PGA Show 2011

Dave Tutelman -- February 5, 2011

I finally got to go to my first PGA Show. It was mind-blowing.

I have been to conventions at the Anaheim Convention Center. I worked for years in a building a quarter mile long.  The Orange County Convention Center blows both these venues away with its sheer size. In fact, just the west building -- which the PGA Show filled up -- blows them all away.

And it was size with variety. I never even got to the section where the golf clothing was, but it was more than a third of the floor space at the show. And I pretty much ignored the acres of golf travel booths, golf souvenir and memorabilia booths, golf ball booths, etc. But there was still plenty enough to see and do to keep me extremely busy. Just look at the floor plan on their web site.

The most mind-blowing surprise there? A golf ball with a USB port!

Here is my stream-of-consciousness recollection, aided by photos, calling cards, and brochures.

Note: Many of the pictures here were captured from the subject company's web site. In each such case, the accompanying text includes a link to that site. Any company that objects to this use of its images should contact me and I will remove them.

Pro-Head Golf

The occasion for my attending was to help staff the booth of Pro-Head Golf, for which I am VP of Engineering. We make a training aid that teaches you to keep your head still and maintain your spine angle. It was invented by our president, Bob Doyle. Below left is a picture of Bob and me in our booth.


Martin Hall and me at our booth, next to a huge poster of.... Martin Hall!


We got a really good response from the PGA teaching pros at the show. They seemed to feel that it was a must-have for every teaching facility. I hope it works out that way.

One of the first teachers to adopt the Pro-Head is Martin Hall, The Golf Channel's new instructor for the weekly Golf Academy show. Martin was on board with the trainer really early, while we were still prototyping. He suggested some changes that were a big improvement, and which are now incorporated in the product. Martin spent some time at the booth. He is a charming, smart, funny fellow. Not at all corny, as he sometimes comes across on TV.

Friends we haven't met yet -- or for a while

I connected with a lot of people at the show, some of whom I had met before, and even more that I only knew via the Internet. Here are some of those contacts:

Spinetalkers Forum

This is a pictures of a bunch of guys I know mostly from my participation in the Spinetalker's Forum on Yahoo! From left, they are:

  • Ed Johnson, the owner and moderator of the Spinetalker's Forum. It is a discussion group about clubfitting and clubmaking. It got its name from its inception in the 1990s, when it was the focal point for the discussion of spines in shafts, which the shaft manufacturers denied even existed.
  • Russ Ryden, the owner of Fit2Score Golf. (I'm not certain he's a member of Spinetalk. But,even if not, he know a lot of the folks who are.) Russ and I have worked together on a few projects, mostly having to do with shaft behavior and fitting. "Working together", in this age of the Internet, does not mean we were ever in one another's physical presence -- and in this case we weren't until now.
  • Don Johnson, the Technical Committee Chairman of the International Clubmakers Guild. Don and I have also worked on a couple of shaft-related projects over the years, but this is the first time I met him.
  • Me.

The EI Mafia

All three of us at the right were also in the previous picture. But Russ, Don, and I have a special bond. Each of us has built an EI Machine to measure the flex profile of golf shafts. EI is the fundamental property of anything that flexes. It can be measured directly, but not many flex machines today do that. The three of us have built instruments that do EI measurement:
  • Don Johnson (middle) was the first, around 2005. His machine was big and expensive, but broke a lot of ground and showed us where the pitfalls were.
  • I (right) took up where Don left off, coming up with a cheap-and-dirty machine, having learned a lot from Don's experience. I built it in a weekend, and have made almost no modifications since. It works as well as Don's, but is smaller, lighter, and much cheaper.
  • Russ (left) decided the world needs a lab-quality EI machine, and spent time designing one. I was involved as a consultant of sorts, because I had done it and knew where the limitations of precision and accuracy were. Russ has good resources for things like industrial-strength precision parts and machining. He and his team came up with an expensive but outstanding machine. He made about a dozen of them, and is taking orders for the next batch.

