As a whole, we are a nation of consumers, and when it comes to fast food restaurants or golf equipment, so many of our decisions are influenced by name recognition, brand loyalty and the messages delivered through marketing of all sorts.
So when you add up reputation, commercials touting technological advances, and Tour player endorsements, where does actual quality enter the equation?
For Wilson Staff, that's the million dollar question.
For the huge number of golfers who knew the Wilson Staff brand long before the TaylorMades and Callaways took over the industry by planting their logos all over Tour bags, and spent a fortune making sure they can tout themselves as the "most popular (fill in the blank with specific piece of equipment) on Tour," Wilson Staff was king.
In fact, you might be shocked to know that through the years, 61 major championships have been won with Wilson Staff irons, most recently the three titles captured by Padraig Harrington.
Personally, I've always had a soft spot for Wilson Staff equipment. My first set of Wilson Staff irons were the cavity back cast Midsize in the mid-1990s, and in fact, they remain in my brother's bag to this day. I still love grabbing the 8-iron from him when we're out together and reminiscing about the early days of my golf life.
Once I got more serious about my game, I moved up to a set of Wilson Staff RM Midsize Forged, a perimeter weighted club that remained in my bag from the late-1990s until just two seasons ago when I went hunting for something new. My first thought was to find the latest from Wilson Staff, but that's where I started running into problems. Simply finding them in Golf Galaxy, Dick's or any of the independent shops in my area was impossible. This is when I started doing more homework.
As it turns out, golfers tend to be a tad snooty when it comes to equipment. I know, I know, I'm not breaking news there. But it seems that the biggest knock on Wilson is that in addition to their top-shelf Staff line of equipment, they've also produced a popular line of entry-level gear that can be found in non-golf hotspots such as Wal-Mart. I guess no one notices that Titleist makes some of the cheapest balls on the market, yet the $20/dozen version has no influence on how a Pro V1 performs.
But in Wilson's case, it's become an undeniable stigma. Combined with a lack of presence in America's biggest chain golf shops and a lull in visibility in the first part of the past decade, and the Wilson Staff brand has suffered like no classic should.
So, knowing what I knew, I decided I couldn't give up on finding the latest offerings from Wilson Staff, the FG Tours that have been in the bags of Ricky Barnes and Harrington. Over the past two years I have demoed just about ever players iron out there. The list includes Callaway's X-Forged, Titleist's AP2s, several models of Pings and Mizunos, Bridgestone's J33 and J36 and Nickent's 4dx Pro to name a few. It was an eye-opening process and several times I thought I'd found "the ones" but I remained intrigued by the FG Tours I simply couldn't find. Eventually I secured a review set directly from Wilson Staff and let me say, they match up with everything I have hit in the past few years.
The first thing I noticed was how clean the design is, with a gorgeous thin top line at address and a very understated cavity back. Standing at the ball, these look like a blade, which fits my eye nicely. I'm not the only one. Padraig Harrington was instrumental in developing the head shape. And, just last week I was having the lie angles checked by my normal club builder and given how grumpy he can be, you'd think he was holding a newborn the way he was oohing and ahhing over them.
"Wow, that's a great looking iron," he said as he popped it onto the loft-lie machine, finding they were dead on the money straight from WS, three degrees flat, "it's really a shame that people don't realize how great Wilson's irons are, and that they don't have the same reputation they used to."
He was making the exact same point I had been thinking over the past few months, but especially over the last couple of weeks as I cranked up my range sessions to get ready for the season. The FG Tour irons are flat-out performers. When struck on the sweet spot, they offer that feeling I can best describe as deep and pure. It's like the feeling you get when taking a bite out of something delicious, when the eyes roll back in your head and you feel good deep inside.
I've been able to work the ball in either direction, keep it low or flip it high. Since my recent miss is out toward the toe, I can vouch for the feedback on these clubs, as they let me know where my misses are (and in turn, confirmed by the residue of nasty range balls that spent as much time buried under the snow this winter as the rest of us). These aren't game-improvement irons, so it's understandable that balls struck off-center will suffer, and honestly, as an upper single-digit whose ball-striking can use work, I'm probably on the cusp of these being a tad too much club. I have found that hits toward the toe will still fly straight but the loss of distance is about one to two clubs.
As far as feel, I'd say the FG Tours are in the middle of the softness spectrum compared to other forged irons, which feels just right to me. They aren't as soft and buttery as the Mizunos or Miuras I've hit, but they're quite a bit softer than the Titleists and Bridgestones. Personally, I play a players iron because I want the feedback of a good vs. bad strike as well as the reward of finding the sweet spot and I get both from the FG Tours. They're harsh on a poor hit and pure as anything on the sweet spot.
All in all, it's simply baffling that Wilson Staff has become better known for its entry-level line of clubs that help make the game accessible to so many newcomers, rather than standing tall for the dozens of major titles won.
As one of the oldest, most established brands in all of sports, it was reassuring to see that the quality remains sky high. With a new line of FG Tour wedges now on the market, as well as some of the most beautiful blades out there today (the FG-62), Wilson Staff continues to surge following some darker days. Reports say that a second version of the FG Tour irons will surface in the near future, and even their FG Tour ball ranks right up there with the rest of the premium balls I've played. Add in the well-reviewed D-11 game-improvement irons, as well as rapidly improving woods and hybrids, and Wilson Staff's assembled quite the impressive lineup.
So as you consider your next equipment purchase, before defaulting to whatever's in the bag of the most guys playing on TV, give Wilson Staff a fair shot.