When Bridgestone announced its new line of TOUR B golf balls last month, it touted a new cover technology that might just be the most game-changing advance since Urethane replaced Balata two decades ago. Tiger Woods lauded the “next level” design, stating in a press release that the short game spin exceeded that found in his previous ball.
Days later, in his first tournament with Bridgestone’s new TOUR B XS ball and its REACTIV Urethane cover, Woods delivered a highlight that perhaps had more impact than any statement he could have made. From 141 yards out, Woods’ second shot at the par-4 second hole took two hops on the green and disappeared into the cup briefly before spinning back out.
Bridgestone’s newest line of TOUR B balls are available at retail starting today (Feb. 14), with a retail price of about $45 per dozen, and Woods played a significant role in making them a reality.
“We were looking at the market and, in the tour ball category, there’s this fork in the road,” Bridgestone Golf Ball Marketing Manager Elliot Mellow said in an interview. “Some companies are going in the decorative, printed and alignment direction, but we still believed there’s opportunity in the performance and construction of the golf ball. So, because we’re Bridgestone, this big polymer company, we said let’s keep pushing the limit.”
About 4 ½ to 5 years ago, Bridgestone’s research and development team began thinking that innovative advances would be found in the cover of the golf ball. After signing Woods as an endorser, Bridgestone worked closely with him over the past two years to bring its new cover technology to reality.
“We knew we have this great asset in Tiger, who can provide feedback beyond what the robot can provide, quite honestly,” Mellow said.
Starting in spring of 2018, Bridgestone began testing prototype balls with Woods, including one with the new cover material. Each time, Woods would gravitate to that particular ball based on how it performed, whether with the putter, around the greens or with the driver off the tee.
Bridgestone’s team – over 900 rubber and polymer engineers worldwide – then made a series of balls with varying levels of the REACTIV material in the cover. While there’s still a portion that’s urethane, it has enough other additives so it’s actually chemically different, Mellow said.
“When he first hit it, he said, ‘That makes a different sound,’” said Adam Rehberg, Bridgestone’s golf ball fitting manager, said of Woods. “We were like, ‘Oh man, that’s out.’
“He said, ‘It’s not negative, let me just hit a few more,’” Rehberg added. “We knew that the algorithm may say this is the best ball we’ve made, but if he gets out there and it doesn’t sound right to him, then it’s giving him negative feedback and it’s not going to work no matter what the equations say.”
While machine learning has proven increasingly popular in the R&D process for many major golf equipment manufacturers, there’s still the important element of ‘feel’ when it comes to the golf ball.
“There’s a delicate balance to what a machine will tell you will work and then what real life putting it out there in play,” Rehberg said. “Ultimately, the human element — Tiger, the greatest player to ever play — helps us bring it to the real world setting outside of all the algorithms we have.”
So, what exactly does Bridgestone’s new REACTIV technology do?
Simply put, it’s designed to eliminate the traditional trade-off when it comes to a golfer who’s forced to choose either distance OR spin in a tour-caliber ball. It features an “impact modifier” that delivers a shock absorbing soft cover on slow impact wedge shots – resulting in more spin and control (sometimes a lot more, like Woods’ approach shot on the second green at Torrey Pines). It also reacts differently on high impact shots, rebounding quicker than other Urethane covers to generate more ball speed and longer distances.
“And it doesn’t matter if you’re hitting the material or Tiger is hitting the material,” Mellow said, “It doesn’t matter about the skill set or the swing speed, it has the same properties across all players.”
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