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Balls: Inside the TaylorMade Golf Ball Launch


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By Donald MacKenzie via TheSandTrap.com
Here's your insider's look at TaylorMade's golf ball launch event.

taylormade_ball_launch_follow_arrows.jpgThe Sand Trap was at Reynolds Plantation this week for the launch of TaylorMade's new TP golf balls. We've given you the lowdown on the new TP Red and TP Black balls, and now we'd like to give you some insight into what it's like to attend a major golf product launch. Read on and you'll feel like you were there (minus the great food, cool presentations and range time with Sergio Garcia, of course).

TaylorMade doesn't do anything small, and the brand's splashy re-entry into the golf ball business was no exception. The event was held over a long weekend at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Georgia – conveniently located between Atlanta and Augusta. Perfect for snaring tour professionals and media members on their way from the BellSouth to the Masters.

The entire area around the Ritz-Carlton at Reynolds Plantation was decked out in TaylorMade flags, signs, employees with hats, and more.

Reynolds Plantation has become something of a southeastern center of operations for Carlsbad, California-based TaylorMade. The company has one of its three Performance Labs in-depth fitting centers at the sprawling facility, and the 99 holes of golf (with 18 more on the way next year) give it enough size to host a golf event for hundreds of people at a time. And having a posh Ritz Carlton resort on the premises doesn't hurt, either.

The TaylorMade Performance Lab puts golfs of all abilities in funny suits with reflective balls. Natalie Gulbis is such a fan she autographed two large pictures of herself at the Reynolds Plantation lab.

TaylorMade sales reps hit town Friday for a day of meetings about the new golf balls and other strategies on Saturday. On Sunday, key retail accounts, club professional members of TaylorMade's staff, and a few dozen media members made the 90-minute drive from Atlanta to Reynolds Plantation - which was decked out with large red and black TaylorMade banners, while many of the resort's employees were wearing red TaylorMade hats. After a demonstration of the Performance Lab and an outdoor cocktail reception, TaylorMade marked the formal unveiling of the TP balls with a flashy hour-long presentation.

The launch presentation was held in a large ballroom outfitted with a stage flanked by two huge video screens. Behind the stage was a circular video screen with a hypnotically rotating TaylorMade logo. After a video presentation based on the company's current "I am a golfer" (including shots of young Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, and using Coldplay's "Speed of Sound" as a soundtrack), TaylorMade CEO Mark King took the stage.

TaylorMade-adidas Group CEO Mark King was excited about the launch. He is seen above laughing, gesturing, and giving a rousing speech prior to Sergio's appearance and interview.

King noted that company founder Gary Adams always considered Masters week the start of the golf season, making this week a great time to launch a new product. King credited Victor Garcia - father of Sergio - with being the indirect inspiration for TaylorMade being in the ball business. The elder Garcia had once told King how he thought the golf ball was the essence of the game, and that caused King and his crew to pursue a new golf ball design that would stand up to the performance expectations created by TaylorMade's drivers.

King also took a thinly veiled shot at the USGA and R&A, noting that innovation and tradition aren't mutually exclusive and asserting that "innovation is a tradition in golf." He never explicitly mentioned Titleist, but it wasn't hard to read between the competitive lines as King said "When we commit to a product category, we win. We've been doing it for the last six years… Innovation leads to better performance, and better performance leads to winning in the marketplace."

The center of the stage featured a hypnotic rotating "T" logo (which many thought was an actual 3D object and not just video!) and two large screens to each side. Seen here, Sergio Garcia talking on one of the screens.

TaylorMade's new products chief Sean Toulon then took the stage to take exception with companies that are sniping at the USGA and R&A, saying that other OEMs "are not looking hard enough" for ways to innovate without running afoul of the game's governing bodies. His message was clear: whatever limits the USGA/R&A impose on equipment, TaylorMade will work to find other avenues to increase performance.

Toulon described the prolonged, multi-year design exercise that started when TaylorMade stopped making balls with the company's name on them four years ago (leaving the ball business at that time to the Maxfli brand). Toulon said the company used that period of time to digest all the intellectual property it acquired from Maxfli, then take it in new and more aggressive directions.

taylormade_ball_launch_sergio.jpgAs TaylorMade's highest-profile tour player, Sergio Garcia was a big part of the process. He had played Titleist Pro V1x golf balls for most of his time on TaylorMade's staff with a few brief flirtations with Maxfli products. Garcia (with a shorter haircut, and in a casual black T-shirt and blue jeans) joined Toulon on stage to discuss how he was involved in ball testing. He has been playing the company's new ball as a prototype for months as a ball with Maxfli BlackMax branding but with two arrows on the side stamp to distinguish it from the retail version of the ball.

