Of all the companies exhibiting at last week’s PGA Merchandise Show, you could make a compelling case none was happier to be there than Bridgestone Golf. It had been three years since Bridgestone last participated in the show, and it was refreshing to see the genuine happiness anyone wearing the block-letter B felt to be back on the main stage.
Bridgestone made its share of news at the show, launching the e12 golf ball and announcing the re-launch of its signature ball-fitting program. The former is an interesting addition to its ball lineup, the latter an important initiative to reclaim some market share lost to Callaway and TaylorMade.
Not to be lost in the shuffle, however, are two bits of equipment-related news: one you can hit, the other you can try.
Updated Tour B XW-1 Wedge
I’ve given up trying to figure out Bridgestone’s club name/number system. Best I can determine is JGR stands for either Japanese Gravitational Rapidity or Joe Gibbs Racing, I’m not sure which. Bridgestone’s new wedge, which was announced last week at the PGA Show, is the Tour B XW-1. Oddly enough, that’s the same name as the wedge it’s replacing.
The new XW-1 is a premium Japanese 1020 forging (the 2017 model was 1025), and features three loft specific sole grinds (the 2017 models only had one grind) and something called Biting Rail Milled grooves for more spin.
“It’s a new micro-milling pattern,” says Zack Kupperbusch, Golf Club Marketing Manager for Bridgestone. “If you rub your finger across the face, you can feel in-between each groove the parallel mills that go across the face. They’re kind of like protruding teeth to keep the ball on the face a little longer to increase spin.”
Kupperbusch tells MyGolfSpy that Biting Rail Milled grooves add about 250 to 300 RPM in additional greenside spin compared to the 2017 model. “When you think about it, 300 RPM doesn’t sound like a lot,” he says. “But there’s only so much you can do to the face and stay conforming. You can’t really touch the grooves for the most part, but you can get creative between the grooves.”
“When you can get another 300 RPM by changing the micro-milling pattern, we’re happy with that.”
Sweet Sole Music
Bridgestone has never been a company to go crazy with wedge grinds – being a minor player in the wedge game will do that to you. With the new XW-1’s, Bridgestone is offering three unique grinds, dependent on loft.
The XW-1 line ranges from 50- to 60-degree lofts in 2-degree increments. The 50-degree wedge features what Bridgestone is calling the F-Sole.
“F stands for Flat, with very minimal grinding heel or toe,” says Kupperbusch. “We assume with a 50-degree you’re probably hitting a full shot – 100, 110 yards – and you’re not opening up the face. “
The 56-degree wedge features what Bridgestone calls the A-Sole (careful!), which is designed for sand shots or any other type of shot around the green where you’d want to open the face and get the ball up in the air quicker. The 52°, 54°, 58°, and 60° wedges all feature the M-Sole.
“M is for Multi-purpose,” says Kupperbusch. “You can see some heel-toe relief for versatile shot making for whatever you’re likely to encounter around the course.”
Depending on your tastes, you might find the new XW-1’s a tad busy. That remains the Japanese influence that exists in all Bridgestone clubs. There’s text to let you know it’s Biting Rail Milled, and there’s still the B medallion logo on the back, but it has been slimmed considerably from the protruding mass that was one the 2017 model.
“Some people loved it, others not so much,” admits Kupperbusch. “So we gave it a more subtle look this year.”
There is a functional reason for slimming down the B, as well. The protruding B in the 2017 model was all about adding mass right behind the impact area. A solid idea, but any kind of off-center hit left the wedge feeling a little less than crisp. Kupperbusch says slimming the B down a bit allowed them to spread the mass out a little wider across the face for a tad more forgiveness and better feel on off-center hits.
Price & Availability
Bridgestone continues to be price-aggressive as it vies for your attention in the equipment game. The new XW-1 wedges will retail for $139.99 which, when you look at wedge pricing trends, is pretty agreeable – especially when you’re talking about a 1020 forged wedge.
“We know our position in the market,” says Kupperbusch. “We’re a golf ball company first, but we make clubs for consumers who trust the Bridgestone brand. They trust our expertise, so we want to craft our clubs for that consumer.”
The XW-1 wedge will be offered in a satin chrome finish only (the 2017 versions were available in both polished chrome and black) and in right-handed models only (sorry lefties). The Nippon Modus 3 105 in stiff is the stock shaft, and the stock grip is the Golf Pride MCC in black. Custom shaft and grip options are available on Bridgestone’s website, some at no-upcharge, others with an upcharge.
You can view the wedges on Bridgestone’s website now, but they won’t be available for sale until March 4th.
The Return of Test Drive
Bridgestone is also announcing the return of its online Test Drive program for its Tour B JGR line and for the XW-1 wedges. Bridgestone introduced the Test Drive program several years ago but abandoned it during the Angel Ilagan years. Now it’s back, and Bridgestone is hoping the program can help generate some momentum.
“It’s a relaunch of what we did a few years ago,” says Kupperbusch. “You go online, enter your credit card information and for $20 you get two-way shipping, and you get to try the clubs for 21 days on your own course or on the range, and see how you like them.”
The program is live right now, featuring Tour B JGR drivers, fairways and hybrids, as well as the JGR HF-1 and HF-2 irons (the XW-1 wedges will be added in March). Different lofts, shafts and flexes are offered, as well. For instance, if you want to demo the JGR driver in a 9.5 loft and a stiff shaft, Bridgestone will send you two drivers to test, and you can select which of the available shaft options you’d like to try.
When Bridgestone first introduced the program, there was nothing else like it in the industry, and it did meet with some resistance. But now others, including Direct-To-Consumer OEMs Ben Hogan and the new Sub 70 brand are using the same formula. No, it’s not the same as walking into Dick’s, picking up a stick and bashing it into a simulator for 5 minutes or so and looking at some data. But it does give you the opportunity to use the club for three weeks hon your home course. It’s different, and as we all know, golfers are more than willing to embrace new and different, provided our grandfathers tried it first.
“Our goal is to get the product in people’s hands to try because that’s the problem we face,” admits Kupperbusch. “The Test Drive Program and through our new partnering deals with fitters like Club Champion and True Spec and some others, we’re just trying to get it out into the market.”
Bridgestone is fully aware its products aren’t widely available through typical retail channels, and fixing that problem isn’t simply a matter of doing a better job. It’s the Catch-22 for any challenger brand: retailers stock what people buy, and people buy what retailers stock. Since shelf space is at a premium, it’s almost always something from the Big 5.
That situation is improving for brands such as Wilson and Srixon, who are in more retail outlets today than, say, four or five years ago. Bridgestone, however, still has some catching up to do.
You can check out the Test Drive program at testdrive.bridgestonegolf.com.