Let’s get some stuff on the table right away.
If you think spending more than $500 for a driver is ludicrous, this article is not for you.
If you think spending more than $300 for a fairway wood is insane, this article is not for you.
And if you think spending more than $1,200 for a 4-PW iron set is idiotic, then this article is definitely not for you.
In fact, for many of you reading this, the entire line of clubs we’re going to talk about today isn’t for you.
But if you plan on getting old, or if you’re there already, you may want to read on – there may be an XXIO in your future.
What’s an XXIO?
Let’s start with the pronunciation: It’s ZECK–see-oh. Just think Sexy-oh, but make the S a Z and you’ve got it.
XXIO is the premium priced sibling of Srixon and Cleveland, and was first introduced in Japan in 2000. The name itself isn’t some ancient Japanese saying – the XXI are the Roman Numerals for 21, as in the 21st century, and in Japanese, the Oh sound means king, leader or best in category. So, according to the company, XXIO is meant to represent golf equipment leadership in the 21st century.
Before you start thinking PXG Wannabe, know that XXIO is proud of the fact you will never find a US Tour player gaming their stuff. If you have a driver swing speed anywhere over 90 MPH, you’re not in XXIO’s target market. Your well-heeled parents? That’s a different story.
“Our target market is almost exclusively older baby-boomers, with swing speeds below 85 MPH,” says Chuck Thiry, XXIO’s VP of Strategic Partnerships. “That’s the healthiest portion of the golf world today. Those are the people playing the most rounds and who are spending the most money.”
If you’re still muscling it out there 250 to 300 yards, XXIO isn’t meant for you, at least not yet. Think of XXIO as you would a coffin, you’ll need it eventually.
Pricewise, XXIO ain’t cheap. Its newest releases hit the market earlier this month with the following price tags:
XXIO Prime Driver: $849.99
XXIO Prime Fairway: $579.99
XXIO Prime Hybrid: $379.99
XXIO Prime Irons: $1,039.99 (4-piece set, 7-PW)
For a full set, you’re easily looking at over $4,000, not including wedges and a putter. That’s PXG territory and then some.
“We don’t expect golfers to pay our price if a lesser product performs better,” says Thiry. “We try to win every fight based on performance, and we think we can give people who are struggling to maintain swing speed a better product. At that point, price goes out the window.”
A Unique Approach?
Virtually every major, minor and marginal OEM focuses on Tour-level equipment with Tour-level performance. XXIO turns that pyramid of influence upside down, with a total focus on the moderate swing speed player.
“Most brands make products that work for the best players in the world,” says Jeff Brunski, Director of R&D for Srixon/Cleveland/XXIO. “Then they adapt those technologies as effectively as they can to the mass market.”
According to XXIO, each club is designed from the ground up specifically for slower swing speed players. The most obvious design element is weight; XXIO clubs are among the lightest on the market. For the older player, lighter means faster and faster means longer – maybe not as long as they used to be back in the persimmon days, but long enough to enjoy the game more.
“Just changing the flex in an M2 driver is not going to increase head speed,” says Brunksi. “The CG in our club is lower and deeper, the flex of the (proprietary) shaft has been fine-tuned over 9 generations of product to fit this type of player. We’ve focused on creating something that type of player can hit higher and farther, as opposed to a product designed for an entirely different type of player and then swapping out the shaft for a senior flex.”
XXIO 9 is XXIO’s flagship product line. Imagine any OEM’s Super Game Improvement iron, make it lighter, easier to swing and easier to hit, and you’ve pretty much got it. The new XXIO Prime, however, is to XXIO 9 what XXIO 9 is to Super Game Improvement.
“It’s even lighter, even easier to swing for a player who doesn’t swing as fast as a XXIO 9 player,” says Eli Miller, Communications Manager for Srixon/Cleveland/XXIO. “It’s higher end because of more sophisticated manufacturing and lighter weight materials. It’s positioned as a more ornate and luxurious product.”
XXIO Prime irons have a steel cast body with a titanium face and tungsten inserts for a lower center of gravity. The lofts are strong and the finished clubs are light with proprietary shafts (29°, 349 gram 7-iron) and a Swing Weight of C8. XXIO designs and manufacturers all parts of the club, including the shafts and lightweight grips.
