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  1. Earlier this month, I traveled to Carlsbad, California, with my regular golf partner and fellow golf journalist, Ryan Heiman. We left the cold of Minneapolis behind to visit a friend of our's as well as the golf equipment manufacturers that saturate Southern California. When we reached out to the OEM's, we didn't have an agenda or “story” to tell. It was pretty basic, we wanted to see where they lived, and how they did business. Each of them told their story in a different way. Each of them handled our presence in a unique way, and almost mirrored how you think about each respective company. TaylorMade focused on performance, and drove that home, showing us how they are marketshare-IER. Cobra-Puma lacks the marketing resources of the golf superpowers, so they focused on providing visual demonstrations about how their product performs so we can better educate our readers. Finally, Callaway was social about their visit, with many of their personalities from Twitter stopping in to say, “Hello.” They are transforming into a golf media brand, something no other company in golf is doing. As you have already seen here on MyGolfSpy, equipment companies are launching some product from their respective 2014 lines. The timing of this visit was perfect, because all of the companies were excited to present their product and technology behind it. Although I will discuss some of the new product, this article isn't about equipment. Rather, it's designed to provide some perspective about that the top three equipment makers in Carlsbad are all about. An inside look, if you will. COBRA PUMA On Wednesday, I met with Ian Barrett, Global Marketing Manager for Cobra Golf. When you walk into Cobra Puma, you get an immediate sense of the brand with a monster, off-road golf cart inside the front entrance. There is a sense of energy that is conveyed, much like the Cobra Puma products themselves. Barrett prepared a product presentation for their new BIO CELL line that was launched today. Cobra is excited to have two flagship drivers in their stable this year in the CIO CELL and BIO CELL+. Barrett explained that a lot of attention is being given to the new hotness on tour, low and forward center of gravity. He explained that while this driver may have benefit to the player it fits, it's primarily designed for players that consistently strike the ball pure. The benefit is diminished for the player that needs some added forgiveness across the face. Barrett explained it was important to continue to offer a variety of color selections so consumers can further personalize the driver. The data on driver sales for 2013 indicated consumers gravitated to all of their color offerings equally. This suggests that a varied color scheme is important Cobra players. The “new color” this year? Black. Who would have thought… I've been told by another company that 2014 is, The Year of the Loft. I disagree, and believe 2014 to be The Year of the Hybrid. All of the companies are offering remarkably better hybrids this year. This is true for BIO CELL hybrid. Cosmetically, from what I have seen so far this year, it is the most appealing to the eye at address. For me, the BIO CELL appeared to combine the perfect shape, size, and face depth to inspire confidence at address. I'll be looking forward to testing this out on course to see if the performance matches its cosmetics. Jose Miraflor, Director of Product Marketing, heard, SPY ZINGER was in the house and had to check out the man himself. Miraflor has been around the golf industry for some time. He's also been a member, and influence in the online golf equipment forums. Like many of us, he's been around since the beginning. He has played a major role in wedge design and shaping with little to no public notoriety. It was nice to finally meet someone I have respected so long in the industry and hear his perspective on equipment. It seems like the Cobra team is excited to have “T.O.” onboard too. TAYLORMADE GOLF On Thursday morning, I visited TaylorMade headquarters and toured their facility with Matthew Greensmith from their R&D group. Greensmith, took us through all aspects of the TaylorMade operation. I was happy to see this included product assembly that was still being accomplished in the United States. Although he purposely did not draw attention too, or mention it, we did see some TP branded products that have since been leaked as part of their 2014 line. Greensmith showed us the Tour Preferred department. This is a subsection of the assembly floor where all of the product is assembled for the PGA Tour, and included The Kingdom as well as the Performance Lab builds for consumers. The department is made up of their most senior builders. Interestingly, Greensmith explained that while most OEM equipment comes from the same factory in Asia, TaylorMade has their own floors segregated to their product only. The equipment that makes its way to the Tour Preferred department is double checked for spec and Characteristic Time tolerance. After touring their facility, we walked across the street to The Kingdom, TaylorMade's tour fitting facility and test center. The Kingdom structure had the feel of private country club clubhouse including a well-manicured range. Four around $5,000, members of the public can experience this tour quality fitting while having their clubs build in the Tour Preferred