With new Pro V1 and Pro V1x still several months away, Titleist has decided to pass the time by launching Tour Speed. It’s the company’s first foray into the not-quite-tour-level urethane golf ball category. I discussed this and other categories in my recent diatribe on soft golf balls. One of the defining characteristics is that despite urethane covers, per-dozen costs are less than the tour ball category. As it happens, most are also soft.
As a consequence, performance stories associated with these balls sometimes defy the laws of physics. Still, there’s little doubt that the category appeals to average golfers who prefer soft feel. For the most part, we’re also talking about golfers who aren’t keen on spending more than $40 on a dozen balls. By previously not offering anything in the category, Titleist was inarguably leaving money on the table.
So, to address what Titleist sees as both a performance and market opportunity, the company expanded its Ball Plant #2 by 4,300 square feet, filled it with the equipment necessary to make injected TPU covers and launched the new Tour Speed ball.
Thermoset Cast Urethane versus Thermoplastic Injected Urethane
Perhaps we’ll jump into the weeds with this some other day but in the interest of a quick refresher, urethane golf ball covers fall into two categories – cast and injected. Titleist’s top-tier offerings (the Pro V1 family and AVX) feature cast urethane covers. TaylorMade and Snell use cast urethane. Competitors like Bridgestone, Callaway and many of the factories that design and manufacture balls for DTC brands use injection-molded urethane covers.
As you would imagine, every company claims it’s using a superior cover technology and so it’s not always easy to know what’s real. The Titleist position is that cast urethane is superior because it offers better performance (including higher greenside spin) and better durability than injection-molded offerings.
With Tour Speed, the company isn’t backtracking on that position. It still says cast urethane is better but it’s also more expensive. So, with consideration for the competitive set and the lower price point, Titleist believes it makes sense to offer something that, while a step down from cast urethane, is a significant step up from Surlyn.
Titleist leverages a new cover process called MTR (Multi-layer Thermoplastic Urethane via Retractable Pin Injection) technology. And while that’s more of a mouthful than you probably need, it’s part of what Titleist says makes Tour Speed the best of breed in its category.
EXP-01 Comes to retail
Remember EXP-01, the you can try it experimental testing platform Titleist launched last year? That’s where Tour Speed started. While at the time Titleist said little about the specifics of what it was working on, a quick cut of the ball revealed a three-piece construction that wasn’t quite Pro V1 but wasn’t Tour Soft, either. I’d call it a “tweener” (it certainly played that way). EXP-01 has evolved a bit since its prototype phase – the cover formulation was modified to create more spin and the dimple design was tweaked to optimize flight but a good bit of what consumers experience with EXP-01 made it into this new ball.
Given its $39.99 price tag and where it should logically sit on retail shelves – among the likes of soft-ish balls like Tour Response, Tour B RX, Chrome Soft and Q-Star Tour – it’s perhaps odd that “Speed” is in the name. What can I say? Tour Soft was already taken and perhaps Titleist is actively seeking to avoid some of the growing stigma associated with “soft.” If soft is slow, why not add some Speed?
Measuring the Titleist-provided samples in our ball lab, we clocked the compression at 78. The closest comps we have in our Ball Lab database are the Titleist Velocity (80) and the OnCore ELIXR (78). Titleist’s story is that, despite Tour Speed’s lower compression, it makes up some speed through construction. Typically, that’s code for a larger core and some tweaking of the relationships between layers.
The Titleist Tour Speed Golfer
It’s important to understand that Titleist’s objective for Tour Speed isn’t to create another tour ball and so there’s no reasonable expectation that it’s going to be as fast as a tour ball. That’s simply not realistic for any soft-ish golf ball. That said, Titleist believes Tour Speed will prove faster than others in the category while offering the softer feel that players who gravitate to this space in the market are looking for.
With that in mind, there’s no expectation that a golfer who typically plays something in the Pro V1 and AVX family is going to want to step down to Tour Speed but there’s hope that guys currently playing any of the competitors’ balls I mentioned are going to see enough of a performance benefit to step up or, at least, over.
Preferred in Player Testing
With the requisite disclaimer that we haven’t seen a test where the guy telling me about it didn’t come out on top: in Titleist player testing conducted across a wide range of handicap levels and in varying conditions, the majority of golfers who play Titleist Pro V1 or AVX, preferred those models over Tour Speed. What’s promising is that the majority of golfers playing balls from the competitive set reported a preference for Tour Speed. Longer, more spin, everything you’d expect to hear.
It’s the textbook your mileage may vary situation but the takeaway is that Titleist believes it has a ball that can grow its business in a segment in which it hasn’t previously competed. Ideally, Tour Speed helps it steal golfers away from its competitors without impacting its flagship Pro V1 business.
That last bit is key. There’s an unspoken or perhaps “spoken only in hushed tones” rule at Titleist that says make no ball that risks cannibalizing the Pro V1. It’s part of the reason why it trod lightly when launching AVX. I suspect it’s part of the reason you don’t hear more about the Left Dash Pro V1x and it perfectly explains why Tour Speed is being positioned as the not quite tour-level urethane ball that, while not Pro V1 good, is still better than anything its competitors offer in that space.
As an unapologetic tour ball snob, I make no endorsement here but given what we know from a quality standpoint in our Ball Lab tests, those searching for better performance from a soft-ish feeling golf ball should probably check out Tour Speed.
Titleist Tour Speed Pricing and Availability.
The retail price for the Titleist Tour Speed ball is $39.99. It’s available in white only but a yellow offering is in the works.
Retail availability begins August 7th, 2020.
For more information, visit Titleist.com.