Their Own Words Sonartec Golf

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Editors note: Sonartec will be six years old in two weeks. It started with a Japanese technology from a sister company Royal Collection. Royal Collection had established itself on the Japanese Tour and in the Japanese retail market. Company president Toru Kamarti had a close relationship with Royal Collection and Sonartec was established.
 
Bob Gotfredson has been working in the golf industry for over twenty years, predominately in Carlsbad, California. He started in the business with his own golf bag company, Blooming Bags, a maker of womens golf bags. After selling that company Bob worked as a consultant for several major Carlsbad based OEMs. Hes been with Sonartec for 3 years.

 
A Conversation with Bob Gotfredson, VP Sales and Marketing, Sonartec
 
Casey/Q:
Bob, Sonartec had quite a coming out party as I remember.
 
Bob/A:
Casey, you know, they really did. Sonartec first appeared on golfs worldwide radar screen at the 2001 British Open. Both players in the final group, including the eventual winner, carried Sonartec clubs. Pro tour performance heritage has continued for Sonartec. We now have 90 worldwide tour wins with our product. And, of course, the interesting thing is we dont pay players. The best players in the world play our product because they want to win. Few people in the industry will dispute that Sonartec makes the best fairway woods in the business and we are certainly a leader in the hybrid category as well.
 

Md Hybrid
Sonartec Md Hybrid
Casey/Q:
Whats Sonartecs overall philosophy?
 
Bob/A:
We build clubs that are considered high-end all the way. The components are expensive. Golf shafts are a big part of that equation. We do believe that the shaft is the engine of the golf club. You can have the best head in the world, but, if you dont match it properly to the right shaft the club as a unit wont perform up to its full potential. We spend an awful lot of time trying to match our heads with the right shaft.
 
Casey/Q:
What is the hot flavor right now?
 
Bob/A:
Weve used Penley, UST, Aldila, Fujikura, and Graphite Design all as stock shafts. Were not using proprietary shafts. Were golf club head designers and manufacturers. Thats where our expertise is. Shaft companies are experts at what they do. Its our job to find out what shaft works the best with what head, and with the help of the shaft companies, make decisions that allow our clubs to perform up to our expectations.
 
Casey/Q:
Is any of your decision making process on shafts driven by price?
 
Bob/A:
When we decide on what shaft works the best, we ask that company for their best price. A lot of club companies go to the shaft guys with a set budget and then they sit back and wait to see who gives them the price theyre looking for. So we do that a little differently. We try to find the top of the line shaft in the marketplace that works best in our heads and then thats what we go with. Its Sonartecs overall philosophy to provide TOUR players and avid golfers with a golf club that will perform consistently in even the most difficult conditions.
 
Casey/Q:
What is Sonartecs design process like?
 
Bob/A:
Initially, all the designs came out of Japan. But as the company grew we realized we needed to expand our R&D. So now, we have a staff right here in Carlsbad who do nothing but work on R&D. Its still a collaboration with our Japanese sister company, and also, the foundries that we use in Taiwan. They have significant R&D capabilities. The process itself is similar to the other OEMs. We work our initial designs through a CAD system, then we have models made, then sample molds are formed to make prototypes. We test, and test, and test with the prototypes until we think we have the head right. At that point, were really only half-way there. We then have to find the shaft to go with it.
 
Casey/Q:
Where do ideas for new club designs come from?
 
Bob/A:
Were a smaller company. Were pretty entrepreneurial, Casey, which is a good thing. The president of the company certainly solicits opinions from sales and marketing as well as the R&D people. But for the most part, we come up with ideas as a small group of people listening to what the TOUR players tell us they are looking for.
Casey/Q:
Sonartec has stayed pretty close to home in the fairway wood and hybrid categories. You have recently added a forged wedge, but, not much beyond that.
 