department during lunch. At present, I believe their M.A.T.T. system to be the best fitting experience in golf. CALLAWAY If it's not already apparent to you by now, Callaway Golf is a company that has the most intimate relationship with their customer base. Since late 2012, Harry Arnett, Senior Vice President for Marketing, has waged a five year marketshare war against the monster-IER down the road. The first step in this process was restructuring their marketing around the customer, making YOU their number one priority in their journey back to the top. This was most apparent about a year ago when their flagship staffer, Phil Mickelson, used a RBZ fairway wood during an off-season event in Asia. Arnett didn't shy away from the issue and took the criticism head on. Oh, and he did so with class. From that point on, Callaway has proven that they really are about the customer, and it's not just legally approved media speak. Arnett, and his cadre of marketing personalities have emerged and interact daily with their consumer base in golf equipment forums, and social media outlets such as Twitter, and YouTube. In fact, they have taken this a step further and have designed their website and social media platforms to be a full scale, newsroom style media production. At the center of this is their, “Callaway Talks” program. No company in golf fosters a closer relationship with their customers. They're the best in the business at this, and continue to evolve rapidly in the media scene. Chad Coleman, and Scott Goryl from their marketing team provided us with a tour of Callaway HQ, and the Ely Callaway Performance Center. We also visited the tour department and saw Anthony Taranto stamping out a wedge for a tour player, as well as Roger Cleveland's “lab.” We also took a tour of the Custom Fitting area where the average customer can participate in a complete bag fitting for $150. This fee can be applied to the purchase of Callaway clubs. One of the lesser known benefits customers can take advantage of for a relatively low out of pocket expense. Next, I visited the set of Callaway Talks, and sat as a guest on Arnett's couch. Arnett is every much the larger than life character he is in person, as he is in social media. He really knows a great deal about the golf industry and is articulate when engaged in golf conversation. His only rule for Callaway Talks guests? “No scripts, and only one take.” I enjoyed our conversation on the couch, and it was great to finally see their operation first hand. All of their marketing personnel where fantastic, and went out of their way to stop in and introduce themselves. They are a group of passionate individuals that seem to enjoy brining Callaway, its people, and equipment, to life. Our final stop was the Ely Callaway Performance Center, which is a detached component of their HQ. The ECPC is a site for their R&D staff to utilize for testing, as well as specialized fittings for their touring professionals and VIP's such as MyGolfSpy staffers. They also have the equipment to build equipment so they do not have to travel back and forth to their main facility. We were introduced to their X-2HOT lineup, and got to see the product in hand. As I mentioned earlier, I believe 2014 is The Year of the Hybrid. The X-2HOT Pro is probably among the best looking hybrids I have laid eyes on for 2014. JP The original purpose of our trip. Visiting our friend, and wedge designer, James Patrick. I am happy to report, he's alive, doing very well, and more focused and determined than ever, while realizing his dream. It was great to see and fun to catch up. Stay tuned, I belive this is the calm before the JP storm. THE SPY ZINGER ANALYSIS If I had to summarize these visits in a sentence, I would tell you Cobra is about being fun, Callaway is about getting to know their customer, and Taylormade is about being #1. At TaylorMade, their focus remains on product performance, and living up to their byline, The Number One Performance Brand in golf. It was evident at every level, that performance and innovation is the only thing that matters to them. They are committed to maintaining market share, and will do whatever it takes to stay there, no matter the cost. They remain calculated and methodical in their delivery of information to the consumer, but that conversations remains one-way. Callaway has set out to make their customer base the most educated in golf. They are making every effort to bring Callaway to you, rather than making you find them. It seems as though, they are breaking down the clinical media speak and having a real-life conversation with people about their product. They're bending over backwards to make customers part of the Callaway Golf team. It's a social experience. At Cobra, they know they know their competitors are behemoths. So in addition to performance, they are going to give you some fun with it. Their products are probably just as good as the other manufacturers, but it seems as though they lack the budget to plaster you with that message. But if you want to have fun, and look good doing so, their customers know right where to find them. I enjoyed this trip a great deal, and give special thanks to Ryan & JP for making this trip one of the best experiences I've had in golf to date. I plan to make this an annual pilgrimage, and look forward to bringing Carlsbad to you, the MyGolfSpy reader. Thanks for reading, and look out 2014.
