News & Opinion

Go deep (into pockets, too) with these drivers

As the clichéd commercial asks, “What’s in your wallet?” For golfers, maybe it should be, “What’s left in your wallet?”

Three reasons for golf’s decline in America is that the game is too difficult, takes too long and costs too much.

Yes, golf is an expensive hobby when factoring green fees or club dues and the cost of gear – shoes, balls, gloves, rangefinder or GPS and clubs.

My first set of irons, purchased sometime around 1970, cost almost $200, a sizable chunk then. Now, $200 maybe buys you a putter.

Just for fun, I looked for the five most expensive mainstream drivers on the market today. Sure, there are crazily priced boutique models out there, such as the laser-engraved Maruman Majesty Prestigio driver for $2,500 or Honma’s 2014 set of gold-plated platinum five-star clubs, driver included, for $76,000. However, I limited my search to drivers easily obtainable in the U.S. that I might actually want to own.

My top five, in order of manufacturer’s suggested retail price:

$850: PXG 0811X. Actually, this sounds like a bargain compared with the new PXG milled wedges for $650 each. Bob Parsons, who got rich by founding GoDaddy.com, has made serious in-roads with his pricy golf gear. PXG, short for Parsons Extreme Golf, is already a presence on the pro tours. His goal is to produce the best clubs possible, costs be damned. Although the 0811X driver, full-sized at 460cc, has gotten good reviews, it’s the impressive PXG irons that are winning over customers. (www.pxg.com)

$849: XXIO Prime 9. I couldn’t afford to fall in love with this driver, but it happened anyway at a recent demo day. XXIO (pronounced ZEK-see-oh) is a high-end wing in the Cleveland/Srixon group from Japan that’s trying to break into the U.S., and it’s got a good idea: focus on golfers with medium swing speeds, which is most of us, instead of the 1 percent who make up professional golf. The Prime 9 has a 46-inch shaft with the soft feel of an Indiana Jones whip. It’s for longer and more languid swings, the XXIO rep told me – slow-swinging Ernie Els could use this club, but quick-swinging Nick Price couldn’t. At 252 grams, it’s among the lightest drivers available. I tried it out and smashed three of the best drives I’ve hit in two years. The Prime 9 really packs a satisfying kick (and I also liked the basic Prime driver, a 45½-inch model. At $849, the Prime 9 was too rich for my blood, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it. (www.xxiousa.com)

$699: Tour Edge Exotics XJ1. It’s been an impressive transformation at Tour Edge, which once was a discount clubmaker but has been challenging top-of-the-line manufacturers for a while. The XJ1 is full of innovations, including a new titanium alloy known as Ti 9-1-1, or “Supermetal,” that allows the club to weigh between a modest 265 and 290 grams, depending on the shaft flex. (www.touredge.com)

$599: Ping G, Bubba Watson Limited Edition. This driver has all the benefits of the regular Ping G model: the turbulator and Vortec technology to reduce drag and wake turbulence for improved clubhead speed; a thin Dragonfly weight-saving crown; and a thinner T9S titanium face. It also has the Bubba Watson-favored pink paint job. That means this driver is sure to be a topic of conversation in any foursome. (www.ping.com)

$550: Titleist 917 D2, 917 D3. The Titleist name speaks for itself in terms of quality. The 917 D2 is more forgiving and comes in a full-sized 460cc pear-shaped profile. The D3 is 440cc, has a lower launch and less spin and is geared for better players. I tried them at a demo day (Ping and Tour Edge did not attend) and preferred the D2 over the D3 and the PXG driver. (www.titleist.com)

If you’re looking to spend less than $500 on a driver, that means we have something in common.

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle