Tour Edge makes the best fairway woods in existence.

It’s the type of bold and hyperbolic claim to which consumers have become numb – and for good reason. It seems OEM club tests invariably produce some reasonably valid data which allows said OEM to market a product as measurably better than competitors.

Critical consumers tired of the song and dance typically start the eyeroll shortly after “According to our testing…” But what happens when the claims have merit beyond use as advertising bullet points?

How would a consumer know to when to trust that which otherwise sounds too good to be true?

Answer? Unbiased, datacentric testing. MyGolfSpy doesn’t give out participation ribbons. Our MostWanted testing platform is authentically objective; employing a comprehensive approach which relies on a single point of analysis– performance. Leveraging strokes-gained algorithms, we can determine which club will perform best for the largest percentage of golfers. OEMs care because it establishes credibility. We care because it gives golfers the unfiltered truth.

Tour Edge’s CBX fairway is this year’s MostWanted category winner. That’s significant, but in talking with the team inside Tour Edge, it was more a validation than a surprise. Jon Claffey, VP of Marketing, told MyGolfSpy, “We know they (Callaway) make a great product. We had just seen so many test results and Trackman numbers on tour that it did not shock us.” Callaway’s Rogue and Rogue Sub-zero models finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. For the record, Tour Edge also outperformed fairway models from TaylorMade (M3, M4), Ping (G400), Titleist (917F2, 917F3) Mizuno (GT 180, ST 180) and thirteen other brands.

Twelve years ago, Tour Edge launched its first Exotics fairway metal, and at the time, it was a Goliath in a land of David’s. Tour Edge introduced combo-brazing and titanium faces while others stuck with welded faces and steel bodies. Tour Edge built a distance-minded fairway wood before any of the major OEM’s seemed interested in exploring the genre.

Tour Edge was playing chess while others played checkers and tour players took notice. Brandt Snedeker bagged a CB4 model en route to winning the FedEx Cup and Tour Championship in 2012. Matt Kuchar, JB Holmes, Luke Donald, and Brian Gay all put Exotics by Tour Edge clubs in play without compensation, winning a combined ten times on the PGA Tour and making several Ryder Cup appearances.

As expected, larger OEMs with more robust R&D budgets literally and figuratively narrowed the distance gap by creating more competitive offerings with similar-ish technology. This coupled with more lucrative (and restrictive) club deals swayed tour usage back in favor of the big brands. Tour Edge was in the middle of a financial gunfight with only a set of kitchen knives.

Tour Edge weathered the global financial crisis of 2008, primarily due to a more conservative business plan which relied upon consistently moderate growth and eschewed the churn and burn pattern of accelerated product release cycles, which created some short-term growth, but ultimately came at the expense of long-term viability.

Yet, Tour Edge continued to grow (up 25% in both 2016 and 2017) largely on the heels of its moderately priced and higher margin Hot Launch and Bazooka lines. Tour Edge has turned a profit each year since its inception. How many OEMs can make that claim?

The Tour Edge model had proven to be financially successful and sustainable, and there’s always an uncomfortable risk in deviating from a plan that’s already working. Be that as it may, what made Tour Edge different in 2006 was at best a distant memory. The buzz was gone, and even if those inside the walls of Tour Edge knew how good the Exotics line was, the general consumer was largely unaware.

Then, Adams Golf became Tour Edge’s Wally Pipp. Although TaylorMade purchased Adams Golf in 2012 and kinda sorta had plans to make Adams great again, this was the beginning of the end for Adams Golf, which at that time held court as the favored fairway woods and hybrids on the PGA Tour Champions. Why TaylorMade effectively ran Adams off the map and into the ground remains a bit of a mystery, but just as Wally Pipp was replaced by some guy named Lou Gehrig, Tour Edge is poised to throw everything it has at going from a brand some people remember to one which can’t be forgotten.

It was exactly the opportunity Tour Edge needed and starting in the fall of 2017; it began a revived and concerted effort to more aggressively market the CBX line of Exotics fairways and hybrids. Amongst other strategies, this meant assembling a small stable of paid tour staff. Eight players, including 2018 tournament winners, Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron and Bart Bryant signed on. But perhaps the most telling endorsement came from the winner of the Chubb Classic, who isn’t paid a time to play a CBX fairway, but made a point to credit his newly bagged three wood for its role in his play coming down the stretch, particularly on the pivotal 17th hole. He stated, “I very was fortunate I put a new 3-wood in my bag this week. It doesn’t have any left in it typically, so I knew the water was probably out of play.”

To date, players using Tour Edge clubs have earned eight runner-up finishes, 22 Top 5 finishes and 40 Top 10 finishes in 19 events this season on the PGA Tour Champions. Additionally, seven Exotics staff players currently rank in the Top 35 of the Charles Schwab Cup money standings and Exotics CBX has ranked as the #2 hybrid model in play for the 2018 season.

