Things are stirring down in Covington, Georgia again. Bridgestone has been busy over the last 11 months, releasing the JGR CB forged game-improvement irons, the new e6 SOFT and e6 SPEED balls (while eliminating the e5 and e7 balls), the high-end Tour B line of irons and metal woods and the unique ball-fitting app called B-FIT. Two new and as yet unreleased Bridgestone drivers hit the USGA conforming list last February, and let’s not forget the whoopdeedoo last December when Tiger Woods signed on with Bridgestone.
Maybe it’s not Callaway-level busy, but it’s busy nonetheless.
But what do we make of today’s announcement that Bridgestone is not only updating its Tour-level performance ball line, it’s also retiring the 12-year-old B330 brand name?
Meet the new Bridgestone Tour B X, the XS, the RX and the RXS.
Out With The Old
Just so you’re sure reading that correctly, the suffixes for Bridgestone’s new balls remain the same, but the prefix is changing, along with a few techie wrinkles, which we’ll get into.
Bridgestone first introduced the B330 line at the PGA Show back in 2005, and the brand has seen continuous upgrades since – the last coming 18 months ago. A refresh was expected next January, so today’s announcement does come as a bit of surprise, as does the retiring of the B330 brand.
As it turns out, there’s a very good reason for that.
“Basically, the RX and RXS are no longer a 330 dimple pattern,” says Elliot Mellow, Bridgestone’s Marketing Manager for Golf Balls. “They’re now a 338 dimple pattern, so we really had to vacate the B330 naming convention.”
And last summer Bridgestone started labeling the B330 series with a simple B logo instead of Bridgestone Golf. “That started the idea that B330 had run its course from a naming standpoint,” says Mellow. “But we understand there’s still equity in the B and the Tour moniker, that’s why tying the Tour B name to this product line made sense.”
In With The New
As we’ve mentioned before, Bridgestone has one of the largest databases of golf swings on the planet, all gathered through its extensive ball-fitting program. Equal parts marketing tool an R&D initiative, Bridgestone typically uses that data as a starting point to help design new golf balls. Mellow says this time around they went one step further.
“Rather than us trying to design balls that would win in a head-to-head launch monitor comparison, we needed to design a product that would win over consumers,” says Mellow. “What I mean by that is designing a product that is data-driven on the backend – that’s certainly important to us - but we needed to understand consumers on a deeper level.”
That deeper level meant targeting golfers who had gamed Bridgestone’s and then moved away, as well as golfers who opted not to go with Bridgestone despite ball-fitting results. To do that, Bridgestone needed to find out why.
“We wanted to see what it is they’re looking for, and we started to build player personas. Then we took it one step further to verify that our sample set of 300,000 golfers was consistent with the 24.1 million golfers in the market place. We cross-referenced our data with information from Golf Datatech and others to confirm our four player personas do in fact exist in the larger market place.” – Elliot Mellow, Bridgestone Golf
The New Tour B’s
Forgetting the name change for a minute, it’s fair to say the new Tour B’s represent the normal evolution of the 2016 B330 series. The B330 series had been classified by swing speed – the B330/B330 S for over 105 MPH, and the B330 RX/B330 RXS for under 105 MPH – and by whether the golfer wanted more spin (hence the S) or more distance (no S).
The new Tour B series is basically the same thing only different; focusing on score and handicap instead of swing speed as a dividing line, while adding enough performance enhancements to make them interesting.
The Tour B X/XS balls are targeted for the lower handicap player. “Our research showed that for this player what’s most important is feel,” says Mellow. “This player naturally controls trajectory and hits the ball far enough. So if we were going to give them one thing that’s most important to them, it would be feel and control around the green.”
To get that feel Bridgestone has softened the urethane covers of the Tour B X/XS considerably compared to their B330 predecessors. The Tour B X is the firmer of the two new balls and provides lower driver spin, which Bridgestone says provides feel and accuracy. The Tour B XS is the softer of the two but has a little higher ball velocity for more distance.
