Monday, May 19, 2014

Cigar Review: 5 Vegas Gold

Recently, I took a pleasure/work trip back to my home town of Easton, Pennsylvania to give a helping hand to my mother. She's moving to a new apartment/house unit and needs a strapping young lad to help out with the bigger boxes. My brother is about useless in this endeavor regardless of him living three minutes away (very literally in fact), so I came up and had a good old time of it. On the way 'round trip my wife and I stopped in at her parents' home and I sat out back with my Father-in-law and Brother-in-Law to have a smoke.  I opened pop's humidor and he gives me a 5 Vegas Gold, Toro. I mentioned it was a nice looking cigar but I'd never had one. He wouldn't let me NOT try it, so off came the cello and out we went to the back porch.

The 5 Vegas website has this to say:

"5 Vegas Gold

Enter the new era in mild-bodied cigars. 5 Vegas Gold Series breaks all barriers, proving a mild-bodied cigar can indeed teem with flavor. A luxurious blend of superior, 5-year-old tobaccos are skillfully combined inside seamless,hand-selected wrappers. Discover 5 Vegas Gold and be instantly charmed by its smooth, creamy, and eventful bouquet."

We all know how much that all means to me, but I thought you might fancy a link. I started my ritual the way I always do - with a little squeeze to see how full and how humid the cigar is and figure out my best plan of attack.  After a moment, I realized that my trusty punch was the way to go and gently bored out the cap. It was here that I noticed the capping was quite extensive. A very thick top of about 3 layers, more than normal, which lent itself to a great punch rather than a cut. In fact, my opinion is to stay away from the cutter on this particular size.
I took a cold draw and a good sniff and did take notice of the nutty, "eventful" bouquet from the listing above.  Not at all like "dirt tobacco" smell, but rather light and airy- almost that heavy aroma with a freshly baked muffin or bread. Not at all harsh, with just a hint of sweetness. If you're a fan of nuts (stop fucking giggling right now..)...As satisfying as it is to eat a handful of good cashews - this cigar lends that same gratification in its aroma.  I almost didn't want to light it - but I did- 'cause fuck it.. it's a cigar.  Using my Rocky Patel 3 torch lighter, I toasted the end and took a good puff.  Much to my surprise, the flavor and draw is exactly what is stated on the manufacturer's website.  A smooth draw, with a light-bodied and creamy smoke though there was not much "eventful" occurrence through the cigar. The long filler held up well and I only dropped ash once- at about 2 inches- but that may have been attributed to the breeze. The flavor stayed just as it initially portrayed itself, all the way up to the last 1.5 - 2 inches. Pepper? Mild, but still a bittery sort of pepper nonsense that hadn't been present at all anywhere else in the cigar. It was a little surprising. In these last couple draws, I can only assume the buildup of oils through the cigar produced a mild pepper aftertaste that - while not unpleasant - didn't really sit will with me since I don't really care for surprise pepper. Especially after the dream that

I had just smoked through! Still, it was not too much of a punch in the face and I was able to effectively quell the issue with some Lexington and power through it handily.  Just be ready for it.  If you don't get it- consider it a bonus and enjoy it thoroughly! Overall I did enjoy the cigar and would definitely make a purchase, if not just for the awesome gold band.

Overall, we're talking about another sub $5 cigar here going toe to toe with your favorite stick. I'm going to pick some up for the foreseeable future and hit the course with a couple to use the band to shoot some light into my competitors' eyes while they're over a putt. I'm seriously digging the box, which looks like a gold bar with trapezoidal sides.

Bottom Line:  A good cigar for a good price. If you're wishy-washy on what you'd like today this is a smart choice. Smooth character, and not the wildest gal at the party but thoroughly enjoyable with good conversation. Keep an eye out for the pepper switch and either put it out before it gets to be too much, or make sure you have a back-up plan to wash down the finish.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Forgiving the Un-forgiving

I want to start by saying "I'm sorry" to blade irons.  I'm sorry I blamed you for hurting my hands. I'm sorry I blamed you when I fell short on that shot and I'm sorry I said you don't feel soft enough.  I realize now, it's not you, it's me. If you can forgive me like I forgive you then we can be together forever.  Reading this, as you may or may not have surmised, I'm a little off. Also, I'm into the minutiae of feel and technology. I love tech stuff. I have the "tinkering affliction" where I constantly change and try new equipment in the hopes of dialing in that perfect set. With my most recent purchase, I have found the set of clubs that will take me well into the next 10 years, and along the way I tried some great technology.  All of these have led me to one conclusion: Forgiving is only forgiving if you need it. Club manufacturers have come up with more gimmicks than I care to say I've fallen for. From absurdly large heads to club face inserts and even interchangeable weights.  All in the name of customizing and making a club more "forgiving".  Let's first talk about what that means:

