Review: PXG Golf Clubs
When it comes to our equipment, we golfers are a flighty bunch. We jump from club to club in the quest for a tool that will magically solve all of the problems in our game. The right driver will quell the hook that we’re struggling with and keep us on the fairway. The right irons will give us the piercing ball flight we’re looking for and help us hit more greens. And the right putter will turn us into a veritable virtuoso when we get there, calmly rolling in putt after putt as our playing partners look on with awe and envy.
Of course, it’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools. After all, Tiger Woods—even with all of his recent struggles—could go out and beat me over 18 holes playing with a 2×4 and a rusty garden hoe. But golf is the rare sport where the best technology available to players can actually help the amateur more than the professional at the top of his game. In a sport that’s so fiendishly difficult, that’s such a mental battle as well as physical one, it’s little wonder that most of us are willing to shell out to try and buy a better game.
I did it mostly because I wanted to build some good clubs.PXG founder Bob Parsons
It might be the case that no one has ever shelled out more than Bob Parsons, the billionaire former marine, founder of GoDaddy.com, and obsessive golf nut. Parsons claims he was spending $250,000 a year on golf equipment, a otherworldly sum that would mean he was emptying the pro shop of his course several times over each season. Eventually, Parsons had a different thought: Instead of spending all that money on other gear from other companies, what if he was to start his own club company?
“You could call it vanity, I guess,” says Parsons. “I did it mostly because I wanted to build some good clubs.” He named the new concern PXG, for Parsons Xtreme Golf.
Parsons had gotten to know Mike Nicolette, a former PGA Tour player, through some rounds they had played together at the ultra-exclusive Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. About a year and a half after they met, Nicolette was working as a club designer at Ping when Parsons called him.
“The first thing he said was, ‘How long is your non-compete clause?’” says Nicolette. Parsons had made the decision to get into the club business, and wanted to hire Nicolette to lead the charge. Parsons hired Nicolette, who had a one-year non-compete clause, and had Nicolette work on non-golf projects.
Exactly 365 days later, Parsons came to Nicolette with a nearly impossible design brief.
“I want an iron that goes stronger than any other club on the market,” said Parsons, “but you can’t make the loft stronger. I want it to feel better than any other club I’ve hit in my life. It has to have a distinctive look, it can’t be mistaken for anything else in the marketplace.”
It was an intimidating task, but there was one saving grace: Parsons didn’t put any limits on what the clubs could cost to design or build. Most club designs start with the price and work backward from there. Parsons was willing to pay, handsomely, for performance.
“We pay attention to costs to the extent that we don’t want to be stupid,” says Parsons. “But we are quite willing to spend a significant amount of money if the performance is there. We have no time constraints for our engineers, we have no cost constraints. Whatever makes sense, that’s what we’ll do.”
Unlike some other irons that promise more distance, the PXGs don’t mess with the loft of the club to gain that distance.
With that lack of restrictions, Nicolette got to work on PXG’s clubs. He started by designing a hollow iron with a cavity in the middle, rather than the more standard cavity at the back of the club. They performed well, but the feel of the club—a critical factor to most golfers—was poor. Parsons suggested that maybe if they filled the cavity with some sort of material, they could remedy the problem.
“I’ve got the easy part, making a suggestion,” says Parsons. “They have the hard part of trying to figure out how to do it.”
The team began to look at different plastics and polymers to fill the cavity at the center of the club. They finally found a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) called Cellamp 5000 that offered a good sound and feel, but integrating the material had caused different issue: the clubhead was now too heavy.
“So we started to thin out the clubface to balance the mass of the club,” says Nicolette. “We started with the face at 90/1000 of an inch, and went to 75 and then even tried some at 40. As we began our durability testing, 58/1000 seemed to be the sweet spot.”
These were radically thinner faces than the standard iron. The TPE supported the steel of the face so that it wouldn’t permanently deform after hitting a ball, but it was able to flex slightly at impact and then spring back like a trampoline.
“That thinner face gained us ball speed,” says Nicolette. “And I now had mass that I could put around the perimeter of the club to make it more forgiving, and to move the center of gravity back on the club. That improves how the ball launches.”
