The golf equipment landscape is a continual cycle of innovation and bold ideas brought to fruition through manufacturing prowess—all to help everyday players and tour pros play better. Most of the time those ideas hit the mark, or at least are not far off of it, gaining acceptance from consumers. Occasionally, however, a product runs afoul of the rules, infringes on a patent, is too far ahead of its time to gain acceptance or, simply, is not well-executed. In these instances, consumers tend to vote quickly with a big thumbs-down at the cash register, and for some companies, the ensuing fallout can take considerable time to recover from—if ever. Recalling these relatively rare moments of futility, here are what we’ve deemed the 16 biggest equipment epic fails of all time.
Orlimar golf balls
In 1999, Orlimar was a significant player in the fairway-wood market with its line of TriMetal woods. Buoyed by that success, the company attempted to expand into other categories. At the PGA International Golf Show in Las Vegas that summer, the company proudly introduced a line of golf balls packaged in a pop-top can, much like tennis balls. Allegedly, this was more than a marketing gimmick; the can was supposed to help the balls avoid moisture. The following day, TaylorMade served Orlimar a cease-and-desist letter, claiming the packaging violated TaylorMade’s patent on its InerGel Moisture Block packaging. The Orlimar balls never made it to market, and the launch signaled the start of Orlimar’s sharp decline.
TaylorMade InerGel golf balls
In January 1999, TaylorMade president George Montgomery was so fired up by the introduction of InerGel golf balls he proclaimed the company’s ball business would reach $100 million in sales. Despite the company’s assertion that its plastic Moisture Block packaging prevented moisture from robbing the balls of significant distance, TaylorMade’s first foray into the ball business never got off the ground at retail, way before the company’s more successful TP5/TP5x.
Browning 440 irons
These irons were somewhat popular in the late 1970s through early 1980s, but those who purchased the extremely low-profile clubs soon found them to have a serious flaw. Although perfectly fine off close-cropped fairway lies, playing them out of the rough proved too difficult, the club often sliding completely under a ball propped too high on tall grass. Consumers said no thanks to the embarrassing prospect of a whiffed iron shot.
Dave Pelz Featherlight irons
Introduced in 1984, the Pelz Featherlight irons seemed a reasonable idea. The lighter the club, the faster it could be swung for more distance. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the light weight actually contributed to shots going shorter and without much control. Making matters worse, the thin-walled shafts sometimes broke, resulting in injuries— not usually a recipe for increasing sales.
Ray Cook Titanic irons
When the oversize Titanic irons came to market, the company boasted, “Titanic irons are the first long irons even God and you can hit.” Despite that over-the-top claim, these clubs never had a prayer. Golfers instead found the bulky all-titanium irons to be hard to look at and the high price tag objectionable to consider. Plus, why would you name a club after a boat that sunk? Other than all that, they were perfect.
Cleveland VAS 792 irons
It’s difficult to put a set of irons that won a U.S. Open (Corey Pavin at Shinnecock in 1995) on this list, but the look of the club—oversize with a hosel design that made it look like something akin to a garden weasel (above)—was a non-starter for many. The eye-catching purple VAS absorption badge in back didn’t help matters, either.
Callaway Big Bertha C4
In 2001, Callaway introduced the C4, a nearly all-composite driver. By using the composite material, Callaway saved considerable weight in the 360-cubic-centimeter clubhead. It’s R&D also went with an extra-long 45.5-inch shaft to help golfers create more swing speed. The club, it turned out, was short on distance and even worse on sound—a bad combination for a stick that sold for $540. The driver was so poorly received that it did significant damage to the company’s reputation in the category. It took Callaway more than a decade before once again having a string of highly successful driver launches.
Ping Doc 17 putter
Players want a putter that offers stability on the greens, and Ping’s Doc 17—a putter that measured a monstrous 6.7 inches across the face with a heavy semi-circular rear section that resembled a branding iron—had that in spades. But the oversize mallet didn’t have the other element that players desire in their flat stick—a look they could stomach. Even the smaller Doc 15 (Suzann Pettersen won the 2007 LPGA Championship with that model) couldn’t generate significant interest. A good idea that simply didn’t match golf’s traditional norms.
