Nike Oven Experience
By kickntrue on 1/19/10
A couple months ago I had the privilege of "star treatment" at Nike's Oven, in Fort Worth, Texas.. The Oven is Nike Golf's research and development facility and as most of you could probably guess- it was AWESOME! From the moment I arrived at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport it was nothing but first class treatment. Limo’s, an oversized suite at the Sheraton, a tour of The Oven including a sign welcoming me, and a full fitting of Nike clubs from driver through putter. Toss in a drive by of the new Cowboys Stadium on the limo ride back to the airport and I had a pretty fantastic 24 hours.
I was picked up at the airport by a nice enough guy, Leo- you know the howl sign with me name, him dressed like a chauffeur... because, well, he kind of was. I only called him “Jeeves” on 3 occasions (accidentally of course) and he gave me a tour of the landscape along with his diatribe on why golf is a dying game while we drove against thick rush hour traffic into downtown Ft. Worth. So- I get near the end of the ride- and realize I have 3 single $1 in my wallet. Nice job, Ace. So I start asking questions about Nike and how they’re paying for this- and then make up some lame excuse about not having any money (which really wasn’t a lie) and just didn’t tip the guy. Frankly, I don’t know if you tip him or not, seemed like a good thing to do- but my first chance to look like a high-roller being picked up by Nike for a big meeting, and I fall flat on my face.
Once I arrived at the Sheraton Fort Worth I found that Nike set me up with a sweet room, including a 4-post king-sized bed and 42 inch HDTV. Good thing it was a night of great television; Monday Night Football, and World Series game and The Big Bang Theory. I took a walk in downtown Ft Worth which frankly, was nicer than I expected it to be. I found a trendy little downtown area and hit up a bar. My first beer cost me $2. The second was the same. I was pretty shocked that my total bill was $4 and left a $6 tip, which the barkeep treated like gold. Apparently in Texas they still only tip 20% even when the beer is cheaper than water. So yah- I love Texas and Texas loves me.
After a night of fairly uneventful sleep (I’ll keep my dreams to myself if you don’t mind) I woke up for a shower and breakfast with my Nike handler. I actually feel a little bad for Gretchen because she lives and works out of Nike’s HQ in Oregon and basically had to fly in just to babysit me for a day. I got to have all the fun- and she had to deal with my ridiculous requests and inane questions. We had breakfast at Don Shula’s restaurant (Shula’s 347) and I picked carefully through an all you can eat breakfast buffet. I knew I’d be moving and swinging golf clubs so despite the massive omelet bar I kept things pretty conservative with loads of fruit and a bagel.
Now- for one of the better stories from the trip. Upon leaving the hotel for our trip to The Oven, I was privy to an awesome little spat between the bell hops at the Sheraton and a cabbie who felt he was being skipped over rides by the hotel despite waiting in the designated taxi area on the street. In retaliation, the cab driver pulls up into the valet area of the hotel and just sits there and starts yelling about not being treated fairly. After being asked by 3 different members of the bell staff, security was finally called in. Still nothing. The guy would not move- and would not shut up. Of course- this is as 8:30 in the morning so it’s when a ton of traffic is pouring out of the hotel. Some wanted to get in the cab since it was right there- and the others were a further walk away, but each time someone tried to take the ride- the hotel staff insisted they keep walking and get someone on the street because this guy was breaking protocol. I suggested someone from the hotel staff “take” the cab, give a bogus address and then bail without paying 1 block later. They didn’t listen to me- and when I finally pulled out with Gretchen they were still arguing. I’m not sure my story does the scenario justice, but it was really quite funny.
As I pulled up The Oven I was in love. Before even walking into the facility I was greeted by 3 beautiful synthetic greens complete with rough and bunkers along with a 350 yard driving range. You think your office is fun (oh, you don’t)? Imagine working at Nike’s Oven where breaks from work can be filled with playing a couple quick holes of golf and working on your short game. Sweet!
