Trends are funny things. You can get so caught up bemoaning one that you can, if you’re not careful, completely miss another.
And sometimes the trend you miss is the solution to the one that cheesed you off in the first place.
We’re fairly certain everyone has expressed appropriate outrage over the new >$500 price point for drivers, with the requisite torches lit, pitchforks raised and castles stormed. But as we’ve said in this space often, the existence of higher-priced equipment doesn’t mean lower-priced alternatives cease to exist.
It’s not a zero-sum game, so don’t fall asleep on the brotherhood of $300 and under drivers. If yards-per-dollar is your decision-making matrix, there’s no shortage of choices with the Wilson Staff D7, Cleveland Launcher HB, Sub70 839D and Tour Edge EXS or Hot Launch HL3. And today we can add another contender: the new Ben Hogan GS53.
If at First…
“This is the third driver we developed over a short amount of time,” Hogan CEO Scott White tells MyGolfSpy. “The first two – almost like Mr. Hogan did with his first batch of irons – we just discarded. We didn’t feel they were representative of what we wanted to bring to market.”
What Hogan is bringing to market – as it becomes a full-bag provider – is a sleek and straightforward 445cc driver with an adjustable hosel, a 6-4 forged titanium face and your choice of three premium shafts at a price ($300) a working man won’t gag on.
“We’re just not going to offer a $550 or $600 driver,” says White. “To us, it’s almost irresponsible. We’re trying to make the game as affordable as we can and offer premium golf equipment at a price that’s reasonable.”
The new Hogan GS53 (an homage to Hogan’s legendary 1953 season) doesn’t feature carbon fiber or moveable weights. Since carbon fiber is a weight saver and the tracking system for moveable weights a weight taker, from a mass standpoint the titanium head is probably close to a wash. The 6-4 forged titanium face is laser welded to the body and features what Hogan calls Face Flex Technology – a thin, variable thickness face concept that virtually every OEM utilizes to reduce distance loss on off-center hits.
Hogan, of course, isn’t Callaway and did not employ computers or artificial intelligence to come up with its face design.
“We used real intelligence,” says White. “There’s nothing artificial about what we’re doing here.”
In the world of low spin heads and low-low spin heads, the GS53 appears to be on the low-low side. Hogan’s internal testing shows the GS53 spins roughly 350 to 400 RPM’s less than the TaylorMade M6, the standard Callaway Epic Flash and the Titleist TS2.
As always, the MGS motto “Trust, but verify” applies.
Speed Slots, Score Lines and Acoustics, Oh My…
A Hogan driver without a Speed Slot, it can be argued, isn’t a Hogan driver at all. Fortunately, the new Hogan didn’t make that mistake.
“We didn’t stick it on there just as an afterthought,” says White. “We’re looking for aerodynamics. It’s not just a notch in the toe of the club.”
For decades, the Speed Slot was the distinctive design feature on Hogan’s persimmon woods. White says Hogan performed wind tunnel testing to verify whatever aerodynamic benefits the updated Speed Slot may provide, but one thing we’ve learned about aerodynamic design features is the benefits kick in as swing speed increases. But hey, if it helped on persimmon in the ’60s and ’70s, why wouldn’t it help today?
“Besides,” says White, “it looks super cool.”
The GS53 is a deep-faced driver, with milled score lines on the heel and toe sections. While how much difference score lines – or face grooves – actually make on a driver is debatable, Hogan insists the fact the lines are milled is a distinction.
“If you’re going to put score lines in at all, it makes more sense to mill them in at consistent depths as opposed to pressing them in,” says White. “When you press them in, they’re all over the place.”
We’re not talking about face micro-milling both Cobra and Bridgestone employ, but then again, we’re not talking about vertical grooves, either.
Hogan also took great care to make sure the GS53 sounds like a driver is supposed to sound.
“It doesn’t sound like a gunshot,” says White. “It’s not crazy loud, but it’s not a dull thud like you hear with a lot of the carbon composite drivers, either. Overall, we found the majority of people don’t like that sound. It’s just a dead thump we didn’t want for the GS53.”
“The sound took us a lot of time to get right. Some of the early prototypes just didn’t sound right – they were too loud. So we put some material inside and changed some internal geometry, and then it felt like we weren’t hitting the center of the club face, even though we knew we were.” – Scott White, Ben Hogan CEO.
While most OEMs are going the carbon fiber route, a few are not, including Titleist and PING. “There’s still a lot to be done with titanium and other materials,” says White. “We looked at it, but we’re not going down that road yet.”