In theory, a solid play. But Callaway and Nike were in such a rush to beat each other to market in 2007 that they brought out an inferior product that killed the appetite for the non-traditional look. Both the Callaway FTi and Nike Sumo2 (pronounced Sumo Squared) looked like a mailbox on a stick and, in the case of the Nike driver, sounded like a car crash.
Wilson Invex driver
At the 1995 Open Championship at St. Andrews, John Daly hauled out the very large and unusually shaped Wilson Invex driver from his bag, prompting Jack Nicklaus to comment, “I can’t believe he’s going to play that golf club off this tee.” That tee happened to be at the Old Course, not exactly a place for non-traditional thinking. Daly went on to win that Open, but the driver, which a Wilson sales rep once referred to as “a salmon right out of the river” was pretty much used by no one but Daly. Then again, it did work quite well for J.D.
Wilson Triton driver
More than two decades after Invex, Wilson hit into bad luck again with its Triton driver. The club—the winning design of the company’s cleverly conceived Driver vs. Driver competition—wasn’t sent to the USGA for a conformance check prior to being released into stores, for fear of the winner being leaked prior to the show’s airing. When the USGA had some issues with the club, the company needed to make a running change to bring it into conformance, but the damage was already done.
Nike IC putters
A mostly green club designed to be used on a putting green—what could possibly go wrong? That was the Nike IC putter line. The idea was for the club to blend in with the green, thus eliminating “visual noise,” allowing the eyes to zero in on the white alignment aid. Instead, consumers found the green-on-green look more annoying than helpful.
Nike Engage wedges wrapped in wax
How can you “Engage” with a club when you can’t see it? This wedge design attempted to capitalize on the idea of a “raw” finish that would rust over time, giving the clubs a tour-pro cool factor to them. However, raw finishes rust quickly and who wants to buy a club already rusting? Nike’s solution was to encase the wedges in a wax casing (a different color for each sole grind). In addition to looking like lollipops on the rack, retailers balked at displaying clubs consumers couldn’t see.
Callaway ERC II
When Callaway introduced its nonconforming ERC II drivers at a media event at California’s La Costa Resort in 2000, none other than Edwin Watts, owner of Edwin Watts Golf Shops franchise, got up and proclaimed to company CEO Ely Callaway: “I think we’re going to sell a lot of drivers, Ely.” In truth, nonconforming drivers proved to be a tough sell, and even using Arnold Palmer as a pitch man couldn’t make enough golfers think otherwise. Ely Callaway was absolutely correct that every golfer wanted to hit the tee ball farther. What he forgot was that no one likes a cheater.
Tommy Armour EQL Single-Length clubs
A complicated idea applied too simply. Tommy Armour’s EQL line produced clubs that were all 5-iron length—the brainchild of company president Bob McNally, a middling golfer whose favorite club was his 5-iron. Unfortunately, the science behind single-length clubs proved to be more complicated than simply making all the shafts the same length. The irons proved to be such a flop that single-length wasn’t tried by another mainstream equipment company until Cobra did it recently with Bryson DeChambeau.
Top-Flite System C and T balls
It seemed like such a smart marketing ploy—produce golf balls designed to perform at their best when used with two of the best-selling drivers of the time. That was the idea behind Spalding’s debut of the Top-Flite System C and System T balls in 1998. The balls were touted as best used with Callaway’s Big Bertha driver (System C) and TaylorMade’s Ti Bubble 2 (System T). Don Dye, Callaway’s president at the time, told Golf World, “What’s troubling to us is the extent to which a reputable company that has its own trademarks and has invested a lot of money and time feels it needs to become a predator on somebody else’s goodwill to sell its products.” A few weeks after that statement, Callaway sued Spalding for using images of its driver on the balls packaging and in advertisements, effectively ending the balls’ run at retail.