Bob/A:
First and foremost we are running a business. A successful business, I might add. So what we release and when we release it is a matter of economics. Take drivers, for instance, a business we are not in. But if we were in the driver business we would need to come out with a new driver every eight months or so. The price holds for maybe 12 months and then it starts to get discounted. Our product life cycles, on the other hand, are measured in years, not months. We pride ourselves on that. Our hybrid, the Md, has been in the marketplace for four years. It has taken on a personality of other uniquely successful and identifiable products in the industry, like an 845 iron or a PING Anser putter.
 
Casey/Q:
You would consider that Md a standard at this point?
 
Bob/A:
The Md does seem to be a standard by which other hybrids are measured. In fact, this year at the British Open, we were the number one hybrid again which is a true worldwide representation of players. The price on the Md has stayed the same - $199 ' the same as the day we introduced it and it is still $199 four years later. We come to market with something new only when we feel like we have something that is genuinely better than what we had before. The Md just keeps clicking along. The reality, however, is that you do need new products. So, we are working on some new hybrids. We have three or four in development right now and one of those will be ready for next year. However, we will continue to market the Md because there is certainly a following for it.
 
Casey/Q:
What about other new products?
 
Bob/A:
December 1, the company will introduce a new fairway wood called the GS Tour. This club has already had two wins on the PGA TOUR in the last few months. The players are telling us its the best fairway wood weve ever made which is saying a lot. And this is a primary example of how we introduce products. We tested this new fairway wood on TOUR for many, many, many months. There were different prototypes and several iterations and after a lot of hard work we got it just right. We believe its superior to anything weve ever built and so we are ready to bring it to the consumer marketplace.
 

GSTour
Sonartec GS Tour
Casey/Q:
So, forced obsolescence is not in Sonartecs vocabulary.
 
Bob/A:
We dont close out product. We sell through product. As long as people are buying it, and as long as we believe it performs the way it should, we make it and sell it. When we do bring a new product to market, like I said, its because we believe its superior. The Md is the best example of that. We are bringing out a new hybrid next year but it wont obsolete the Md. The new hybrid will be uniquely different than the Md and it will perform differently than the Md, but, the Md will stay in the line. We like to give golfers the option of choosing what they want to play from our line. But, its tough because everyone is coming out with new products every few months it seems. So, it is a pretty tough environment.
 
Casey/Q:
Tell us abou the Driving cavity technology.
 
Bob/A:
Driving Cavity Technology came from Japan in the original club designs. Its a patented technology. The weight is taken out of the sole and put in to the heel and toe areas which effectively broaden the sweet spot. Driving Cavity Technology also raises the center of gravity on average, depending on the club, one or two score lines which promotes less spin. Less spin means the ball will not balloon which is what better players are looking for. The ball will fly the true distance it was hit and not fall short of target.
 
Casey/Q:
And this is appealing to TOUR players and low-handicap golfers?
 
Bob/A:
The guys on TOUR and low handicap golfers like Sonartec because the ball flight is very consistent. Its boring, its penetratingthese are great clubs in the wind. You can usually go up a loft and not give up any distance. If you are playing a 14-degree fairway wood, for example, you can usually go to a 15-degree Sonartec and still hit the ball the same distance. And since more loft is easier to hit, players like this. Its really about spin control. Everyone now is talking about high launch with low spin on drivers. Thats something we addressed five years ago with fairway woods and hybrids. And this is exactly what Sonartecs Driving Cavity does; it controls the spin of the golf ball.
 
Casey/Q:
You mentioned the 2001 British Open as Sonartecs first big worldwide professional win. But, generally speaking, I think the public is more aware of the 2004 British Open winprobably because of the national media attention paid to the hybrid the champion was using.
 
Bob/A:
The 2004 British Open win really did put us on the map as a serious golf company. We got a lot of recognition throughout the world with that win. People called us literally from all over the world wanting to become distributors because of what they saw and heard on television and what they read in the papers and in electronic media. It was an incredibly active time for us. I also think that win put hybrids on the map as something that golfers really needed to get their arms around and put in their bags. It was proven to be such a versatile club because of the way it was used in that Open Championship. And not just for Sonartec, but for all the club companies. In fact, I ran in to Mark King at a PGA TOUR event not long ago and he actually thanked Sonartec for its success at that Open Championship because it brought so much success to all the golf companies in the hybrid product category.
 
