Over the weekend, Callaway’s Senior VP of Marketing (and also President of OGIO), Harry Arnett lobbed a Twitter grenade at Titleist, which for the sake of context, still lays legitimate claim to being the #1 Ball in Golf™.
At least that particular Trademark reflects reality.
Harry’s tweet, which will almost certainly go down as the opening salvo in a protracted ball war, was in response to an ad Titleist ran during the Farmers Open.
Here’s the tweet
Hi,@Titleist.How're things? Love whole "trust" thing you got going.Speaking of,just saw ur new piece comparing ur new 2-piece surlyn ball to our urethane ball.Pretty misleading & untrustworthy comparing 2piece surlyn to urethane. Why not Show ProV1 vs Chrome Soft?Oh,I know why.— Harry Arnett (@HarryArnettCG) January 27, 2018
Make sure to check out the stream of replies. You’ll find a mixed bag of Titleist and Callaway loyalists defending their brands. Even Callaway Staffer, Daniel Berger, weighed-in in defense of Chrome Soft.
The specific point of contention is a couple of charts favorably comparing Titleist’s new Tour Soft golf ball to Callaway’s Chrome Soft, Bridgestone’s Tour B RXS, and TaylorMade’s TP5.
We mentioned that comparison in our recent story on the Tour Soft while pointing out that positioning the performance of a 2-piece Ionomer (at least mostly ionomer) covered ball alongside 3, 4, and 5-piece urethane balls is a bold move.
Arnett’s take is that the ad is misleading and untrustworthy; words almost certainly chosen to undermine Titleist’s message of trust. I don’t want to put words in Harry’s mouth, but given just two letters, I think he’d go so far as to call it BS.
The Titleist Defense
To its credit, Titleist lays out the basis for its claim with more detailed fine print than you’ll find in most golf ads.
In case you missed it in the video, that fine print reads:
“Driver distance results from machine testing setup condition of 140 mph ball speed, 12 degree launch angle, spin rate 2900 rpm: Titleist Tour Soft golf balls are 5 yards longer than Callaway Chrome Soft, 4 yards longer than TaylorMade TP5 and 2 yards longer than Bridgestone Tour B RXS. Tour Soft is 14 compression units softer than Chrome Soft, 15 units softer than TP5 and 12 units softer than Tour B RXS.”
By those numbers, I suppose you can make a case that Tour S is better. Certainly, the lack of a greenside spin comparison, particularly when urethane balls are part of the discussion, is a red flag, but in previous communication, Titleist has been clear about its belief that Tour Soft can hold its own around the green with those other balls.
The issue…at least Harry’s issue is that Titleist is comparing apples (urethane tour balls) and oranges (less than tour balls).
And that raises an interesting question: Fundamentally, is it reasonable, fair, honest, trustworthy, etc. to compare a 2-piece, ionomer ball to 3+ layer, urethane Tour balls? It’s a question for which the answer is more opinion than fact, but I’m certain that if MyGolfSpy made a similar comparison in a ball test, we’d get blasted – and my opinion is that we’d deserve it.
That said, I’m not entirely sure that Titleist crossed the line here. Should we make comparisons based on performance, based on layers and materials, or both? Again, answers are matters of opinion, not fact, but it’s not a comparison I’d allow to be made on MyGolfSpy unless our stated intent was to compare two unlike things.
The other side of this – likely the Titleist side – is that there is a segment of golfers who don’t much concern themselves with layer counts and cover materials. If distance and feel are the metrics that matter, then maybe it is a reasonable comparison. Materials and layers may not compare, but performance – according to Titleist – does. There are inarguably golfers who want a ball that’s long and soft, and probably cheap too. If Tour Soft is that ball, the rest maybe doesn’t matter.
Ionomer vs. Urethane – meh
2-piece vs. 3+ – also meh
Long, soft, cheap, and spinny-enough around the greens.
You guys though…
The validity of the comparison ultimately boils down to the audience. For my audience and as I’ve said, I don’t like it, and given Titleist’s positioning as a brand for serious golfers, it is, perhaps, a dubious comparison as well. My concession here is that every brand has to reach less-than-serious golfers if it hopes to succeed. Tour Soft is one avenue for Titleist to do just that.
There may also be a strategic element in this. It’s possible that Titleist is hoping to create an equivalency between its non-tour ball and its competitors’ higher-priced tour offerings with the hope that it can then market AVX as the tour-level alternative to what it has previously positioned as lesser balls.
As for Harry Arnett’s Tweet…
Followers of Harry Arnett know that he sometimes comes across as a reckless hothead; a twitter bull in the internet’s china shop. He’s been known to mix it up with competitors, followers, and most definitely MyGolfSpy staffers. I believe that Harry often shoots genuinely from the hip, but I think this one was planned. Perhaps not letter for letter or word for word, but sooner or later Harry was going to fire a shot and when an opportunity presented itself…Harry did Harry things.
There’s a case to be made he outdid himself. A conversation is being had. A timeline may have been accelerated.
There was plenty of chatter at the recent PGA Show that Callaway was going to try and make a move in the ball market, and so here you go. Callaway has cemented itself as a clear number 2 in the ball category. With Chrome Soft it has an established franchise that resonates with a segment of golfers, and it has plenty of that oft-referenced momentum that CEO’s love to talk about.
The timing is right.
As Callaway moves forward, Titleist is taking fire from all sides. Direct to consumer (both white box and balls with actual R&D behind them) are cutting into the bottom line. It’s locked up in litigation with Costco, and Chrome Soft has almost certainly forced it to play a bit of defense and design with soft in mind.
With AVX lying in wait, Titleist hopes Tour Soft can begin the process of taking back some of what it lost to Callaway, but with all the talk of Graphene infusion, Callaway certainly has the better story (your performance mileage may vary) going into 2018.
While I’m sure there are firm opinions on both sides, what remains to be seen is whether Chrome Soft can thrive with a $5 price hike. If consumers are devoted to Chrome Soft because of the way it performs, then expect the momentum to continue. If, however, consumers love Chrome Soft because it’s soft and cheap, then Titleist has a real opportunity to do some damage with its softer and cheaper Tour Soft.
Not that you asked, but I’m 50/50 on this one. Chrome Soft continues to evolve into a better golf ball, but with each iteration, it gets a little firmer, and now a little more expensive, and with that, a little more removed from what first attracted the consumer to the ball. That could prove to be problematic for Callaway. It could also prove to be nothing at all. Like I said, 50/50.
Begun, The Ball Wars Have
Whatever you think of Harry’s tweet and the resulting discussion, I can assure you this is just the beginning as Callaway looks to make a serious push towards unseating Titleist as the #1 Ball in Golf (at least at the consumer level). If it happens at all (HUGE IF) It won’t happen overnight, it won’t happen this year, and probably not next year either. Make no mistake, though; this is most definitely the beginning of a serious ball war that, if Harry Arnett’s first tweet is any indication, will be loads of fun to watch.
MyGolfSpy reached out to both Harry Arnett and Titleist. Both declined further comment.