For maximum effect, I’m going to need you read the next paragraph with your best 30 for 30 voice.
What if I told you that the #1 ball company in golf was preparing to launch a new ball? And what if I told you that most golfers might never hear about it and fewer still will actually be able to buy it?
Wouldn’t that be something?
K-Sig level scarcity is not the kind of story you would expect from Titleist. In fact, it almost sounds a little crazy, and that is, in part, what makes this story so fascinating.
The new ball is called the AVX, and for the next several months or longer, it’s going to be sold exclusively in three states; California, Arizona, and Florida. You’ll find it at green grass and off-course too, but short of anything that trickles onto eBay, you won’t be able to order online.
The Titleist AVX is expected to hit stores around October 6th, and the most amazing part of all of this is that nobody, Titleist included, can say with any degree of certainty, what’s going to happen after that.
By no small measure, the future of Titleist’s new ball rests in your hands.
The AVX is a market test in the truest sense of the phrase, and so no decisions about the ultimate direction of the ball will be made until Titleist (and the rest of us) sees what the consumer response is.
The plan reads less like a roadmap and more like a choose your own adventure book.
It’s no secret that the golf ball market has slowly shifted towards softer, low compression offerings. DUO made inroads, Chrome Soft made real noise, and ever since manufacturers have been making feel changes to appeal to a preference driven golfer.
Interjecting my own experience and opinion here for a moment; there isn’t any performance benefit to a softer ball (in most cases, there's a net loss), but a growing number of golfers want them, and Titleist isn’t oblivious to that reality.
At the same time, Titleist can still legitimately boast that it has the #1 ball in golf (by plenty), and it’s not as if legions of Titleist fans are demanding a softer ball. Loyal Titleist guys like the Pro V1 just fine.
Performance implications or not, there is a segment of the market that clearly desires a softer ball. Is the recent tilt in the market price-driven, or is Titleist losing out on sales because of feel? That’s what’s at the core of the AVX experiment.
What AVX Is and What It Isn’t
When I first heard rumors of a softer Titleist ball to be positioned in the performance segment of the market (what we refer to as Tour-Quality balls), I was a little surprised it wouldn't be called Pro V1-S. There’s simple logic in that, right?
The explanation for why that isn’t happening is just as simple. AVX is not an extension of the Pro V1 family. Sure, it offers 3-piece construction and a urethane cover, but with the exception of some technology borrowed from the new Pro V1 core to increase speed, we’re talking about an entirely new golf ball.
The AVX features not only a new dimple pattern but, as a result of a new catenary dimple shape, it has entirely different aerodynamic properties as well. The cover is cast urethane, and the material composition is different enough from that of the Pro V1 and Pro V1x that, in addition to white, Titleist can also make the AVX in yellow; a first for Titleist in the tour performance category. That small detail alone might attract some golfers to the AVX.
What those differences amount to is a ball that provides softer feel and a bit more distance than Titleist players might be used to. That distance boost is what has the potential to separate the AVX from the other soft offerings on the market which don't quite live up to their billing.
Seldom does benefit come without cost, however, and that’s absolutely true for the AVX. To get softer feel you're going to lose a bit of greenside spin. Current Pro V1x players are the most likely to notice the difference while it’s entirely possible that some Pro V1 players will notice little to no difference at all around the green.
Where Does AVX Fit?
The tricky part for Titleist comes in defining the market position of the new offering. The company steadfastly believes that between the Pro V1 and Pro V1x it has the highest performing balls in the game. Speaking strictly with respect to performance, there’s no need for the new Titleist ball, but a segment of consumers wants softer and longer (especially if they can get both), and that creates a paradox of sorts for Titleist.
While the Pro V1 is true to the company’s performance-driven identity, AVX is a preference driven product. To accept the inherent performance trade-offs is to accept that AVX isn’t a Pro V1 – it’s not supposed to be. It’s designed for golfers who want soft feel and are willing to give up just a little bit somewhere else to get it.
That sticker price though; Titleist sees AVX as a premium product – just like the Pro V1. AVX will launch with the same MSRP as the Pro V1 and with that will surely and rightfully come high expectations. The AVX can’t, by any measure, be seen as less than a Pro V1. How does Titleist manage expectations for a tour-quality ball that isn't expected to get any play on Tour? This is no small challenge.
For this to work, AVX has to be viewed as different in a way that resonates with golfers who may not have found a home with Titleist.
Who is the AVX market? How big is it? Finding those answers is what this three-state trial is all about.
This Is A Test
What we’re being told is that this really is a test and Titleist has no definitive plans beyond folders full of possible scenarios.
There are several ways this could play out based on how sunbelt golfers respond to the new ball. If AVX doesn’t sell well and doesn't build a following of repeat customers, it almost certainly disappears as quietly as it arrived. If it cannibalizes Pro V1 sales, it’s probably gone too. I can’t imagine Titleist has any interest in stealing from the franchise that defines the brand.
If, however, golfers who typically play other (non-Titleist) balls take a sustainable liking to the AVX, then it seems reasonable to assume we could see full market saturation in the spring – perhaps at a lower price point, perhaps not.
My 2 Cents
I don't think it's any secret that Titleist has taken a hit in the ball category over the last year or so. We've talked before about the impact of tour-quality balls at the $40 price point, most notably the Chrome Soft, but Callaway isn't alone, and the fact is that compression numbers are dropping across the entire industry.
Essentially we have two forces at play. Relative to the Pro V1 franchise, competitors' balls are cheaper and softer. Is one of those factors driving the market more than the other? I suspect that's the question Titleist is seeking to answer. If the AVX sells well at Pro V1 prices, that would suggest that feel, not price, is driving the sub-premium urethane market. If, however, AVX doesn't gain any real traction, it could indicate that price is exerting greater influence over the buying decision, in which case, AVX could very well go mainstream at the $40 price point. Whatever might happen, I'm certain lowering the price of the Pro V1 isn't in the conversation.
What has been conveyed to me is that all options for the future of the AVX remain on the table, and the absolute truth is that what happens with the AVX product will be entirely driven by the consumer response.
For that reason alone, I think it’s worth checking it out.
Pricing and Availability
Look for the Titleist AVX to hit retail shops in California, Arizona, and Florida exclusively beginning in early October. Retail price is expected to match the Pro V1 and Pro V1x.