So- I walk in and see this. (Right ->)
Good start. They also hand me a Nike TW shirt to put on and strongly suggest I do so immediately (I guess I shouldn’t have worn an Adidas shirt- haha). For the next 2 ½ hours I was given a tour of the Nike Oven facility and everything that goes on there. Basically it is the Research and Development for all new equipment as well as where the Nike Tour players come to be fitted and where their clubs are made. Unfortunately, I can’t show you too many pictures of actual product or even talk about any of the new stuff in development. I was allowed to see it- but I signed myself to secrecy (seriously, I signed an NDA before I could start, punishable by death). I was taken around the facility by Brad Simpson and followed closely by Gretchen. She clearly believes everything she’s ever heard about bloggers and thought that at any moment I may break out into a tirade against Nike and wreck their whole facility. I noticed she was carrying a little leather case that probably contained a taser.
First on the agenda was a history of Nike Golf which really started with golf shoes and apparel (as you’d expect) and then later turned into other equipment like clubs and balls. They have a wall with the time line of Nike Golf’s equipment along with every club Nike has ever released that you could pull out and inspect. I saw some of my old favorites along the way, like the Nike NDS and Slingshot irons. As you could imagine, a lot of the talk centered around Tiger Woods and how signing him really kicked everything into another gear with their equipment. They knew to get to an elite level as a golf company they needed Tiger playing their clubs. There is a pretty interesting back story this but the short version is that they acquired the expertise of Tom Stites and some of his associates with a long history in club manufacturing and instead of starting with a clean slate instantly brought in hundreds of combined years of golf equipment expertise. I also covered the “Tiger Woods plays other blades that are stamped with Nike’s logo rumor” and Brad was very familiar and very quick to laugh at its ridiculousness. He assured me that Tiger is not forced to play one Nike club but when he made the switch it was all on his own terms and comfort-level and all of the equipment he plays is 100% designed and produced by Nike.
The next part of my journey was past the key guarded doors- the guts of The Oven. I saw the room where they dream up the clubs. I saw the room where the first version of a club is produced in a material that can be manipulated and changed. I saw the room where they measure all of the clubs to make sure they conform to golf’s rules. I saw the room that automatically feeds balls on a tee so a driver can tested for durability. I saw the warehouse room with almost every club you could ever get your hands on (Nike or not). One thing I learned was how much research and testing they do on their competitors gear. Someone’s job at The Oven is literally to KNOW what other golf companies are doing and if their clubs really do what they say they can do and what Nike can learn from them.
The coolest part of this experience was my conversation with David Franklin who is one of the original Nike guys along with Tom Stites. David was working on the new Nike Method putters to be launched in 2010. In fact, Monday night of my visit Nike put 100 special edition Method putters on sale at midnight and they sold out in 2 hours. The $499 putters were built to spec and including your initials engraved into the head. I’ll have much more on these putters as we move into the new year, but here’s what you need to know; no matter until the Method has ever won 2 major championships in the same year with two different owners. The prototype Method putters won the US Open with Lucas Glover and the British carried by Stewart Cink. Tiger provided a lot of input into the design but hasn’t given any indication he’ll switch away from his Scotty Cameron, though we did talk an awful lot about how this would be a dream come true for Nike Golf.
I was in a workshop with clubs and orders everywhere and upon further inspection, you realized quickly this was the real deal. I wasn’t hanging out with test clubs and samples. Right on the sheets you saw they were building, adjusting and grinding clubs for all of their Tour players. I saw a set of irons to be shipped out to Michelle Wie (picture proof). I held a wedge Tiger has used and is there for reference when grinding all his new clubs, to be matched to perfection. The hand-craftsmanship that goes into their clubs is astounding and is a testament to the people who perform the task. You’d expect that matched perfection could best be achieved with a machine, but with these player’s clubs, that is not the case. Every single club was put together by hand and built to the most minute specs to make them perfect.