Newton is credited with saying, "If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." I wish we could have taken the picture standing on one another's shoulders -- but we're all a little old for that.

Friends of clubmakers

Every club in my bag (except for the 3-wood and putter) was designed by Jeff Summitt (Hireko and Dynacraft) or David Dugally (Vector and Golf Coast). I have not seen David in about six years, and Jeff in 14 years.

That's Jeff Summitt in the picture with me at the Hireko exhibit. They have a bunch of cool new clubheads for 2011. I have no doubt I'll try some before the year is over.

David Dugally didn't have a booth this year, but was roaming the show with Jeff Moreno of Fierce Golf. David was a design partner for the first (and, so far, only) two models of shaft from Fierce: the Full Force and the Tour Deep. (I have a Full Force in my #1 driver -- which is topped off with one of David's TourSpec heads.) David and Jeff were my entree into the Fujikura and Matrix hospitality suites. (More about that below.)

I also got a chance to say hello to Ed Mitchell whom I haven't seen since I visited him at his Dayton OH factory in 1998. His son is doing some of their design these days, including their latest bending machine. Imagine a digital SteelClub angle machine. Well it's here!

Training aids and performance monitors


Officially, my portfolio at the show was training aids. So let me start with that category. There was a significant corner of the floor devoted to training aids, teaching, practice devices, and body conditioning.

Flexible, weighted training clubs

Our booth was right next to Smart Body, a company that specializes in exercise and conditioning products. They had a new product at the show that hasn't made their web page yet, a practice club with a heavy head and a very flexible shaft. It seemed to be a cross between a Momentus and a Whippy Tempo Trainer. Alas, it is only for practice swinging; I was very interested in it until I found out you can't hit balls with it; then I lost interest in a hurry.

There were quite a few similar products, the "Orange Whip" being the most visible of them. Combined with a curved, tilted platform they call the "Orange Peel", it is an interesting exercise in swinging with tempo and balance.

Flatball

One of the more novel practice devices I saw was a miniature hockey puck called a "Flatball". It is a quarter-inch thick rubber disk about the diameter of a golf ball. The idea is to hit it from a mat or carpet. If you're a little thin or fat, it will be a total disaster -- as opposed to a golf ball or whiffle ball, which won't tell you much unless you can read a trajectory reasonably well.

I got a sample Flatball. When the weather gets better, I'll try it. In the meantime, the jury is out.

High-tech instruction stations

A growing trend is the high-tech instruction station, incorporating launch monitor, cameras, and other gadgets to measure the swing. One of the more impressive offerings of this genre is from Swing Catalyst. The picture to the right is a screenshot of their computer display. It shows:
  • A video of the golfer, taken from one of the up-to-four cameras supported.
  • The launch monitor to the right of the video image.
  • A shaft plane line, drawn by the instructor using an on-screen drawing capability. (That is pretty standard on systems of this type. I remember taking videotaped lessons a dozen years ago; the teacher had 1/8" wide strips of tape, that he put on the TV screen for the same purpose.)
  • The output of a foot pressure plate, indicated by green arrows I have drawn on the display. The upper display shows the pressure on the two feet, and the path of the center of pressure during the swing. The lower display is the torque exerted by the feet on the ground, as a function of time during the swing.

aboutGolf 3trak launch monitor

In early 2008, I talked with an engineer at aboutGolf as part of my technology forecast research. The subject was their new camera-based launch monitor technology, which they called 3trak. At the time, he saw the instrument being available (at least for early-adoption "partners") by late summer of 2008, and costing in the $3000 range.

Late and more expensive has always been the norm in hardware/software development. I know; I did that for a living before I retired. But 3trak's story is a bit ridiculous! I don't know the exact date of availability, but it was late by a lot. And the price today starts at $12,500 and goes up from there. Ouch! At that price, I don't know how interesting it is. They are in the ball park where they have to compete with TrackMan and FlightScope. And I don't think they compete in that ball park.

