The term "concept car" is one that's been used in the automotive industry for years to describe designs often introduced at automotive shows that, while compelling, were often 10-20 years away from even being considered for the marketplace.
For the industry, the concept car has been the perfect way to show off futuristic designs and ideas, gauging the interest and reaction of the public before it's ever mass-produced.
In years past, the golf industry has taken a page from the auto industry, introducing futuristic concept clubs, similar to what TaylorMade rolled out at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show with its MOAD (Mother of all drivers) and MOAI (Mother of all irons) designs.
Other equipment manufacturers have given golfers a peek at what the future of equipment could look like, but for the most part, the large majority of these designs have remained behind closed doors — until now.
Titleist doesn't publicize its advance research groups, but inside the company's R&D wing, engineers are currently working on projects that will likely never see the light of day. The goal behind each design is simple: Create a product that exceeds anything currently on the market with the help of new materials and designs.
"On the R&D side, in the advance research groups, we have a lot of projects where our sole goal is one hundred percent performance," said Steve Pelisek, Titleist’s president of golf clubs. "There is no specific design or introduction date."
Most of the designs don't have a budget, which means the materials and processes used typically push them well outside the possibility of becoming a retail option. Even with retail out of the question, Titleist began to ponder the idea of bringing a small batch of concept products to market, to gauge the interest of a select group of consumers.
What came about through those discussions was a new line of Concept products. The new concept clubs, called C16 driver and irons, will only be available through the Titleist Performance Institute, the company's Manchester Lane testing facility and Titleist Tech reps.
Along with the limited locations to purchase the driver and irons, both will be available in small quantities. Only 1,500 Titleist Concept C16 drivers and 1,000 sets of Concept C16 irons will be produced for the U.S.-only launch.
"The stuff is pretty out there," said Pelisek. "We feel like we've started down a path to be able to make these and see what happens. We're doing this to learn new things and showcase our technology.
"This is kind of a cool way to take it to the next step instead of waiting years on how to execute it in a mass production venue. Now we have an area where we can carve out a small run and learn about the difficulties and challenges in the manufacturing process."
Introducing a concept product to consumers is something that's been in the works for years. What also made the concept-to-market idea an easy sell was the chance to produce the clubs in larger quantities and give the designs a test run in the open.
"We know we can make these products in that volume," Pelisek said. "But over and above that in mass volume, it's still a question. We'll learn more about it if we press forward and see what happens — in terms of absolute cost of the product and how easy it is to make."
Titleist Concept C16 driver
With four different head designs currently in the 915 Series driver lineup, engineers modified the spin-to-launch ratio on the 445cc C16 to give it extremely low spin characteristics.
To shift the center of gravity (CG) deeper in the head, Titleist went outside the industry to locate an ultra-thin ATI-425 crown (Allegheny Technologies Incorporated) that's .35mm at a constant thickness.
In addition to producing discretionary weight, the new titanium crown in 20 percent stronger than 6-4 titanium, with better elongation and sound properties.
"We don't know anyone who's using something this thin in the crown in titanium," said Dan Stone, Titleist's Vice President of R&D. "The common thickness for most titanium crowns is between .45mm to .47mm with most increasing in thickness to 50mm. To have something that thin that's a constant thickness really changes the game."
With a new titanium crown in place, Titleist spent several months trying to figure out how to weld a .35mm crown to a Ti 8-1-1 body. As expected with a driver that retails for $1,000, the process was costly and time-consuming.
"That was a very challenging process and we've written some patents on it," Stone said of the welding process. "It involves diffusing the heat when you're welding those two materials together. If you don't, you're going to get some serious distortion.
"If you glue it, you've got a wrap joint that's commonly used in the composite world, and you lose weight when you do that. Bottom line, it was a difficult process, but it was well worth the time and effort."
Also laser-welded to the Ti 8-1-1 body is a forged SP700 cup face that maximizes flexibility, improving ball speeds across the entire structure. The face works in combination with Titleist's Active Recoil Channel to deliver lower spin for an additional 6 yards, when compared to 915.
When the SureFit configuration is dialed in to the user's settings, Titleist said the number jumps to 9 yards.
The final piece of the equation is a new SureFit CG design that's featured prominently in the heel and toe of the sole. The new design allows the CG to be altered to produce a fade or draw, via a cylindrical cartridge that's inserted diagonally from the low-heel area and high-toe section.
"In terms of new technologies, we've been studying moveable CG and just felt like there was a better way to do it," Stone said. "And we think the cartridge is simple and better."
Depending on swing weight and shaft length, the cartridge weight can range from 8-12 grams. There are two cartridge designs: The first cartridge has equal weight — 5 grams on each side with the 10-gram cartridge — to produce a neutral CG position.