The Prime driver, fairways, and hybrids are also super lightweight. The driver checks in at a svelte 252 grams, but still manages to achieve a D3 swing weight.
“The shaft in the Prime driver is only 36 grams, probably half the weight of what you’d get off the rack,” says Brunski. “Our approach is to fine tune this flex profile (it’s available in Regular and Senior flex only) for the 85 MPH and slower swing speed player.”
The Prime driver plays to 46”, but the shaft features a softer butt for an easier swing and a softer tip to get the ball in the air with more of a draw bias. And like everyone else, XXIO says its tech expands the sweet spot.
For the more accomplished golfer entering his golden years, XXIO is introducing the new XXIO Forged irons. They’re the XXIO take on Srixon’s new Z 565 irons, a lighter overall club with forged feel and a thinned out, high strength steel face for more ball speed.
“Typically a fully forged head would mean sacrificing some ball speed,” says Brunski. “The balance we’re seeking here is a really soft, forged construction while maintaining good distance and ball speed by putting in that high strength steel face. The combination, if you can get it right, is a forged feel with better distance.”
The XXIO Forged irons use Srixon’s VT Sole for better turf interaction, but with slightly more bounce and a wider sole than the Z 565. As you’d expect with a distance iron, there’s a good-sized cavity in the back, and the lofts are strong (30° 7-iron). Nippon’s lightweight NS Pro 930GH 93-gram shaft is stock, available in stiff and regular only. XXIO’s proprietary 63-gram MX-6000 graphite shaft is optional.
A 6-piece set (5-PW) of XXIO Forged will set you back $1,017.99 in steel, $1,259.00 in graphite. A 4-iron, gap wedge, and sand wedge are available for $170 each in steel, $210 in graphite.
The Premium on Premium
So, does XXIO’s performance match its price tag? Can a line of equipment designed from the ground up for Grumpy Old Men and Golden Girls be worth that kind of money?
“When we were talking about bringing this brand to the US, I was one of the people scratching my head and thinking it wouldn’t work,” says Brunski (XXIO came to the US in 2010). “It has a name you can’t pronounce; it’s too expensive, and people aren’t going to buy it. But we were wrong. It’s done exceptionally well.”
XXIO is a difficult product to test if you’re not in the target demographic, particularly the driver. What we can say is the Prime and Forged irons both offer the kind of feel you’d expect from a Srixon, and both launch very high and want to fly very straight. If you have a swing speed in the mid-90’s or above you won’t like the Prime driver at all. It sets up closed, and launches very high with a profound draw bias. But then again, it’s a club designed for your parents or grandparents.
Which brings us back to the price: can any golf equipment be worth that kind of money?
When it comes to technology, Brunski says that to hit typical US price points, you have to pick and choose what technology goes into a club. “Can we afford a little bit of tungsten here to move the CG? Can we make the shaft a little lighter by using a higher quality carbon fiber? With XXIO, we include everything – every little incremental additional material, better alloys, stronger carbon fiber, we pour it all in there.”
XXIO’s selling proposition is simple: if you’re an older player, man or woman (women make up 35% of XXIO’s business), with a slower swing speed that Father Time says is unlikely to speed back up, their products will help you get the most out of the golfing years you have left. For the rich, aging country club set, that’s a powerful message.
Complaining about the cost of golf equipment has become a blood sport in 2016, and we can trot out tired clichés about how a loaded BMW and a base-model Chevy are both cars that will get you to work, but the driving experience will be completely different. The reality is high-end niche products are very profitable, provided the performance and service meet that clientele’s unique needs and expectations.
Consider Harley-Davidson. If all you want is a motorcycle, there are plenty of less expensive, high quality options. But bikers who buy Harleys aren’t buying motorcycles; they’re buying the Harley experience and lifestyle, and they’ll gladly pay a premium for it. If the product and the experience didn’t live up to expectations, Harley couldn’t pull it off.
The sudden and stunning success of PXG over the last 2 years proves golfers are no different – those with the means will pay a premium as long as they see value in the combination of service, customization, quality and performance that goes beyond a simple yards-per-dollar formula. XXIO is playing in that same arena, only with a different target demographic.
“If PXG is for you,” says Thiry, “then we’re for your Mom and Dad”