Golf Dynamics Pro

The most interesting mini-booth in The Inventors' Corner was Roger Davenport and the Golf Dyanmics Pro Free Swing Analyzer. No, it's not free. It analyzes free swings.

At the heart of this product is a three-axis accelerometer (three accelerometers, if you want to be precise) in a module that attaches to the crown of a driver. (It attaches with conventional double-sided tape that you can buy almost anywhere.) It measures the motion of the driver head in three dimensions, and transmits the data wirelessly to a receiver built into a USB connector. The rest of the product is software that implements Davenport's algorithms, as described in his patent. It builds a detailed profile of the swing, including things like duration of each segment of the swing, face angle at impact, maximum velocity and acceleration, and even shaft bend.

I need to review the math in the patent. The last time I allowed myself to be convinced you could use acceleration as a proxy for shaft bend, I was wrong. That was 13 years ago, and this accelerometer is much better -- but I still want to be sure before I buy in.

If this device does what it claims, it is well worth its price of $600.

And the winner is...

I suppose I can be forgiven for my bias in favor of the Pro-Head trainer. But, since the rules say I can't vote for my own company, let me nominate the SwingRite as the training aid of the show. Our booth was back-to-back with theirs, and I got an extended demo of the SwingRite from Chuck Whitney, the inventor and CEO. The video at the right is a demo of the product by Kate Whitney, their President, who showed me around the latest version of the product.

Basically, it is a gripped "stick" that you swing like a club. It is heavy enough to feel realistic, and short enough to swing indoors. What it does is click when it reaches a certain speed. (The trigger speed is pre-set by the user.) It tells you if you have a good release, and where in the swing it occurs.

Not that it is new -- it has been around for years -- but it is still really effective at what it does, and for a reasonable price.

I managed not to spend anything on "show specials" while I was in Florida. But the biggest temptation of the week was this gadget. There is still a bit of regret I didn't pick one up. Maybe next year. I'm sure they'll be back.

Clubs and Components

Fujikura Composites Shafts

Fujikura had a hospitality suite, where they had set up their Enso 3D Clubfitting System. Alex Dee, VP of Fujikura Composites America, was on hand to put it through its paces.

I had earlier mentioned the proliferation of companies offering high-tech instrumented swing analysis. This one is the biggest and IMHO the best of them. It is a joint effort by Fujikura and Vicon Motion Systems. It includes:
  • Three orthogonal cameras to capture the swing in 3D. (In a 2008 technology forecast, I had predicted this would be available in the near future. I was pleased to see it done, and done so well.)
  • An array of additional cameras, to capture more three-dimensional information of importance to clubfitting. If you look at the pictures, these cameras are high and to the right of the target line. That means they look roughly perpendicular to the swing plane for a right-handed golfer. Therefore, little or no correction is needed to get detailed measurement of in-plane motion, including in-plane shaft motion.
  • The cameras capture motion at between 240 and 700 frames per second, depending on the model. That shows clubhead motion every 2 inches even at peak clubhead speed (assuming a 100mph swing).
  • A launch monitor to independently capture the standard launch conditions with the precision it was designed for.
  • At least one computer to analyze all this. I did not count the computers. There were two consoles on the table, but one was a laptop that might just be a display console for the main analytical computer. Hard to believe that a laptop would pack enough horsepower to actually be the analytical computer.
  • Clubs with precisely located reflective dots, which make it easier (possible?) to for the computer to locate key features when analyzing club and shaft motion.
I watched as Alex and a few other Fujikura technical folks ran through the Enso drill with two golfers. Among the things that were interesting, that I have never seen another system provide, were hand motion in the vicinity of impact and isolated pictures of the bent shaft (along with numbers quantifying the bend). The hand motion issue came up with Jeff Farley, who is a long-drive competitor that came to the Fujkura tent with David Dugally. Alex Dee commented that his hands did not slow down at impact the way most golfers' do; he kept turning, and pulling the hands around even though the club's release resisted with considerable force.

