PRGR is the Japanese golf company with no vowels. Where’s Vanna White when we need her?
If you could buy an O, E, and A and you’d get “Pro Gear” and most will assume this means the company makes equipment targeted at professional golfers. You are not correct, sir. The name intends to link the quality of materials used and manufacturing process with the professional designation. From a marketing standpoint, consider Chevrolet and GMC. Both come off the same assembly line, are mechanically identical, but one is Professional Grade while the alternative apparently is not. Professional as an adjective connotes a certain level of quality and craftsmanship, which is why companies like Snap-on (tools) and Viking (kitchen appliances) use a similar approach when labeling and marketing high-end (and high dollar) products.
WHEN OLD IDEAS BECOME NEW AGAIN
In 1983, PRGR developed Head Speed Theory, which from what I gather, is a paradigm of construction where the entire club and all its components are designed with the intent to maximize clubhead speed. Today, it’s a universal and fundamental premise of club design, but a quarter-century ago, it was several steps beyond cutting-edge. At that time, PRGR also produced several series of golf balls differentiated by swing speed. This concept should sound familiar as, a little over two decades later, it became the primary selling point when Bridgestone launched a ball-fitting campaign based on whether a player had a driver swing speed above or below the breakpoint of 105 MPH.
1984 witnessed the release of PRGR’s M-1 and M-2 drivers, which featured carbon heads, and in 1986 it released a lightweight driver with a standard length of 44” (everyone else in the industry was at 43”). PRGR representatives tout the INTEST iron series of 1988 as the industry launch point for utility irons designed as part of an iron set. It’s splitting hairs, and Cobra faithful cite 1975 and the first Baffler as a line of demarcation, but nonetheless, PRGR was answering questions other companies were yet to ask. As further evidence, in the early 90s, PRGR turned driver design on its head by literally flipping the driver head upside down. This shoved the previously high/forward CG lower and rearward, which raised launch, but more importantly, increased forgiveness. Keep in mind; this is 1992. DNA fingerprinting was just invented, George Bush was President of the United States, and Microsoft released Windows 3.1.
The most notable player to sign with PRGR during this era was Corey Pavin who repped the brand from 1997-2000 while cashing in on his 1995 U.S. Open victory. The early 2000s were mostly a continuation of product design focused on pushing boundaries and expanding the product lines. In 2003, it released the DUO driver, named because of its composite carbon and titanium construction. As a point of reference, one-year later Callaway would release its first composite driver, the ERC Fusion. PRGR added Sweep in 2007, a line exclusively for women and increased brand awareness by sponsoring the PRGR Ladies Cup on the Japanese LPGA tour.
Now, like other Japanese companies, the challenge is one defined by leveraging multi-media platforms and creating a sphere of influence to build upon overseas success in an attempt to gain some market share in North America. It's an onerous task, but one for which PRGR feels it has something unique to offer – namely better value in regards to quality of construction and performance relative to dollars spent.
By strict definition, Otaku are a faction of Japanese society whose obsessions make it impossible to function normally – Picture a 30-year-old living in his parent's basement in a room plastered wall-to-wall with images of a girl in a sailor outfit.
Causally (and in this case) it's more a reference to obsessions which may exceed "healthy or typical" boundaries, defined by behaviors such as paying attention to details others miss and taking additional steps in quality control, which others deem unnecessary.
PRGR hopes the net result is golf equipment which "makes the average golfer smile." While the exacting wording gets a little clunky in translation, the message is simple. Smiles are plastered on the faces of happy golfers and happiness is a derivative of quality golf shots which feel good, and preferably unlike competing products.
PRGR has four distinct lines -or what it terms "brands" of golf clubs.
Sweep is the line geared toward female golfers. It includes a full-line of irons and metalwoods, as well as bags and basic apparel. The pink and light-blue colorways are decidedly feminine and technologically speaking, it's what one would expect for this target audience. Lighter heads, more flexible shafts, and an overall design which places a premium on forgiveness via high launch and increased spin, define each club in this line.
Typically, the color red symbolizes energy, passion, and anger. In this case, it just means old – Or to be more politically correct, those advancing in age. The PRGR Red brand targets players who can't swing it quite like they used to and are willing to make some sacrifices (presumably in dispersion) to regain as much distance as possible. To make clubs longer, lighter and more forgiving, PRGR uses premium materials (Nabla Face Technology and Fujikura shafts). Given the latest Callaway release and Cobra Max lines, don't be surprised if PRGR pushes this one pretty hard in North America.
