Written By: Tony Covey

Unless you go out of your way to avoid Callaway Golf on Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube, you almost certainly heard days, if not weeks, ago that #BERTHASBACK.

For those of you who don’t keep current on your hashtags (or don’t watch cartoons), what that actually means is that Callaway Golf has resurrected the iconic Big Bertha name for use on its 2014 Premium driver (and fairway) offerings.

Big Bertha? Again? For realz?

At least it’s not the Bertha X or X2 Bertha, or RAZR Hot Bertha 2 XTREME.

Who can keep track? Certainly not Johnny Miller.

Nobody is ever going to accuse Callaway of being overly-original with their product names.

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Apex is back.

Edge is coming back too.

Everything old is new again, which I guess is a lot like rebirth if you really think about it.

This notion of Bertha being back; that’s the company’s oh-so-subtle way of letting you know that Callaway, and everything that made it the dominant force in golf not so long ago, is also back …damn near all the way back, and well-ahead of schedule too.

Clever, right?

Watch out TaylorMade…and I mean that sincerely.

What’s So Special About Big Bertha?

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The first thing you need to know about Bertha is that she’ll initially be available in 2 models. I don’t have any direct knowledge that Callaway plans to release more Berthas down the road, but given how the X Hot fairway release went down last season (SuperDeep, Phrankenwood, etc.), and that both models announced today are 460cc, anything is possible; especially if Phil Mickelson gets the urge to tinker.

Regular Big Bertha is being billed as a “Total Performance Driver” that, of the two Berthas, should fit the broadest range of golfers.

It’s the everyman’s Big Bertha.

Big Bertha’s higher MOI design (compared to Big Bertha Alpha) features Callaway’s Hyper Speed Face which is designed to help maintain maximum ball speed (which means maintaining distance) on those shots that aren’t exactly perfectly centered.

Callaway’s research indicates that guys with handicaps of 10 or more don’t always hit the center of the face, and Big Bertha, says Callaway, can help mitigate that particular problem.

Side bar…This required research?

Big Bertha is for those guys…and everybody else.

“Big Bertha isn’t just long, it’s Bertha long” – Callaway Golf

I’m not sure what that actually means. I’d have probably gone with “Big Bertha isn’t just long, it’s John Holmes long”…and now you know why I don’t write copy for any of the golf companies.

It Looks Like A Mizuno

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In addition to an interchangeable heel weight, Big Bertha features what Callaway is calling Adjustable Perimeter Weighting.  APW is an 8 gram sliding weight (fixed within a 5” track) that can be repositioned along the rear (and side) of the head to help control shot shape and dispersion. Basically APW is part of the system that enables Callaway to help you control shot shape (draw/fade bias).

And yes…more so than SLDR ever did, Bertha’s track-based weighting system most certainly resembles Mizuno’s FastTrack system (first seen on the MP-600 driver).  We’ve covered it before, but because I’m certain not everybody reads every word I write (I tend to write a lot of words – occasionally I spell one or two of them correctly), it’s worth mentioning again:

As far as patents from big golf companies are concerned; TaylorMade’s patent pre-dates Mizuno’s, and Callaway’s patent pre-dates TaylorMade. So while I’m not a big fan of all this “they stole the idea from…” nonsense, if you’re absolutely compelled to make one of those arguments, at least make sure you have your facts correct.

Familiar Adjustability

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The rest of Big Bertha’s adjustability comes from the by now familiar OptiFit Hosel. The Big Bertha implementation is the same dual-cog system found on this season’s OptiForce. The relatively intuitive system allows for loft to be adjusted 1° down and 2° up, while a 2nd independent lie angle adjustment allows the head to be placed in either the standard or upright position; the latter theoretically promoting a draw.

Callaway would probably also appreciate me taking a moment out to mention that OptiFit’s dual-cog system allows you to make hosel-based adjustments without altering the alignment of the shaft graphics. For graphics obsessed and those who habitually send shafts off for SST Puring, this is sort of a big deal.

With a total head weight under 200 grams, Big Bertha should prove versatile enough to work with shafts in a variety of lengths and weights, without becoming unwieldy.

