Nike Oven Trip - Part 2
By Kickntrue on 11/12/09
As some of you know, last week I visited The Oven, Nikeâ€™s golf research and development facility in Ft. Worth, Texas. Here is part 2 of a 3 part series from my trip. Feel free to read Part 1 first if you missed it.
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 donâ€™t)? Imagine working at Nikeâ€™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 shouldnâ€™t have worn an Adidas shirt- haha). For the next 2 Â˝ 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 canâ€™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 sheâ€™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 youâ€™d expect) and then later turned into other equipment like clubs and balls. They have a wall with the time line of Nike Golfâ€™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 on 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 â€śTiger Woods plays other blades that are stamped with Nikeâ€™s logo rumorâ€ť 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 golfâ€™s rules. I saw the room that automatically feeds balls on a tee so a driver can be 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. Someoneâ€™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. Iâ€™ll have much more on these putters as we move into the new year, but hereâ€™s what you need to know; no putter 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 hasnâ€™t given any indication heâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 to the right). 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. Youâ€™d expect that matched perfection could best be achieved with a machine, but with these playerâ€™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 anecdote 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 range hitting Tigerâ€™s clubs he â€śborrowedâ€ť 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 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. Remember a couple weeks ago when the pictures of Nikeâ€™s 2010 clubs hit the internet? Those were taken by Casey with his iPhone and then posted to his Twitter without Nikeâ€™s knowledge. Nikeâ€™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 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 canâ€™t say 100%, but Iâ€™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 oobgolf. It turns out that for about $20M that would in fact be possible.
Part 1 and Part 3 and please visit NIKEGOLF.com.
[ comments ]
if this place was in the Netherlands, would they be called The Dutch Oven?
/gagging on the punnyness.
Man I am getting more jealous of your trip as you post. Thanks for sharing this Andrew.
Very good synopsis Andrew. I got a tour of Nike's facilities out in Oregon (wife works for Golfsmith) and it wasn't NEARLY this cool.
im on the edge of my seat for your next post.
not really but i am looking forward to it.
Keep up the good work OOB!
Kurt the Knife says:
I think you meant to write "anecdote" up there
i'm just sayin'
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