Webster holds one definition for FORGIVING as "allowing room for error or weakness".  I think that's dead on the money of what club manufacturers are going for. I don't think that's what they got. I think what they came up with were more compensatory irons than forgiving ones. We all want to hit the ball as far as we possibly can and as often as we can.  Of course, to do that we need to hit the ball in the center of the club. It's as simple as that.  

  THE sweet spot is the point of contact  
where the mass of the club is the 
most resistant to twisting thereby
transferring the most energy
 to the ball (WHeWW!)
The sweet spot is still a sweet spot, it does not get any larger with technology - there is only that one spot that is perfect. The tech just makes the mis-hits a little better. In woods, it's called "Gear Effect" and it's relatively simple (click the link for details). Basically, the curve of the club face helps to offset the issues of toe and heel hits. Irons are flat and cannot help with this, so the tech is a little more involved and thusly, the ball is treated differently on off-center hits. 

The FORGIVING sweet spot
"But Chris, why do pros play these clubs and have such good control over things?".  Answer: Because they're pros. By definition they hit 90+% of their shots on the sweet spot - therefore no gear effect, and no overcorrection. When they do hit it a little off-center they end up in the trees, or pond or wherever. Not all of us are good enough to hit it like the pros all the time so we need more forgiving clubs. Clubs that take those off center hits and make corrections to stop energy loss and misdirection.  (GolfWRX blog has a great writeup on this)

Still....The issue that I believe and have personally noticed is that this forgiving nature is a burden to true shot making.  During the course of my testing between the Maltby irons and my AP2's, I noticed that when I tried to work the ball left or right with the AP2 irons I was able to do so with nearly perfect control only on a dead center impact. If I hit it on the toe or heel I would actually get an over correction leading to some funky directional issues and bad thoughts about what I had just hit. I repeated this test with my Cobra Carbon CB irons, which had less forgiveness technology than the AP2 but still were not a blade. I noticed the same issue, but not as pronounced. I felt much better about those irons and I was able to have more control over the very minute movements of the ball but there was still some minor over correction when I hit off-center. Now, I'm no Iron Byron machine, but after a couple of buckets and a roll of impact tape, I found that even the dead center impact shots from both irons were dispersing from where I was hitting them by a few yards.  I found with the blades, there was no such correction.  When it went straight it was like it  was on a rope and even swings that were less than accurate were within tolerances. The distance off those blade miscues died an awful death, but they stayed online. You could put a small blanket over the shots where they landed whereas with the correction irons, it was more like a king size bed sheet.  This got me thinking about what I really, REALLY want in a club - irons particularly - and how much of the hype I should be listening to. 

As a solid 3.5 index, my irons are my game. I NEED accurate shots into pins. I NEED control of my shots and to know that when I hit the ball in that direction, it's going to go that way 100% of the time when I hit it well. I want to knock down pins and scare the hole from just about anywhere. I'm also not bad at ball-striking so I opted for the blades in my high lofted irons. This test has me seriously considering my 5 through 7 irons as well whereas I was looking at replacing them with cavity-back irons before.  

After all this, I've come to the opinion that if a player plays to a 6 handicap or below, they should probably be playing blades. They will make you better faster than any other "forgiving club", and the good news is that every manufacturer has a version so your brand loyalty is intact. So I pose this to my bored readers test out a set against your own sometime and see what shakes loose. Are you playing the irons you WANT or the irons you NEED? 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Your best golf on the cheap: Part 2

On Friday in Part 1, I wrote about my first impressions with the Maltby brand of clubs. More specifically the KE4 Tour Hybrid iron and the MMB-17 blade that I ordered to place up against my Titleist AP2 irons. Since then, I've taken them back to the range, and played two total rounds of golf with both clubs. Here are my findings:

KE4-Tour  4 hybrid-iron Results:

The KE4 will be permanently in my bag. While Saturday's round at Overlook Golf Course found it being used mostly for punching out from under trees and more "utility work" (which it performed smartly), my round on Sunday at Crossgates Golf Course focused on full shots from both the tee and the fairway. Don't get me wrong, this stick was a great utility club but I was more interested in the full-swing capabilities. That being said, the consistency of the club saved my butt more than once on Sunday. First, my second shot on number 9, a mid-length par 5 that presented a good layup occasion for the KE4. 180 yards to the end of the fairway, up hill (about a club) and into the teeth of a 20mph wind, the ball held it's line and trajectory better than anything I've got in the bag. It was a pure strike with absolutely no ballooning and no movement.  I had 58 yards into the green with my wedge afterward and was able to sink the putt for birdie. Money well spent already 

The second pressure use came with the tee shot on number 12.  Downhill Par 4 with tree trouble right and a ditch, trees, and water trouble left. If the tee ball is too far right, you'll be additionally blocked out by this big bastard of a tree right in front of the green. The ideal tee ball is about 215 yards off the tee box to the left of the fairway. From the elevated tee it seemed like the perfect distance for the new stick so I used it and once again it performed exactly as planned, even on a mis-hit. I came up and out of it a little bit and ended up hitting it a couple grooves low, feathering the ball to the right of my intended line. Still, It was long enough to get me to the tip of the fairway where I had a good look at the pin.

Yes, I put my 18th tee ball right in front of
the ladies tees on #10. Not Proud.
I think the biggest test between nerves and needs came on the par 5 18th hole. I stood on the tee needing a birdie for even par. Don't think that wasn't in my head just because of my back issues and club tests. I'm still out here to post a score, damnit. The 18th for me is a notoriously terrible driving hole with about 35% of my tee shots going OB left and 40% going into either the water or traps on the right. I'm 11% for fairways on this hole in the last 3 years! (stats tracked on, thanks guys!) So yea, just a few nerves on this tee box. I did what any self respecting bail out artist would do, I took a club I could swing away with without reaching trouble and bunt-sliced it into the next county. After bailing out right with my tee ball (a miss I struggled with all day long), I found myself with a distance of 177 yards, into the now two club wind, through a tree, to a safe landing area where I could have a clear and reasonable third shot into the green. The lie was average in the rough, neither buried nor was it sitting up for me. I took the 4 and decided that the play was a fade starting to the left of the tree and let the wind kill the distance, hopefully allowing the ball to land in the fairway with about 170 into the pin. In theory.  That's the shot I set up with and that's the shot I got from the club.  I was pleasantly surprised that there was ZERO drag through the rough. I expected maybe a hitch where the face got caught or turned a little with the wider sole, but the head went cleanly through the grass and I had a mostly solid strike on the ball.  There's really something to be said for the confidence felt when looking down on this club.  For you completionists... I hit a choke 7 iron from 149 (the green  is about 25 feet above the fairway) to 7 feet, leaving myself a downhill right-to-left slider.  The greens were smooth and fast at Crossgates - quite different than the punched greens at Overlook or Four Seasons previously and I'd been struggling all day with getting the speed just right. I just barely lipped it out with a little too much pace. It rolled right around the cup and I made the 7 inch comeback to post 73. The two gentleman I had been playing with had no idea what it was for and still said it was a painful lip-out, haha! 

Overall, high marks in the looks department. It's tough to make a forgiving but playable hybrid club for better players without appearing like a marshmallow, but this hits it on the money. I think even high handicappers would like this club as well.  I gave a decent score in the feel department only because the graphite shaft deadened more off-center shots. While I could feel it, it was difficult to judge how far off center I hit it.  A steel shaft would provide better feel. Distance on par with the much higher end club.  Solid marks in workability. Straight goes straight. Not a lot of over-correction on off center hits. Budget conscious at 39.99 for the head. Excellent replacement for a hybrid or a long iron, in my player's opinion.

