Bridgestone started producing golf balls in 2005, how have you found the UK market since then?
From a share standpoint, the product in the UK market and Europe has continued to grow for Bridgestone Golf. We’re relatively new entries into that market, and we have a lot of competitors over there but our technology is really showing through. What’s separating us is really our ball fitting programme and the ability to go out and fit consumers for the right golf ball for their game.
We have completed over 250,000 worldwide ball fittings, which equates to around three million minutes spent with consumers to help them find the right golf ball for their game.
It’s time invested to help educate, and it’s different from our competitors. The story is not to just play what the pros play, but that you need to play with a product that helps you play better and that can easily be achieved with the golf ball.
Do you find the focus placed on ball fitting has helped Bridgestone gain a bigger reputation within the industry?
Absolutely. Ball fitting is our differentiator; it’s what separates us from the competition. The competition is actively spending money on tour, developing products around its tour professionals, no different from what we’re doing, but the message from our competitors is – ‘it’s played on tour so you should play it, too’.
Quite honestly, we take a very different stance. We develop golf balls with Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Nick Price, and many others that are on our staff, with the intent of giving them the best ball for their game.
We recognise the average amateur can’t necessarily make the ball work the same way that Brandt Snedeker does, therefore they’ve got to have a product that better suits their game, like the RX.
The RX is a great example, it’s a golf ball designed to give tour level distance, but work much better for us amateurs. It’s for those not generating as high a head speed and making as consistent a contact in the centre of the face with the golf ball. It’ll be more forgiving and give you that tour level of performance.
‘When we saw Brandt Snedeker picking up five or six yards, Matt Kuchar picking up well over six yards in distance it really hit home.’ – Corey Consuegra
Where has the new B-Series for 2014 improved upon previous models?
The B330 and B330-S are designed for higher head speed players, more of your better ball striker touring professionals like Fred Couples and Matt Kuchar. The B330-RX and B330-RXS are designed for the more moderate clubhead speed, which is below 105mph.
All four golf balls have existed before, but what makes them new and unique is what’s happening inside of the core. The formulation inside of the B330-series now incorporates water. It’s not like you can cut it open and water will pour out of the golf ball, water is incorporated during the mixing process.
When you make a golf ball’s core it’s kind of like baking a cake. You take all of the dry ingredients and all the wet ingredients, and in the past water has not been in there, so using water as part of the formulation it actually made the outer region of the core firmer, which delivered faster speed, but it made the inner region of the core softer, for more spin, so we know that when you combine those two factors, the immediate benefit is distance and control. It travels quite a bit longer.
How long was the Hydro Core technology in development for?
The incorporation of water into the core mixing process is a very new technology, and, to be honest, it was more of a eureka moment.
Our R&D team is incredible and we have a team of over 900 engineers that are constantly working on polymer sciences that would include the rubber technology that is used in our core.
The water was supposed to be a replacement for some of the series of chemicals that are used to activate the rubber inside of the core, so it was really intended to be a filler to help maintain the current technology, but it actually ended up enhancing the technology. Our expectation was not to have the outer region travel a little bit faster and the inner region to be softer with less spin; the expectation was to maintain what we already had.
We didn’t really recognise that Hydro Core was going to be such a differentiator until we put it in the hands of our tour pros. When we saw Brandt Snedeker picking up five or six yards, Matt Kuchar picking up well over six yards in distance it really hit home. Those are individuals that we would expect to add one or two yards with a new generation, and that would be through aerodynamics and a little lower spin, they were picking up two or three times that.
With the R&D process, can you talk me through a bit of how it works? Do you have a product cycle or do you wait until the product is better than the previous model, no matter how long it takes?
That’s a good question. So a little bit of insight into how it works here. First and foremost when we have a product in the market, we look for consumer feedback and we do that through surveys and direct communications.
We do that with both the consumer and our account base to better understand what they’re hearing, and what they’re seeing for current models. We also have the benefit of using our data pool from ball fitting, and what that will tell us is that those golf balls, when matched with the right golfer, perform better than the previous model.
What they also tell us is, this is what we’re getting from the end consumer in performance, but this is optimal data, so what we do is take that data and try and close the gap. We take a lower spinning version of the B330 or a higher launching B330-RX and we take that data and incorporate it into a series of prototypes.
Whenever we launch new models, the first thing that happens is that we receive maybe two, three, or four prototypes of each model. So, with the B330-series, we’re talking about maybe 16 prototypes altogether, we test them all, we see what each model will do, not only on the robot, but also in the hands of our tour pros.
What’s unique this year is that the prototypes generally are very close together, maybe a little bit less spin here, a little bit flatter ball flight here and you see all of those differences, but with Hydro Core technology it was far and away the leader in each model, so that’s when we immediately new that something was unique, something was different.
What’s ahead for Bridgestone in the golf ball market?
I see the B330-Series continuing, at least for the foreseeable future. The reason behind that theory is it seems to cover the broadest range of players, especially the better player.
It’s easy to identify, it’s really select based on swing speed for a start, and swing speed is so critical in how you make the golf ball perform, how you compress the golf ball, but it’s also critical in determining construction. And then with the B330 you basically choose a distance preference or a spin preference. It’s quite an easy model to choose from.
The fear is that when you choose different model names and direction, the loyal consumer could easily be confused, and with all the golf balls that are on the market today, that’s a fear.
We want to give the consumer comfort in the product that we’re giving and that they should see it day in and day out on the shelves and it’s easy to locate in how it’s going to perform and what it can offer them.
Originally published on bunkered on March 27, 2014.