By Adam Schupak
WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Pulsating music. Celebrity sightings. Happy hour starting at 2 o'clock. The Cobra Golf booth at last week's PGA Demo Day held at Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge never has lacked in the fun department.
For too long Cobra Golf could be accused of being all sizzle, no steak. Kind of like its poster boy, Rickie Fowler, before he proved his mettle at the 2015 Players Championship. But this year, the company is introducing two products that could help differentiate its clubs in a competitive field and produce the type of breakthrough that the brand sorely needs.
The King F7 and F7+ drivers include Cobra Connect powered by Arccos. With sensors built into the grip, Cobra uses the Arccos GPS system in its integrated club and offers golfers social-sharing options and "gamification" features in addition to length-off-the-tee stats. Golf's first "smart club" aims to provide golfers with technological insights about their game without having to add outside sensors or trackers.
"I think 10 years from now every golf club, every shot will be connected," said Bob Philion, Cobra Puma Golf's president and CEO. "People will be able to ShotLink their shots like the tour pros and have a caddie in their pocket. If the industry does it right, it will create a whole new cycle of new clubs and old clubs."
In addition, the company is introducing single-length sets – all irons are 37½ inches, the length of a traditional 7-iron – available in the Cobra King Forged One and King F7 models. In winning a Web.com Tour playoff event last season, Bryson DeChambeau became the first player in PGA Tour history to triumph with a set of irons that were the same length. At a time when most innovations are incremental, at best, this potentially could be a game-changer for golfers who struggle to transition from short, heavy clubs to long, light ones.
DeChambeau, a Tour rookie who won the 2015 NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles, already has created curiosity in the concept. The success of single-length clubs could hinge on his success. If he wins a tournament or contends at a major championship, expect to see a sales spike. But if his name is absent from leaderboards or he fails to keep his Tour card, interest in the idea may flame out with it.
Casey Alexander, who covers the golf equipment industry for Compass Point Research and Trading, predicts single-length clubs will enjoy a hot start but cool quickly.
"Just because it works for a 23-year-old freak doesn't mean it will translate across the business," said Alexander, who noted Cobra Connect "is a great idea."
Count Dick Sullivan, president and CEO of national golf retailer PGA Tour Superstore, among those who are bullish on Cobra's new offerings.
"Everyone wants to know how far he hits the ball and the dispersion,” Sullivan said. “When you add on the social aspects involved, I think it is going to be a real win. As for single-length clubs, it is very early, but they are outpacing the variable-length irons in our stores," he said.
The idea of single-length irons is not original. The legendary Bobby Jones used them, as did Moe Norman, the eccentric Canadian who was regarded as one of the game’s great ballstrikers. More recently, Tommy Armour Golf launched EQL irons in 1989, but they failed to sell. However, the product didn’t have a proven young winner such as DeChambeau behind it.
Cobra is placing two big bets that could go a long way toward shaping its future, and Philion said it is just the beginning.
"Neither is a one-and-done thing for us,” he said. “We're in Chapter One. We'll continue to refine both products.”
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force.