Still- a club is a club, which was exemplified in a funny antidote I heard involving a former Nike athlete. One time he was visiting The Oven to do some work- and nobody could find him. He just slipped off to the bathroom and disappeared. They later found him on the driving drive hitting Tiger’s clubs he “borrowed” from the workshop. He was convinced that Tiger was somehow getting magical clubs and extra special treatment from the equipment side of things. The moral of the story- Tiger plays all the same stuff- and is just that much better. Actually, the rest of the PGA Tour should be a little worried with the new groove rules. Tiger never switched to U Grooves and has been playing with the 2010 conforming clubs all along. Yep- except for his wedges, Tiger will have absolutely no adjustment for to make whatsoever except for his high lofted wedges.
Another thing I learned- Paul Casey is awesome. I heard a lot of stories about Paul and he sounds like quite the character, the kind of guy you'd like to hang out with on a Saturday night. A few months ago some photos of new 2010 Nike Golf equipment got online. Those were taken by Casey with his iPhone and then posted to his Twitter without Nike’s knowledge. Nike’s PR department started receiving media inquires about the new product and had to figure out how they made it online. You have to like someone willing to provide the scoop!
There were some doors that were closed to me despite my VIP status. I kept asking what was behind the doors and they gave me a company line about being equipment being built out for 2011, 2012 and beyond. I purposely dropped my pen so I could drop to the floor and try to look under through the crack. I can’t say 100%, but I’m pretty sure I saw what I saw; Robot Tiger being built for the 2010 season. They said now that knee joint is secured, they could start tinkering with the wiring that connects the heart and brain and after a new firmware update to repel upstart contenders we could expect a dominate machine for the new year that will win multiple majors. I asked if I could add some code for him to plug SkyGolf and ClubSG. It turns out that for about $20M that would in fact be possible.
The rest of my day was spent actually hitting Nike golf equipment and being fitting with a new set of clubs from driver through putter. I met Matt Plumb and he along with Brad (and Gretchen continuing to babysit) walked me through the rest of the day. Both were awesome guys and were very knowledgeable of not only the Nike product line but everything else on the market and how they differed. As you would expect, everything had a Nike slant, but it was great to hear their knowledge of how different things worked. I’m not an equipment guru by any means, so hearing them talk about shaft technology and how different things worked scientifically was very cool. I realized much of the equipment I’ve played my whole life is actually hurting my golf game more than it helps. In this case I don’t mean, “not playing Nike is bad,” but instead things like, “these shafts reduce spin and you need more,” or “this ball isn’t great for your swing physics.” Sure- Nike had an answer for my problems, but so would other manufacturers if I’d have known the fundamental flaws in my equipment choices.
I started by being fitted for my new Method putter. I worked on an indoor synthetic green that was set up to handle high speed cameras and lighting from all directions to capture every movement of the ball and my putter at impact. Despite sinking putt after putt (seriously, it was the most fortuitous moment of my life to actually look good for those 30 minutes), I was quickly shown how much work I was actually putting in to overcome a putter I’d just pull off the rack. Putting- probably more than any other one part of golf can be a unique function to each player- with not too much right and wrong- as long as the ball ends up in the hole. My putting stroke requires some pretty intense work on the lie of my putter because of how I hold it. To fit me properly, they had to bend my putter down 7 degrees (which I was told is ridiculous). I was shown slow mo replay of each putt and each frame was analyzed to show my weaknesses.
After a quick lunch, next up was wedges. I went out to the range and set up about 80 yards away from the green. I hit one Victory Red 60 degree wedge after another. I’d hit 3 shots with 60 degree, x shaft, y bounce, then 3 more with 60 degree, x shaft, z bounce. When you hit the exact same shot over and over with just a one change, you realize how big a deal some of that stuff is. I think most people realize there is a difference between 6 degrees of bounce and 12 degrees, but I’m guessing most people couldn’t hit one randomly and tell you what bounce it is just from the feel. It was so cool to feel the difference and after 15 minutes be able to clearly know which one works best and which one you like. We moved through each of the wedges and all of the different shots. I played about 30 balls from a bunker and then a bunch of chip shots from just off the green. Everything was analyzed and noted so my wedges could be made perfect to my game. (I was just rereading my last two paragraphs and realizing how jealous you should be.)
