In Their Own Words Top-FliteHogan

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Ben Hogan Golf opened its doors in 1953. Like Mr. Hogan himself, the golf club company that bears his name has always stood for exceptional quality. Mr. Hogan is said to have founded the Company with the vision that the amateur player would appreciate a set of precisely matched golf clubs built to 'the most exacting tolerances modern machinery will allow.' Prior to this, such a standard was reserved for touring professionals. As Ben Hogan Golf enters its 52nd year, they return to their roots as a forged irons company.
 
Top-Flite Golf has been part of the golf industry since its inception in North America. What started in 1895 as a part of A.G. Spalding & Bros. has grown to a subsidiary of Callaway Golf, the largest golf company in the world. Their roots can be traced from the first American company to manufacture golf balls to many of the known innovations in the modern golf ball design. Their innovations of the two-piece golf ball and the multi-layer balls are considered two of the most important.
 
Andrew Isaacman is the vice president of Top-Flite and Ben Hogan Golf. He is responsible for all day-to-day operations and oversees product design and development, marketing and brand strategies for both companies.

 
A Conversation with Andrew Asaacman, vice president, Top-Flite and Ben Hogan Golf.
 
Casey / Q:
Drew, lets start with Top-Flite. The company has been around for a very long time. In the last several years it seems Top-Flite has tried to be many things to many people. Did you lose your way a bit?
 
Drew / A:
We did lose our focus. We tried to be a lot of things to a lot of people. We were able to make some very high performance tour caliber golf balls and that market is a lot different to compete in than the market that Top-Flite had really made its reputation in. And while its hard to walk away from the highest cost and highest performing golf balls we strongly feel that by focusing we are able to produce golf balls that for ninety to ninety-five percent of the playing public ' those balls do everything that they need a golf ball to do. And with the difference between the cost of the higher end golf balls they can also pay for their green fees.
 
XL_Extreme_DistanceCasey / A:
When we met in Carlsbad, CA you drew an analogy between Top-Flite and beer distributors.
 
Drew / Q:
Ive been using the beer analogy a lot. Whether its Budweiser or Bud Light, Miller or Miller Lite ' theres nothing wrong with any of those beers. They end up being the greatest volume producers and the most widely consumed beer in the market and thats what were focused onthat space.
 
Casey / Q:
Tell me about the Top-Flite product line for 06.
 
Drew / A:
Top-Flite moving forward in 06 is going to concentrate on the everymans ball. Excitedly, Top-Flite is introducing a line of two-piece balls at a performance level weve never been able to achieve before. And we dont think anyone else can even touch it from a combination of distance and feel. Our own mechanical tests and our own player tests show it to be as long or longer than any ball both within its price range and the range above, and, considerably softer than any of those same golf balls. And that is the XL Extreme for 2006.
 

Casey / Q:
You also have the XL and the XL Plus lines.
 
Drew / A:
Yes we do. Within Top-Flite, Extreme is the ultimate two-piece golf ball from a performance perspective. XL are for users that put distance above all else and XL Plus is a ball that is a little more playable across all swing speeds. Theres also a pretty cool entry from within Top-Flitethe introduction of Quartz, which uses the technology of a see-thru cover and a colored core to give a unique effect visually to the golf ball while still being able to incorporate some of our two-piece technology. The dimple lines kind of refract through the clear cover and give the balls a very distinctive look.
 
Casey / Q:
The experience you gained in making high performance tour balls, does that translate to the balls youre producing for 06?
 
Drew / A:
Sure. Id only be careful in labeling them distance balls because a lot of peoples first impression is they have to be hard, or they have to be Top-Rocks or Rock-Flights, whichever term you prefer. However, the biggest paradigm our technologists have been able to achieve for us in 06 is this XL Extreme is an incredibly soft golf ball that still maintains the traditional distance but also gives the other playing characteristics like feel and spin in an under $20 per dozen ball. And much of this technology comes from the experience we gained making tour performance golf balls. Its kind of like the automakers. They have their race car programs and from that they apply technologies to the cars you and I drive. Its like that with us and Top-Flites former tour products. We took the best of the technology and now apply it to our current golf balls.
 
Casey / Q:
What is the technology story behind the XL Extreme ball?
 
Drew / A:
First and foremost we started with the core. Its very hard to mimic the performance of a three-piece in a two-piece because you lose that one variable. You lose that ability to combine hard and soft materials in creating distance, feel and spin. What I call the three performance attributes. But what weve been able to do is come up with a core that can play very soft and when surrounded by a firmer cover can yield the distance that players expect or need in todays golf ball world. And then, again, from a technology standpoint combine this with a cover that utilizes a seamless dimple technology ' something you wont find in any other ball in the class ' greatly improving aerodynamic efficiency ' which also contributes to distance. Those two attributes, the core and the seamless dimple really give it a performance combination unlike any other two-piece golf ball.
 
