One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.
By Gary Van Sickle
The sound of silence is a beautiful thing. Skeptics were dubious last year when the Vertical Groove driver was introduced. More than a few experts didn’t believe vertical grooves on a driver face would be better than or even as good as horizontal grooves.
In short, the skeptics had to shut up. Not many clubs had a more impressive year than Vertical Groove’s driver on the senior circuit in 2017. It was so successful that Vertical Groove Golf introduced a 3-wood in January, and a 5-wood is coming in May.
Vertical grooves aren’t a marketing gimmick. They’re on their way to becoming a “thing.”
COURTESY OF VERTICAL GROOVE GOLF
Vertical Groove Golf expands into fairway woods, with the 3-wood (pictured) in January and a 5-wood coming next month.
John Daly was signed as a Vertical Groove ambassador. He led the Champions Tour in driving distance with the Vertical Groove driver and won a tournament on a major professional tour for the first time since 2004. Rocco Mediate signed on, too, and finished second in driving accuracy. Kenny Perry won the U.S. Senior Open wielding the Vertical Groove driver, which he is not paid to play, and Doug Garwood turned around a disappointing season when he switched to the club late last year. This season, Garwood ranks third in driving accuracy.
The concept that horizontal grooves instead of the traditional vertical grooves would create less sidespin and lead to straighter drives and possibly longer drives is no longer just a concept.
“Their play validated what we had,” said Rubin Hanan, Vertical Groove Golf’s managing partner. “On the 18th tee at the U.S. Senior Open, the Golf Channel guys said Kenny would lay up with a 3-wood or iron, but Kenny pulls out driver and hits it 300 yards right down the middle. Kenny said he can control our driver better than any he’s ever had.
“We’re No. 3 in drivers used on PGA Tour Champions any given week. Our goal is to get a third of the senior players using our driver. That’s our focus. We’re really about amateurs who have aspirations to hit it like those senior players.”
The vertical-groove face was the idea of the late Tony Antonius, who had more than 100 golf-related patents, including using Velcro on golf gloves. He died before developing the driver, but a group of business partners acquired the patent and made it happen last year. I hit a prototype of the original model before it hit the market, had a name or even a paint job, and yes, I believe it did go straighter than most drivers.
The company says the vertical grooves cut sidespin by up to 40 percent and, naturally, less sidespin should mean more distance.
“We had a lot of guys hit it early on, including Jack Nicklaus and Ernie Els – pretty much all the guys at The Bear’s Club in Florida,” Hanan said. “Ernie hit 25 drives within a few feet of each other and joked, ‘Can you put an Adams logo on this?’
“Everybody asks if we’re on the PGA Tour yet, and up until last year, one company was paying guys $75,000 to play their drivers. We have to justify everything we do, and since the top 10 players are locked down by contracts, we wouldn’t get much return from paying other players to use our driver. No one is running out to buy the driver Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson hits, or Rory McIlroy, either. It doesn’t resonate with the public. Word of mouth is everything in golf, and when you’re an unknown brand like us, that takes longer to build.”
The reaction to the Vertical Groove driver was strong enough to justify expanding the line to other fairway woods. The 3-wood ($259.99, www.VertGolf.com) comes in 14- and 15-degree lofts with a 180cc head.
“The 3-wood is a rocket ship,” Hanan said. “They can be hard to get off the ground for some people. The clubhead’s turf interaction is critical, and ours digs through anything, and the shot holds the line, just like the driver.”
Vertical Groove Golf’s 2018 sales numbers will be in the millions, dollar-wise, Hanan said. The clubs are built in Jupiter, Fla., in order to keep an eye on quality control.
Part of the company’s success is its straightforward name. Vertical Groove driver is self-explanatory, and in case that’s not obvious enough, the club comes with a see-through headcover to show off the unique groove pattern.
“It’s a fun business,” Hanan said. “That 50-plus male is our major demographic. They’re still the industry’s major purchasing demographic. The rest of our industry keeps putting lipstick on the pig: changing the driver’s color and moving weights around on what are basically the same old product. We’ve got something truly different. We had a great year last year. The 3-wood had a good launch and was very strong internationally.”
And how about those skeptics? Said Hanan, “They’ve gone away.”
Vertical grooves, it appears, will not.