After my wedges were perfected- we moved indoors, back into the same building as the putter fitting and they opened up a garage door to the massive driving range. I literally hit from inside- to an outdoor facility. Again- state of the art launch monitors and a computer were there to capture all my data (flaws). The next 90 minutes or so is a complete blur as I was asked to hit more shots than I’ve ever done in one stretch; s VR blade 6 iron, a VR full cavity 6 iron, a 9 iron half-cavity Victory Red iron. Shafts were swapped out, grips adjusted, tears were shed (seriously, blisters on both hands by the time I was done even wearing a glove). I probably hit 200 full shots which is a ton if you think about how many full shots you actually take in a round of golf. By the time they had me figured out- I was exhausted. I actually hit the new Nike SQ irons that will be launched in 2010 and let me tell you… they BOOOMB the ball. I had the choice of being fitting in those but chose to go with VR line because, 1) they could be delivered within weeks, and 2) the feel was a little better for a medium-level player like myself who doesn’t need an influx of distance to my game. Those who do though- please make sure you hit these clubs early next year. You give up a little feel, but oh my goodness they hammer the ball.
And now- for the grand finale, the fairway woods and driver. This is almost anti-climatic because I’m so lame and was so exhausted. I hit about ten shots with a 3 wood and then literally just three shots with the new 2010 VR Driver. I asked if they had what they needed (fortunately I hit the driver great in those three shots) and they realized I was going to be useless the rest of the fitting and they allowed me to beg out of more. Thank God. I’ll be waiting until earlier 2010 for my driver since it won’t be available until then- and I’m happy to wait! The launch monitor had me hitting about 270, a number I’d be happy to live with. I started off sinking putts and ended hitting the driver great. I’ve already forgotten about all of the shanks in between.
I have to give a lot of thanks and credit to Matt and Brad for their work on my fitting. Realize, they’re used to fitting Pros (plus handicappers) all the time- and then they had to deal with me for a day. While their adjustments and changes are usually small with a lot of the feedback coming from the player, I was generally ignorant in their hands and they had to figure out everything on their own- to help me the best they possibly could. Their samples of data and numbers on their computers changed from shot to shot and they did an awesome job not making me feel like a complete hack while collecting the pieces they needed to make an educated fitting choice. I think for most amateurs- this is probably the key in fitting, finding a person who makes you feel comfortable despite your swing flaws.
Realistically, a lot of you will never have the chance to be fitted like I was but that doesn’t change the importance of taking the time and spending the money to have it done if you’re serious about improving your golf game. Even if you know some of your stats like swing speed and the amount of spin you put on the ball, there are just too many details a fitting pro can help you flesh out and discover that you’ll miss. I realize it is expensive- and I’m about as thrifty as they come, so here is my suggestion; get to the point in your golf game where you can justify the one-time expense and make sure you get all of your numbers and variables printed out- so anytime you ever order clubs again you have a starting point. Sure- over time your swing will change- but it’s better than starting from stock. Learn your swing speed. Learn what lie angle you need, not just for a specific club, but overall- so you can employ those characteristics on all of the clubs you ever buy going forward. Even if you have to buy stock to save money- you can take them to a golf shop and have them bent to your specs after.
I’m really appreciative to Nike for the opportunity and had a great time while learning a ton. They provided a top-notch experience from start to finish and let a schlub feel like a star for a day. I’ll have plenty more for ClubSG about specific aspects of Nike and their products and I’ve been promised by Gretchen that we can expect gear and giveaways from the Swoosh so stay tuned!
[ comments ]
this is awesome - who went there?
That would be me- I'm the lucky one!
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