The shaft bend display was impressive. The computer display isolated the shaft and showed the bend graphically, along with the quantitative measurement of shaft bend, kick velocity, and even face angle deviation due to shaft bend. I have not seen this sort of detail since TrueTemper discontinued their ShaftLab instrument -- and even that was far more limited. The big difference between ShaftLab and Enso -- at least for measurement of shaft bend -- is that ShaftLab is based on strain gauges, so it reports heel-toe bend and face-back bend. Enso is based on photographic imaging of the swing plane, so it can report true in-plane lead-lag bend all the way through the swing.

I got the distinct impression that Fujikura isn't quite sure yet how to turn the readings into a shaft recommendation. It seems to be a research tool at present, and their most pressing research is on turning swing characteristics (as isolated by Enso) into optimal shaft characteristics. In Enso, they may have better tools to conduct that research than anybody else.

Matrix Shafts

I still think of Matrix Shafts as "Apache Shafts" -- but that just shows how long I've been at this. Anyway, I finally got to meet Chris Nolan, their Executive VP of Operations, and Daniel You, the COO and President. I spent most of my time with Daniel. It is not often that a company's COO and President is a techie, but Daniel is. In fact, Daniel designs their measuring tools. That's very unusual.

Daniel took great pride in showing me their new shaft instrument, which they call the MultiTool. The picture shows that there are two stations for doing two very different types of measurement.
  1. The red shaft is clamped in the frequency-measurement portion of the MultiTool. It is the front/lower tier. It can measure shaft frequency (you can see the tip weight in the picture). It also measures torque, using the winged high-MOI tip weight pioneered by John Kaufman for the Club Scout frequency meters.
  2. The back/upper tier has four adjustable posts for setting deflection and measuring the resulting load forces. Each tower can be set individually for height and for horizontal position along the shaft.
The whole thing exists in a compact, very techno-looking package that Daniel tells me is intended for use in a Tour Van as well as the laboratory. The Tour Van requirement drives both the portable package and the "multi" nature of the measurements. Daniel said that each club manufacturer has its own standards for measuring shafts. For instance, if a van is serving a TaylorMade golfer, that would require a different measurement setup from that for a Callaway golfer. The MultiTool can switch quickly and easily from one to another. I think the whole thing is very cool.

My only reservation is that it does not use differential deflection, which starts it out with a very serious error when measuring shafts by deflection. As sophisticated and precise as the instrument is, its readings will still be polluted in an important sense. It will report as a stiffness difference several differences in geometry, not actually stiffness! Variations in shaft taper or step patterns will show up as load differences. So will any residual bend. During the demo, I observed that the instrument was set for about 40-50mm of tip deflection; I believe this is probably typical, and Daniel concurred. Then we talked about a shaft straightness goal of 4mm. That is quite good, but... a 4mm residual bend will give a stiffness error of 10% if the load is measured with a deflection of 40mm. That is more than a full flex letter (say, 'X' to 'S'). That's unacceptable in my book, and it is avoidable with differential deflection.
 

Boccieri Golf

Boccieri Golf used to be known as Heavy Putter. The Heavy Putter is still a flagship product of theirs. But Steve Boccieri has decided that, if it works for putters, it will work for the other clubs as well. His company branched into Heavy Wedges -- which make a certain amount of sense to me. This year, he has Heavy Irons, Heavy Hybrids, Heavy Woods, and a Heavy Driver. I guess Heavy Golf was not considered a good company name, so they named it after the brains behind it.

I had a chance to finally meet Steve, after hearing about him for many years. My friend Charlie Badami worked with Steve as early as the 1990s, and he was their first Tour Rep for the Heavy Putter when it was about to go public. In fact, I had tried out one of their first prototypes back in 2003 or 2004 during a round of golf with Charlie. I very much liked the concept and still do. My favorite putters (you know a clubmakers is going to have a barrel of putters and drivers) are all weighted like that, including a real honest-to-goodness brand-name Heavy Putter.

