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OPINION: Fore (What)?

Tue, 03/20/2007 - 4:45am
Tom Granahan, Editor in Chief, Manufacturing.net

It used to be such a simple game.

Not that long ago, you'd tee it high and let it fly, unconcerned about "spring-like effect" and "characteristic time" ... but very concerned about the water lining the right-hand side of the fairway.

But golf has changed, and not necessarily for the better. Sure, the pros are playing at a higher level, and some of us hackers are now able to keep it below 90 on a regular basis. But it almost feels like cheating, kind of like how airline pilots must feel about the flying computers they now man versus the planes of years ago.

The latest turn of events in the ongoing modernization of golf is Nike's announcement this week that "an unauthorized manufacturing variance occurred such that the Characteristic Time (CT) measurement of a number of drivers fell out of Nike Golf’s approved engineering specifications." That phrase just screams "The Old Course," doesn't it?

These aren't bridges, or airplanes, or nuclear reactors. They're golf clubs, specifically the Nike SUMO2 drivers. Like so many drivers these days, it's got a head the size of a Honda Civic, and costs almost as much. The name? Well, one might think "SUMO" implies some kind of unexpected power or strength. Alas, it refers to SUper MOment of inertia, a reference to the clubhead's resistance to twisting when the ball is hit.

Geez, even the names have to be complicated.

It almost makes you yearn for "woods." (OK, maybe metal woods.) The only problem with that is when your buddy pulls out his titanium/diamond/fiberglass driver and bombs it 280 yards down the middle with a swing any 3-year-old could replicate.

And that's where the club manufacturers get you. The game is hard enough without playing with "inferior" equipment, and if your friends blow $600 on a driver well, then, it's worth the money to avoid the trash talk you'll hear when they start beating you. And the whole cycle starts over again.

Meanwhile, there are a host of interesting aspects to this story. Nike wasn't immediately available for comment, but the company said on a conference call Monday that the manufacturing variance was raised by a competitor. It's no secret that the golf-equipment market is extraordinarily competitive. So, who was the mole? America needs to know! What was the specific manufacturing issue, and how might it change Nike's manufacturing process? How much will this cost the company - in both sales and reputation? What does Tiger think? And finally, who are the honest souls who will turn in their "defective clubs" for a free replacement? Nike said the variance allows for about one to two extra yards of distance.

A yard or two doesn't sound like much, you say? Tell that to your buddies.

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