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Pro Shop: Legally Long

Next Technology Golf Magnetix ($399)

The Magnetix driver differs from the other drivers in this review by seeking to minimize springlike effect rather than to increase it. The concept is that a magnetic assembly attached to the inside wall of the clubface hardens and strengthens the titanium there through a process called magnetostriction. As a result the ball compresses more than on "trampolining" drivers and shoots off the clubface hotter and with less spin. We can't judge the science, but the ball definitely flies—and flies high—off this club. The shafts on all Magnetix drivers are aligned using the patented SST Pure technology, which helps negate the effects of any irregularities in the graphite fibers. Call 800-935-6398 or visit ntgolf.com.

Cleveland Launcher 400 ($390)

Cleveland follows the success of its Launcher 330 driver last year with the even larger Launcher 400. The big 400 cc clubhead is the main attraction, and its deep clubface creates an expanded parcel of prime hitting real estate. With a simple, round, unmarked crown and a surprisingly compact-looking head, this forgiving club delivers a solid feel and easily launches the ball on a high arc. Call 800-999-6263 or visit clevelandgolf.com.

The New Nike Combo Pack

It's not uncommon for Tour pros to have mixed sets of irons: long irons with forgiving cavity backs and short sticks in workable, feel-oriented blades. Some amateurs, after extensive experimentation, also end up with mix-and-match sets, but often there's no continuity of feel or balance from one club to the next. Now Nike makes it easy to play mixed irons that are also well matched with the introduction of its Forged Pro Combo Irons ($999 steel shafts, $1,099 graphite). Designed by veteran club maker Tom Stites, the clubs progress from full cavity backs in the two- through four-irons to muscle-back blades in eight-iron through pitching wedge. In the middle of the set, the five- through seven-irons feature a combination—clubheads fitted with a muscle-cavity back design. The idea of the mixed set is that on long shots players primarily need to hit the ball straight and high (contributing to this goal are progressively more offset, wider soles and lower centers of gravity in the longer clubs); on shorter shots, feel and shot-making control are most essential. The rear flange across the bottom becomes visible at address in the two- and three-irons, but better players unused to such protrusions will still find these clubs appealing because of the thin top lines and compact clubhead sizes. We loved the way these irons performed; the sound and feel at impact were perfect. Our only quibble is the design on the backs of the clubheads, which some may find too busy—but Nike designs have often been ahead of their time, and the looks clearly don't detract from the function. Just ask Stewart Cink, who, along with fellow Nike staffer David Duval, has put these clubs into play on Tour. (Tiger Woods is playing the blades Nike introduced last spring.) Steel-shaft models will be available to the public December 1, while graphite versions will hit shelves next March. For more information check out nikegolf.com.

A Weighty Matter

All Kirk Currie Signature Putters ($159-$189) sport three interchangeable chrome weight plates that screw into the sole, allowing golfers to adjust the putter head's weight in increments of fifteen grams. Why?So that players can fiddle until they get just the feel they want, or adjust for different playing conditions: heavier for slower Bermuda greens, perhaps, and lighter for faster bent-grass greens. In addition, the shafts and hosels are constructed to allow players to have the loft and lie bent to their ideal specifications; retail outlets feature custom-fitting displays. Kirk Currie putters are available in standard, belly and long lengths, with either a mallet or blade design. Call 800-578-4732 or visit kirkcurrieputters.com.

Rolling with Hogan

Spalding originally developed this ball for its high-end Strata line, but early reaction was so favorable among professionals (Len Mattiace won this year's Nissan Open with a prototype) as well as amateurs that the company decided to brand the ball with its most cherished name. The Hogan Apex Tour ($58 per dozen) is the first Hogan ball on the market since 1997. It's a four-piece ball with a pea-size energy-transfer core that sits inside a larger core, which makes ball flights more consistent. Around that is a distance-enhancing inner cover and an ultrathin urethane outer cover. The result: a ball that flies a long way off the tee but is exceptionally soft and easy to spin and control around the greens. Call 800-772-5346 or visit benhogan.com.

The Benz of Bags

Tumi, the luxury luggage company, has teamed up with Callaway to create its first-ever golf bag, the elegant Tumi Deluxe ($399). Made from the same tough, water-repellent ballistic nylon as its famously durable travel bags, this cart bag has a nine-inch top with six shaft compartments. By our count it also has thirteen zippered storage pockets, two exterior mesh pockets, a removable and lockable valuable pouch, a neoprene umbrella sleeve, matching Tumi-logoed head covers and towel, and a comfortable strap should you ever have to tote the thing. Even with a full load of clubs, the bag stands stably on its own base and makes a fine impression. Available at Tumi stores nationwide and select pro shops. For more information call 800-322-8864 or 800-228-2767.


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