There are two stories to be told with Wilson’s new Staff Model golf ball. First, of course, is the ball.
The second story, however, may wind up to be a tad more compelling. It could be a game-changer, it could be a gimmick, but once it gets off the ground, it will most definitely be different.
We’ll discuss the party of the second part in detail a little farther down the page, but let’s start with the party of the first part: the new Wilson Staff Model four-piece urethane ball.
Wilson introduced the Staff Model concept last year as its product line designed exclusively for the game’s best players. The Staff Model blades have been a hit, and Wilson added utility irons to the lineup last fall as well as wedges last December.
“Staff Model products are for the absolute best players,” says Frank Simonutti, Wilson’s Global Director of Golf Ball Innovation. “This is the best urethane ball we’ve ever put together.”
The Staff Model ostensibly replaces the FG Tour as Wilson’s top-of-the-line, tour-level ball. The FG Tour was hard to find, however, as it was sold almost exclusively through Wilson’s Advisory Staff club pros. The new ball is similar to the FG Tour in that it’s still a four-piece ball (single-core, two mantle layers, and a urethane cover), but Wilson has adjusted the recipe to improve performance.
“We’ve increased the core velocity, so we’ve picked up speed there,” says Simonutti. “In our competitive testing, we found this to be the fastest ball in the urethane category.”
To increase velocity, Wilson has made the core – and by extent, the ball itself – firmer, putting it between 95 and 100 on the compression scale, depending on how you measure. “The ball is about eight compression points higher than the FG Tour, and it’s a good bit faster,” says Simonutti.
Firmer is faster. Where have we heard that before?
Engines and Wings
While short on specifics, Wilson does say the new Staff Model ball performs equal-to or better-than any other premium ball out there…in its own testing. That testing included members of Wilson’s Advisory Staff, several U.S. and European Wilson Tour staffers, other Tour players currently without ball contracts, and robots.
“It spins on 9-irons and wedges better than almost anything else out there,” says Simonutti. “There is one ball even with it, but it’s higher than anything else out there.”
If you think of the core as the engine of the ball, then dimples are its wings. The Staff model has a 362-dimple pattern and a urethane cover that’s 30 percent thinner than anything Wilson has done to this point.
“Everything from the core through the mantle is for velocity. Urethane is actually a negative on velocity,” says Simonutti. “It’s what gives you spin properties, especially on lower swing speed shots.”
The thinner cover means a larger percentage of it is affected by clubhead impact, hence that increased spin with higher lofted clubs.
That higher spin translates to tee shots, as well. This is a Tour-level ball, so expect it to spin like a Tour-level ball.
“Off the tee, it’s probably at the higher end of spin,” says Simonutti. “It’s meant for the best players – guys who need to work the ball off the tee and who needs the best control on approach shots.”
The Staff Model’s 362-dimple pattern is similar to that of the DUO Professional. However, Wilson did make the dimple depth shallower to help bring launch angle up. The DUO Professional doesn’t spin nearly as much and requires deeper dimples to bring launch angle down.
Wilson Staff Model Baller Box
Give Wilson credit for some outside the box thinking in introducing the new Staff Model balls. Unfortunately, the thinking may have been a little too outside the box. The new Baller Box Program, a subscription-based service designed to launch the Staff Model ball with a bang, got off to a false start this week.
The Baller Box Program has three key elements: a Direct-To-Consumer subscription plan, free customization, and unique packaging. Wilson envisions Baller Box as a kind of VIP club for subscribers, but logistical problems and math issues have put the subscription portion on hold for the time being.
The plan features a 3, 6, or 12-month subscription with quantity discounts and better pricing for the more extended plans. Wilson, however, failed to factor quantity discounts into its monthly pricing plan. A golfer buying one dozen per month for 12 months would have wound up paying less per dozen than someone buying four dozen per month for three months or two dozen per month for six months.
Wilson caught the snafu early enough, so while embarrassing there’s no real harm done. For now, Wilson is offering a one-month trial program with quantity discounts.
Beyond the subscription plan, Baller Box includes free customization with a fun little twist. For starters, you can get either three lines of text or a unique player number – up to four digits and in your choice of black, blue, red, or green – at no extra charge. So if you want your ball to commemorate the War of 1812, for instance, or get one dozen with 867 and a second dozen with 5309, you can. Wilson will add options for a custom logo or photograph printed on the ball, still at no extra charge.
The actual Baller Box itself is also a little different. Golf ball packaging hasn’t changed much since Lee Trevino was a lad: three balls per sleeve, four sleeves per box. The Baller Box breaks that mold. It’s a slick, white oblong package with no sleeves, just the balls cradled in a plastic matrix – sort of like a fancy egg-carton.
A more traditional box designed for retail will be released later this year.
To make the program more of a club, Baller Box subscribers will also get early looks at other new products, info on Wilson Tour staff testing, and other insider information and seasonal Members-Only discounts.
Wilson Staff Model Price, Availability & Final Thoughts
Wilson believes the new Staff Model balls are ultra-premium, and initial pricing reflects that. For the one-month trial program, a single dozen is priced at $49.99, two dozen at $47.49, and three dozen at $44.99.
Again, shipping and customization are included. Subscription rates will be released once the math gets sorted.
Creating an exclusive VIP club with unique benefits isn’t a bad idea, but Wilson is facing a tricky balancing act. Any OEM selling product on its website faces the same problem: you have to protect your retail partners. Quantity discounts and subscription rates have to be attractive enough to entice you, but not so enticing that retailers complain.
And another thing: at $44.99 to $49.99 per dozen, that ball damn well better perform.
Will the Baller Box subscription concept – once it gets off the ground – work? That depends on how you define work. If you define it as the Baller Box turning Wilson into an instant golf ball powerhouse, well then no. Considering where Wilson stands in golf ball market share, that’s not a realistic goal.
Wilson obviously believes the Staff Model is as good, if not better, than anything else out there (don’t worry, we’ll test it). Unfortunately, Wilson is vying for market share leftovers after Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade, Bridgestone and Srixon, and probably Snell and Vice. So one way to look at it is what does Wilson have to lose here? Business as usual moves the needle only so much, so trying something different to move it a little more is a risk worth taking.
And Baller Box is, in the big picture, a pretty low-risk initiative. If it flops, no real market share harm done. If it moves Wilson even just a little bit in the Tour-level ball space, then great. That might just help Wilson sell a few more golf balls than it would have otherwise.
When you’re in that market position, why the hell not?