Perhaps the last noteworthy bit about the Big Bertha (and Big Bertha Alpha) is that instead of a familiar black crown, both are outfitted with midnight blue paint. In nearly every lighting condition the driver looks black, but when the light hits it just right…oh my god…its blue! Not so blue that anybody is likely to have a problem with it, but blue nevertheless.

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Big Bertha will be available in lofts of 9° and 10.5° and 13.5° HT. The stock shaft is the new Fubuki Z. Big Bertha will also be available for Udesign customization.

Retail availability starts February 14th 2014 with a street price of $399.

Big Bertha Alpha

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The bigger driver story for Callaway (actually, it’s arguably the biggest driver story for Callaway since the original Big Bertha) is the Big Bertha Alpha, which I suppose you might categorize as the Big Bertha Pro...sorta…maybe just a little bit…at least for now.

Big Bertha Alpha features the same OptiFit hosel as the rest of the Callaway driver family. It’s got adjustable/moveable weights like the RAZR Fit and RAZR Fit Xtreme (promotes a draw or fade bias and/or alters swing weight), and oh by the way, it’s got a Gravity Core.

What the hell is a gravity core?

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Callaway’s answer to TaylorMade’s SLDR is the FLPR (I’m tweeting that the second the embargo lifts).

Gravity core is an actual first. Not only that, Gravity core is arguably an actual innovation.

Physically, gravity core is a lightweight, glass fiber reinforced nylon rod that’s ± 2 1/8” long. Thanks to a 10.5 gram tungsten weight on a single end (the rest of the core weighs only 1.5 grams) the golfer is able to alter the vertical center of gravity within the clubhead itself.

When the tungsten weight is placed closest to the sole (low CG), Big Bertha Alpha should produce a flatter, more penetrating trajectory with measurably less spin and more roll.

Flipping the gravity core results in a mid-CG placement which produces higher spin and what Callaway calls a “more controlled” ball flight.

According to Callaway, moving from the higher CG position to the lower one results in an average of 300 RPM less spin. Callaway’s player testing has shown as much as a 600 RPM decrease, while one individual who had a chance to hit Big Bertha Alpha told me his spin rate changed by nearly 800 RPM.

Reducing Spin Without Reducing Loft

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When you consider that a 300 RPM change is roughly equivalent to what you get from a 1° change in loft, whether it’s 300, 600, or nearly 800 RPM, the practical fitting implications of gravity core are potentially substantial. Callaway would call them game-changing.

Callaway might be right.

What we’re really talking about here is the functional decoupling of launch angle and spin. Previously, if a golfer was looking to reduce spin, the only option short of a shaft change was to reduce loft. When you reduce loft, the ball doesn’t launch as high. Who the hell wants to compromise?

What if your launch angle was already near-ideal? Do you leave it at that, or do you try and knock off a little bit of spin? Do you optimize for spin at the expense of loft? That’s the exact fitting conundrum Gravity Core seeks to eliminate.

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For the first time it’s possible to reduce spin without having to reduce loft to make it happen. That’s some seriously cool shit right there.  And as I said, for those who might want to tinker with loft, the OptiFit hosel still does its thing.

In case you haven’t been keeping count, that’s 4 ways to adjust the Big Bertha Alpha Driver:

  • CG Bias (and swing weight) – weights can be used to promote a draw or a fade, or simply to achieve the desired swing weight.
  • Loft (OptiFit hosel) – reduce loft by 1° or increase loft by 2°.
  • Lie angle (also OptiFit hosel) – The upright position promotes up to a 9 yard change in lateral dispersion (left/right)
  • Vertical center of gravity (Gravity Core) – Reposition the center of gravity lower in the face to reduce spin without reducing loft.

I never thought I’d see the day, but Callaway has totally out-wrenched TaylorMade.

Is Big Bertha Alpha Right for You?

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While Callaway will tell you that Big Bertha Alpha, because of its versatility, is an outstanding option for a large percentage of the golfing population, they’ll also concede that the low CG setting is more suitable for Tour guys, skilled amateurs…and potentially jackasses like me who hit down with the driver and/or produce excessive amounts of spin.