Casey/Q:
Its the way the champion used the club that made it such an interesting story.
 
Bob/A:
Well, youre right. If he was just hitting hybrid from the fairway, that would have been one thing. But, I think the 2004 champion got up and down around the greens 14 out of 15 times during the week using the hybrid. And, of course, we all remember the last shotsome 30 yards from the green and he rolled it up there with the hybrid and won in the playoff. We couldnt have asked for more.
 
Casey/Q:
Whats Sonartecs relationship with Nick Price like?
 
Bob/A:
Nick Price is a minority partner in the company and he helps us develop products. Early on, he helped the company become established on TOUR with the other TOUR players. Everyone loves Nick. Hes a great ambassador for golf and he has certainly been a great ambassador for Sonartec. He made introductions on TOUR for us with players. He recommended to many, many players that they give Sonartec a chanceto at least try the clubsand that really helped us get some TOUR presence.
 
Casey/Q:
And Nick Price is going to be on the Champions Tour next year.
 
Bob/A:
That is so exciting. Nick turns 50 in January and hes told us hes made a commitment to the Champions Tour and plans to play very, very hard out there. Hes a great guy to be around. I cant think of anybody in golf that has anything bad to say about Nick Price. We all admire him greatly and we are proud here at Sonartec that he is associated with our company.
 
Casey/Q:
How does Sonartecs relationship with TOUR players inform you in your design efforts?
 
Bob/A:
Lets take the new wedge, for instance. We worked with TOUR players for over a year and a half on what they like about their own wedgetheir gamer wedges. We talked about leading edge, bounce, heel relief, the toe ' a rounded toe or a more square toe ' hosel design, things like that. We would share their preferences with our designers and then have prototypes made. Wed take the wedge back out on tour, get more input, and continue tweaking the prototypes. And our R&D department would keep making changes and wed keep taking the refined prototypes back out on TOUR. Until finally, we got a wedge that represented the great majority of what we heard the TOUR players were looking for and using out on TOUR.
 

t35 Wedge
Sonartec t35 Wedge
Casey/Q:
And this is throughout your product line?
 
Bob/A:
For the most part, the professional players have always been there for us. Theyve always been willing to help test our product and give us the feedback that weve needed. Robot testing is one thing, but, a robot cant talk to you. A PGA TOUR player is pretty close to a robot in terms of how they repeat their swings, and, theyre also very smart guys. So, they can hit a club and give you fantastic feedback.
 
Casey/Q:
Can you give us another example?
 
Bob/A:
The GS Tour fairway wood. We brought a prototype of this club out on TOUR last year. We got some guys to hit it and actually to play practice rounds with it. They recommended some changes. We pulled the prototype off TOUR, worked with it some more with our R&D guys, then came back on TOUR with it this year as a much improved product. And if you hit the original prototype and hit the final production model you can really tell the difference between the two. Its amazing. So, the production model GS Tour has really been embraced out on TOUR and we have a few wins with it this year.
 
Casey/Q:
Whats the retail release date of the GS Tour?
 
Bob/A:
December 1st.
 
Casey/Q:
Before we get to Sonartec product line, tell us about the Trion:Z enterprise.
 
Bob/A:
Trion:Z is a bracelet made up of negative ions and magnets. Its the number one bracelet in Japan. Its called Colantotte in Japan but nobody can pronounce or remember the name here so we changed it to Trion:Z. Through the Japanese connection ' the same connection that led to distribution of Sonartec in the United States ' they came to us and asked us to handle distribution for Trion:Z not only in the U.S. but worldwide. We jumped in on that last November, so, its been one year. Weve actually tripled our projection as far as sales and weve really only gone after the golf market.
 
Casey/Q:
In fact, you were here in Orlando recently with a couple of heavy hitters.
 
