Taylormade Does It Again!

(WRITTEN BY: GOLFSPY_T) Yesterday’s non-release of info about TaylorMade’s 2012 Equipment lineup was yet another example of the TaylorMade marketing machine doing what TaylorMade does best. Despite TM not confirming anything, plenty of media sites (both large and small) ran with eerily similar information, and in some cases the same photos (it’s as if all of it had been provided by the same source – weird right?). Even as some of the sites they more or less pay to say nice things about their products were dedicating large portions of their front pages to the new product lines, TM Carlsbad played coy about the info, even tweeting this little gem:

We’re waiting until tomorrow to confirm #TM2012 products but it’s tough; we are VERY excited. Thanks for all your tweets & comments #TM2012

This morning, as the “official” info started hitting my mailbox. The benefit of following up an official non-release with a day of actual releases became apparent; you get twice the saturation, and twice the coverage.

Never Forget To Read The * In Claims

I suppose not surprisingly, the bulk of the coverage isn’t around the R11’s (a slightly tweaked version of the original – more on that in a bit), the hot “news” is centered around the new Taylormade RocketBallz fairway wood. In cased you somehow missed it during the marketing onslaught, the new RBZ, which in key aspects bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the last 2 generations of Adams fairway woods, is 17 yards longer than the previous Burner fairway…or so says TaylorMade.

Here’s the quote from the presser:

  • RocketBallz Fairway Woods Promote up to 17 Additional Yards. Really.
  • RocketBallz fairway woods combine RocketBallz technology with increased face size, low CG location, advanced playability features and a lightweight shaft and grip. The combination of these elements promotes a remarkable increase in distance – better players will gain up to 17 yards.*

Now be sure to pay very, very close attention to that asterisk right there, because the fine print it references is a bitch.

* better player claim against Burner 11 Fairway, robot testing at 150 mph ball speed, total distance.

Are We Robots?

First of all, humans aren’t robots, but that’s a debate for another day. Here’s the other extremely important reality; the overwhelming majority of golfers are incapable of generating 150MPH of ball speed with a driver, let alone a fairway wood. In fact, based on our own testing with fairway woods, our testers (who as a group tend to generate above average club head speed), generate an average of 130-135MPH worth of ball speed with a 3 wood.

Granted, it’s probably marketing 101, but doesn’t it strike you as a bit disingenuous to advertise improvements that 95%+ of your potential customers will never realize? For me this is yet further proof that fluff sells over substance, and golfers are willing to believe just about anything. Can you really fault TaylorMade for playing to our weaknesses?

“If I’m wrong I’ll shave a TaylorMade logo into my head…”

Now, I’m not suggesting that golfers won’t see some improvement over the previous Burner. I mean, the Adams fairways are known to be among the longest on the market today, and well, if it looks like a duck… But if you’re honestly telling me that the average golfer is going to pick up anything close to 17 yards…well, I’m politely asking you to prove it.

“If I’m wrong I’ll shave a TaylorMade logo into my head and dye what little hair I have left green to match the revolutionary new accent color of the RBZ.”

Adjustable Sole Plates (or ASP) is Pointless

The other significant news from yesterday’s non-release (and today’s actual release) is the long awaited announcement of the follow up last year’s STOOPID successful R11 driver. I don’t have any inside information, but if I were a betting man, I’d wager that the new Taylormade R11S was originally scheduled to be released mid-summer/early fall 2011, but when R11 sales destroyed every reasonable expectation, TaylorMade did something very uncharacteristic; they did nothing.

While there are some tweaks or “improvements” as some might call them, the R11S (note, it’s not the R12) offers what I consider to be slight evolutionary improvements. I don’t believe that even TaylorMade would argue that it is a revolutionary product.

In my opinion, the only significant change (at least where adjustability is concerned) is the increased change in loft realized by the hosel-based Flight Control Technology. The R11S, now allows for 1.5 degrees of adjustablility in both directions. While I can say with almost certainty that most golfers would be best served finding their ideal setting and leaving it, there is something to be said for having the option to make changes as your swing changes or as course conditions dictate.

While you could make an argument that the Titleist system is more practical, the Cobra system easier to use, or that Callaway’s new system shows more promise, I’m inclined to say, for now anyway, TaylorMade’s implementation is at the top.

I’ve said from day 1 that TaylorMade’s Adjustable Sole Plate (or ASP) is pointless. Sure, it looks nifty. It’s one more thing you can use your TaylorMade wrench on, and it reads brilliantly on paper, but the thing about any sole modification is that to truly be effective it requires turf interaction. For ASP to work, not only do you need to begin your swing with the sole of your driver firmly on the ground, you would need to return it to that same grounded position at impact. Full disclosure, I’m no Hank Haney, but bottom line, if you’re making contact with the turf with your driver, well, simply put, you’re doing it wrong.