Casey / Q:
Are there several different models within the main lines?
 
Drew / A:
Yes, there are. Within our XL Extreme line of golf balls we have a Tour model which combines a level of spin along with the distance characteristics. We have a Distance model which maintains a very soft feel but not at the expense of any distance attribute. And then we have a Straight model which is something unique to Top-Flite where, again, from a technology standpoint, we use a proprietary slick-coat covering akin to anti-graffiti material and this simply reduces sidespin on the golf ball to reduce hooks and slices. And really, the Distance golf ball with the slick-coat covering applied is the Straight model. Within XL Extreme the Tour version is by far the lowest compression two-piece golf ball weve ever been able to produce so it has an incredibly soft feel, hence the Tour moniker. The Distance model, believe it or not, is actually the softest of any of the three models. So you get some spin with the Tour version, you get increased feel with the Distance version and you get reduced sidespin with the Straight version.
 
Casey / Q:
The Tour version has the highest spin rate?
 
Drew / A:
Thats correct. It has the highest spin rate and maintains the distance and well trade off a small amount of softness compared to the distance ball. This is a little bit different than people think. And again, for your technology readers, its really the combination of soft and hard materials so that the softer you make that core ' so the Distance model actually has a softer core than the Tour model ' and the softer you make that core thats really what determines feel. If you keep the cover a certain hardness it still maintains your distance.
 
Casey / Q:
A far as the Top-Flite brand in general goes, will you move in to clubs and accessories as well or focus totally on balls?
 
Edge CFT HybridDrew / A:
We will move in to clubs in the near future and we already have a very strong accessories business in bags and gloves, etc. We unveiled a new logo last year and we will be broadening the distribution of that logo with hats, umbrellas, gloves ' our glove business remains very strong. We are able to manufacture an extremely soft high-end glove at price points that allow golfers to do something with the change theyll have left over. Going in to 06 the accessories will primarily be hats and gloves. We will be getting in to 8 irons and 3 woods sets that you will see at
off-course locations where there is an appeal for the Top-Flite name.
 
Casey / Q:
Your position is so interesting Drew, I think, because you are charged with running two brands that are more or less diametrically opposed in terms of core product and branding strategies. Those two companies being Top-Flite and Ben Hogan. Lets talk about Hogan now. Where has Hogan been and where are you taking it now?
 
Drew / A:
That is very true, Casey, and probably the two brands couldnt be more opposite from one another in terms of who they appeal to and the spectrum that the product covers in the equipment market that they satisfy a need for. Some of my days tend to be a little schizophrenic thinking about both brands. Sometimes I need to separate the two brands and only think about one brand or the other on certain days.
 
But, within Hogan, its really a similar story to Top-Flite in that Hogan had become a broad appeal company and had lost its focus. That leads to a lost cause for both the product line and what the company stands for. So, were using 06 to return to the Hogan roots of high quality, good looking, and good feeling forged golf clubs. The Hogan tradition, I think what people think of first when they think of Hogan, they think of irons and wedges and thats what we will be focused on from a new product introduction standpoint in 06 as well as supplementing that with top-line accessories such as bags, headwear and our two entries in the golf ball market, Tour Deep and The Hawk. That will continue to expand the product line while keeping a focus on nothing but forgings. We will place feel and looks above all else unless someone comes up with a technology that reproduces the feel of a forged golf club. Ben Hogan Golf will produce only forged golf clubs.
 
Casey / Q:
Im sure true Hogan aficionados will appreciate the re-focus. What about new technologies?
 
Drew / A:
The one caveat that Ill add to that is that we have found a very strong market position within the hybrid category. We maintain a little bit of our forged technology there. We use a forged titanium face in our hybrids and weve been able to do really well with our CFT Ti Hybrids and also introducing a line extension within that club category for 06. And I look at hybrids as a natural extension of irons. Theyre used by folks to replace long irons and I think they fit very nicely in the Hogan line-up of top quality irons, wedges and golf balls.
 
Casey / Q:
So what does the Hogan iron line look like?
 
Drew / A:
We have a new Apex blade which is certainly widely accepted as a classic Hogan blade. Weve updated it by reaching in to the past of Hogans great forgings and added some features and attributes of some of the best shaped Hogan blades from the past. And this gives us the Apex blade for 2006. It is a blade with a concentration of weight low in the club head, a little more forgiveness, unparalleled looks, and a constant off-set through the set. And for the first time well actually be offering our Apex blades with Dynamic Golf and Rifle shafts to go along with the popular Apex shafts to give people the options theyve been asking for. The Apex irons will continue to be made to the same exacting specifications as in years past. Our tour testing has been very positive with the 06 Apex blades.
 
