Considering where the brand was just a year ago, it’s not a stretch to tab Srixon/Cleveland an early candidate for 2017’s Comeback Brand of the Year. The new Cleveland RTX-3’s are a noticeable upgrade to an already solid wedge, and Srixon’s Z 65 irons lineup is making its share of noise, with the Z 765 copping MyGolfSpy’s Editor’s Choice as Player’s Iron of 2016.
The #JourneyToBetter hashtag isn’t just about you.
We hear some pretty interesting stuff is in the Srixon/Cleveland pipeline for later this year, but the brand is kicking off 2017 with some interesting upgrades to its Tour level Z-STAR balls, and a major kick in the pants for its mid-priced Q-STAR line.
Srixon/Cleveland is part of Dunlop Sports LTD, a subsidiary of Japan’s Sumitomo Rubber Industries (the SRI in Srixon). Since golf balls are mostly rubber, Srixon (like fellow rubber giant Bridgestone) can leverage a ton of R&D expertise.
“The ability to make a high performance golf ball has a lot to do with material engineering,” Srixon R&D Director Jeff Brunski tells MyGolfSpy. “We have what we call a Fundamental Research Team…a smart group of engineering researchers that keeps looking into new technology that can apply to a variety of industries. A significant number of those guys focus on golf.”
Despite being in the top 2 in ball sales in Japan, Srixon is in a pack of challengers chasing Titleist and Callaway in North America. And, thanks to Kirkland, the golf ball price/value/performance matrix on these shores is all kinds of messed up.
Which might explain why Srixon is dropping the price of its new Tour-level Z-STARs by $5/dozen from the 2015 models.
You read that right, friends and neighbors.
The $39.99/dozen price tag matches Callaway’s Chrome Soft/Chrome Soft X and Bridgestone’s B330RX/RXS lines, but is below the traditional going rate for Tour-level balls. Is this the start of a downward price trend for golf balls? Maybe, but it is a clear sign Srixon is gunning for market share.
The Z-STAR STORY
Despite the 11% price cut, Srixon says there’s the kind of new tech in the 2017 Z-STAR balls that will matter to you. We’re talking an improved core, a more aerodynamic dimple pattern and a softer, more elastic Spin Skin coating.
Both the 3-piece Z-STAR and 4-piece Z-STAR XV feature upgrades to Srixon’s Energetic Gradient Growth Core technology. What that means is both balls have rubber cores that are firmer on the outside and softer on the inside.
“The higher compression and firmer core – the real benefit is higher ball speed,” says Brunski. “With a softer, lower compression core, the benefit is higher launch and less spin off the driver. As engineers we’re always struggling – how do we get the best of both worlds?”
Srixon, like rubber brother Bridgestone, has figured out how to bake their cores at higher temperatures for shorter periods. The end result is like a seared steak – well done on the outside but still rare in the middle. The new Z-STAR features a little softer core – the 2015 version was 90 compression, the 2017 ball is 88 – so according to Srixon it feels a little softer, launches a little higher and spins a little less off the driver.
The Z-STAR XV is still 105 compression, but the inner core is both larger and softer than its predecessor, while the outer core has a more consistent hardness. “The XV is going to have more ball speed,” says Brunski. “It’s going to feel firmer because it is firmer.”
Dimples and Spin Skin
Both Z-STARs feature a reconfigured, 338 Speed Dimple pattern, with five different dimple sizes to provide lower drag and more lift.
“Since the Z-STAR and the XV are launching a little higher and spinning less that the previous generation,” says Brunski, “down flight, when the ball hits peak trajectory, we want a dimple pattern that’s going to help it glide a little farther along in the air, and have extra lift. That’s the key to increasing distance.”
Brunski adds lower drag also helps the ball perform in the wind. “Our Tour staff likes to joke, if you play fantasy golf and there’s a high wind, pick Srixon players. They tend to work their way up the leader board when it’s windy.”
The new Z-STARs also feature the 3rd generation of Spin Skin, Srixon’s spin generating coating. Srixon Senior Product Manager Michael Ross says the new Spin Skin is softer and creates more friction, even from the rough.
Predictably, Srixon says both balls will fly longer off the tee and spin more around the green than previous models. For this year’s launch, however, Srixon is taking the unusual approach of publishing independent test results comparing the new Z-STARs against the competition. The testing was conducted by Golf Laboratories in San Diego, with 101 and 112 MPH driver swings by robots, which should please the Terminator crowd.
In a nutshell, Srixon says the Z-STAR showed the highest launch angle and lowest driver spin in its test, and the Z-STAR XV showed highest ball speed and launch angle, lowest spin and the most distance in its test.
If a $5 price cut on Tour-level balls is a smack upside the head to golf’s price/value/performance matrix, then the new Q-STAR TOUR may represent of full frontal assault – a low (75) compression, 3-piece urethane ball for under $30.00.
While it carries the Q-STAR name, this is a completely new offering for Srixon. Brunski says it’s a Tour-level ball for better golfers with slower swing speeds.
“There’s a lot of golfers out there who fit that description,” says Brunski. “It’s a lower compression core with the same manufacturing process as the Z-STAR – some people say it could be called the Z STAR Soft – but the reality is this ball is designed for those people with a little bit lower club head speed, and who still need that tour caliber greenside spin performance.”
What’s refreshing is that Srixon freely admits the Q-STAR TOUR is not the longest ball in its category.
What that means is that Srixon is giving you what it says is a ball that gives your Tour-level performance around the green and enough distance off the tee for roughly the same price as your better 2- or 3-piece ionomer-cover distance balls.
“Therein lies the value proposition of this golf ball,” says Ross. “All of the ionomer covered balls this was tested against are at least $26.99, but you also had the E6 Soft which was $28.99 – so it’s a dollar less than the Q Star Tour, and then you have the NXT Tour S, which is $34.99, a 3-piece ionomer covered golf ball for 5 dollars more than a 3-piece urethane covered golf ball. The Q-STAR TOUR’s performance around the green is dramatically different compared to those balls.”
Compared to other Tour-level balls (at an 85 MPH driver swing), the Q-STAR TOUR spun just a wee bit less, but at $29.99 a dozen, it’s anywhere from $5 to $15 less expensive.
Srixon is clearly getting aggressive in 2017, and it wants to make sure you have every opportunity to check out the new Z-STARs and Q-STARs. Srixon’s corporate philosophy of Genchi Genbustu literally means “go and see for yourself,” and tells management the best way to solve problems is to get your butt out of the office and see what the hell’s going on out there.
But it’s also good advice for the consumer, and Srixon is laying a little Genchi Genbustu on you. Srixon will be selling specially priced 6-ball “Performance Packs” through select retailers and green grass accounts in the coming weeks.
Performance Packs will be priced in the $10-$15 range, so you’ll be getting a deal on a half dozen, and Srixon hopes that’ll get you to buy dozens more.
Srixon is also planning to get serious about a ball fitting program. The company is hiring Field Service Reps but has yet to finalize what the program will actually look like. They do plan to be visible at demo days and other special events at retail and green grass.
Price & Availability
The Srixon Z-STAR and Z-STAR XV will retail at $39.99/dozen, and will be available in Pure White and Tour Yellow. The Z-STARs will hit the stores February 17th. The Q-STAR TOUR 3-piece urethane balls will sell for $29.99, and will be available in Pure White. They’ll be in stores April 14th.