After four iterations of this new construction method, Nicolette met with the ultimate judge of his work: Parsons. After a range session, Parsons told the team that he thought they had made the best club on earth.
They had also made just about the most expensive. A set of 8 PXG irons retails for $2,400, about twice as much as top of the line offerings from golf’s traditional companies like Titleist and TaylorMade.
Our product cycle is that we have to make sure that we have breakthroughs in performance. When we do, we’ll release something new.Bob Parsons
“Our clubs just cost so much more to make than others on the market,” says Nicolette. “When the product is done, you figure out what it costs to make, figure out your margin, and then that’s what we’re going to charge.”
PXG has expanded beyond the irons to other clubs as well: drivers, woods, hybrids, wedges, and putters. All of them hew to the same design language as the irons, using tungsten screws for weight distribution, as well as a distinctive look.
The company has grown to 70 people, and Parsons says the response has been beyond what he had hoped. He predicts that the company will finish the year at a $60 million annual run rate. The challenge will be to continue to innovate, and fight a market that’s usually driven by an annual set of new gear to entice golfers to spend more.
“We don’t have a product cycle,” says Parsons. “Our product cycle is that we have to make sure that we have breakthroughs in performance. When we do, we’ll release something new. Who knows when that will be with our irons?” Until then, he’ll sell the same model.
So, after all of that, how do PXG’s clubs perform? In my experience, they perform very, very well. The standouts in the set are those innovative irons. As you stand over the shot, the top edge of the club offers the appearance of the thinner blade irons most pros prefer, but the hollow construction gives the clubs much more forgiveness than those models. When I would catch a shot off the toe of the club, I’d still get the majority of the distance that I expected, and they held their line well.
Because I’ve been using the excellent Arccos Golf shot-tracking system for the past 18 months, I could compare distance and accuracy between my usual set of irons and the PXGs. On average, I hit the PXG irons 5 yards further than the equivalent in my previous set. And unlike some other irons that promise more distance, the PXGs don’t mess with the loft of the club to gain that distance. The hollow construction and the TPE filling is a truly new way to build an iron with a thinner clubface, and the benefits seemed clear in my testing.
Accuracy was a mixed bag—it was much improved with the longer irons, I think because they’re much easier to hit cleanly for me than my previous set. With the shorter irons, the PXGs were slightly less accurate, although it was a small difference, and the fact that my distances were increased likely was a major factor. I wasn’t necessarily sure of exactly how far I was hitting a specific club on approach shots. I expect that more familiarity with the clubs would cause that disparity to go away.
The other clubs in the set suffer in comparison to the irons. It’s not that they aren’t good clubs—in fact, the driver, 3 wood, and hybrid club are all terrific. It’s just that they aren’t the sort of leap forward that the irons represent; they’re much more similar to other clubs on the market, especially some Ping clubs, which comes as little surprise given Nicolette’s involvement with those clubs.
I was less enthusiastic about the wedges. Again, they’re beautifully designed and built clubs, but they come in a limited number of lofts and bounce angles, which is the grind of the sole of the club. Wedges are a club where players have a lot of idiosyncratic preferences, and the PXG wedges just never really fit my eye when I was preparing to hit a shot.
So all of this begs the question: are they worth their eye-popping price? When it comes to the drivers, woods, hybrids, and wedges, I’m not sure they are. They’re as good as anything on the market, but you can get the same level of performance at a lower price.
But, oh, those irons. Over the past five years, I’ve had the chance to play with dozens of different irons from nearly every golf manufacturer, and the PXG irons are the best I’ve used. Parsons’ team of engineers and designers have come up with something truly unique with these clubs. There are other wonderful sets of irons on the market at half the price, but every serious golfer should at least demo the PXGs to see if they feel like they’re worth the investment. When I was out testing these clubs, every single golfer I played with asked if they could hit a shot or two with my clubs, and most of them came away grinning after they did. For a group that’s usually not shy about spending money in a quest for improvement, that bodes pretty well for Parsons.
“I don’t really compete with the other club companies,” he says. “They have a big trade show in Orlando each year, and we don’t go to that. We don’t go for the same reason that Ferrari doesn’t go to the Detroit Auto Show. They build the absolute best thing they can, and then put a price on it. We’re both in the luxury market.”