MMB-17  #8 iron Results:

Mentioned above, the 4 iron didn't really have much of a starring role in my round at Overlook on Saturday morning. It was helpful, but when all you can do is pitch out of trees sideways, it's not really what I would call a "stroke saver" or "Pin seeker".  The 8 iron did have a more prominent role in making a good shot, however. I still didn't use it much in this round, but for what I did get out of it, I say it's a damn good purchase. Of only note was the 2nd shot into #9 from rough right of the fairway. I had 160 into the pin, which is my average 8 iron distance. The lie was semi-buried, with some grass between the face and the ball for sure. I clipped it pretty well but  fell about 10 feet short, below the hole. Yes, I missed the putt. Still, it was a good shot to a blind target from a less-than-perfect lie in the rough.  Coupled with previous range evaluation as well as the 2 small buckets I had hit on the range on Friday (1 with my AP2 and the other with MMB), that one shot was enough to satisfy my curiosity surrounding this particular combination of shaft and head. Nothing tells it like it is as well as the actual course does.  It was a demanding shot under pressure to attack the pin and it didn't let me down despite my human imperfections. It is a consistent club. I will say one thing about it and stick to my guns: Even on the range, I didn't ever feel like I hit a good shot and been "robbed" or thought I had mis-clubbed. When the ball fell short of my intended target, I could feel exactly how many grooves low or high I had hit the ball, whereas with the more "forgiving" AP2 that I've been playing I felt like I hit a solid shot more often than not and would have inconsistent feedback on distance of mis-hits and inconsistent direction on solid hits without much feedback on high/low impact.  The MMB is going into my bag and I'm going to order a 9 and PW as well with the same specs by the end of this week. 

Again, high marks for looks. If you're a player who likes a minimal top-line and offset then this is the head for you. The satin chrome, rather than full polish is a welcome change on sunny days. Solid marks for feel. Higher than the 4 iron because of the increased feedback on mis-hits.     Distance is on-par with the higher end clubs, but nothing special that will catapult you to hitting tour-distance irons. 
Excellent workability and flight capability.Some clubs are "over workable" but to get a 9 the devil is in the details and small movements. Very consistent movements and no correction to get in the way of your shot.

 Value... well, I'm still looking for the cops outside because this kind of performance is a steal at $29.99 US for the head. 

Bottom line: 

8iron:   $29.99 head + $3.99 shaft + $10.99 grip + $0.35 ferrule + a little elbow grease =  $45.00 club on par with $125.00 premium club.

4iron:  $39.99 head + $11.00 shaft + $10.99 grip + $0.25 ferrule + a little more elbow grease + $55.00 club beats $125.00 premium club.

Maltby certifies that they are 2010 groove rule compliant and playable in high-level tournaments (or honestly, I wouldn't even be trying them).  For the price of a premium head with a run-of-the-mill shaft, you can build a custom beast with these heads. I chose the rout of least investment because I like a bargain. I could only imagine what would happen if you put a $75 shaft in some of these. Still if you told me they would out-perform my AP2 710 irons even with a premium shaft, I'd never have believed it if you beat it into my head every morning.  Happy swinging!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Your best golf... on the cheap: Part1

 Last month I blogged about a great cigar for not much money. They're around $2.50 each, depending on the size. I love cheap. Cheap is good. Cheaper is GREAT! The problem with cheap is that it's not very dependable. Quite often, it's inconsistent and in the end it's not really worth what I paid anyway. Thankfully those Casa de Garcias have broken that stereotype. Of course, thinking in these terms, in walks "Custom".  Custom tends to be the opposite of Cheap.  Custom is so nice and perfectly fit to whatever I need.  I paid big money (to me) for a set of custom golf clubs. Length, lie, shaft, grip, weighting and probably most of all -- NAME.

If you've ever bought a golf product, you're paying a lot for the name. A hand towel at Wal-mart is maybe 4 bucks(?) but if you put (insert mainstream golf company here)'s name on that it goes to $20 and sometimes $30.  So i thought "what if I took my specs and built my own clubs for cheap to mimic these big box brand name clubs".  Out comes my personal "Maltby" irons. When you hear the name you may think of Rodger the Golf Channel/ NBC on-course correspondent and, for you older chaps, multiple tournament winner on the PGA tour in the 70s and 80s.  When you READ the name Maltby, it may or may not bring to mind Ralph Maltby the club designer from Sounds the same, but it's spelled different. (10 points to guess the movie).
Roger Maltbie (no relation)

Ralph Maltby

Ralph used to design clubs for Tommy Armour and is an all around fitting guru.  He developed the MPF or Maltby Playability Factor to rank clubs on how they will perform for different levels of players. With iron head price points at around $30 and shafts at about $10, I can build a set of custom golf clubs to my exact specifications for $300 or less, compared to the $1000 for the brand name clubs. I went ahead and ordered a Malby KE-4 hybrid iron and a Maltby MMB-17 8 iron to see if there was any confirmation to my thought process. Today I got them and decided to do a test against my current Titleist AP2 4 and 8 iron on the range for feel, playability, and general distance.