Tour validation is important for every OEM – but for a brand like Tour Edge, it’s a critical piece of building a complete resume and generating widespread interest from better players.

SECRET SAUCE

Every OEM works within constraints set forth by golf’s governing body, the USGA. On paper, it doesn’t appear there’s much room for innovation – at least not the type which creates a definite and visible separation between competing products. In addition, the base quality of equipment is decidedly better in 2018 than it was in 2006, when the first Exotics fairway wood launched.

With that, Tour Edge’s approach to the Exotics line is still different than any other OEM with a consistent presence in the North American market. To win the distance battle, Tour Edge engineers knew it needed a formula other OEMs couldn’t replicate. It had to drop spin rates significantly while maintaining top-end ball speeds, which is an onerous task because as loft increases so does spin (roughly 350 RPM per degree of loft). Titanium offers performance benefits, but it’s more expensive than steel, so most OEMs opt to use it only in drivers.

Spin and launch are largely controlled by CG location which is a determined by how and where weight is distributed throughout the clubhead. Rather than welding the face to the body, Tour Edge utilizes a proprietary combo-brazing process which creates 50 grams of discretionary weight – nearly 25% of the total 210-gram head weight on the CBX 3-wood. The carbon fiber plate on the sole assumes 25% of the total mass of the clubhead, and the result is a CG location other OEMs simply can’t replicate or more accurately, choose not to.

Because of the materials and processes, the Exotics line is more expensive to manufacturer. It also has a retail price of $349.99, $50 more than Callaway’s Rogue. But, what if Callaway or TaylorMade used the same technologies and materials, but maintained typical margins? David Glod, Founder and President of Tour Edge, hypothesizes retail pricing “would be close to $500.”

By subsidizing lower margins of the Exotics line by higher margins (and volume) on the Hot Launch and Bazooka lines, Tour Edge provides performance at the sacrifice of maximum profit.

GOING BACK

For Tour Edge to get back to the hype and hoopla of the late 2000s, it has to press on and capitalize on opportunities created by this new era of free agent golfers. Tour spend is down across the board, and Nike’s exit from the hardgoods space showed how ready players were to embrace the liberty of choosing which equipment to play…or not play.  TaylorMade nixed driver-only club deals, and every major in 2018 was won by a player without an equipment contract.

The shift hasn’t been seismic, but it is happening, and if the 2018 season is a harbinger, niche brands like Tour Edge only stand to gain.

At the professional level, on course performance has substantially more financial upside than OEM sponsorships, unless your name is Tiger, Rory, Phil or Rickie. In Jonathan Wall’s piece “Year of the Free Agents” he notes the ever-widening gap in earnings on Tour, comparing the 30th and 125th positions on the year-end money list. In 2015, that gap was nearly $2 million, but citing 2018 statistics, the difference in scoring average between the two positions is .62 strokes/round. Bryson DeChambeau just won the last two FedEx Cup events doing things in his typical, yet non-traditional manner. But the salient message remains – playing equipment which gives a player the best chance to win has the potential to pay dividends no OEM is willing to match.

GOING FORWARD

Tour Edge probably isn’t the first name consumers associate with high-performance fairway woods and hybrids. Hell, it might not even be in the top 5, which is both an acknowledgment and indictment of the power of marketing.

Brand recognition is a matter of context, and in the golf equipment world, such status is disproportionately created by those with the largest advertising and marketing budgets. It can be downright frustrating for an OEM like Tour Edge which, in spite Golf Lab’s testing showing the CBX fairway to be 16 yards longer than competitors and print, radio and TV advertisements stating the same, struggled to entice consumers to buy it in numbers.

Every OEM is a little full of malarkey, and the cacophony of marketing babble makes it hard for the mid and smaller OEM’s to scream loud enough to be heard. Too often consumers are entirely desensitized to the outrageous claims made or take whatever the OEM says as gospel truth. Case in point – there are golfers who believe bulge and roll is a new concept in driver design or that faces actually twist yet also claim there’s no tangible benefit to putters with technology.

The open market may be slanted toward the big brands, but the turf in the MyGolfSpy LabX testing facility is entirely level. We replace hype with cold, hard data so when a club, like Tour Edge’s CBX, is granted the MostWanted label; consumers know it’s based on actual performance and nothing else.

It’s only fitting then that sales of both the CBX fairways and hybrids accelerated after results from MostWanted were released. Perhaps, objective testing can do for smaller OEMs what buckets of cash and well-paid marketing departments do for major OEMs.

The difference between equipment which does well at retail, becomes marginally famous, or eventually category defining might be something as seemingly insignificant as a badge. Then again, maybe that’s pretty important.