Monday, March 21, 2005

Callaway Big Bertha 454 -- best Callaway driver yet?

Review: Callaway Big Bertha 454
Price: US$300


A few months ago, the fine folks at Callaway Canada decided they wanted me to tour through their facilities and get a chance to go through their fitting process. Essentially it was an attempt to show that, following the acquisition of Hogan, Callaway is no longer just a mass market company, but a clubmaker offering goods for better players as well.
Interesting then, that Callaway spent most of my tour pushing Callaway, and not Hogan.

Example

The aim, apparently, was to get the Callaway Big Bertha 454 in my hands and prove to me that it wasn't just another Callaway driver. As far as I can tell through my first outing with it, they were right. And my daughter, Sydney, aged seven months, thinks it is pretty hot as well.
In Canada, Callaway has spent a lot of time pushing its ability to offer customized fitting through a simulator that measures ball rotation, launch angle, distance and accuracy. It was an interesting process -- I found that given the distance I hit the ball with a driver (I carry the ball in the air 265-270), I would benefit from a driver with lower loft.
So after being fitted, I waited for the driver to arrive, and finally, after a couple of weeks of waiting, I took the driver to an indoor range. I came away impressed. Unlike many of the earlier Callaway models I hit, the 454 has a flat face, not toed-in like many of the company's earlier drivers, which seem to be trying to keep their slice happy clientele from hitting it into the trees on the right side. That meant I could work the ball and still hit the fade that I've spent the last few years perfecting.
The club also felt powerful, with a hot face that offered strong trajectory.
That said, I can't really comment on distance yet, having only hit the 454 in an indoor range (too much snow in Canada). Early reviews seem to suggest the club is giving up some distance for accuracy, but I'm wondering whether the combination Graffaloy Blue shaft and 9 degrees of loft on my 454 will compensate for it.

Problems: I am always surprised when a company comes out with a $300 or up driver and puts the cheapest grip available on it. If one can customize the shaft, why not the grip? There's nothing more annoying than getting your new driver and having to immediately take it to the shop to get the grip changed. I'm still not thrilled with the sound the 454 makes, but it isn't as bad as some of the earlier Callaways or as distinctive as Ping.

Overall: Callaway says the Big Bertha 454 "delivers the kind of scorching power usually measured in horses." I can't say that yet -- I've got to take this to the course in a few weeks once the snow clears to determine that fact. But my first impressions are that this is the most interesting club Callaway has delivered to the market in some time. I'll be interested to see if it gets lost in a market packed full of TaylorMade and Titleist options.

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