The concept behind Steve's designs, starting with the Heavy Putter but continuing through the whole line, is:
  • We know that we want the small muscles -- the hands, wrists, and forearms -- out of the stroke. One of the ways to make that happen through the design of clubs is to make the club too heavy to allow hand action to have much effect. That way, the large muscles -- body and legs -- take over.
  • So let's make the head really heavy. Unfortunately, the result is a very head-heavy feel that produces the opposite of the desired effect. The hands feel all that extra head weight, and want to man-handle the club into position. Wrong answer!
  • Suppose we fool the hands, at least as far as static feel is concerned. We will counterbalance the head weight with butt weight. Not a couple of tens of grams like Balance Certified does, but a real slug of weight. Enough weight to significantly move the balance point of the club.
  • It turns out that, for a lot of golfers (myself included) the formula works really well for putters. In fact, I tried a little experiment at home. I took one of my putters with a 330g head and counterweighted it so the balance point was where it is with the Heavy Putter. Then I asked my wife (who has definite tastes in putters) to swing them and tell me which was heavier, that one or an unmodified putter with a 310g head. (By the time it was weighted, the counterbalanced putter was more than 100g heavier.) She told me the lighter-but-unbalanced putter was obviously heavier, and she would not believe otherwise until I put them on a scale and showed her. So feel is fooled!
  • But Steve also believes it works for full-swing clubs. The big difference is that there is no wrist cock in a good putting stroke, but every other club is hit with a full wrist cock. He believes in making the head considerably heavier, then adding enough butt weight to raise the balance point way above what it was even before the head weight was increased.
  • Steve knows very well that this is not a physics thing. He resisted doing robot tests with his Heavy Driver, because he knows the robot won't show any significant difference from a conventional driver. (I have known the same thing for years, but my lesson came not from robots but from a computer program that simulates a golf swing.)
  • If it is not a physics thing, then it is a human thing. Golfers faced with a different feel will make a different swing. Steve maintains that they make a more consistent swing, with more body and less hands. I'm not completely convinced, but it is certainly plausible. I got home from the show and modified one of my own drivers to test the theory. Not enough information to tell yet; we're having a snowy winter in New Jersey, so I'm not getting out much..

Puttergraft

The big thing in shafts and grips this year was color. Puttergraft certainly featured very colorful putter shafts, but they had another novelty to set them apart. They make composite putter shafts which have some very interesting features for clubmakers and golfers:
  • Square cross section with "soft", grippable finish; no grip needed.
  • Long enough to use for a broomstick putter, but it holds the square cross-section low enough so it can be cut to any reasonable putter length. (I don't know if Robert Garrigus' putter could be made that way, but the vast majority of golfers would be comfortable.) Just cut to length at the butt and insert the end cap.
This is a great thought from a manufacturing and inventory viewpoint. As long as the putter requires a straight shaft (they don't do bends), the only model-to-model variation over their whole line is color.

Bowler Putter

Sharing a booth and some technology with Puttergraft was Bowler Putter. It is an extremely adjustable putter head design.
  • The head weight can range from 350 to 600 grams. 350g is near the low end of high-MOI putter designs, and 600g is way over anything I've ever used. For reference purposes, the Heavy Putter has a maximum head weight under 500g.
  • It can be set up with or without the semicircular MOI bar, which itself comes in two different weights.
  • The "gooseneck hosel" can be set to any lie angle for either handedness.
Its design allows for a broomstick putter, and the "bowler" name reflects the designers preference for a long putter that he uses sidesaddle. But that is hardly the only way the head can be made into a putter. And that flexibility makes it a natural pairing with the Puttergraft shaft.

I don't know if this would ever be very popular. I'm not tempted in the slightest myself. But I found the concept and design very interesting -- as a clubfitter and engineer, if not as a golfer.