Apex ironCasey / Q:
What steel are you guys using?
 
Drew / A:
10-20 carbon steel is truly the softest carbon steel that is effectively used for irons and that is what our clubs are made from. Some companies are using 10-25 or 10-30, but, we stick to 10-20 and that is the softest available. We dont sacrifice trying to get a little extra hardness in the club head for a little extra distance and in so doing forsake feel. Thats why we continue to believe our Hogan clubs will maintain the best and softest feel of any forged clubs on the market.
 
Casey / Q:
So, run through the whole line for us.
 
Drew / A:
Sure. Our line is comprised of three levels of forged clubs and the difference is designed to cater to different player needs: blades are focused on 0-10 handicap, those players looking for exceptional feedback and the ultimate in feel. We will continue to produce our F.T.X. which is our transition set of forged clubs which goes from a blade in the shorter irons to a modified cavity back in the mid, starting with the seven iron to longer irons for a little more help for those players. These are really focused on the five to 15 handicap space. And now we have the Apex Edge irons which have a 180 degree undercut channel. They are forged as well. We achieve the undercut channel by literally forging two different pieces and laser welding them together. These irons have more generous offsets and will be playable by a wider range of players up in to the 20 handicap range.
 
Casey / Q:
Is it a truism that Hogan forged products are for better players?
 
Drew / A:
Casey, one of the funny things that Ive learned being close to the Hogan brand from the people that buy our product is that roughly 60 percent of the people that buy Hogan product are between 10 and 20 handicap. So those folks who carry an upper teen handicap who have always been afraid to try Hogan forged products shouldnt be afraid. The data shows higher handicap players do buy Hogan and play with Hogan. They might be the buyer that puts a little more emphasis on looks and feel and the Hogan name for craftsmanship and quality. Were looking to produce clubs that help a players game no matter the playing ability. I should add the other entry we are introducing for 06 is an Apex line of wedges that will also maintain the looks and feel of the Apex blades in traditional lofts and will be able to compliment any of the sets for the ultimate in short game control.
 
Casey / Q:
How does Callaway Golf Companys ownership play in to Top-Flite and Ben Hogan Golfs business strategy?
 
Drew / A:
The most important thing for your readers to know is that Callaway Golf Company owns multiple brands within the golf world. But, within our walls those brands are managed and driven to meet individual consumer needs as best they can. Yes, Callaway does own Top-Flite and Callaway does own Hogan. But, these brands are designed to occupy their own space and compete with each other just like all golf brands compete. We are not running these companies as me too entities with assimilation across all channels. The companies make different products, have different branding and marketing strategies and do fiercely compete with one another. Thats what is healthy and that is most definitely what is best for the consumer. Some people do know that the four brands of Ben Hogan, Top-Flite, Callaway and Odyssey are all owned by the Callaway Golf Company. Its common knowledge. But really the only common factor there is that our finances roll up in to one corporate financial statement. What we try to achieve with each of the brands is a true uniqueness in product design and development that benefits the golfers that purchase those products and to stay true to each brand. Its actually the reason why we believe that Top-Flite and Hogan will be more effective within the walls of Callaway Golf. Were able to focus with more laser-like precision on the market sector that the brands have historically catered to in the past. Not trying to be all things to all people, rather, being the best we can be with each brand and making sure we give golf consumers what they want.
 
Casey / Q:
What are Ben Hogan Golfs tour plans?
 
Drew / A:
Pretty limited for 06. Were trying to reign in the brand and position it in the right spot. Bernhard Langer is a staff player for 06. We have had some movement from the Hogan brand over to the Callaway brand either from an equipment perspective or even strictly from a branding strategy perspective. But were very excited about future tour prospects. And here is an example of Callaway Golf Companys synergy as it relates to Hogan. Our Hogan clubs will be available to and played by tour players who are under contract with our other Callaway Golf Company brands. Just like our Odyssey putters are played by Callaway staff players. Most importantly, well get the feedback and input from them which we already have for this 06 product line so we can continue to design and manufacture the finest forged irons and products in the golf industry.
 
Casey / Q:
Drew, put it in a nice neat package here for us.
 
Drew / A:
So, to sum it up ' with Top-Flite we have four main entries in XL, XL Plus, XL Extreme and Quartz. And in Hogan weve returned to our traditional forged products with three models of irons that can satisfy virtually any type of player along with new wedges and an updated hybrid that we believe can compete against any other golf company out there; with the added benefit of the Hogan name and mystique. Its a very exciting time for both Top-Flite and Hogan and I would encourage your readers to demo our products and experience the new stuff for themselves.
 
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