Granted, if you’re the Sergio Garcia type who occasionally will play his driver off the deck, then ok, it matters. Otherwise, it’s basically pointless. Shiny and red, but pointless.

Golf Industry (vs) Auto Industry

Now sure, the auto industry is notorious for releasing new models year after year, offering little more by way of improvement than chrome accents on the radio dials, but ASP wasn’t that. From a functionality standpoint it’s more akin to adding a 5th wheel and arguing that it offers a 20% improvement in handling. In the R11S TaylorMade is giving you two additional settings, which I guess is like putting mag wheels with spinners on your superfluous 5th wheel. We all want that right? Improvements made to nearly pointless “technology” are nearly pointless.

Fluff (vs) Substance

Moveable Weight Technology remains unchanged in the R11S, and while I’ve yet to see any real evidence that MWT alone can impact ball flight whatsoever, it remains a big selling point. Again, it’s fun to play with, but there’s not much substance to it. Now certainly there are some actual benefits to Moveable Weight Technology, the kind of stuff that actually could matter to the average golfer, but since TaylorMade isn’t talking about them, I’m not going to do their work for them. But if you believe moving around a tiny percentage of overall club mass is going to impact meaningful change on your ball flight, I have a lovely bridge you might be interested…and it’s adjustable (it’s a drawbridge).

Finally, once the wrench is out of your hands, the R11S offers a couple of other enhancements and tweaks over the original. First, they’ve bumped the head volume up to 460cc. Given TaylorMade’s history of launching smaller drivers in the Spring and their 460cc counterparts later in the year, this also adds to my speculation that the R11S was originally planned for a 2011 release.

460cc in an of itself is neither good nor bad. If you prefer larger heads it’s good. If you perfer smaller ones, it’s bad.

Finally, TaylorMade boasts of refined aerodynamics in the R11S. As with the RocketBallz Fairway wood, the more scooped out sole shaping is, to my eye, eerily similar to that of the Adams Speedline series (particularly the 9064 and 9088 series). Those similar designs have produced some of the fastest ball speeds among the drivers we’ve tested, so it’s reasonable to assume that if TaylorMade has borrowed a page from somebody else’s playbook, the R11S may prove to be longer than the original.

Look, my intent isn’t to tear the new TaylorMade lineup apart. Golf companies “borrow” from each other all the time, and there’s a finite amount of ground-breaking left to be done. Based on my own experience with the original R11, I’m confident that #TM2012 will prove to be as good as just about anything else on the market, but I don’t expect we’ll see anything truly spectacular either. If I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, and the first to recommend you go try the new stuff for yourself. But the story here isn’t the clubs. The most interesting aspect of the new release can be found in the marketing itself.

TaylorMade Releases Stuff and the Sheep Come Running…

The lessons learned from yesterday’s non-release are as obvious as they are disappointing. TaylorMade once again proved it is without question the biggest name in golf; the Shepard of the golf industry…and well, what’s a shepard without sheep? Don’t bother answering that. We also learned that when the Shepard wears Adidas, the flock’s numbers will be strong, and yesterday they came out full force with tails wagging.

The disproportionate interest (at least when compared to real-world benefits) also serves as further proof that the perception of “new technology” is more than enough to overpower the actual reality, and that there’s no easier way to sell a wood than to stamp “TM” on the sole plate (adjustable or otherwise). What I find sad is the number of golfers already expressing an extreme desire to put the R11s or RocketBallz in their bags.

Who Buys a Club Without Trying it First? Turns Out, A Lot Of People Do

It’s one thing to be excited about the release of a new club. Hell, if I’m being on honest, I’m a little excited.  I’m looking forward to checking out the R11’s and RocketBallz fairway, and the new supposedly ground-breaking wedges (that one hasn’t been announced, or even non-announced yet), but being curious, and buying without taking so much as a swing are two different things. It disappoints me that so many golfers are going to pre-order something from #TM2012 (and I can promise you pre-orders will be strong), and otherwise buy sight unseen. How can one say something like “these are the best clubs ever, I can’t wait to buy them”, when 99.9% of golfers haven’t taken so much as a swing. Who buys a club without trying it first? Baaah, Baaah (and other assorted sheep noises).

If the so called objective media wants to roll out the red carpet and treat every TaylorMade release with the same open arms with which a  pre-teen girl would welcome Justin Bieber that’s one thing, but as golfing consumers we all need to spend more time reading the fine print, and differentiating between what’s real, and what’s little more than eye-candy coated in gooey marketing speak.  Do me a favor, tone down the excitement a notch.

You want to get excited…the next time one of the little guys puts out a press release, read it…read it good. There’s a good chance it will offer you a glimpse into what the big guys will be working on next year.