How can you actually design a club for Tour players, yet still make it playable for the general population? Big Bertha Alpha is how. #BOOM.

Other Big Bertha Alpha Details

Like the regular Big Bertha, Alpha features a Hyper Speed Face, and is made from Callaway’s forged composite material (remember those Lamborghini ads that kinda sucked?). The fact that nobody really talks about forged composite anymore tells me that everyone is basically over the sound and feel issues that plagued Callaway’s early composite releases. They figured it out, and it’s no longer really worth discussing.

Big Bertha Alpha will be available in 9° and 10.5° lofts.

You may have noticed that, as they did last season, Callaway is once again using premium shaft offerings in their drivers. For Big Bertha Alpha, the new Fubuki ZT is the stock offering (rumor is Callaway will be adding a plethora of zero-cost alternatives, but don’t hold me to that).

Hands on with Big Bertha Alpha

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While a full review will come at a later date, we thought it was important to give you some idea of whether or not this Gravity Core thing is complete BS. Using our FlightScope launch monitor, I hit a series of shots with Big Bertha Alpha with the Gravity Core configured in each of the possible positions. A 3rd party chose the gravity core placement (and did the flipping) so I wasn't aware which position the Gravity Core was in until after testing was complete. Basically it was a blind test. Given the way I was swinging, you might have thought I was blind too.

I hit the club in the default position (9°, standard), however; on the course I would likely configure the club at 8° with a draw bias (upright). I tossed out only the worst of the shots (greater than 30 yards offline), and wound up with the same number of shots with each configuration. Here are the pertinent results:

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bigbertha-low-cg

As you can see, despite remarkable similarities for both ball speed and launch angle, the low CG position reduced my spin rate by 327 RPM. Allowing for the fact that this is just one guy, the preliminary evidence suggests that Callaway might actually be telling the truth of about this Gravity Core thing.

For those who care about things like sound and feel...Bertha Alpha feels noticeably heavier than Regular Bertha (it's got a heavier shaft, so that makes sense), and feels significantly different from Optiforce and RAZR Fit Extreme. It's more solid...firm, I suppose, across the whole of the face. It's probably a bit duller than Callaway's premium drivers, and for sound and feel alone, I prefer Optiforce.

While I could live without the alignment aid, visually I prefer Regular Bertha (it looks bigger at address - which I like when I'm not swinging well). I like the Regular Bertha feel a bit better as well, but given how Alpha kept my spin under control on a day when my swing was so bad 4500 RPM wouldn't have been out of the question, it's very like the one I'd be more inclined to play.

Like Regular Big Bertha, Big Bertha Alpha will also hit retail on 2/14 with a street price of $499.

Whoa…let’s talk about that (right after this next bit about the fairway wood).

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There’s a Big Bertha Fairway Wood Too

Look, this article is way too long already (and I’m just getting started), but I feel compelled to tell you that Big Bertha fairway woods are coming as well.

They’re adjustable (same hosel system as the driver), and they share X2 Hot’s face technology. Given the available configurations, and the popularity of the franchise, my guess is you’ll buy X2 Hot anyway, but if you want adjustability in your fairway wood, just know that Big Bertha offers it.

Big Bertha in the Bigger Picture

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To say Big Bertha is a significant release for Callaway would be a gross understatement. It’s easily the most important release of the Chip Brewer era (a strong statement given how important X Hot was last season), and given the hole Callaway is trying to climb out of, you could make a case that 2014’s Big Bertha is the most important release in company history.

We can argue the finer points of release significance, but believe this much; Big Bertha (and Big Bertha Alpha) is a really big deal for Callaway, and they’ve treated it like such every step of the way.

It’s hard to be certain of what’s organic and what’s contrived, but what I do know is that short  of TaylorMade’s R11, the buzz (literally…my phone was on vibrate most of the last 2 weeks) around the Bertha product is the greatest I’ve ever witnessed.

Callaway staff professionals, retail guys, you name it; guys who got an early look at Bertha have gone out of their way to tell everyone that they possibly can how good these new drivers are.

