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Bag Drop: Bobby Jones Golf: Everything Old Is New Again


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By Jack Waddell via TheSandTrap.com
In an era of increasingly strange looking high tech woods, Bobby Jones Golf and Jesse Ortiz are delivering the latest technology in a package that harkens to the sweet shape of persimmon.

bd_title.gifIn these days of marquee designers like Vokey, Cameron, Wishon, and Cleveland, it's interesting to watch as their creations evolve to incorporate new technologies and materials. But perhaps the most extreme example of design evolution over time is that of a club maker whose work has spanned the transformation from wood to steel to exotic composites in drivers and fairway clubs. I had a chance this week to talk with Jesse Ortiz, try his new clubs, and see for myself the passion he brings to his craft and his role as vice president and chief designer for Bobby Jones Golf.

The first thing Jesse Ortiz says when he greets people is, "Hi! I'm Jesse Ortiz, I used to be with Orlimar…" Thus begins a conversation infused with the kind of enthusiasm for a product that only a creator, not a salesman, can deliver.



The short history on Ortiz is that he grew up shaping famously playable wooden drivers for his father in the San Francisco area. Devoted clients included local players like Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller. When metal took over, he convinced his dad to make the transition.



He then came up with the famous TriMetal line of fairway woods for Orlimar and the rest, as they say, is history… truly history because the company choked to death on its own success only to be later reincarnated under different ownership.



As reported in The Sand Trap back in December 2004, Jesse Ortiz has gone on to team with entrepreneur Walter Rosenthal who, with the blessing of the Jones' heirs, licensed the Bobby Jones trademark for golf clubs from the Hartmarx company that produces the Bobby Jones line of sportwear.



Their strategy is to market high-end drivers, fairway clubs, and hybrids and keep distribution under control by focusing on green-grass accounts and select retailers. As Ortiz put it, "you go to Japan and you see really premium product lines like Maruman, PRGR, and TourStage. You don't see that here in the U.S. where even the high-end brands are manufactured and marketed more like a commodity."



While the company's initial offering includes a high-priced "Collection" of drivers and fairway clubs with such touches as sheepskin headcovers, leather grips, and Fujikura Speeder shafts, it seemed Jesse's focus this week was on the more competitively priced "Players Series" that incorporate his latest design innovations.



The Driver
bobbyjones_driver_sole.jpgOrtiz made his mark melding different materials into a clubhead, something most other manufacturers have since started doing. His "Players Series" driver is no exception. What is different, however, are the materials he has chosen to use. It begins with a driver face that is made out of Russian beta titanium. As Jesse put it, "Russian titanium is off the charts in hardness when you compare it to the titanium most clubmakers use."



That hardness translates into measurably less spin off the clubface, which, as most everyone acknowledges, can be a key to greater distance. It definitely delivers a harder, though not unpleasant feel. With the same shaft as my current driver, it delivered more distance for me.



The crown is a graphite composite. The sole features a raised sole plate that Ortiz told me helps contribute to the dispersion of vibration and enhance feel. There are also two strategically placed non-moveable weights that contribute to a gear effect and what he calls a "Triangle of Stability."



bobbyjones_driver_crown.jpgBut as much as all the technology, what struck me most was the shape of the head. Clearly it harkens back to the traditional pear-shaped woods of old. It is really remarkable to see that shape again, although probably not so for anybody under 30 who has likely never played a wooden driver.



The shape isn't just an esthetic choice, Jesse told me. The elongated nose on the club (see this even more pronounced in the fairways and hybrids) moves weight further out from the face and helps stabilize toe hits. On the other hand, he also said, "I wanted to design a club that if Bobby Jones took it and set it on the ground, he would say, 'I can play this club'." And I think he did.



Many years ago an old caddie at my father's club outside Atlanta showed me a brassie (that's a two wood for you young'uns) that Bobby Jones had given him. It could have been a prototype for Jesse Ortiz' current line.



All the Players Clubs feature Graphite Design shafts. Ortiz told me that he chose these and the Fujikura's because, in his opinion, by far the greatest innovations are coming out of these Japanese companies. They are a dark green color that compliments the deep black-green of the head. They are labeled as JS6 and JS7. I believe corresponds to Graphite Design's YS6 and YS7 models.



I asked him why the driver was 440cc and not the 460cc limit. He gave a long, rambling technical response that I believe boiled down to "form follows function." He did note that the driver head appears bigger than it is, if just a touch shallower than some of the 460cc drivers on the market.



All the Players Clubs come with Winn V17 grips and a nifty knitted headcover in forest green with maroon stripes that's just so old school classy you'll want to wear a tie with your knickers. The driver is available in 9.5° and 10.5°, right hand only, in regular, stiff and extra stiff shafts. It retails for $300.



Fairway Woods
bobbyjones_fairway_toe.jpgbobbyjones_fairway_crown.jpgAs much as I admired the driver, it was the fairway woods and hybrids that really got my attention. Again the extreme pear shape just looks right to me and the very shallow face, in my experience, is easy to hit and gets the ball up quickly out of all kinds of lies.



Instead of a graphite crown, the fairway woods and hybrids have a crown of forged maraging steel. Jesse had some of the unassembled components with him and I can tell you it's steel that's paper-thin. This allowed him to again distribute weight optimally into his tri-tiered sole that reduces drag and helps disperse vibration.



By the way, the medallion on the bottom of the sole is simply cosmetic. But Jesse told me it's there as a tribute to Bobby Jones who always played with a medallion in his pocket with a four leaf clover embossed on it. Bobby Jones, you see, was born on St. Patrick's Day.



The fairway woods come in 13°, 15°, 17°, and 19° lofts, again in three different shaft flexes. They retail for $200. These images, by the way, don't do them justice - you really have to see them in person to appreciate how beautifully rich and deep the color of the heads can be.



Hybrids
bobbyjones_hybrid_face.jpgbobbyjones_hybrid_crown.jpgThe hybrids are very special. They may be the only clubs on the market now with such a dramatically contoured sole reminiscent, as Ortiz himself said, of the old Ginty trouble woods. What that sole does is make this a true go-to club out of rough and nasty lies.



They are shorter than the comparably lofted fairway woods because they are designed more as iron replacements than true fairway clubs.



Jesse said that he's only had time so far to introduce his clubs to Champions Tour players. Already John Jacobs is one of several players with a hybrid in his bag. He told Jesse he wanted it specifically for shots out of the rough. And Jim Thorpe took an old favorite wedge out of his bag and replaced it with a Callaway wedge (to keep his contractual club count up) so he could add a Bobby Jones hybrid.



The hybrids come in 19°, 21°, 25°, and 30° lofts in three different shaft flexes. They retail for $180.



In the End…
Jess Ortiz is passionate about what he does and it was a pleasure to talk with someone who cares so much about his creations. He may be the only one left designing drivers, fairway clubs and hybrids who started out designing and shaping them in wood. That experience and heritage is reflected in these clubs. They are simply beautiful.



The Bobby Jones Golf by Jesse Ortiz line has launched for real, and I think they've done so with a solid product line. That Ortiz is back in the business is a very, very good thing. While only produced for right-handers so far, there is a parallel woman's line. A list of their current retail outlets can be found here. Online, tgw.com carries the Players Series.

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