What a mess….
The dumbest thing I’ve heard…
What are they thinking?
Those are your words, taken from some of our recent articles on Bridgestone irons and woods. Not flattering, are they?
Fair or not, there hasn’t been much buzz over any Bridgestone release since, oh, I don’t know, the J15 series? And that buzz was primarily due to the fact it was Bridgestone’s first new club release in North America in nearly five years.
Bridgestone released the game improvement JGR woods and irons in 2016, and the better-player focused Tour B X woods and irons in 2017. There were also various limited-edition add-ons and one-offs released between then and now. If there was a rhyme, reason, or even a coherent plan to these releases, it was not obvious, leaving many to wonder about Bridgestone’s future as an equipment provider.
But here’s the thing: both the JGR and Tour B X offerings – the irons, at least – were/are stellar performers for their given categories. No one has ever doubted the quality of Bridgestone’s forgings. They’re world class. The drivers and fairways from both lines are solid performers for the right golfer, and the Tour B X just copped top honors in MyGolfSpy’s Most Wanted hybrid testing.
Clearly, there’s a disconnect between the products themselves, market perception, popularity and, ultimately, market share.
That’s what makes today’s launch of the new Tour B JGR irons and metal woods, the first equipment release of the new Dan Murphy era at Bridgestone, so important to the company.
Two Irons Sets
From a branding standpoint, Bridgestone is now classifying all its equipment under the Tour B moniker. The premium, better player gear goes by Tour B X, while the game improvement, mass-market stuff from will go by the Tour B JGR handle.
If forged irons make you scream MmmBop like a late-90’s teenaged girl, then Bridgestone irons are your Hanson. The new Tour B JGR HF-1 and HF-2 irons (a bit of a mouthful, so let’s just call them JGR, shall we?) are direct replacements for the JGR Hybrid Irons and JGR CB’s. The HF-2’s are cavity backs on the player’s side of game improvement, while the HF-1’s are unapologetic super-duper game improvement irons aimed at high handicappers.
“The HF-1 has a much cleaner look than the original Forged Hybrid irons,” says Zack Kupperbush, Bridgestone’s Golf Club Marketing Manager. “It’s not nearly as aggressive on the flange, has sleeker lines and is designed for the guy who needs help getting the ball up in the air.”
Everything about the HF-1 screams SGI, from the ultra-wide sole and flange to the aggressive lofting. The standard 6-club set starts with a 24-degree 6-iron and features two pitching wedges (P1 is 38-degrees, P2 is 44 – it’s a JDM thing). That may prompt the Loft Police to grab their torches and pitchforks, but remember who this club is designed for.
“The HF-1 consumer is looking for distance and wants to get the ball up in the air,” says Kupperbush. “We really want to make this enjoyable to hit. While it is super game improvement, I’d categorize it as a game enjoyment club. This isn’t for the guy who needs to shape it or hit specific windows. It’s for the guy – or gal – who wants to hit it as far as he can, keep up with his buddies and just have fun.”
Sticks in this category are, as a rule, cast, but since it’s Bridgestone, the HF-1’s are forged from 1030 carbon steel, and you’d be hard pressed to find a forged iron with a lower center of gravity. There’s an ultra-thin face and what Bridgestone calls its Power Slit on the bottom of the face to create a trampoline effect. Every OEM, of course, does some variation of this to minimize ball speed loss on off-center strikes.
The UST Mamiya Recoil 670 or 680 is the stock shaft. There’s no standard steel offering, although you can special order a set with a variety of lightweight steel options at no upcharge. As we mentioned, the standard set is 6-iron through the second pitching wedge. A 5-iron and AW can be added to the set at an additional cost. At launch, the HF-1’s will be available for righties only.
Bridgestone’s yellow Golf Pride Tour Velvet grip is standard (there are several no-upcharge options from Golf Pride and Lamkin), and the stock set will sell for $849.00.
The HF-2 has plenty of game improvement features built in, but as a 1025 forged cavity back, it certainly wouldn’t look out of place in a single digit ‘capper’s bag. Side by side, the iron shares similar blade height, length, offset and topline and sole thickness with the new Srixon 585. It even has a rubber polymer for a crisper sound and feel, but unlike the 585s, you can’t see it.
“We’re targeting golfers who know they need forgiveness but might be conscious of what their clubs look like,” says Kupperbush. “They’re not going to be turned off by these. This golfer knows he needs forgiveness, but wants a traditional looking iron as opposed to a big, bulky looking thing. This is more of a traditional shape that’s going to be appealing at address.”
The lofts of the HF-2s are very much in line with others in the category, such as the Callaway Apex CF 16 and the Mizuno JPX 919 Forged. The True Temper XP 95 is the stock shaft, and no-upcharge options include the KBS Tour, Tour 90 and $-Taper Black, the Nippon 950 and 1050 GH and Modus3 Tour 105, 120 and 125 and the DG Pro. Bridgestone’s yellow GP Tour Velvet is the standard grip, with the same no upcharge options as the HG-1’s.
And Lefty Nation, you may commence your rejoicing – the HG-2 will be available in left-handed.
The six-club set includes 5-PW (4 iron offered separately) and will sell for $899.00.