We heard about gravity core, and the sliding weight system, and basically everything else. Guys told me how long it is, how straight it is, and how dispersion patterns blow away anything else on the market today by insane margins.

Along the way I heard some pretty substantial performance claims (none directly from Callaway), but at no point did I actually see a photo of the damn thing. Believe me, that’s pretty incredible.

My gut tells me that team Callaway explicitly encouraged guys to talk about Big Bertha, while at the same time going out of their way to make sure nobody leaked any images.

Heard (about), not seen was the plan.

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Callaway, I believe, meticulously planned for Bertha to be the most hotly anticipated surprise of 2014, and while there hadn’t been much in this new Callaway Golf to suggest they could keep anything under wraps, damned if their own pre-release leaks aside, they didn’t do just that.

Whether Big Bertha is that good, or Callaway orchestrated the whole thing doesn’t much matter. Word got out on Big Bertha and that’s all that actually matters at this stage of game.

Callaway has very quickly gotten a whole lot better at managing the media.

Kudos guys. Golf clap.

When was the last time images of new TaylorMade product stayed hidden until embargo day?

And since somebody just mentioned TaylorMade (yes, I know it was me)…

Is Big Bertha the SLDR Killer?

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For those keeping track of the TaylorMade vs. Callaway thing and the fight dominance in the golf equipment world, SLDR vs. Big Bertha is this season’s ground zero.

I’m hearing admittedly unsubstantiated stories that major retail accounts (GolfSmith, Dick’s, etc.) are actually predicting that Big Bertha will be the #1 Selling Driver of 2014 and that Callaway could overtake TaylorMade for #1 in total driver (if not metalwood) market share.

“I felt a great disturbance in the force” – Obi Wan Kenobi

How great would that be for Callaway?

My prediction as big mouth media guy…it’s not going to happen…at least not in 2014.

I will submit that for the first time in anyone’s recent memory Callaway does have the upper-hand when it comes to the driver. Unless SLDR somehow dramatically outperforms Big Bertha, basically everything is leaning Callaway’s way right now:

Gravity Core is a much more compelling story than SLDR’s slider and both SLDR and JetSpeed’s Low/Forward CG. The irony is that low and forward is, from a performance standpoint, TaylorMade’s most compelling story in years. The problem is that more than a few golfers have grown tired of TaylorMade stories, and those who haven’t can’t actually see a low/forward CG.

Gravity Core…that’s a seriously visible, tangible, tactile experience. It’s not without its gimmicky qualities, but it absolutely makes sense, and that’s going to matter too.

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After a couple of questionable moves (SLDR release was bumped up, then JetSpeed was bumped up too) in response to slower than expected sales it appears that TaylorMade is more focused on boosting last minute club sales and hitting 2013 numbers than preparing for a full-on Callaway onslaught in 2014.

That could prove to be a costly mistake.

With actual consumer intolerance for TaylorMade’s release cycles and price-slashing inching closer to what the online community believes it already is, the only thing Callaway’s biggest rival may have left in the tank for early next season is a 430cc, Tour Preferred SLDR.

TaylorMade can’t actually release another new driver 2 months from now, can they? SLDR has to live for the duration…or most of it.

Callaway for its part will have X2 Hot and Big Bertha sitting on the shelves as newer (and in the case of Alpha) more compelling alternatives to TaylorMade’s JetSpeed and SLDR. 2013 was no 2012, but 2014 could be an especially rough year for TaylorMade metalwoods.

That said, Callaway still trails TaylorMade by a significant margin in the metalwood category, and of greater relevancy to this discussion; while Callaway most certainly wants to reclaim the #1 spot, they’re going to be extremely measured in how they achieve it. They’re not going to fight TaylorMade for every last dollar.

And that brings me all the way back to that $499 Big Bertha Alpha sticker price.

Big Bertha Won’t Be Price Competitive… and Callaway is Cool With It

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TaylorMade’s RBZ Stage 2 and R1 drivers are already selling for basically nothing (the byproduct of excess inventory coupled with a market share-focused approach). The same is basically true of Callaway’s X Hot and RAZR Fit Xtreme. This season, Callaway and TaylorMade crawled in the mud together. Both slashed prices, and quite frankly, both came out of their respective puddles looking more than a little dirty.

