As a newcomer to the manufacture of golf equipment, Nike realised that in an extremely competitive market in which, let's face it, we're already spoiled for choice, it had better get its first generation of clubs spot on.
To that end they signed up Tom Stites, a well-respected designer and manufacturer but to the surprise of many their first batch of products were forged (rather than cast) and their first set of irons were blades - which accounts for less than 10% of the retail market.
Yet what seemed at first to be an enormous gamble looks to be paying off because the first impressions of Nike gear is that it is clean, uncluttered, classic and manufactured to the highest specifications - at least the match of Mizuno and Titleist in terms of quality (and in the view of ScottishGolf it is these two companies, with TaylorMade in very close attendance, who continue to set the gold standard for club manufacture). It may even turn out to be inspired marketing because once you prove you can do the difficult things well, people are much more inclined to take it on trust that you know what you're talking about.
And before you recall Phil Mickelson's highly controversial comments earlier this year - in which he appeared to claim, in effect, that Tiger Woods' domination of the game was despite, rather than because of, having Nike clubs in his bag, it was a joking remark that he instantly explained. He actually said: 'Tiger is the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he's stuck with', - but what he was trying to do was praise Tiger's genius as a shotmaker, not denigrate the clubs and balls with which he plays.
So now that that's out of the way, let's take a closer look at some of Nike's equipment range. On the basis that they're the three most important clubs in the bag, we have been looking at a wedge, driver and putter.
Nike forged wedge
Aesthetics are important and the first thing you notice about this wedge is the clean, simple, uncluttered lines. The Nike 'whoosh' is the most prominent thing on the clubhead; everything else reeks of restraint and, yes, class. The name 'Nike' appears nowhere and the only other information on the clubhead is '53', to tell you how much loft there is. The range goes from 48-62 (with many combinations of bounce angle) so our test sample falls into the versatile 'gap' range, not lofted enough to be a true lob wedge but hopefully an all round utility weapon.
At address the clubhead looks functional and is easy to set up square to the ball. The thing I liked most was that you can 'feel' the clubhead throughout the swing. Sometimes when you swing a club all you sense through your hands is the rigidity of the shaft and head as one unit but with this you get a distinct impression of where the clubhead is throughout the swing.
As an experiment, I jettisoned a 60 degree lob wedge to accommodate this club in my bag and frankly, have yet to find a situation in which the Nike couldn't cope - up to and including pitching from pretty deep rough, over a bunker to a tight pin position. Like many, when I first started carrying utility wedges I found the biggest problem was getting the ball up to the hole and for a few weeks all my flop shots around the green were immediately followed by the cry: 'How could I possibly leave that short from there?' But with a little experience, and the knowledge that you really can swing that hard and not overshoot the target, I started to get the range.
My only criticism - and that probably isn't the right word - is that I can't bring myself to use it in bunkers. The chromed finish looks so attractive that I abhor the thought of sand-blasting it.
An excellent club that looks good, feels good and will do your game some good.
Nike forged titanium driver
The obvious marketing strategy in promoting Nike equipment is to emphasise the company's connection with Tiger Woods, as he supposedly uses a driver not unlike this one. But most golfers will realise that no amateur can match the clubhead speed of the greatest golfer on the planet so the truth is, we may buy from the manufacturer who supplies his gear but that doesn't mean we're using a club with the same specifications (or that we could, even if given the opportunity). Therefore it seems that the major resemblance to Tiger's club and this one is the Nike brand, swish or whatever it's called.
There are three key elements that make a good 1- wood - the flex of the shaft, loft on the clubface and weight distribution around the clubhead. And each player will have a preference depending on they type of course they play, their clubhead speed and, of course, their swingpath. So what am I trying to say here? Simple, you may like this club but I didn't.
I like the look of it but the problem for me was that it doesn't have much feel. The ball seemed to bounce of the club-face like a hitting a stone with a tennis racket. The face is also 'hooded', or closed, to help the habitual slicer. As I usually draw the ball I fond that I either blocked it a country mile right or snapped hooked. So to be fair I gave it to some golfing pals to see what they thought.