  2. Since 2005, I have been a part of the greater golf equipment forum community. I have seen a great deal of discussion about golf apparel though the years, and have spent the last year examining brands and product from a variety of clothiers. Although my focus has been redirected to specialty interviews and projects for MyGolfSpy, I remain interested in providing exposure to select apparel manufacturers. In the past, I have provided previews and looks from many of the apparel brands and offerings that come to market. If it was new, interesting, or more offerings of the same, I showed you. Today, I am doing things a little different. I am hand picking items that I spend my own money on. Brands that, in my opinion, are a cut above the rest of the pack. There aren't many, so this isn't going to happen often. This is not mean to discount the household names you know and love. It's mean to compliment that list and provide you with some brands and items that I hand select for my own closet. First up in this infrequent series is selections from IJP Design. IJP DESIGN My first look at IJP Design came this summer. I had not seen the brand that well previewed anywhere and wanted to see the product first hand so I could tell you about it. When I first received the product, then after wearing it on-course, there was no question, it was easily some of the best I've owned. What is the best anyway? I've heard that a great deal when discussing all things golf. For me, what set's the product apart from others, first and foremost, is the fit. It does not matter how good it looks if the fit is incorrect for your body type. In my normal 34” waist and size large shirt, IJP design fit the bill SPY ZINGER, perfectly. Next in my "best" criteria is the look. Yes, IJP design is different. It's British, and boasts a lot of Tartan. Boldness with class if you will, that embodies the Scottish game of yesterday. I'll be the first to admit, I am a geek for this stuff, but I found it cool that Poulter's limited edition Tartans are registered with the Scottish Tartan Authority. It's also unique in that, you'll be hard pressed to find anything similar in the big box golf retailers. The final criteria is quality. I believe you know it qualifies, if when you hold it. It just feels better in hand and on the person that owns the product and the look. New for autumn /winter in the IJP Design line is the Limited Edition Black Watch series. From top to bottom, I took a comprehensive look at this series which was recently released for the season. The Black Watch pants have a straight leg, tailored look to them, with breaks on the sides of the cuffs for shoe drape. The exterior is 100% polyester, while the lining is 55% polyester, and 45% wool, yet still machine washable. Perfect blend for cooler temperatures. You can purchase these with a 32” inseam or 37” to have them tailored. A feature more golf apparel companies should offer but simply do not. The Black Watch pants retail for $189. Next up are the the Black Watch golf shirt, and New Crest V-Neck Sweater. In the cooler fall months, I hate layering with tech fabric. For the base layer? Fine. But tech on tech just feels uncomfortable, and slippery. When it's cool, I like the feel of a cotton shirt, and the Black Watch Polo is just that. It's heavier than most cotton pique polo's and suitable for the season. The silver snap buttons add a level of sophistication to the shirt, differentiating from others in the marketplace. On the chest is the “Quintessentially British” logo that is a bit large, but camouflaged, as it's the same color as the shirt. The New Crest V-Neck Sweater is a lightweight top layer that is a perfect match to the Black Watch Polo made from 100% pima cotton. The polo retails for $85, and the sweater $100. Accessorizing the look is the Black Black Watch hat that is virtually plain black with the exception of the discreet silver accent button. Around the waist is the Luxe Belt in Grey or as Ian calls it, Battleship. Is a Italian leather belt that is designed to look like crocodile. The belt is interchangeable with the IJP buckles, with this one featuring the Black Watch Buckle. The belt and buckel retail for $125. As bold as Ian is, along with the apparel line under his own name, the Black Watch outfit here is certainly understated. That's by design and how I prefer to dress during the colder months. I also tend to gravitate toward darker colors that absorb the sun, and keep me a little warmer before it sets behind the horizon on 18. If you haven't had a chance to have a look at IJP Design, I encourage you to do so. You'll soon realize why it's fast become one of favorite brands in golf. With inspiration from the new MyGolfSpy apparel guru, and from feedback from the readership, when a brand is presented to you, I will do my best to ensure it is a complete outfit. That way, you'll get a better feel for the vibe and style of the brand. Also, I will ensure you receive at least one photograph of the look, on a model namely, SPY ZINGER. This will usually come as an update to the original post, approximately one week later, so stay tuned! Find IJP Design selections at Fairway Styles: http://www.fairwaystyles.com/Ian-Poulter
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