We’re not ones to sugarcoat, so let’s be blunt; Q2 of 2017 was not kind to Titleist.
Year Over Year club sales down 21%. That’s in the first spring following the launch of the 917 Driver.
Year Over Year Ball Sales, the lifeblood of the Titleist business, down 6.6%. That’s in the first few months following the launch of a new Pro V1.
All of that is real, and none of it is particularly good news for Titleist, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t cause for optimism and excitement within the company and among its fans.
The 718 Series
With the release of more iron sets than you can count on one hand, Titleist is hoping to put Q2 in the rearview, and hopefully, recapture the attention of a consumer that has slowly drifted towards its competitors.
All of the requisite rumblings that accompany releases of this magnitude suggest Titleist is a company that believes it’s poised to make a strong statement, perhaps even a comeback of sorts with its 718 lineup; inarguably its most robust iron lineup ever.
As I hinted at above, Titleist’s 718 lineup includes 6 models. Mainstays AP1, AP2, T-MB, CB, and MB are joined by a new model, the AP3. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Across the entire lineup, the consistency of the bullet points is exactly what you’d expect from Titleist.
Not one for hyperbole, Titleist forgoes anything akin to SpeedFoam (it offers not so much as a dollop). While it perhaps overemphasizes its use of Tungsten as much as any of its competitors, the benefits are at least quantifiable, and so while its use is often discussed, it's generally in matter of fact tones.
As you’ll see, Titleist does make its fair share of distance claims, but as if hedging for the betterment of the golfer, those claims are generally accompanied by the reassurance that Titleist’s particular flavor of longer doesn’t come at the expense of accuracy and green holding power, and it always includes the strong recommendation that you get a proper fitting to find the Titleist 718 iron that’s right for you.
718 is about maximizing MOI and ball speed, while maintaining the proper launch, trajectory and shot-stopping control that players need to hit greens more consistently. Irons are scoring clubs. It’s about hitting your number and stopping the ball close to the pin. Even with distance-focused irons like 718 AP1 and AP3, which are just as long or even longer than the competition, the ultimate goal was playable and repeatable distance. When it comes to hitting a good iron shot, distance without control is meaningless. – Marni Ines, Director, Titleist R&D Irons Development
So now that we’re on the same page with the Titleist approach let’s look at what each iron brings to the table.
Titleist doesn’t do Super Game-Improvement, so that leaves the AP1 as the most-forgiving iron in the Titleist lineup.
The most noteworthy change is a move to a progressive design. Long irons feature hollow-body construction that pushes the CG down and back for higher launch. The mid and short irons offer a large undercut cavity for better trajectory control.
For the distance obsessed, Titleist puts the gains at 2.6 MPH more ball speed and 5.8 yards over the 716 AP1, but it’s important to note that data is from the 4-iron and may not translate to the entire set.
To an extent, it’s uncharacteristically Titleist and reads a bit like a company bending to the demands of the modern consumer who doesn’t always know what’s best for his game. So, I say enjoy the numbers for what they are, but keep your focus on tighter dispersion with more stopping power.
The 718 AP1 has a retail price of $125 per club ($999 8-piece set) steel and $140/$1,199 for graphite.
The new addition to the Titleist iron franchise is the AP3. Titleist’s positions the AP3 between the AP1 and the AP2, which you’d think would call for an AP1.5, but the story here is that the new model borrows from some of the best elements of both the AP1 and AP2.
It’s simple math, people: AP1 + AP2 = AP3.
"The invention of AP3, which combines the distance and forgiveness of our best-selling, game-improvement AP1 iron with the look and feel of our tour-favorite AP2, is a significant advancement that will help a wide range of golfers, and further illustrates why more of the world’s best players have Titleist irons in their bags.” - Josh Talge
From a market standpoint if not for one small detail, the AP3 would fit perfectly in what our Chris Nickel just yesterday described the Forged Distance category. The rub here is that the AP3 isn’t forged, but like most of the irons that fit the description, what we’re talking about is forgiveness in a visually compact design.
Think PXG or the TaylorMade P790. Looks like one thing, plays like another; that’s the goal.
According to Titleist, the AP3 incorporates lessons learned during the creation of its premium C16 product into what it’s calling its longest, fastest player’s iron ever.
As the category demands, the AP3 features the compact shape preferred by better players, while offering the forgiveness less than better players such as myself need (desperately).
The AP3’s speed comes from its hollow-body paired with a thin and unsupported L-Face. The MOI comes from nearly 85 grams of Tungsten in each of the long and mid iron heads, which helps maintain ball speeds across the entire face.
This distance claim here is 1.5 MPH and 6.4 yards over the 716 AP2, and again, that comes from robot whacking a 4-iron.
Let’s not get too wrapped up in that detail because while the AP3 might be long and fast, according to Titleist, the distance boost doesn’t come at the expense of the spin necessary to hold greens and that’s a detail the importance of which I can’t overemphasize, which is why I’m going to keep hitting you over the head with it throughout this entire story.
The 718 AP3 retails for $162.50 per club ($1,299 set) steel and $187.50/$1,499 graphite.
With the AP2 you more or less know what you’re going to get. That’s not a statement meant to undersell the AP2, but the fact of the matter is that Titleist has a good thing on its hands, and so other than the requisite amount of refinements a 2-year cycle dictates, the company isn’t about to mess with it.
The 718 version features a thinner forged body with a high-strength spring steel face. That’s what gets you a bit of extra distance while an improved CG progression – particularly in the long irons – provides better performance on mishits.