Bob/A:
Weve just brought David Leadbetter and Butch Harmon on board. And, we are getting in to other aspects of sport: tennis, fitness, sports medicine, etc. There are football players wearing them, there were four drivers in the Indy 500 that had them and swear by them because they say the recovery time from muscle fatigue is much less if they wear the bracelets.
 
Casey/Q:
What do the bracelets actually do?
 
Bob/A:
Well, magnets help blood flow. Blood flow helps heal what we commonly refer to as tennis elbow. Tennis elbow takes on many different characteristics is different sports and is kind of used as a catch-all phrase now. So, whatever ailment your particular sport causes, an increase in blood flow to the injured area may make the healing process speed up. Thats what magnets doincrease blood flow.
 
Casey/Q:
What about negative ions?
 
Bob/A:
The negative ions ' your body has positive and negative ions ' the negative ions in the bracelet replenish what the body loses. Cell phones, florescent lights, any kind of electronic or mechanical device that is in close proximity to the body depletes the body of negative ions. So youre trying to bring it back in to balance. The guys on TOUR found out that negative ions help them concentrate for a four or five hour round of golf and thats why they started wearing copper bracelets way back when, then Sabona, and the Titan and now Trion:Z. So, the bracelet idea isnt new, but, this is a new technology in bracelets.
 
Casey/Q:
And this is supported by the medical community?
 
Bob/A:
There is no dispute in the medical community that magnets work. The dispute is, do they work for everyone and thats something that not everybody can agree on. But, its been a fun time working with the bracelets. We have our 25 sales reps out there selling them and the product has been extremely well received by large and small retailers alike.
 
Casey/Q:
OK, lets move on to the Sonartec product line. The t35 forged wedges are new. What makes the wedge different?
 
Bob/A:
There are four things that make the t35 special. Number one, its forged which promotes a soft feel. The 8620-carbon steel has characteristics that lessen vibration especially on off-center hits. Number two, it has a constant radius transition. Weve moved some weight from the flange up in to the blade of the golf club so you can control trajectory. A lot of wedges have all their weight right down in the bounce so no matter where you play the ball in your stance you wont be able to keep the ball low.
 
Casey/Q:
And thats the one thing we always hear TOUR players talking about. They want to keep the ball flight on their wedges lower so they can throw the ball like a dart.
 
Bob/A:
Thats right. This is a characteristic of the wedge that comes directly from TOUR. Number three, the heel relief or multi-grind soleas you lay the club open, it just hugs the turf. The leading edge doesnt pop up off the grass because of the bounce. So you have confidence that if you have a tight lie you can get the club under the ball. And number four, that would be the YoYo Grooves. We milled the face with little mill marks to add friction. Friction does two things. It allows you to control the golf ball while its on the face of the club and it also adds spin. So, the grooves are pretty aggressive from a spin stand point. The face is a combination of mill marks and y-grooves. The TOUR players and low handicap players really seem to want to play with the y-grooves right now.
 
Casey/Q:
The LS-99 was new for 06. Thats a high performance fairway metal wood for women and seniors?
 
Bob/A:
Thats right, it is. Its probably as close to a game-improvement golf club as well ever get. Its a larger head, we use a 45-gram Aldila NV shaft ' and were the only company using a 45-gram shaft as a stock shaft in a golf club that Im aware of ' they made it for us specially. So, its good for slower swing speed players, man or woman. The swing-weight on it is C-9, the head is a little lighter and shaft is lighter so it promotes a faster swing speed.
 
Casey/Q:
The Md hybrid we talked about. Its a staple in your line. I notice there are a lot of lofts offered in this hybrid.
 
Bob/A:
When we started, we had 17-degree and 19-degree. Thats what everyone wanted. But, over the last two years, weve found that people that have them want to add 21-degree and 23-degree to the mix. And now we have 15-degree all the way to 25-degree. These hybrids are a great solution for good players who are looking to get rid of their longer irons but dont want to give up the performance they expect from those longer clubs. We think the Md is the standard for the hybrid business and were very proud of the golf club. These Md hybrids work. We test new product all the time and well put our Md against any other hybrid out there. Its one of the things that has made it so tough for us to bring a new hybrid to market. We have to make darn sure it will out-perform the Md.
 