The GS53’s adjustable hosel allows you to change the loft up or down one degree, as well as adjust the face angle and lie angle for a total of eight different settings. What’s more, like Callaway’s Opti-Fit system, adjusting the hosel won’t change the grip orientation and will keep the shaft graphics in the same place, as the head moves independently.
Stock Offerings, Price, Availability
The GS53 driver is available on BenHoganGolf.com starting today with your choice of three premium grade shafts, depending on your preferred trajectory: the Project X HZRDUS Black Smoke (low), Tensei CK Blue (mid) and UST Mamiya Helium (high). And despite the fact the MSRP for the three shaft options ranges from $225 to $300, the driver will sell for $300.
The GS53 comes in 9.0- and 10.5-degree models and, as is Hogan’s way, in right-handed models to start. No word on when, or if, the driver will be offered for lefties, but Hogan has added left-handed models eventually for most of its offerings.
A black, Hogan-branded Lamkin R.E.L. Ace grip is stock.
GS53 Fairway Metals
The GS53 companion fairway metals continue the same sleek, minimalist design of the driver: no bling, no flashy graphics, no moveable or interchangeable weights. Unlike the driver, the hosel on the fairway metals is not adjustable, so the lofts are fixed at 14-degrees (3-wood) and 18-degrees (5-wood). And in another homage to the company’s namesake, Hogan is offering a 16-degree 4-wood as well.
“It was his go-to club for a long time,” says White of the 4-wood. “It’s kind of a tip of the cap to Mr. Hogan, but it also says we’re not beholden to do what everybody else does. We find a lot of better players want either a weak 3-wood or a strong 5-wood, so why isn’t there a 4-wood?”
Adjustable fairway metals give you the flexibility to go weak or strong, but bonded hosel models, not so much. Whether the industry needs 2-degree increments between fairway metals is an open discussion, but the 16-degree 4-wood could fill a hole in your bag if you need to transition from a strong 3-wood to a 20-degree hybrid or utility iron.
The metalwood heads are traditional and clean looking as Hogan continues its efforts to recreate the Hogan look. “The first reaction when people take the cover off is ‘wow, these are really great shapes,’” says White. “That’s a design cue we’re trying to apply to all our products. This isn’t NASCAR. This is what golf equipment is supposed to look like to us.”
As is common in the fairway woods space, the new Hogan’s feature a C455 maraging steel face welded to a steel body. The GS53 fairways are available today on Hogan’s website, priced at $200 each. The same three stock shafts (HZRDUS Black Smoke, Tensei Blue CK, and the UST Mamiya Helium) are available for the fairway metals, with no upcharges. As with the driver, the Hogan metal woods are initially available in right-handed models only, and the Lamkin R.E.L. Ace grip is stock.
Both the GS53 driver and fairway metals are available today for testing via Hogan’s Demo program.
As stated above, if yards-per-dollar is your decision-making matrix for drivers, there’s a growing cadre of players in the $300 and under price range that represents top-shelf value. The tradeoff, of course, is you’re probably not getting cutting-edge or groundbreaking technology. For some, that’s a deal breaker. But if you genuinely believe the big OEMs are full of, as we say in Latin, taurus excretum when it comes to selling you the latest and greatest, you have options, and again, Callaway, TaylorMade or PXG selling +$500 drivers does NOT mean lower-priced options are being eliminated.
Hogan’s place in the market appears to be solidifying. The company has found its niche in the iron and wedge market with irons geared toward aspiring-to-better players. Cutting edge tech isn’t as prevalent in this niche, so a company the size of Hogan, which outsources most of its R&D, can deliver competitive equipment. Drivers and, to a lesser extent, metalwoods are more technology driven, so while the GS53 lineup probably isn’t in the same league as M5, Epic Flash, F9 Speedback or others when it comes to innovation, it should sit firmly in the middle-tier of metalwoods that’ll perform well for most of you, at a price that won’t tighten your sphincter.
As for Hogan itself, after three major product releases in a tad over six weeks, it’s clear the direct-to-consumer model is transitioning from an experiment to a viable alternative to retail and a company that now features a full line of equipment, from putter to driver.
“(When we started back up), I wasn’t sure where we were going or what was going to happen,” admits White. “But every month we’re more and more confident in what we’re doing and in the business model. We’ve gained the support of serious golfers that understand what we’re doing and are comfortable with eCommerce.”
“People are buying Tesla’s online now, so why not golf equipment?”