The egg franchise used to be (2007) the holding pen for edgy designs which "broke the mold" or cracked the egg as the PR folks would have it. Now the egg breaks both boundaries and the USGA and R&A rules. Every OEM has the capacity to make non-conforming equipment, but few broach this category, mostly to avoid any association with terms like illegal and non-conforming. But the Japanese market is decidedly different, and the same rules don't always apply. Japanese consumers demand (and are happy to pay big bucks) for equipment which feeds a need to push against conformity; USGA and R&A rules be damned.
The RS line is as player-ish as PRGR gets and it’s the line with which we spent a bit more time. You won't see any traditional butter-knife blades or super-compact cavity backs, but the RS Forged irons sit comfortably in the PXG 0311T, Srixon 765, Callaway Apex Pro range. In complementary fashion, RS wedges are designed to seamlessly pair with either RS Forged or RS Red irons.
Aesthetically, the RS irons are balanced, melding players geometry (little offset, relatively compact head shape, thin-ish topline) with purposely aggressive lines, coupled with a wavy-checkerboard theme, which is featured throughout the RS line.
PRGR doesn't overdue the stamping, sticking with the brand logo and product line as featured elements. But the real story with this set of irons is how PRGR fills the gap – or in this case, the hollow S25C forged body. Like other forged distance irons, a hollow cavity leaves the thin, maraging steel face in need of support to provide structural stability and improved feel via reduced vibration. The upside is a "hotter" iron, and while some irons have come close, thus far no OEM has replicated the feel a solid, one-piece forged iron.
Based on PRGR's technology, filling the entire hollow cavity isn't the best answer. Rather than injecting the cavity with polymer goo of some variety, PRGR positions a form, called FLASH*ONE, against the club face, which supports the desired point of impact. In testing, I found that this gave the RS irons a more authentic forged feel on pured shots, with shots caught a bit thin or on the toe still carrying a reasonable distance. The worst miss came from balls struck high on the face, so if you tend to catch irons a bit heavy, the RS Red is likely a better fit.
For my money forgiveness translates into how playable your miss is and with the RS Forged my misses were better than most irons in this category. The caveat (and I'm certainly splitting hairs here) is what a player is looking for in a miss. In a perfect world, I want a miss to provide enough feedback without drastic punishment. It's not a reasonable request, but it might be the best feature of the RS Forged. Because turf interaction is such a vital element in how an iron performs, I applaud the slight leading edge grind. As someone who takes an aggressive pass at the ball and medium-sized divot, a club must enter/exit the turf cleanly with neither too much nor too little bounce to make it in the bag. The RS Forged passes this test.
The RS wedges carry a similar aesthetic, design and profile. The notable differences are in the finish (matte black QPQ anti-rust) and use of tungsten/rubber weights to achieve a soft, yet solid feel. A herringbone pattern is milled into the wedge face (between the grooves) to increase spin on partial shots as well. It's at least minimally curious the only available lofts are 51* and 57*. With a stock 45* PW, it creates 6* gaps – and if this were billed as a GI or SGI iron, where players might lack swing speed/skill to necessitate carrying multiple wedges, I'd give them a pass. However, that's not the intended identity of this line.
Typically, JDM drivers, fairway woods, and hybrids carry comparatively large price tags and don’t offer the same technological benefits as major OEM juggernauts Callaway, TaylorMade, and Ping. That's a tough sell for North American consumers who may not have the same level of brand loyalty as Asian clientele. Neither the RS fairway wood nor hybrid are excessively out of line with typical US market prices ($330 and $270 respectively) and both utilize requisite face, sole and crown technologies to offer performance in-line with category leaders.
The primary point of distinction with PRGR is its use of moveable weights and an adjustable hosel in the RS series driver. At a price just north of $700, it's still higher than an off-the-rack Callaway Epic ($499), but it's on the same street as Callaway's Epic Star ($699) which is billed as a lighter version of the original Epic, albeit without an adjustable hosel. The point is, PRGR has a driver which is better-suited than many JDM OEMs to compete against those already popular in North America.
What PRGR may lack in depth, it makes up for in focus. Some brands feel it's necessary to have as many as ten separate lines of irons, while PRGR feels it can fit every golfer with four. My hunch is the magic number is somewhere in-between. Given the recent popularity in the "players irons, internal cavity filled with goo" segment of the market, the RS Forged iron is absolutely worthy of a place at the same table as PXG, Srixon, and TaylorMade, and at a price around $175/club, cost won't be the deciding factor.
What PRGR has is a top-shelf product, targeted lines of equipment and enough financial backing to move about the market with fewer pressures and restrictions than some other JDM competitors. What remains to be seen is exactly how PRGR intends to market itself directly to North America, and once that happens, we'll have a much better idea where it might be headed.
Would you bag it? Try it? Hard Pass? Let us know.