Casey/Q:
Im sure your engineers set out to make a great hybrid. Clearly, there are is winning design built in to the Md. But, is it a little bit like catching lightening in the bottle when a club ends up working so well?
 
Bob/A:
We dont think, we know we caught lightening in the bottle with the Md hybrid. I mean, youve got admit that it looks a lot different than most hybrids. The Sonartec Driving Cavity has a lot to do with it. The center of gravity is a little higher, without getting too specific, the ball comes off the face with less spin. You play it with the ball back in your stance, you take a little divot just like you would with a 5-iron, except the ball goes like a dart 200-yards. Honestly, could our designers and engineers have predicted that the club would perform so well for top TOUR players? Probably not. But then again, do you think Ely Callaway knew for sure the Big Bertha driver was going to work as well as it did? Probably not. So, in club design, I think, there is always a little luck that comes along with the engineering and some blessing that the golfing gods throw in there as well. But, no matter how it happened, it happened, and, everybody knows that the Sonartec Md is one of if not the best performing hybrids in the world today.
 
Casey/Q:
The two current-model fairway woodsSS-2.5 and SS-3.5.
 

Bob/A:
The original Sonartec fairway woods were SS-01, SS-02 and SS-03. The SS-01 had a very, very shallow face almost like the original Orlimar. That one went out of our line pretty quickly. The SS-2.5 is a mid-face and the SS-3.5 is a deep face with a small, classic looking head. The 3.5 is definitely for a better player. Because its got a deep face, the center of gravity is pretty high on it and it will really promote a low ball flight. The SS-2.5 is more user friendly. Its got all the Sonartec technology built in but its mid-face allows the ball to get up in the air a little quicker.
 
Casey/Q:
What about materials used in the Sonartec clubs?
 
Bob/A:
The SS-2.5 and SS-3.5 are made of a new alloy we developed in Taiwan and we found it to be hard and the ball came off extremely fast. I dont want to get too specific about the alloy itself. It is most definitely a different alloy than the original SS-01 fairway wood had.
 
Casey/Q:
Now, youve told us that you dont often come out with new product. What will people notice thats different about the GS-Tour fairway wood?
 
Bob/A:
With the GS-Tour weve been able to develop a little higher launch with less spin. The ball will get up a little higher but it wont balloon. Youre not going to give up any distance but its just a little bit easier to hit. We think well broaden the market appeal some with this new fairway wood. More players might be willing to give it a try. Also, the stock shaft in this new fairway wood was developed with Graphite Design. Its called Red Ice. Its built on their Purple Ice platform technology. This is really top of the line stuff and I would encourage people to try the club first with the stock shaft rather than just automatically re-shaft it with their preferred shaft. We blind tested this club head and shaft combination with club professionals, single digit low-handicap players and TOUR players and the GS-Tour head with the Red Ice shaft was the hands down winner.
 
Casey/Q:
So, Bob, are you optimistic about the future of Sonartec?
 
Bob/A:
Casey, Sonartecs future lies in us staying the course. While everyone else is coming out with new product, monthly in some cases, we still feel that the way for us to succeed in the golf business is to continue the heritage of developing and manufacturing exceptional product and let the golfers in the end decide who should be the winner in this very competitive industry. Sonartec is not trying to be all things to all people. We have always been a club maker catering to the best players in the world and to better golfers. Thats no secret. We have added some clubs to our line that are a little bit more user friendly, but, by-and-large, we know our market is the better player. We just have to make sure that we always have available for this segment of golf the best golf clubs made and Sonartec will do just fine.
 
Casey/Q:
Bob, its been a pleasure.
 
Bob/A:
Casey, thanks for taking the time to talk about Sonartec. Well see you out on TOUR.
 
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