Chris Miller (9-handicap) usually uses an old persimmon headed driver; he develops impressive clubhead speed and is a good, if infrequent, player. He loved it. In retrospect I perhaps should have waited before lending him this Nike driver as he didn't miss a fairway all day. And as always with these things, once he got a few away his confidence grew and he couldn't miss.
Morris Forbes is a 16-handicapper and has experience of a vast variety of drivers in all shapes and forms. Like me, he was not too impressed with the Nike driver, again complaining that it didn't have a lot of feel to it.
So it seems like the Nike driver has a thumbs-down from those of us relatively familiar with modern equipment but finds a real enthusiast in someone who has, until now at least, been clinging to more traditional gear. Chris is a good if infrequent player and certainly loved it and is about to buy a similar model.
The driver market has been revolutionised in the last decade and what this test has demonstrated above all is that reading reviews like this might help you produce a shortlist of what you might like to buy but the final decision should be based on your own experience. Thankfully, almost all pro shops now carry a range of demo clubs so this is easy to do.
Nike BC Oz mallet putter
Putters are the most idiosyncratic and personal choice of any of the clubs we buy - as witnessed by the almost limitless range of designs and materials used in their manufacture. But despite the almost numberless options available there are three essential types of putter - blade, cavity back and mallet, and this is one of the latter.
The advantage of a mallet design is that it puts a lot of weight immediately behind the clubface and for this reason a lot of players particularly like using them on slow greens. In this instance the head of the putter is hollowed out and Nike says: 'The unique dual-density weighting places 66% of the clubhead weight in the rearward stainless steel ring. This positions the centre of gravity deeper in the clubhead to reduce skidding, allowing the ball to roll more quickly and on a truer line.
'The lightweight aluminum front portion of the clubhead is 65% lighter than steel and contains our feel enhancing 6061 aluminium insert that is 73% softer than steel.'
What this means, in essence, is that lightweight materials are used in the part of the putter that strikes the ball, with heavier density steel making up the semi-circular loop behind the clubface.
In use, the first thing you notice is that, when set it on the ground behind the ball, the putter has a tendency to settle into a slightly 'open' position, although as soon as you place your hands on the grip and adopt a stance, it squares up.
As an 11 handicapper with the putting skills of a 36 handicapper on a crazy golf course [Nah, you're not that good - Ed], I was more than keen to try the new putter from Nike - let's face it, my putting could hardly get worse. Before even stepping onto the course I was impressed by the looks and style of the club, this is obviously aimed to compete with the Oydessey 2-ball, and in the looks department it knocks it clean of the podium. But any club has to do the job on the course - so did it?
When using this putter the first thing you notice is the alignment and the ease of doing so when squaring up to the ball. The most important thing this does is offer you enormous confidence when setting up to that all important six-footer. When putting the balance and weighting allow the club to glide through the plane of the putt, giving a steady stroke and truer roll on the ball. On impact the ball releases softly from the clubface giving a great feel. The only downside I can find is a lack of feel on longer putts. I can't fault the BC Oz under for putts under 10 feet but when the distances increase the feel decreases.
As we all know when faced with a long putt, our accuracy decreases and this is where the Nike Mallet falls down. When hit slightly off-centre this putter loses its feel and does not accommodate the odd miscue. Something every club golfer is guilty of - me more than most.
On the whole this club improved my putting massively - I have played five rounds now and only three-putted a couple of greens (anyone who knows my game would attest to how significant an improvement this represents). I thoroughly recommend this club to anyone who lacks confidence on the green. Not only has it reduced my putts per round, it has increased my confidence elsewhere on the course, through the knowledge that I can for once in my life get up and down from uncertain positions.
Thank you Nike, now I'm off to practise my driving.
|| 19 - JUNE 2003