that Callaway still had some room under the USGA limit. Similar to TaylorMade’s TP5 story, you’re most likely to see appreciable distance gains in the middle of the bag. If the story holds true, you’ll get those extra yards without sacrificing spin with your short irons and wedges. And of course, you get all of that from a softer feeling ball.
As a brief aside, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Callaway was first to market with a new material. A little over a year ago, Callaway hired former Nike ball guy, Rock Ishii. Rock has a well-established history of being fearless when it comes to pushing material boundaries in pursuit of real innovation. Whether graphene’s performance lives up to the expectation remains to be seen, but this is exactly the sort of thing Callaway hired Rock to help create.
It wouldn’t be Chrome Soft without a soft cover. There’s a risk that improvements in this area could easily get overlooked as part of the larger feel story. That would be a shame since, in addition to offering increased greenside spin, a thinner and softer cover is a more durable cover.
360 Hex Aerodynamics
Callaway’s signature HEX dimples (admit it, you think they look cool) continue forward with the new Chrome Soft. The notable change is that Callaway has implemented a new molding process that creates an entirely seamless cover with more consistent aerodynamic performance.
The idea of forgiveness is starting to make its way into the golf ball discussion. In most of those cases, companies claim higher MOI as a result of more weight in the outer layers. It works pretty much the same way as it does in club design – the more mass you move away from the center of gravity, the more stability you get. The real-world manifestation is often a ball that’s a little better in the wind.
Callaway’s forgiveness claim is a bit different. The company’s position is that softer balls compress more easily, and so compared to a firmer ball, a soft ball will compress more on off-center strikes leading to more distance.
Bigger Player Number
It’s not exactly a tech story, but Callaway has increased the size (the font size) of the player number on the golf ball. It’s a small cosmetic thing, but it should make the ball standout a bit while helping differentiate it from previous models.
Chrome Soft vs. Chrome Soft X
It’s a bit of a surprise that Callaway would release a new version of Chrome Soft X just a year after the original was released, but with the addition of Graphene to the Chrome Soft formula, the company decided to bump up Chrome Soft X’s timeline.
As we said at the beginning, Chrome Soft X features the same 4-piece construction as the non-X version. Compared to the previous generation, Callaway is again saying the new ball is longer through the bag. It offers a lower ball flight, and better control around the greens.
As you’d expect, the majority of Callaway’s Professional Staff is expected to play Chrome Soft X, but the company admits the difference between the two balls is less than what it was with the previous generation.
Both models are softer, they’re appreciably longer with mid-irons, and they provide increased greenside spin.
For most golfers, feel will likely prove to be the deciding factor. While Chrome Soft X is softer than most other X balls, it’s firmer and a bit clickier than Chrome Soft.
The simple advice is to try them both, go with the one you like better.
Callaway’s original Chrome Soft was notable for being the first Tour-level ball to make any sort of impact at a price point below the Pro V1 and other balls in the category. Given that and the feel story, one could argue that Callaway’s two market advantages were feel and price. Feel, though somewhat quantifiable, is subjective. Price is absolute, and in Chrome Soft’s case, it’s going up.
The new ball will retail for $44.99 (up from $39.99). Callaway’s Senior VP of Marketing, Harry Arnett, says the price reflects the complexity of the new manufacturing process. Arnett believes the value is still there, adding “we think it’s by far the best ball in golf.”
In addition to white, Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X will be available in Yellow and Truvis. Initial Truvis availability will be in white/red and yellow/black. Additional colors will be made available throughout the season.
Retail price for the 2018 Callaway Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X is $44.99/dozen. Retail availability begins 2/16/18.
Superhot Family Of Golf Balls
In addition to Chrome Soft, Callaway is introducing the new Superhot family of 3-piece golf balls. A lower priced, distance-centric offering, the Superhot still retains a good amount of greenside control.
Perhaps the larger story here is the addition of BOLD options to the Superhot family. Superhot BOLD features a bright matte finish similar to what’s been offered by Volvik and Wilson. As golfers become more comfortable with something other than white (and yellow), bright options have grown in popularity, so it makes sense for Callaway to offer something in the space.
The Superhot golf ball will be available in white as well as matte yellow, red and orange.
Retail price for the Callaway Superhot family is $29.99/15-pack. Availability begins 2/16/18.