Pure Grips

A new grip company called Pure Grips had a big display on the main aisle. My first reaction was, "They are a lot like Star Grips. Similar material and texture. Similar sales pitch. They even advocate blowing the grips on and off, and sell an air compressor nozzle for that purpose." (BTW, I have used Star Grips on my own clubs for years -- exclusively.) A little questioning turned up the tidbit that Pure is partly staffed by ex-employees of Star. I can well believe it.

I left the Pure booth with a few samples, and now have one of them on one of my drivers. It feels a lot like the Star grip, which is very good indeed. It will be a long time before I know whether they last like the Star grips, which hold their tack and resilience forever. (I believe I just said it will take forever to compare them on lifetime.) The Pure grips have multiple colors; they are color-coded with a model-identifying color over black. Star has been plain black for a long time, but now they seem to be molding them in solid colors (red, white, blue) as well as black. Not a big deal for me, but it might be if I ran a for-profit shop. Color sells these days.

I guess I'll wait for others to report on comparisons. I received a shipment of Star grips in December, so I won't be ordering grips from either Star or Pure any time soon.

Other Stuff

Clicgear

Last year, I got a new push-cart to replace my Sun Mountain Speed Cart. Since I didn't want a repeat of that mistake, I researched the purchase as exhaustively as I could. (Hey, I'm an engineer; you know what that means. And once bitten, twice shy.) I eventually decided on the Clicgear cart, designed by Kevin Kimberly. It's a beautiful and functional piece of industrial design. The decision was helped along in part by email from Jeff Lydell of their support staff. I sent several emails filled with questions, and he sent detailed answers to every one. I got the cart in August, and have been delighted with it.

Both Kevin and Jeff were at the show in the Clicgear booth, and I got to meet and spend a little time with them. Good guys, and very enthusiastic about their product... With good reason IMHO.

Oh, yes. That ball with the USB port...

As usual at conventions like this, the exhibits were peppered with shapely young women in high heels and clothes that could only have been painted on -- models you can hire to attract attention to your booth. I ignored them, for the most part. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) But one accosted me with a rather remarkable proposition. (Get your minds out of the gutter, guys.)

She showed me a handheld device about the size of a smart-phone, that she said would find your lost golf ball if you get within 100 yards of it. The system is made by Prazza, and sells for $400. Of course, you also need to use a Prazza golf ball containing an RFID chip. Two balls come with the $400 system, and spares are available: $50 for a sleeve of three. That's almost $17 a ball.1

I was looking for a wiseass comeback, and decided she was almost certainly tired of the question about losing the ball in a lake. So I asked, "If you never lose it, then the battery must run down at some point. What then? Can you replace the battery? Recharge it?"

She didn't miss a beat. "That's where the USB port comes in." OK, my mind was then officially blown!2


Notes:

  1. A brief note on the economics of the Prazza ball - Let's assume that I normally play a $2 ball (that would be something like a Titleist NXT Tour). I would be surprised if the Prazza ball matched the NXT Tour performance, but let's assume it does. So I could buy eight of my normal balls for the price of one Prazza ball. Now I have to ask myself how often I lose a ball where I would not or could not go to retrieve it. (For instance, the bottom of a lake, or a thicket of bramble bushes.) If more than one in eight of my lost balls are lost in this manner, the Prazza does nothing good for me. And I'm pretty sure that is fact. I suspect something like a quarter of my lost balls would be irretrievable, even if I knew exactly where they were.
    One more thing: my using a $2 ball is an assumption contrary to fact. My game is such that I find more balls than I lose. I play good found balls almost exclusively. So until everybody else has a Prazza -- and therefore I stop finding balls because nobody loses balls -- the Prazza is not even worth thinking about for me.
  2. The USB port - I saw nothing about a USB port in Prazza's literature. So I emailed them to ask the same question. Fact: there is no USB port. If the battery runs down, you buy a new golf ball. I told them why I had asked, and suggested they give the model a bonus. I will never forget their product, even if I don't ever buy it.


Last modified 2/22/2011