TaylorMade Celebrates 25 Years with New r7 Driver

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SAN DIEGO -- After a brief but poignant look back ' and a huge party ' TaylorMade-adidas Golf launched its next quarter century with an innovative driver that is already generating the loudest buzz in the equipment industry this year.
 
The head of the new r7 Quad driver features four ports that contain screw-driven weights made of either titanium or a tungsten/steel alloy. And while this is not the first driver with screw-in weight ports, it is the first mass-market driver with such tunable features designed to be used by consumers. Indeed, a small tool kit comes with the $600 club, as well as a fitting guide. (The tour version, which includes extra weights in the tool kit, will retail for a suggested $1,000. Both clubs will be in stores by June 15.)
 
TaylorMade r7 Quad driverThe tool kit, with its torque wrench and array of jewel-like threaded weights, ups the Neato Factor and should remove any doubt that golf clubs are sports answer to the eternal fascination of a brimming toolbox. The fitting guide is a wheel-on-wheel circle of plastic designed to hang on a golf bag. It shows six weight configurations that affect the flight of the golf ball, both laterally and vertically.
 
The r7, whose head design is a 400 cc extrapolation of what TaylorMade learned with its r300 and r500 series, had already been released in Asia and had leaked through various U.S. media outlets before its May 12 unveiling here. (My colleague Matt Adams showed it off on Golf Centrals Northwestern Mutual Financial Network Business Report on May 5, and PGA Tour player Steve Flesch discussed it with Frank Nobilo on that nights Sprint Pre Game.) Still, TaylorMade did a creditable job of keeping most of the details secret until the formal introduction. More important, the company kept a tight lid on the development process, which stretched back over nine years of R&D flowcharts.
 
So there was plenty of anticipation and drama remaining when Mark King, TaylorMades President and CEO, addressed 2,000 employees and guests at the San Diego Convention Center last Wednesday night.
 
Before opening an enormous party with a disco band (TaylorMade was founded in 1979, after all) King spoke for nearly half an hour of the legacy of company founder Gary Adams. It was Adams who gathered a bunch of trusted friends in McHenry, Ill. in 1979 to promote his idea of a perimeter-weighted wood made of stainless steel. Those early believers, including industry pioneer Eddie Langert and sales genius Gordy Severson, as well as advertising executive Sal Lupo, took an idea that was almost universally derided and carried it to the pro tours. By 1981, Rod Streck had won the Houston Open with it. In 1982, Jim Simons used it to win the Crosby Pebble Beach tournament before a national television audience. TaylorMade sales went from $2 million per year to $12 million.
 
That was Step One along the road to Adams dream of building the worlds No.1 golf company. Twenty-five years later, amid fireworks, Hollywood-style special effects and thundering music, the r7 appeared as the latest step in that quest. Although TaylorMade today is not the largest golf company in terms of sales (it had $802 million in revenues in 2003, while Titleist, FootJoy and Cobra owner Acushnet had $1.2 billion and Callaway had $814 million), TaylorMade remains a power in the premium segment and has often been a force to be reckoned with.
 
King, who worked as a kid in Langerts golf shop in Green Bay, Wis. and then joined him at TaylorMade right out of college, sees the r7 as a revolution on the level of Adams first accomplishments.
 
The r7 Quad was conceived and created by the brightest minds in the golf industry, King said, and were confident that it will help golfers realize their potential in terms of distance and accuracy off the tee.
 
Walking along the range at Del Mar National Golf Club Thursday, murmurs of quiet assent and fascination backed up Kings confidence. Better players watched TaylorMade staffers Dicky Pride and Dave Stockton, Sr. rearrange the weight plugs to engineer draws, fades, low balls, high balls and combinations into their repeating swings, then hopped into hitting bays to do so themselves. Lesser players wrenched, screwed, re-screwed and hit, converting stubborn fade tendencies to straight balls and healthy draws. One Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher set the club as fade-y as possible, had a player hit it, then reset it for a draw, all to give the player the biofeedback necessary to teach a good rollover motion in the forearms.
 
The threaded weight plugs that come standard with the $600 model include two of tungsten/steel at 10 grams each and two of titanium at two grams each. They allow nearly a full ounce to be manipulated. The ports are visible and dramatic, but as with the MAC Powersphere, the driver with the eye-catching dome in the sole, the technology cant be seen from the playing position.
 
TaylorMade admits it has a big education job looming. Both retailers and consumers must be trained and made comfortable with the concept, the tool kit, and the idea of adjustability. Company materials are quick to point out that no port should ever be left unoccupied. Doing so would violate the Rules of Golf, which require clubheads to be plain in shape. The rules specifically note holes in a clubhead as a violation. Also, players are to be reminded that Rule 4-2a disallows adjustment of the club during a stipulated round.
 
TaylorMade seems to welcome the challenge, and for the moment is having fun watching the r7 get noticed. There was much talk about a picture circulating on the Internet, in which Lee Westwood was seen during a practice (not stipulated) round with a wrench in one hand, an r7 in the other, and a weight between his lips as a carpenter might hold a nail at the ready, looking intently at his work and fine-tuning.
 
As a business tactic, TaylorMades choice represents one of those moves of epic magnitude, no matter which way it turns out. And here I mean epic not in a judgmental, good-or-bad way, but in that sense that connotes a business turning point. Callaway, seen by most as TaylorMades chief competitor, has committed its lead-product resources to multi-material, titanium-and-composite constructions, of which the ERC Fusion is the prime example. That club has raised eyebrows and fairways-hit numbers on the pro tours and in Saturday-morning foursomes, and of course, TaylorMade hopes to do the same thing. A 10-week media and marketing blitz, covering the crucial period between the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, is an important weapon in TaylorMades tactical r7 arsenal.
 
It remains to be seen whose approach will prevail, or whether they can even coexist. But by going another way, TaylorMade has been true to Gary Adams vision when he founded the company.
 
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