TL;DR: Signed up through Twitter to test New Level Golf's 902 irons. Here's how it went.
The Rest: Bored and browsing Twitter, I stumbled across this tweet soliciting people to test New Level Golf's 902 irons. They looked pretty damn slick, and the reviews (MyGolfSpy, GolfWRX, PluggedIn Golf) were pretty intriguing. I wanted in. But after discussing the details with Eric, the founder/CEO/everything, I couldn't pull the trigger…it wasn't in the budget, so I had to pass.
But…Eric DMed me a couple days later to say he had a tester back out. Opportunity rarely knocks twice, so I threw caution (in the form of dollars) to the wind and went for it. (Actually, I told myself I would sell off my beloved Scotty headcover collection and some of the random clubs I have scattered about to offset the cost).
So, as part of the deal, I will be posting info about my experience with these on here and putting some info out on Instagram and Twitter as well. I am going to try to be a thorough and objective as I can be, and I will try to answer any and all questions you may have about the clubs, the process, etc. Ask away!
For reference throughout the process, here is my current iron set up:
Titleist 712 AP2 (3-9)
Project X 6.0
Golf Pride MCC +4 grips, two wraps of tape
And here is what I ordered from New Level:
902 Forged (4-P)
Project X 6.0
Lamkin Z5 grips, two wraps of tape
My new sticks are slated to arrive at the end of this week and I am totally ecstatic about it. I am taking them to the range Saturday to do a little head-to-head and first-impression testing, and I am playing with my usual group on Sunday morning for some live testing. I will update this post as I go through the process. Let me know if there is anything specific you want to know about or see tested. I'm happy to oblige if possible.
In the meantime, Check out New Level's Instagram and Twitter.
Ordering Process Review
TL;DR: Stellar customer service, quick, responsive, easy to manage, with only minor tweaks suggested.
The Rest: The level of customer service I received from the start was incredible. With New Level being a new, boutique-esqe OEM (think Miura or PXG, but affordable), customer service has to be a priority, as it doesn't enjoy the brand recognition of the Titleists and TaylorMades of the world.
That said, Eric (and I didn't realize I was trading DMs with the CEO/founder until much later in the process) was incredibly responsive through Twitter. It was to the point where I thought he may be working on my set of clubs and no one else's until they were done.
For instance, the grips I originally wanted were back ordered, so he sent me a DM alerting me to this and asking what I liked about those. After a short exchange, he suggested an alternative, the Lamkin Z5s, so I would be happy and my clubs would still come in fairly short order.
There are numerous customization options - 20 something shafts and a handful of grip options, and they can all be customized to your liking. Though I did not get fit for my set (I know what I like in a shaft/lie/length setup), I can only imagine the level of specificity one could get through a local fitter.
Eric was also willing to simply entertain my rambling and whims as I continued to pepper him with questions about the brand, the other products available, and what could be done to the various clubs. We were even sharing opinions on whether Eli Manning should retire at the end of the season or the end of the game he was playing at the time.
As we were going back and forth, and as I read more about his history and the story behind New Level, I decided to support the brand a little bit more by ordering a hat and a towel (I was going to order the branded bag as well, but alas, that wasn't in the budget after buying the new sticks…maybe someday). After ordering, he thanked me for the support and brand loyalty, and kept me very informed about the status of the shipment of these items - they shipped the day after I ordered them, and I got them within two days. And the hat had a poker chip/ball maker taped to the inside of it, which also doubles as his business card I came to find out, which was a nice little touch.
Trying to be as objective as possible in this review, I will say the only gripe I have had in this process is the speed at which my hat and towel came. Now, don't get me wrong, I was very happy to get these so quickly. But, getting these so quickly set a precedent that would not be matched by my new clubs.
If you geek out about this stuff as much as I do, you are waiting by the mailbox as soon as you click "PLACE ORDER." So, I was slightly disappointed to learn the shipping method for the clubs was different from that of the merch. I would have to wait a week to get my new sticks delivered.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I believe this issue was my fault. I think there may be an overnight shipping option when ordering. I must have either been a) trying to save money on this deal, or b) too geeked up to notice that option. In any case, let this serve as a notice to those of you who want to get your shipments yesterday.
