I saw the damndest thing a few weeks ago.

In the golf blog business, one is duty-bound to visit golf stores in strange towns. No matter where you go, it's almost always the same old-same old. But what I saw at the Austad's in Fargo, North Dakota blew my freaking mind.

Of course, there were usual suspects: Callaway, TaylorMade, PING, et al. What shook me was the most extensive inventory of premium-priced XXIO equipment I’d ever seen at retail - drivers, fairways, hybrids and three different irons sets in both steel and graphite.

XXIO. In Fargo.

North Dakota.

Feel free to look out the window for airborne pork.

All kidding aside, premium brands such as XXIO at retail - even in North Dakota - aren't as big of a surprise as you’d think. Ultra-premium equipment aimed at slow-to-moderate swing speed/aging golfers may be a niche, but it's a profitable one and OEMs are banking on that niche growing into whatever comes after niche but before mainstream.

It’s in this expanding niche that XXIO is introducing the new XXIO X lineup.

XXIO X - 1

Generation X

At first glance, XXIO X looks like something Grammy writes on your birthday card. In this case, it represents the 10th generation of XXIO (10 = X, like the iPhone. Get it?), the ultra-premium wing of the Srixon-Cleveland-XXIO troika, aimed at a very specific target market.

“We’re going after the moderate swing speed golfer,” says Zach Oakley, XXIO’s product manager. “It’s an older player, someone who’s looking to get a little bit of distance back that they may have lost over the years. If  you swing over 95, this product really isn't for you.”

Despite its high-end pricing, XXIO has gained a solid foothold in its targeted market for one simple reason: it's all they do. XXIO’s whole reason for being is to create golf equipment for sub-95 MPH golfers who don’t mind spending money on golf equipment.

We’ll discuss the price-value-performance matrix later on, but first, let’s look at the new line up-close and personal.

XXIO Metal Woods

XXIO prides itself on designing clubs for a purpose rather than a price. If that sounds PXG-ish to you, well, you’d be correct. If the prices sound PXG-ish, you would also be correct – the new XXIO X driver sells for $649.99, the fairway $399.99 and hybrid $299.99.

What do you get for that kind of money?

According to XXIO, something called True-Focus Impact Technology and its three sub-technologies: a Hi-Energy Impact Head, a Smart Impact Shaft, and a Low Swing MOI Design.

xxio10_w_manual01

XXIO says when golfers miss, it’s usually high on the toe or low on the heel. The Hi-Energy Impact Head essentially expands the sweet spot northeast and southwest.

“We’ve thinned out the high toe area and the low heel area to increase COR in those areas,” says Oakley. “We also have a sole channel on the low heel side to help increase ball speed on low heel hits. All that results in a 34% larger sweet spot.”

While short on specifics, Oakley says XXIO X’s CG is both lower and deeper than previous models, and they’ve centered the rear weight while moving it back about 10mm for higher launch.

XXIO X - 5

Shaft Voodoo?

Dunlop Sports Ltd, a subsidiary of Japan’s Sumitomo Rubber Industries and owner of Srixon-Cleveland-XXIO, also owns a graphite shaft manufacturer. It’s why you see Miyazaki shafts standard on Srixon and Cleveland metal woods. The new MP1000 shaft in the XXIO X metal woods is also homegrown and designed to work in blissful harmony with the Hi-Energy Impact head.

“We’ve done some cool things with high strength elasticity layering,” says Oakley. “With the forces acting on the body during the swing, this shaft is designed to decrease the forces pulling you off balance during the swing. So you actually get a tighter impact pattern.”

Say what?

“What we’ve done is moved the weight more towards the hands, so it’s a lot easier to swing,” says Oakley. “It’s a high balance-point shaft that’s a little bit softer and more flexible in the butt end. That allows you to keep your hands a little closer to your body, which helps you create less force on your body and keep you from falling off balance. In turn, that helps you hit the sweet spot more often.”

A shaft that helps you stay balanced and hit the sweet spot? I smell an MGS Lab test.

Oakley says XXIO worked with Toray Industries – a global leader in graphite chemistry – to develop a completely new graphite fiber called Toray T1000G. The official story says T1000G is as strong, as thin and as light as graphite can get. The unique soft butt-soft tip-high balance point profile comes from layering the graphite sheets in circular, straight and angular patterns.

XXIO X Smart Impact Shaft

The final element is what the company calls Low Swing MOI design. While that sounds like marketing-speak for light club, Oakley says there’s a bit more to it than that.

“Overall weight is important, but where you place the weight is just as important," he says. "We’re moving the weight closer to the hands so golfers don’t have to work as hard to get the ball up in the air and can achieve the same swing speed without swinging out of their shoes.”

Another offshoot of the high balance point shaft is the XXIO X driver is on the long side at 45.75 inches. The longer shaft obviously helps clubhead speed, but conventional wisdom says longer shafts make it harder to hit the sweet spot consistently. Oakley says the larger sweet spot on the head combined with the unique, lightweight properties of the shaft offset the extra length and make the club easy to swing.