As you would expect the AP2 retains its tour-preferred profile and its signature feel, while a change to the leading edge provides more efficient turf interaction.
Apart from an appreciably refined aesthetic, we’re not talking about a significant change, but for those who are interested, the distance claim with the AP2 is 1 MPH and 2.4 yards over the previous model. But again, irons are scoring clubs and the AP2’s story is about control, precision, and holding greens instead of rolling over them.
The 718 AP2 retails for 162.50 per club ($1,299 set) steel and $187.50/$1,499 steel.
The utility club that became a full set offering, the T-MB might also fit in the forged distance category, except, well…You know, it’s not forged, which frankly shouldn’t matter. Billed by Titleist as Modern Muscle, like the AP3, the T-MB features foam-free hollow-body construction in a relatively compact package. An average of 93.9 grams of Tungsten in the toe and help provide the desired launch conditions while boosting stability.
As it did with the AP2, Titleist has improved the CG progression to bring launch numbers closer to optimal throughout the set. And while, yes, there is another distance boost for those of you who want it, (1.2 MPH and 1.1 yards over the 716 T-M) it’s not just about launching high and flying far, it’s about landing soft with the kind of stopping power that allows aggressive players to hunt flagsticks.
The 718 T-MB retails for $249 per club ($1999 set) steel and $275/$2199 graphite.
The classic players cavityback in the Titleist lineup; the 718 CB gets more than a touch of modern from…You guessed it, Tungsten. And while that reads like an ongoing industry cliché, it’s also true that the added mass it provides allows designers to do things from a launch and forgiveness standpoint they simply can’t do with steel alone.
Beyond the subtle refinements, as with the AP2, you more or less know what you’re getting here. The addition of a progressive CG height helps optimize trajectory at each loft, without compromising the classic CB profile.
You won’t find any distance claims here. The CB is 100% about trajectory control and shotmaking precision.
The 718 CB retails for $162.50 per club ($1,299 set) steel and $187.50/$1,499 graphite.
What’s a Titleist lineup, or any iron lineup for that matter, without a blade?
Titleist suggests the 718 MB is for the purist and that’s certainly true. You know the drill here – thin toplines, narrow soles, minimal offset and an entirely compact design. Workability and trajectory control? Sure. Forgiveness? Maybe a little, but certainly not much.
That is the nature of nearly every MB, and the 718 stays true to that.
The 718 MB retails for $162.50 per club ($1,299 set) steel and $187.50/$1,499 graphite.
Looking at the specs, the AP1 and AP3 standout for their strong (even by loft-jacked standards) lofts. A 21° 4-iron bookended by a 43°PW and two Gap Wedges (48° and 53°) doesn’t exactly align with distance without compromising green-holding power story, but it’s also important to remember that loft is just a number, and it seldom paints the complete picture of performance.
It’s dicey for sure, but I’m reserving final judgment until we get a chance to see what the ball flight looks like.
The stock shaft in the AP1, AP3, and AP2 is True Temper’s AMT series (Red – AP1, Black – AP3, Tour White – AP2). Titleist used the AMT in the 716 AP2 with good results, so it makes sense to carry it through to the entire AP lineup.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, in a traditional shaft set, all of the shafts are the same weight. With AMT (ascending mass technology) shaft weight increases by 3 grams as you move from the long to the short irons. The idea is that lighter long iron shafts facilitate higher launch and more head speed, while heavier short iron shafts provide more control.
The remaining stock shaft options include Project X PXi (T-MB), Project X LZ (CB) and the standard Project X (MB). Titleist has traditionally offered a better selection of shafts than anyone else in the industry, and that hasn’t changed with the 718 lineup. Several additional options are available at no upcharge.
The Final Word
It’s overstating it to say that the 718 lineup is make or break for Titleist, but its release comes at the time when the company could benefit from a shift in momentum. It’s a compelling, aesthetically improved lineup, made more compelling still by the inclusion of the new AP3, but the reality is the market is highly competitive market right now, and Titleist’s rep isn’t quite what it used to be.
Callaway is a strong number one and that allows it the luxury of holding its next Apex until basically whenever it feels like it needs fresh momentum. TaylorMade has its most robust and aesthetically pleasing lineup in years, and Mizuno is poised to launch its MP-18 franchise at a time when the company is experiencing a bit of a renaissance on tour. PXG continues to make its presence felt bigly in the premium market.
I do not doubt that the 718 lineup will resonate – and loudly so – with the loyal #TeamTitleist crowd, but if the company is going to gain any appreciable market share, it’s going have to expand its reach and take a cut from its competitors.
That’s no easy task.
The challenge in that is that Titleist doesn’t design for the launch monitor with the same fervor as the market leaders. Descent angles and green-stopping power while critical elements of proper fitting and strong performance, don’t offer quite the same sex appeal as 5 more yards – and lookout if one shot goes another 5 yards still. Sold! Strokes Gained and the kind of metrics that suggest lower scores; the average guy isn’t thinking about that stuff. Just make the ball go far, like Epic far.
Within this reality, if Titleist is going to do more than maintaining the status quo, it will need to rely more heavily than ever on experienced fitters who can explain to the distance hungry masses why consistently high and soft will better translate to lower scores than long and sometimes longer.
Again, that’s no easy task.
New Titleist 718 irons will be available in golf shops worldwide beginning 9/29, with fittings beginning 9/1.
For more information about the Titleist 718 iron lineup, visit Titleist.com.