Golf equipment manufacturers bump up their game this season so you can improve yours. Here, the year's 10 biggest trends in new clubs, balls, and more.
1. DISTANCE-BOOSTING NEW-LOOK DRIVERS
Last year, Nike's radical-looking, cavity-back VRS Covert driver opened golfers' minds to what a top-line driver could look like. In 2014, other visibly unique drivers venture even farther outside the aesthetic box, and their seemingly abrupt shape refinements aim to ease your ability to find the fairway via solid-feeling and solid-performing drives.
• Callaway's all-new Big Bertha sports a slider on the sole that moves in a U-shaped pattern along the perimeter to adjust the center of gravity (CG) location and control shot shape. $399
• The honeycomb-skin-style crown of Cobra's BiO CELL Driver mimics a beehive cell structure for strength, while lightening the crown weight and lowering the CG for higher shots. $299
• The sliding 20-gram sole weight protruding from TaylorMade's SLDR helps you tune right-to-left shot dispersion. $399
2. CONVENIENCE-FOCUSED GPS
Stand-alone handheld GPS devices are so 2013. The latest GPS watches and smartphone apps are generally preloaded with about 30,000 course maps, automatically recognize the course you're on, and display real-time yardages to the front, center, and back of every green.
• Bushnell's NEO XS watch retains enough battery life per charge in GPS mode for three rounds. $199
• GolfBuddy's WT3 GPS Rangefinder displays exact distance to pin placement on preregistered courses. $250
• With the 3-D flyovers of each hole, real-time distances to targets and hazards, and on-the-spot club recommendations on Shotzoom's TOURCaddie PRO app for your smartphone, you'll feel like you've pocketed inside course knowledge. $29.99/one-year membership
3. EVEN LONGER GOLF BALLS
The new distance balls - all upgrades to previous models - travel farther without requiring you to swing as hard.
• Through robot testing, Bridgestone squeezed an extra 4.5 yards from its latest TOUR B330-RX over its predecessor. This edition combines a new core formulation that reduces spin and adds distance for swing speeds below 105 miles per hour. $45/dozen
• Nike's new-technology RZN Black reduces slipping between internal layers at impact that could reduce energy and delivers a jolt of verve for a long, stable ball flight. $45/dozen
• Titleist's Velocity uses a reformulated core for high initial ball speed, plus a fresh dimple design for penetrating trajectory that descends at a shallower angle for more roll. $35/dozen
4. SWEET-SPOT-ENLARGING SLOTTED WOODS
Some manufacturers machined narrow, hollow slots behind clubfaces in their 2014 woods. The openings, they say, help yield more ball consistency, a higher trajectory, and more ball speed and distance, and essentially enlarge the effective sweet spot to help you smoke fairway wood shots much easier.
• In Adams Golf's XTD Ti fairway wood, "Cut-Thru" slots flex in at impact, boosting ball speed on both well-struck shots and mis-hits and helping the ball get airborne quickly. $299
• The polymer-filled "Speed Pocket" slot in TaylorMade's shallow-faced JetSpeed fairway wood keeps dirt away and absorbs impact vibration to promote fast ball speed, low ball spin, and a low-and-forward CG location. $229
5. GRAVITY-DEFYING LONG IRONS
Through new materials and clever shaping, this year's crop of long irons helps you get shots up quickly, so they soar long before dropping softly - as if you were using a powerful hybrid. The manufacturers have spread the weight low, deep, and wide enough in relatively small clubheads to get shots airborne.
• Callaway's Apex irons integrate a tungsten sole insert in each long iron that heightens launch angle. $1,300/graphite, $1,100/steel
• The milled T-slot at the rear of Mizuno's MP-54 long irons repositions weight to the cavity frame, so misses still fly straight and far. $1,000/steel
• The long irons of PING's S55 blades have a low-and-back CG that helps you launch shots high with fast ball speed for plenty of distance. $1,330/graphite, $1,110/steel
6. FEATHERWEIGHT GOLF BAGS
Welcome the era of superlight bags that you can either secure to a riding or push cart, or carry as you walk the course with minimal burden on your shoulders. Even formerly hefty cart bags have gone ultralight.
• Datrek's Lite Rider cart bag weighs just 4.7 pounds but boasts the storage space and pockets of a full-sized bag. $170
• At just 2.85 pounds, Oakley's Factory Lite golf bag is one of the market's lightest full-size bags. Its lightweight Denier nylon skin, clever "right-sized" pockets, minimal zipper tape, and aluminum rivets help lessen the load. $200
7. PERSONALIZED WEDGES
These days, golfers monogram their gear, accent it with their favorite colors, and build it to work perfectly with their unique swing characteristics. The trend appears most prevalent in new wedges this season.
• Custom options for Edel Golf's Custom Wedge Series include preferred lofts, accent colors, and stampings. $179 with customization
• Personalize the Hopkins Golf CJ-1 Black Satin wedge with grip model, wrap thickness, shaft model, sole grind, and ferrule color. $109 base price
• Renowned wedge maker Bob Vokey or one of his craftsmen personally grinds Titleist's Vokey WedgeWorks Hand Ground wedges to fit your unique stroke. $350
8. PINPOINT-PRECISION PUTTERS
These three 2014 putters load up the innovation to make zeroing in on the cup easier.
• Bettinardi's Kuchar Model 1 comes in an arm-lock style, meaning it's a heavier 42-inch putter designed to brace its grip against your leading forearm for stability during your stroke. $375
• Bridgestone's True Balance counters convention with an exceedingly light grip and graphite shaft, placing most weight in its head and hosel and forcing you to make a more pendulumlike stroke. Since you only feel the putter head, you get a much better sense of your stroke's speed and clout. $199
• Cleveland Golf's black Smart Square features two white square outlines on top that create parallel lines to frame a pattern behind the ball at address, setting up a clear visual path to the hole. You can easily see when the putter is misaligned - even by a fraction of an inch. $140-$180
9. SHOE STABILITY THROUGH IMPACT
A new buzz term - wrapping - encompasses cleatless shoes in 2014. While it can take on different meanings per brand, wrapping ultimately adds stability at every point of your swing for maximum traction with the ground.
• Callaway's X-Cage Vibe uses an "upper stability wrap" that helps the shoe's top half move in unison with the Vibram outsole, keeping your foot in alignment with your body and resulting in more stability and balance throughout your swing. $149
• The new nano-spike cleats on Oakley's 9.1-ounce Cipher 3 shoe wrap around the outsole edges onto the sidewall to increase traction at impact as you shift your weight to the front foot. $140
10. COLORFUL, TECHY OUTERWEAR
Top manufacturers step outside the usual dull parade of black and khaki garments this season for rainwear showcasing brighter colors and leading-edge technology. Sure, they look great, but they're also whisper-quiet and offer complete freedom of swing motion.
• Adidas Golf's Climawarm+jacket quietly moves with your body through your swing and keeps you warm with lighter-than-fleece hollow yarn fibers. $80
• Stretchy, breathable, lightweight, and waterproof, Galvin Green's Adler half-zip jacket customizes to fit you, via adjustable cuffs, collar, chest, and bottom edge. $450
• Nike Golf's waterproof Hyperadapt Storm-Fit full-zip jacket stretches easily, for more motion range during a golf swing, and breathes well to reduce perspiration. $280