All the XXIO X metal woods have fixed hosels. The driver is 460cc and comes in 4 lofts (8.5 thru 11.5), with an overall weight of 270 grams and swing weights of D5 in regular and D6 in Stiff and Senior. Fairway woods are available in 15, 18, 20 and 23-degree lofts, while the hybrids are available in 18, 20, 23 and 26-degree lofts.

XXIO X - 8

Titanium & Tungsten

Don't look for blades or player's cavity backs in the new XXIO line. It’s blinged-out Super Game Improvement all the way, with a few interesting twists.

The first is the XXIO X’s titanium face. Titanium-faced irons certainly aren't new, and in fact are quite common in Japan, where moderate swing speed golfers are the norm. Callaway’s various Big Bertha Fusion irons, TaylorMade’s Burner CD and PING’s Rapture were sporting titanium faces a decade ago. XXIO says without price constraints it can create a titanium face thin enough to provide a larger sweet spot and higher ball speeds.

“It’s usually cost prohibitive to make a full set with titanium faces,” says Oakley. “That’s why you won’t see it in typical game improvement irons. When you start looking at higher end products, you can start doing some of the things you weren’t able to do when cost is more of an issue.”

The rest of the tech in the XXIO X irons is what you’d expect in an SGI iron – a larger sweet spot, tungsten-nickel sole weights for low CG’s, and progressive, iron-specific weighting. Shaft-wise, the premise is the same as with the metal woods - shafts co-designed with heads for Low Swing MOI.

“Every time we come out with a product,” explains Oakley, “the shaft, the grip and the head are all designed as one, and all are proprietary to us.”

XXIO X Irons -1

Pricewise, the XXIO X irons are a relative bargain compared to the newest player in this niche, Callaway’s Epic Star. The Cally’s list at $300 per club, while the XXIO’s are only $160 per club in steel (Nippon NS Pro 870GH DST – stiff/regular) and $200 per club in graphite (XXIO’s proprietary MP1000 in stiff/regular/senior).

Looking for custom shaft options? Don’t bother. XXIO doesn’t do custom fitting, for irons or metal woods.

“It has to do with the fact the club is designed holistically, to be one unit,” says Oakley. “When you start messing with some of the components, those components aren’t working together as one anymore.”

While some level of custom fitting may be part of XXIO's future, the only option today is plus-sized grips.

“Sometimes older players like bigger grips,” says Oakley. “It’s easier on their hands.”

Spec-wise the XXIO X irons are what you'd expect in an SGI iron, with a 37-inch long, 29 degree 7-iron.

XXIO X iron

 

Price Vs. Performance

Several weeks ago, MyGolfSpy gave you the skinny on the Epic Star - Callaway’s player in the premium arena. Callaway shaved a few grams here and there off the Epic, installed very light, premium shafts and presto, instant niche.

“We heard rumors Epic Star was coming,” says Oakley. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see other OEM’s follow suit. But we’ve been doing this for a while. XXIO’s core competency is this product line. If anything, new competition validates that there’s a market for it.”

That market, of course, being older golfers with cash to spend.

XXIO X - 2

Oakley says it’s not uncommon for golfers in the target demographic to gain up to 20 yards at XXIO Demo Days. That number obviously raises questions about the relative fit of their existing equipment, but the reality is most OEM’s don’t develop products specifically for the aging golfer. XXIO does, and there are a boatload of aging golfers out there, with an entire armada in the demographic pipeline.

If you don’t have a lot of golf-playing years left, would a club that’s easier to swing, goes a little farther and helps you play the game a little longer be worth the extra dough? For some, price makes it a non-starter, but for others?

The mother of a friend of mine may be a prime example. She’s in her 70’s and is, quite frankly, a stick. She’s in the Rhode Island Golf Hall of Fame, has played in 23 USGA championships and recently finished 10th in the British Senior Women’s Amateur, competing against women 20 years younger.

We’re not talking about a novice, here.

She demoed XXIO’s last year and sweet-talked her husband into an early Valentine’s Day present. After dumping her Titleist AP1’s with men's senior shafts, she now hits the ball higher, straighter and a good 10 yards longer. And – despite imminent back and shoulder surgery – she wound up qualifying in first place in the Florida Senior Olympics.

Talent? Absolutely. Ill-fitting equipment? Probably. Performance improvements with XXIO? Hard to argue otherwise.

XXIO X - 4

Nothing riles up the blogosphere like an article on premium priced equipment, and in many cases that rile is justified. With the Epic Star, it may very well be a case of putting a new dress on an old girl and calling her Tiffani, which casts some doubt on its premium price. At the very least XXIO can justifiably claim to develop technology specifically – and only - for this target market for nearly 20 years.

Niche market? Maybe, but every last one of us hopes to be part of it someday.

XXIO X comes in both men's and women's models and will be available for sale December 9th. Form more information, visit XXIOUSA.com.