With that, Garcia gave way to a high-energy video officially announcing the TP Red and TP Black balls. At the end, King reappeared onstage to tell everyone that they would see how the balls performed for themselves in the morning. There was plenty of enthusiasm from the crowd, as TaylorMade had done an excellent job of explaining the new product and positioning it as a contender in the golf ball market.

Part of the exciting video announcing the new TP Red and TP Black balls from TaylorMade.

At that point, the hundreds of attendees walked down a winding path to the shore of Lake Oconee for an opulent buffet dinner that included blackened grouper, jambalaya, caesar salad, and a host of decadent deserts. After the late dinner, attendees walked back to the Ritz Carlton past a series of sleek silver Porsches - all tricked out with TP Red and TP black logos. Word was that Sergio was going to drive one from the resort to Augusta in the morning.

Sucks to be a famous, young, attractive, talented PGA Tour pro. TaylorMade made Sergio drive to Augusta in a Porsche. Poor, poor Sergio.

Before Sergio could take his new wheels for a spin, he had to participate in a different test drive on Monday morning. Garcia was joined by Justin Rose, Ian Leggatt, and Shane Bertsch on the practice tee. Bleachers were set up to watch the players demonstrate the effectiveness of the new balls. TaylorMade ball personnel Mike Farris and Dean Snell hosted the event, which was filmed for The Golf Channel. Garcia (TP Red) and Rose (TP Black) each tested the new TP balls versus the Pro V1 balls they previously played. Using launch monitor equipment, each player added 2-4 miles per hour in ball speed and 5-10 yards of carry distance to their drives with the TP balls. Garcia's averages with the TP Red ball were 173 MPH in ball speed and 280.4 in carry distance, while Rose averaged 170 MPH and 270 yards with the TP Black.

Justin Rose may not have had his "A" game with the driver on Monday morning, but the differences between the Pro V1x and the TP Black were illustrated rather succinctly. Rose is seen here warming up while someone takes a picture of Sergio Garcia.

The four players then held a pitching contest, hitting three balls each to a practice green from 63 yards away. There were some hit to within gimme range, and the TP balls looked like they generated plenty of short-game spin.

The players and TaylorMade executives then met the media for a series of quick interviews before the attendees headed to the resort's golf courses. Feedback from the club pros, retailers and media members was unanimously positive about the TP Red golf ball. The TP Black is in short supply and wasn't used at the golf outing, but attendees were promised samples within the next two weeks. A 12:30 shotgun was arranged, and Erik and I managed to play six holes with TP Red balls marked "Sergio" before we had to catch our flights.

The daunting and visually stunning par-5 fifth hole at the original course at Reynolds Plantation.

Following the golf, attendees went their separate ways. Most went back to Atlanta via shuttle to catch flights home, while the luckier ones hit the road east to Augusta. How the TP golf balls will do is anyone's guess. But if they live up to the standard of TaylorMade's product launch, they'll make a big impact.

Additional Photos

Most in the crowd got the idea that Sergio wishes he could have slept in a bit longer. He languidly warmed up while the event hosts cracked jokes about Sergio being up before his bedtime. Seen above on the range with Shane Bertsch.

Sergio eventally got around to warming up, opting to go from soft wedges to a green about 60 yards away to 7-irons and then right on to the driver.

Sergio Garcia, one of the best drivers in the game, put on a demonstration. Ball speed and carry with the Pro V1x: 170 and 277. Ball speed and carry with the TP Red: 173 and 281.

Justin Rose talks with Dean Snell about why he chose the TP Black. In Rose's words, "The harder ball feels good off the driver but still gets all the spin to act the way I want around the greens."

The TaylorMade ball crew poses for a quick photo after Sergio, Justin, Ian, and Shane put on the demonstration.

The man behind the balls. Uhh… Dean Snell, snared away from Titleist by TaylorMade in 2001, ran the show Monday morning after running the show for the past 3½ years in developing the TP Red and TP Black. Snell is seen here contemplating whether to tell another embarrassing Sergio story. I must have spent at least five minutes trying to figure out whether Snell is related to Frank Nobilo. They look like they could be cousins.

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