"Picture a trapeze artist where he has equal amounts of weight on either side of the pole he's holding," Stone said. "You don't want it in the middle, but you do want it neutral by having equal amounts of weight on the heel and toe. We just think that's a better way to do it."
The other cartridge has a majority of the weight on one side — with the 10-gram cartridge, the weight distribution is 9 grams on one side and 1 gram on the other — depending on if it's in the heel or toe position for a draw or fade. Placing the heavy side in the toe promotes a fade; shifting the weight to the heel encourages a draw.
Titleist was quick to point out the fade and draw spin characteristics are moderate — thanks to a CG position that was "nudged" forward — which means golfers won't have to worry about the ball ballooning in either orientation.
"It's a way of controlling the spin in both positions by having a simple choice between neutral, draw or fade," said Stone. "We don't want it to be left to the consumer to try a bunch of different positions. We did a lot of trial and error to come up with the right positions that are going to satisfy 99 percent of golfers, and we feel like this is it."
Titleist's SureFit hosel, with independent loft and lie adjustability, and a new SureFit grip are also a part of the C16 driver design. The grip, which has been in the works for years, gives golfers the ability to fine-tune the weight above or below the hands.
"There's something to weighting the grip end of the shaft," Pelisek said. "It has a definite impact on ball flight and trajectory for most, if not all golfers."
The Concept C16 retails for $1,000 and comes in two lofts (9 and 10.5 degrees) with numerous shaft options. Only 1,500 were produced.
Titleist Concept C16 irons
Long considered the most forgiving iron in the lineup, Titleist is taking the game-improvement 716 AP1 design to another level with Concept C16. But instead of concentrating on raw distance and faster ball speeds, engineers created a club that focuses on carry distance.
"We're firm believers that in pursuit of iron performance, the ball needs to stop on the green," Pelisek said. "That's why carry distance is the biggie for us. You can create an iron that goes far, but you need it to hit that number and not go flying off the back of the green.
"This is the most amazingly advanced, forged product we've ever made. It's all about ball speed. You can cheat by strengthening the lofts, but we firmly believe certain trajectories will allow you to stay on the front of the green, but not the back of it. Our goal here was to take the existing AP1 and see how we could improve upon it."
Using what they learned from AP1 and T-MB, C16 was created with the help of new processes. The multi-material, co-forged construction begins with a K301 cup face — in the long and mid irons (4-7) — that's 10 grams lighter than AP1 and produces a strong, thinner face for increased ball speeds and carry distance.
The face, which has an unsupported area that's 7-percent larger than AP1, is welded to a thin, cast 17-4 hollow-back design, creating discretionary mass that was repositioned in the heel and toe, pushing the CG low and deep in the head for a higher launch.
Due to the multi-material composition of the head, which includes a 1025 carbon steel hosel, a bi-material forging bar was friction-welded to the hosel and face. One half of the bar is made out of 1025 carbon steel (hosel material) while the other half is made out of K301 (face material). Forging the two materials together made it possible to create an iron with soft material properties and a high-strength 2mm face cup design.
With a COR (coefficient of restitution) that's right against the USGA's legal limit, the 4-iron generates 7.8 yards of additional carry when compared to the AP1 4-iron. Along with improving carry distance, the heads were made more compact with a thinner topline and blade length that's a "little under" AP1.
Instead of using K301 in the short irons (8-PW), a 1RK95 steel face insert was used for distance control and feel.
Similar to the co-forging process that was first introduced with AP2, extreme high-density tungsten weighting — Titleist doubled the amount of tungsten in mid and long irons to 98 grams — was inserted in the perimeter and deep into the hollow-body construction to produce a high trajectory with added forgiveness.
"People that hit this club immediately noticed a difference in terms of ball speed and forgiveness," Pelisek said. "It's just a purely superior design."
Titleist's SureFit grip will be introduced in the irons as well and places weight under the grip to promote a fade or draw, increasing accuracy and control.
As far as why Titleist only made 1,000 sets of irons, Stone said it came down to the time and the cost it took to make the irons. In other words, C16 is unlike anything Titleist has ever produced for the general consumer.
"We can make a 1,000 sets of it," Pelisek said. "Now we're excited to see what the golfer reaction is to this. We think it's going to be really good."
The Concept C16 retail for $2,700 (set of 8, steel) with Mitsubishi Rayon's Kuro Kage Limited Edition AMC (Ascending Mass Concept) and Nippon's N.S. Pro 880 AMC shafts. The design is similar to that of True Temper's Dynamic Gold AMT, where the weight gets progressively heavier (starting at 88 grams) throughout the set. The graphite shaft option is $3,000.