MMB-17 - 8 iron - 39* - 36.5"
True Temper Command Stiff

Maltby MMB-17

The 8-iron has a really nice look about it. Very "players club" with a chrome nickel plating and satin face area. Thin topline, thin sole. Turf interaction was stellar and it didn't dig as much as I originally thought it would. at 3 degrees of bounce, it actually scooped through the grass nicely! The ball came off cleanly with a much more crisp "click" sound and feel than my AP2 which is more of a muffled "thwack" with a solid but soft feel. I think I like the MMB feedback a little better because I can really tell when I hit it cleanly and when i hit it nearer the toe or heel which for me translates into MORE confidence if I miss a shot. At least I know why I missed it.

The shaft, a True Temper Command R/S flex (trimmed for Stiff), did leave a little bit to be desired. The shaft is designed for control and lower trajectory - and control it did. My shot dispersion was much tighter than my AP2, even on solid hits. I could also work the ball much more easily in both directions as well as up and down. The feel was somewhat looser than the S300 on my current 8 iron.  The Dynamic gold series have the shock absorbing "sensicore" inside. Basically it's a wire with foam wound up it in a spiral pattern. It's placed in the shaft and deadens any vibration coming from the head. I noticed it was missing when I hit one thin, but it wasn't as jarring as some would have me believe. I hit about 2 dozen balls with each and came to the conclusion that the only thing that MAY be missing is the distance factor. I hit my AP2 8 iron about 160.  I don't think I was hitting that all the time with the MMB. Still, I attribute that to the muscle back design. Traditionally, the forgiving zone on the face is only about the size of a dime or nickel whereas the AP2 irons are more like a quarter or half dollar because of the technology. I wanted a muscle back though because of the accuracy and I definitely got that.  When I get it on the course for part 2 and I'm really able to see the distance for myself instead of guestimating based on landmarks, then I'll be able to make a good decision.

Maltby KE4-Tour

KE4-Tour 4 Iron/Hybrid - 23*- 38.5"
Graffaloy ProCustom Stiff flex
The 4 hybrid iron is a very nice club in itself. This configuration beat out my current 4 in terms of feel and playability again. The graphite shaft absorbed the shock much better than the steel shaft even with sensicore (no surprise there really), but what really impressed me is the way the ball catapaulted off the face! Holy cow were my first words after one strike.  The ball flew higher and landed more softly than my current 4 iron for sure yet both have the same characteristics as far as length and swingweight. Judging by the flight, I will go out on a limb and say that the spin rate on the KE4 is much higher than the AP2 - which is exactly what I was looking to get for my long approach shots.  The KE4 has a wider top line and sole but the head is about that of a standard blade with very little offset. It's made to be a cross between iron and hybrid. I'm normally not a fan of "fat irons" but it really worked for my eye in this case and I think the shallow face helped that a lot. Turf interaction from the wider sole was really nice, regardless of the width and I didn't feel it digging in like my 4 iron usually does. I felt like it was much easier to hit than even my current 3-hybrid - which just seems too big to use in the rough or sometimes even from the fairway - so why bother having it? As for the Graffaloy shaft - it performed exactly as spec'd. Very light, stiff flex and high launch. I couldn't ask for much more --- but I did.  I demanded the ball do things that I normally have
trouble doing with my current players clubs. In control, the KE4 with Graffaloy Pro Custom out-performed my AP2 w/ DG S300 smartly.  I was able to work the ball in both directions at will and had an easier time feathering the ball with the KE4 than the AP2. Normally my 4 iron is draw, un-willing fade and big slice as far as shot choices. The Maltby 4 iron actually flew straight and accurate and when I wanted to move the ball, I was able to do so in small increments. 5 yards, 15 yards, feather it just a couple... the shots were there when I wanted them and I didn't feel like it was a "lucky strike" when I pulled them off.  Once again, when I get it on the course for part 2 then I can really say if it's all over better.  One thing I think I definitely dislike about this club is the anodized black finish. I have the same finish on my Taylormade R11, but that's a driver. I don't hit sandy balls that much with it.  With this being a utility iron, it's going to have a lot of turf interaction and that's going to take a toll on the finish, wearing out a hit groove.  After hitting only a few damp range balls it picked up a few marks on the face already. Love that sweetspot though!

Click here to check out Part 2!