For what may be the first time, Bridgestone is publishing core compression data for the new Tour B balls. The Tour B X is 85; the Tour B XS is 75.
The Tour B series is still using Bridgestone’s latest generation SlipRes technology in its covers. SlipRes maximizes friction – Bridgestone says it resists slipping up the club face off the driver for lower spin on full shots, and it grabs the grooves on irons and wedges for more spin on approach shots, especially from the rough.
Mellow says Tiger was involved in the development of Tour B X and XS balls, as were other Bridgestone staffers. “Due to Tiger’s recent health issues he wasn’t involved in as much on-course testing as we would have liked, but he was involved as a consultant.”
All in all, the changes from the B330 to the Tour B X and XS are evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary. “We had a good core and a good mantle layer,” adds Mellow. “We just softened the cover to provide the feel we wanted.”
For bigger changes, you need to add an R to the equation.
Tour B RX/RXS
The key change from the B330 RX and RXS is in the dimple pattern. As we said earlier, the Tour B RX and RXS feature a 338-dimple pattern, and while it’s still a Dual Dimple, Mellow says the structure is slightly different to help harness excessively high driver spin.
“If you’re hitting a shot at 4500 RPM, it’s not going to influence that shot. But when you’re in the 3000 RPM range, the new dimple pattern helps slow the rotation of the ball and helps mitigate some of that driver spin for more efficiency.” – Elliot Mellow, Bridgestone Golf
The Tour B RX is for the golfer seeking both distance and accuracy, while the RXS is for the golfer who wants distance and feel. “We’ve identified these slightly higher handicap players who don’t always hit the middle of the club face. We deliver distance through better efficiency and being able to control spin.”
There’s also a new mantle layer for the RX and RXS, which Mellow says has a higher rate of repulsion.
“The mantle allows the golf ball to get off the face faster and allows it to snap back to its original shape faster as it leaves the driver face. That increases velocity, which leads to more distance. In addition, the new mantle is helping to counteract the urethane cover, reducing driver spin just a little bit more. Right now were testing these balls out at about 5 yards longer than the previous generation.” – Elliot Mellow, Bridgestone Golf
From a compression standpoint, the RX and RXS are at 66 and 64 respectively – both are softer than Bridgestone’s e6 SPEED.
What’s In A Name?
Changes and upgrades to the ball notwithstanding, there are three main takeaways to today’s Bridgestone announcement: the mothballing of the B330 franchise, the emphasis on score rather than swing speed for ball selection, and the timing of the release.
As far as mothballing the name is concerned, despite a 12-year run it’s safe to say B330 certainly doesn’t have the iconic brand equity of, say, the Pro V1 or perhaps even Chrome Soft. And this is a global brand change, as well. In the past, Bridgestone’s premium balls might have had different brand names, different packaging or even different specs. This is the first time all international markets will be aligned with the same product.
Emphasizing score rather than swing speed is also a significant change. There are a lot of low handicap golfers with swing speeds under 105 MPH playing ProV’s, and Bridgestone may have been losing that business with their 105 dividing line between the B330/330S and the B330 RX/RXS balls.
The timing of the change is a bit of surprise, but not unprecedented. Bridgestone introduced the new e6 balls last fall, with a limited November release in the south for the winter season and a national roll out in February. The previous B330 balls were announced in conjunction with the 2016 PGA Show, but today’s announcement – with an October 2nd release – continues an industry trend of 4th quarter product introductions. It would seem that giving 4th Quarter sales a boost trumps making news at the PGA Show.
Bridgestone, by the way, skipped the 2017 PGA Show.
Price and Availability:
The new Bridgestone Tour B X and XS balls come in white only and will have an MSRP of $44.99 per dozen, which is the same as the B330 and B330 S.
The Tour B RX and RXS balls also have an MSRP of $44.99 per dozen, which is a $5 per dozen price increase of the B330 versions. Both will be available in white, with the RX also available in Optic Yellow.
The Tour B line will be available at retailers and at Bridgestonegolf.com beginning October 2nd.