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Revisiting recreation

Companies such as TaylorMade, Head and Easton are revamping equipment with the latest technology

Posted: August 4, 2009 10:38 p.m.
Updated: August 5, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The Stealth Speed bat is made of composite materials that give the bat the lightest barrel design yet.

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Individual recreational sports, such as golf and tennis, have seen a vast change in equipment over the last few decades, likely due to the fact that they are played by people of all ages, looking for an edge on their opponent.

There may be no recreational sport that relies more heavily on new technology than golf.

TaylorMade introduced the R9 460 driver, which combines Flight Control Technology (FCT) with a 460cc titanium clubhead and the speed-promoting properties of a longer length and extremely lightweight graphite shaft in May.

“We are committed to relentlessly improving a golfer’s performance with every introduction,” said Senior Director of TaylorMade Equipment Harry Arnett. “Our entire company is focused on it and aligned towards doing that. We have our highest market shares in company history in Metalwoods and with products like the R9 and Burner we have the top two drivers in the market. Consistently on the (PGA) Tour we lead the driver count and the best players in the world rely on our drivers week in and week out.”

The technology in the club allows golfers more ability to control the loft, lie and angle of any given shot simply by loosening a bolt in the sole, rotating the shaft into the designated position, then tightening the bolt.

The same day TaylorMade released the new version of the R9, it also unveiled its newest version of the Rossa Monza Spider Balero, which is a putter with a large mallet at the head that makes it easier to aim the clubface correctly.

The club has a variety of advantages compared to a conventional putter, such as a “ball-in-cup” feature on the back of the head that makes it easier to line putts up.

“The Rossa Monza Spider Balero’s easy-to-aim shape, forgiveness and smooth-rolling AGSI technology makes it a phenomenal putter, and absolutely deadly from short range,” said Bill Price, Senior Director of Rossa in a press release. “Plus, it’s already been played on the PGA Tour and been used to win an event on the Japan Tour.”

Tennis equipment has also seen a rapid change over the years.

Gone are the days of “Big” Bill Tilden and his wooden racquet.

Here are the days of Teflon polymer, which Head included in its most recent line of YOUTEK racquets. The Teflon polymer reduces string friction for less energy loss and more power.

Players such as No. 3 and No. 4 ranked ATP Tour players Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are currently using the racquets, and Andre Agassi made the frame famous during his decorated career.

“I’ve always looked up to Andre Agassi as a player and man so it’s a privilege to carry on the tradition of the Radical racquet which he made so famous,” said Murray in a Head press release. “With the new YOUTEK Radical, I know that I’m getting the right technical support and latest technology to support my style of play.”

Murray is currently using the YOUTEK Radical Pro. The racquet features an open-string pattern for extra power and spin.

“The YOUTEK technology is amazing,” said Head Communications Manager Allison Barnett. “YOUTEK actually allows the racquet to adapt to your game. If you hit the ball at a faster pace, the material stiffens allowing the racquet to provide you with more power. If you hit a softer shot, the material stays in its relaxed state so you can hit your shots with more precision. You can feel the advantage YOUTEK gives you on the court.”

The YOUTEK racquets also incorporate d3o, a “smart material” that changes its behavior under impact. The d3o is located in the shaft of the racquet, and it provides a better touch on slow speed shots, such as slices and drop shots.

Along with the Radical series, which Agassi helped popularize, Head also released a Speed series this year, which Djokovic uses.

“We have heard nothing but fantastic reviews on the Speed series,” Barnett said. “It is the stiffest and most powerful tour racquet that we have ever produced, and it is great for those heavy hitters with long swing styles. Many people like the added weight and the thinner beam that the Speed Pro and Speed MP offer.”

Composite materials are also evolving in baseball.

Easton, a leading baseball product producer, recently released its most recent Stealth line, which feature a variety of improvements.

Since the NCAA implemented new regulations on the size and weight of bats in 1998, Easton has been working on several changes within the new rules.

The new Stealth Speed bat features Easton’s lightest barrel design with laser precision manufacturing to build the barrel to reduce mass for a quicker “moment of inertia” and a faster swing speed.

“We don’t look at the rules of any level as anything that limits us,” said Senior Vice President of Easton’s Baseball/Softball Division Matt Arndt. “We are always looking for ways to optimize materials, get better performance and improve durability. There are ways to find a way to get a bigger sweet spot on a bat.”

While Easton is best known as a bat manufacturer, the company is working on several other baseball innovations, including the Stealth Grip batting helmet.

Easton worked with its sister company Giro, the largest manufacturer of cycling, snowboarding and skiing helmets, to create a one size fits all helmet that has an aerodynamic venting system.

“It’s a matter of making a quality product as well as helping teams save money and giving them an added convenience of not having to travel with nine sizes of helmets,” Arndt said. “Plus, the helmets provide an added level of comfort compared to the standard models.”

One piece of baseball equipment that hasn’t changed much that Easton is looking to improve upon is the batting glove.

Its latest model of the Turboslot batting glove features a pad on the inside that runs along the inside of the hand and up the thumb to help batters properly hold the bat.

“A lot of batters hold the bat too tightly, but this glove forces the batter to hold the bat the right way,” Arndt said. “It allows the batter to get more leverage on the ball.”

On the softball side, Easton proved that no detail is too small when it comes to its equipment.

“During the softball World Series we started noticing that a lot of the players were not attaching the flap on their batting gloves so we asked some players why that was, and they said they didn’t like the restriction of the flap on their wrist,” Arndt said. “We came up with a glove that was still secure, but it closed lower on the hand.”

And with that the Rollover batting glove was born. University of Florida players were such big fans of the glove once they tried it that Easton had to rush a shipment to the team so they could start using them as soon as possible.

Easton has also continued to improve on its catching gear, most recently releasing the Stealth Speed chest guard, which is a form-fitting protector that is made of three parts to provide mobility and a flat surface to block balls in the dirt.

“It’s like the bat suit of catching,” Arndt said. “It’s lighter than most chest guards, and it’s more protective. The combination gives the catcher the best of both worlds.”

Like all sporting goods companies, Easton continues to look for ways to improve its products and build toward the future to keep pace with the ever-evolving athletic work.

“We feel our place in this industry is due to innovation,” Arndt said. “Staying innovative is a huge part of the sports world and equipment is no different than staying innovative on the field.”

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