2014 is shaping up much differently. Callaway is planning to launch X2 Hot at $349 and Bertha and Bertha Alpha at $399 and $499 respectively. Whether TaylorMade cuts prices (as they historically do), or decides to finally hold the line on something, Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha will absolutely remain at $399 and $499 until they’re gone.

For anyone who says “Ha ha ha, another over-priced Callaway release, I’ll wait 3 months and buy it for $200 less”; let me be the first to say “good luck with that”. It ain’t happening.

You read that right. Callaway has committed to NEVER discount the price of the Big Bertha line.

In terms of market share, and market share only, Callaway’s pricing structure will likely prove prohibitive. While $499 may match TaylorMade’s TP offering, the lack of a lower cost Big Bertha Alpha, I believe, will help keep TaylorMade on top for at least another season.

Guys will want the Alpha, and when they can’t get it for the price they want to pay, I’m not convinced they’ll choose regular Big Bertha.

If you’re Callaway, that’s probably ok too.

It’s a profitability first approach. Crazy, right?

The New Callaway Model

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Big Bertha is billed as Callaway’s premium offering. Callaway believes it actually is a premium offering, and they’re going to treat it as such.

Callaway will no longer sacrifice profit margins and the general satisfaction of their retail partners for market share.

You shouldn’t take Callaway’s unwillingness to go full Wal-Mart with Big Bertha as a sign that it plans to slow down product releases and adopt the Titleist 2-year model. Nope, that ain’t happening either.

I’d wager that in the next 24 months, Callaway is going to release more new product than anyone else in golf – perhaps more than anyone in golf has ever released. The big difference is that Callaway is going to do a much better job of managing inventory; at least that’s the plan right now.

They’re not going to produce more product than they can sell. They’re not going to leave retailers holding excess inventory, and they’re not going to continuously cut prices to try and grab a few extra percentage points worth of market share.

The new Callaway model is to produce product in smaller quantities, order more only when absolutely necessary, maintain the premium price point, and guys…when it’s gone, it’s gone.

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Come November of next season, Callaway’s goal won’t be to unload remaining Big Bertha stock at $199. The goal is already to sell out of Big Bertha just as 2015 product is being announced. If they can do that, there will be no reason to discount.

It’s a sales model that’s more consumer-friendly (raise your hand if you like it when somebody else pays $150 less for the driver you bought a week ago…nobody?), it’s more retail friendly (no excess inventory, no NETDOWN, no drop in retail margins), and its ultimately better for Callaway’s bottom line (start with high margins, and keep it that way).

Screw market share, Callaway wants Smartketshare.

I totally made that word up, but the general idea is to gain market share while maintaining healthy profit margins and generally being both consumer and retail friendly. That’s the smart way to build market share and revitalize your brand. That’s smartketshare.

Serving Notice

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Sure, the drivers look pretty good (I’m perhaps not as excited about the aesthetics as some I’ve spoken with), and there’s finally nothing to hate about them. That’s certainly progress given the way some past Callaway driver releases have been received.

Callaway has the aesthetes down (even if the sole looks Japanese Domestic Market-inspired). They’ve got the visual gadgetry (visible technology) down too, and most importantly, Callaway Golf finally has one hell of a driver story to tell. It’s the best we’ll hear in 2014.

Big Bertha Alpha is this season’s Nike Covert (laugh if you want, but Covert doubled Nike’s driver market share). It’s the one driver that’s unlike anything else we’ve seen before, and unlike anything else on the shelves next to it. It’s the driver that will turn the most heads this season.

Don’t expect top Callaway staffers to play competitor’s clubs again anytime soon. Those days are over and the rest of the industry should consider themselves put on notice; Callaway is back. They're serious about retaking their spot on top of the golf industry, and they might just have the gear (and the balls) to do it.

Callaway is ready now.

More Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha

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Have Your Say

What do you think so far about the Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha Drivers? What about Callaway’s new approach to sales and distribution? Is Callaway finally ready to once again lead the industry?