For reference, NL offers free ground shipping on all orders and you can get expedited (overnight I think) shipping for an additional charge.
As for the actual ordering process on the website, I was happy, but I feel there could be some edits made to the process to make it a bit easier. I will say I was traveling as I went through this process, so I was doing all of this on my phone, but it was still easy enough and clear enough to know what was going on and what I was ordering.
Once you choose a head, you then start by selecting a shaft option. You are then taken to a form to fill out the specifications for which club you want (i.e. 4i, 5i, etc), length options, lie options, all the fun stuff. But you repeat this process for each individual club. My suggestion would be to find some way to combine all seven clubs (or however many you are ordering) into one form.
As I am typing this, I am starting to think of those people who may want mixed sets of heads, or higher launching shafts in the long irons, but lower launch in the short…or something of that nature. I still feel like one page with all the options would still make this a bit more streamlined than the current process.
Again, I must reiterate, this was not so cumbersome a process I got frustrated or angry or anything. My phone is still in one piece. I just think it could be simplified or streamlined in some way.
The bottom line, no matter my gripes and/or suggestions, is that NL's customer service and ordering process is nothing short of STELLAR.
TL;DR: These look incredible, but what have I gotten myself into?
Twitter post with first looks
The rest: I have never purchased a brand new set of clubs. I have always bought used in the past, so I was incredibly excited to unbox these clubs. Upon first glance, these things look fantastic. My very first impression: there isn't a photo on the internet that does these clubs justice at all.
First, I was expecting a much thicker topline than they actually have. I haven't measured or anything, but these seem to have a somewhat progressive topline; that is, they are slimmer in the long irons than in the short irons. Either way, they are not imposing or off-putting in any way.
When compared to my Titleist 712 AP2s, the short irons are very similar in size, shape, topline, etc. The longer irons is where the real difference can be noticed. My long irons have always been a difficulty for me, as I assume it is for many amateurs out there. When I first looked at the 4 and 5 irons compared to my AP2s, I worried I may have bitten off more than I could chew.
The offset in these clubs was noticeably less than the AP2s and the blade length was considerably smaller. These gave off a much more players-iron look than the AP2s did. I did like that I couldn't see any of the blade jutting out from behind the topline at address - something the 3 and 4 irons in the AP2s had going against them. Overall, these seem good, but I'm hoping they aren't going to be too beefy for my game. My first impression of the aesthetics: what have I gotten myself into?
As for the feel of the club, one of the biggest surprises for me came from the grip. The Lamkin Z5 is incredible. I think I may prefer it to the Tour Velvet I have become accustomed to (though I did dabble with the MCC +4 for a while). The grip, with my requested 2 wraps of tape, is a bit thicker than a Tour velvet 360 with two wraps it seems. Not sure if that is accurate, but that's how it felt. The grip itself is perfect for me, soft, but tacky and I hope it is as responsive as I'd like.
A few practice swings in my living room revealed these felt very nice. A bit lighter than my AP2s, but I don't think that will be an issue at all. Besides, "too light" can be fixed with some lead tape.
I also want to mention the quality of the build. In little details, like the ferrule turning/connection to the blade, you can see Eric is very into what he does and only wants the best to go out the door. I always thought that bigger OEMs have to settle with whatever comes off the line, but these seemed to have a level of attention paid to them as they were being built that can be missing from some of the other clubs I have seen. Grips were all perfectly straight, the ferrule was matched/turned to a perfect fit (not even sure if this is something Eric did or not, but it was nice), and the shafts were all perfectly stepped to 1/2" differences (again, I ordered these 1/2" long). Very nice to see this level of quality.
I am loving the look and feel of these irons, and I can't wait to get these out to the range and on the course. Stay tuned for more…
First Range Session
TL;DR: Soft, yet solid; crisp and responsive.
The rest: I'll start this by saying I don't have a green grass facility readily available to me, so the mats at "TPC Hains Point" would have to suffice (that is as sarcastic a name as we can give the best of 3 DC public courses). It was a dreary day, about 55 degrees, and the balls are a chewed up mix of Srixon range balls, a smattering of whatever Top Flites people stopped searching for, and nameless rocks. They are pretty battered by this time in the season, but I tried to use only the better, more round balls of the lot.
