Nike Golf cooking up plenty of ideas in The Oven

By Mike BaileyJune 3, 2010, 5:01 pm

The Oven outside signage

FORT WORTH, Texas – Nike Golf has been making golf clubs for less than a decade, yet there's enough golf history for the company to fill three walls of fame, which are located in The Oven, Nike Golf's Texas-based research-and-development center for golf clubs.

Just past the entrance of this 50,000-square-foot facility is a museum of sorts celebrating the company's short-but-successful run in the golf business. One lighted display chronicles everything from Nike's early entry into the golf business with Seve Ballesteros (apparel), to its current roster of players, which includes major champions Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink and Lucas Glover. Another wall shows the development of clubs since 2002. And another is its wall of champions, continuously updated with the company's worldwide tour staff wins, which stands at 49 and counting.

Tom Stites
Ken Stites, Head of Reseach and Development for The Oven
The eight-year-old facility, which in addition to R&D, serves Nike Golf's stable of tour players, is closed to the public. The company, however, recently played host to a group of journalists and gave them a guided tour of The Oven. Headed up by respected industry veteran Tom Stites, The Oven is Nike Golf's answer to the parent company's Innovation Kitchen, located at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.

'I guess you could say this is where we cook up our ideas,' said Stites, who once designed golf clubs for the Ben Hogan Co.

Nike Golf's Texas connection

When Spalding purchase Hogan in 1997, the company eventually moved the Hogan operations from Ft. Worth to Massachusetts. Stites and his team were offered transfers but said, 'No thanks.' They weren't interested in uprooting their families, he said.

So the core of Stites' design team remained and, in 1993, became the club design company Impact Technologies. They created custom clubs for tour players as well as major manufacturers. And when Nike came calling almost a decade ago, Stites had the same answer; he and his team weren't interested in moving.

Stites' stand actually proved beneficial to Nike Golf. Dallas-Ft. Worth, with its central location, is home to many PGA Tour players, and the DFW Airport is one of most accessible hubs in the world. And while Fort Worth isn't exactly balmy in the winter, the area does have a good golf climate for most of year.

Today the original five from Impact Technologies still work at The Oven. Combined with hires from other companies, Nike's team of engineers, machinists and clubmakers has 'more than 230 years of experience,' Stites said.

Inside the Oven: what's cooking

The Oven has the usual departments of any golf club R&D department and then some. There's the testing lab, where Nike Golf not only puts its own clubs through their paces – testing qualities such as COR and durability – but tests the competition as well, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on other companies' new golf clubs.

There's the CAD room (computer-aided design), where ideas are put on paper and transferred to the CNC shop to build prototypes. The machine shop is where clubheads are finished, and then they're sent to the assembly room, where Nike engineers build clubs.

This room also has a patented device called the 'Green Machine.' Unlike some equipment used by other companies, the Green Machine measures golf clubs according to the lie angle of the club, producing more consistent results, company officials said.

But the one room that sets Nike Golf apart, officials say, is the grind shop, a lost art with most clubmakers these days. The grind shop is where Nike Golf basically creates works of art, painstakingly carving raw forgings into clubheads that match the needs of specific tour players. Those creations not only inspire, but are also replicated to some degree for the consumer market.

In the last few years, The Oven has expanded by more than 17,000 square feet with new offices and an auditorium as well as an extensive outdoor short-game area, complete with a stone bridge over a creek and real and synthetic greens.

As Nike Golf's recent TV ad campaign might suggest, The Oven is also a place where tour players such as Cink, Glover, Leonard, Woods, K.J. Choi and Anthony Kim like to spend time. The hitting bays, the putting lab and the outdoor short-game area see a lot of traffic from Nike Golf's playing pros, who give plenty of input into product development.

Perhaps one of the more significant product developments at The Oven as of late has been the Method putter. During the tour, club designer David Franklin, who has been with Stites for 19 years, gave a putting lab demonstration on how the Method gets the ball rolling faster than other putters. It was in the bags of both Glover and Cink when they won the U.S. Open and British Open respectively in 2009.

Other Nike Golf staffers such as Leonard and Choi have made the switch from their longtime putters as well. (Tiger Woods, of course, is still playing with the same Scotty Cameron model that's been in his bag since 1999.)

Franklin related the story of how Nike Golf, early on, built Woods an exact replica of his current putter and placed the company Swoosh on it. According to Franklin, Woods said it was just as good, but 'not better,' so he didn't see any reason to switch.

Franklin believes the Method putter is superior to Woods' putter, but readily admits that a putter's emotional bond with a player is difficult to break, especially considering Woods' immense success.

Perhaps, Woods' disdain for Poa annua greens, which he will see at this month's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, might spur the world's top player to try out the Method in competition. Perhaps not, but Franklin can certainly hope.

'That's our ultimate goal,' he said with a laugh.

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'The Golf Club 2019' adds Elvy to commentary team

By Nick MentaJuly 19, 2018, 4:45 pm

“The Golf Club 2019” is adding a new name to its commentary team.

Broadcaster Luke Elvy will join returning announcer and HB Studios developer John McCarthy for the title's third installment.

Golf fans will recognize Elvy from his recent work with CBS in addition to his time with Sky Sports, FOX Sports, TNT, PGA Tour Live and PGA Tour Radio.

A 25-year media veteran from Australia, he now works in the United States and lives with his family in Canada.

"Ian Baker-Finch was my right-hand man on Australian televison," Elvy told in an interview at the Quicken Loans National. "And Finchy said to me, 'What are you doing here? You should be with me in the States.’ He introduced me to a few people over here and that's how the transition has happened over the last five or six years."

Elvy didn't have any prior relationship with HB Studios, who reached out to him via his management at CAA. As for why he got the job, he pseudo-jokes: "They heard the accent, and said, 'We like that. That works for us. Let's go.' That's literally how it happened."

He participated in two separate recording sessions over three days, first at his home back in February and then at the HB Studios shortly after The Players Championship. He teased his involvement when the game was announced in May.

Although he doesn't describe himself as a "gamer," Elvy lauded the game's immediate playability, even for a novice.

“It’s exactly how you’d want golf to be,” he said.

"The Golf Club 2019" will be the first in the HB series to feature PGA Tour branding. The Tour had previously licensed its video game rights to EA Sports.

In addition to a career mode that will take players from the Tour all the way through the FedExCup Playoffs, "The Golf Club 2019" will also feature at launch replicas of six TPC courses played annually on Tour – TPC Summerlin (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open), TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course (Waste Management Phoenix Open), TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course (The Players Championship), TPC Southwind (FedEx St. Jude Classic/WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship), TPC Deere Run (John Deere Classic), and TPC Boston (Dell Technologies Championship).

“I played nine holes at Scottsdale,” Elvy added. “It’s a very close comparison. Visually, it’s very realistic."

The Golf Club 2019 is due out this August on PlayStation 4, XBOX One, and PC.

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Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

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'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

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Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”