When Bridgestone introduced the first JGR driver in January of 2016, it was significant on two levels. First, it was immediately put into play by Brandt Snedeker, who dumped his six-year-old TaylorMade Superfast and won The Farmers in his third start with the JGR in the bag; and second, at $299, it bucked the trend of drivers pushing the $400 threshold.
Like its predecessor, the new JGR driver is non-adjustable, and it’s been put in play not only by Snedeker (who gamed it for his win at the Wyndham), but also by Matt Kuchar. The $299 price tag is but a memory as the 2018 model will hit the streets at $399.00.
Also like its predecessor, the new JGR features bold, yellow branding graphics on the toe, but unlike its predecessor, it features a cleaner crown and doesn’t set up quite as closed, even though it remains a draw-biased, high launch driver.
As for tech, the most noticeable is Bridgestone’s signature Power Milled Face.
“Compared to the previous JGR, the depth of this mill is doubled,” says Kupperbush. “It’s still within USGA regulations, but we’ve doubled the depth to increase the Quality Compression Time. It keeps the ball on the face a little longer and prevents skidding, which helps reduce spin.”
We’ve written about the theory and application of Bridgestone’s face milling before (you can read about it here), but in a nutshell, milling lets the ball stick to the face better and longer at impact, which can reduce spin 200 to 300 RPM’s. Bridgestone is also adding the Power Milled Face to the JGR Fairway woods and hybrids.
Every OEM looks for ways to create more driver face flex. Bridgestone accomplishes this with a combination of its Power Rib Sole and Boost Wave Crown.
“With the Power Rib Sole, we’re keeping the sole as stable and as firm as possible,” says Kupperbush. “When you combine that with the Boost Wave Crown – which allows the crown to flex – you create a trampoline effect.”
Bridgestone hasn’t provided any performance testing data with either amateur golfers or robots, but they do say Snedeker saw a 4.5 MPH ball speed increase with the new JGR compared to his old model.
The JGR driver, along with the fairway woods and hybrids (which we’ll look at next), comes with the UST Mamiya Recoil 460 shaft as stock. Bridgestone says the Recoil’s mid to high launch profile will fit a wide swath of player, but adds the Aldila NV, NVS, and NV 2kXV are available at no upcharge.
The Golf Pride Tour Velvet in Bridgestone yellow is the stock grip, with several GP and Lamkin grips available at no upcharge.
The stock model plays at 45.5” with a D2 swing weight, and will be available in 9.5°, 10.5° and 11.5° in righty, 9.5° and 10.5° in lefty.
Fairways & Hybrids
As we mentioned earlier, the JGR fairway woods and hybrids both feature Bridgestone’s new, deeper Power Milled Face, and the both feature the same Boost Wave Crown as the driver. Another upgrade over the previous models is variable face thickness, which isn’t anything new for Bridgestone – it’s used in the Tour B fairways – but it is new for the JGR line to help maintain ball speed on off-center strikes.
The fairways will be available in 15 and 18-degree models for righties, and in 15-degrees only for lefties. The Recoil 460 ES fairway shaft is standard, with the same no-upcharge shafts as the driver. It goes for $229.00.
If you’re wary of hybrids with offset, the JGR models won’t appeal to you. There’s nothing wishy-washy about them – the offset is for golfers who help getting the ball up in the air and keeping it from going to far right. It’ll be perfect for some golfers, a hook-machine for others.
The hybrids will be available in right handed models only, in 19-, 22- and 25-degree models. The Recoil 780 Hybrid shaft is stock, with the Aldila NV 2kXV, KBS Graphite Hybrid and Fubuki Z available at no upcharge. List is $219.00.
One common theme we hear in any Bridgestone article is the chorus of the I-Can’t-Find-Them-Anywhere Singers. As a challenger brand, Bridgestone can’t simply snap its fingers and instantly gain shelf space at a retailer conveniently located to you. That’s just not in the cards, and trust me, Bridgestone knows it’s a problem.
So starting next month, Bridgestone is relaunching its Test-Drive program, meaning you can order a 3-club demo set to try at your home course or driving range for a couple of weeks, with a choice of shafts. Bridgestone suspended the program a couple of years ago, but Hogan has been using the program for the past year with some success.
Another big step for Bridgestone is a new agreement with Club Champion. You’ll be able to demo and get fit for Bridgestone equipment at all 39 Club Champion locations nationwide. In addition, by next spring Bridgestone expects to have fully stocked JGR fitting carts at selected retailers.
Baby steps, to be sure, but baby steps in the right direction.
“Success for us will be returning to a little bit of notoriety,” admits Kupperbush. “We’re not top-of-mind for a lot of consumers. Bridgestone as a club brand has slowly been forgotten, but our new programs and partnerships will increase availability and demo capability. I’m not naïve, I know our issues. But I think these programs will help.”
“The way we view club launches, especially with our new leadership, is a publicity opportunity to show we’re a full-service golf brand, not just a golf ball brand.”
The new JGR line will be available for sale online and at retail starting October 8th. Four MyGolfSpy Forum members have been reviewing the JGR HF-2 irons and the JGR metals woods pre-launch. You can read their metal woods reviews here, and irons reviews here.