No real surprises here. These lived up to the reviews I had read (and linked to earlier in the thread). From PW up to the 4 iron, I found these to be incredibly responsive and forgiving, with a soft, yet solid feel.
902 8 iron (left); AP2 8 iron (right) - much less/fewer differences when you get down into these shorter irons
902 4 iron (left); AP2 4 iron (right) - the differences in offset and blade length are not as visible with my amateur photography skills, but I assure you it is there. This is also why I say there aren't any photos to do these irons justice.
Responsive - they definitely let you know when you don't hit the center of the club face, but not how you'd expect. Slight mishits still flew well and only compromised a touch of distance. They definitely felt a little different, but most of the indicators that you missed the center of the face came from the sound. It went from a crisp "thwack" to a more muted "thwud." Not tingy or hollow sounding or anything, just not as clean a sound. I found this especially refreshing in the longer irons, as they took me a few extra swings to start hitting well, and these didn't seem to make your hands tingle when mishitting them like some players clubs are apt to do.
Feel - Soft yet solid. These feel great when you make clean contact. That is not to say they feel bad when you don't (see above), but I liked the feel of these better than my AP2s. I wasn't expecting this, as the AP2s have the rubber insert to dampen vibration and give a softer feel. The 1020 steel makes for a soft clubface with a great balance of solid construction. I was very pleased with the feel of these clubs, even with the rock hard two piece pellets of the public range. I am looking forward to feeling what my Pro V1s will feel like on these faces.
Distance - I didn't want to focus too much on the distance I was getting on this day, as the temperature was low, and the balls were below average in stature. That said, I brought my AP2 8 and 4 irons with me to do a little comparison. Seemingly, I would say I am getting an extra 5 yards from the 902s, give or take (depending on the variables described above). Sometimes I would see as much as a 10 or 15 yard difference, while other times, they would perform about the same. I would assume this will be a product of the lofts bing stronger in the 902s, but either way, they are no more difficult to hit, so I'll take it.
One thing I did notice that I found particularly interesting is that I was hitting my long irons a bit higher than I did with the AP2s. I like this a lot. Even with the stronger lofts, I feel it would be easier to get these to stop on greens when using the longer irons, and I am not losing any yardage. This is a huge plus in my book.
Overall - I really like these irons. They are workable, responsive, solid, and comfortable to look at. These take very little adjustment, if any, to get used to after having my AP2s for a number of seasons now.I would be reaching to find something negative to say about them. I don't think these are geared for anyone above a 10 or 12 handicap, but I don't think those players would be ill-served by these irons; only better served by a bigger, more forgiving iron. For my game, I am very pleased with these.
I am looking forward to getting some "green grass" feedback from these clubs. Turf interaction is a massive part of iron testing, so stay tuned as that is coming soon…
TL;DR: Horrible playing conditions, too much variation to accurately assess.
The Rest: I was really looking forward to getting these out to the course for some green grass testing. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans. We had a 9:30 tee time at University of Maryland Golf Course and, while we played, I don't feel the 20 mph sustained winds and 35 mph gusts combined with soggy conditions from the night before were the best conditions to give a good, objective assessment. Further, I didn't have many opportunities to test the irons, as the course was set up for a lot of fairway-metal-second shots or gap wedge approaches. I did hit them a few times during the round, but do need to take these elsewhere for some more testing.
That said, here are my initial thoughts following this round:
They carry the same solid and soft feel from the range to the course. The course has Bermuda rough and fairways, and I have found other irons to slide through this grass a bit too easily, causing me to balloon shots. I didn't experience that with these irons. These are a bit more assertive with the turf - not diggy or anything, they just seem to let the grass know who's in control.
From the rough, it was harder to tell if it was the stringy Bermuda or the sharper leading edge that won, but I still felt the club head was in control - though I wasn't planning/aiming for that to be the case. Adjustments can be made to account for this, and it is a much more preferred result.
From the limited use, and the conditions being what they were, I am happy with what I did experience with these sticks. Looking forward to more.
I will leave this section at that for the time being. It was not a great round, and the conditions were rough. I will update this review once I can get some calmer, more objective conditions in which to play. I am playing in a tournament this weekend at the same course, and it is supposed to be rainy, so this may have to wait a weekend or two.