Nike "The Oven" Tour

VIP Treatment from Nike
Getting VIP treatment was a new experience for me.  I don’t see myself as a VIP.  I’m just a simple guy that writes golf reviews on this website.  But I think that Nike understands the impact that simple Internet golf writers have on the market.  Twelve other Internet writers and myself were invited to “The Oven” for a VIP experience with Nike.  

Before I get to the best part, “The Oven”, let me share the other fun we had with Nike.  Having all the travel arrangements in place, I was excited to learn more and see more from Nike.  The first VIP treatment was the chauffer with a Nike Golf sign in his hands waiting for me at the airport.  Off in the towncar we went to join up with the others at the Sheraton downtown Ft. Worth.  Since my flight had a minor delay, I headed straight to the restaurant for supper.  Again, the treatment was top shelf.  The open bar, appetizers and steak dinner were excellent.   After meeting and greeting the Nike Public Relations people I had emailed many times, but never met in person, I headed off to settle in for the night.  Entering my room, there was a Nike Backpack full of goodies.  It had the latest Nike golf polos, a long sleeve shirt, sunglasses and a pass for the PGA Colonial event.

The next day had a full schedule of events.  The shuttle bus picked us up bright and early after an awesome buffet breakfast.  We were taken just steps from the entrance to the Colonial, and entered right in front of the Ben Hogan statue.  It was a great opportunity to walk around, soak in the tradition, follow the Nike staffers and see the other big names on the PGA.  The field was stocked with really good players.  We saw it all from John Daly’s bombs on the range, David Duval hitting some birdies, Phil Mickelson struggling and Zach Johnson rolling the rock.   It was a laid back opportunity to take in some PGA golf.

As the afternoon heat rolled in, the shuttle bus returned us to the hotel for a little dip in the pool and clean up for the main event.  We headed out to “the Oven” late in the afternoon.  Upon arrive at “The Oven” we were all amazed at how low key this place was.  The signage was minimal and the facility, while 50,000 square feet, was not overly imposing.   The outside of the facility is set up with a great short and midrange area for sand shots, chips, putting, short iron play and any other imaginable challenge.  We could also see a small range off the end of one building.  Interestingly enough, there is driving range and course right next door.

As we entered “the Oven” we saw a small museum like setting.  On one wall was the history of the Slingshot iron concept, on another wall was the history of Nike Golf Clubs with all the different club heads and dates.  Opposite the clubs was a complete history of Nike Golf products from the early days up to the present.  One other wall featured all the Nike Athletes most recent wins and a history of all the wins on tour by the 41 Nike Golfers.  Completing the VIP treatment was incredible exotic food from chef Tim Love of Lonesome Dove Restaurant and an open bar.

As we were browsing around and taking the history all in a couple of the Nike designers and fitters joined us and fielded one on one questions.  It was really nice to talk with people that knew what they were talking about and yet had a real down to earth, laid back perspective.

Finally the tour began, guided by Matt Plumb and Tom Stites himself.  He has made a name for himself as a great club designer and innovator.  His history with the Ben Hogan Company is the main reason that Nike Golf’s “Oven” is in Ft. Worth.  The tour began with a PowerPoint presentation about where the five head engineers for Nike came from, how the facility started and where it is at now.  Again we really felt like VIPs as Tom and his staff graciously answered any questions we had and was willing to sit and talk to each of us individually.

As the tour continued we got to see a majority of the club building tools that Nike uses to test their clubs for specs, legal requirements, durability and also test the competitors.  There is a sound booth for dialing in the exact tone their clubs make, as well as a special CAD machine connected to a prototype building machine.  This allows them to take the concepts and put them into a rough prototype in hours rather than weeks.  The tour continued with the club building room and the club grinding room.  You could see their VIP treatment of their athletes.  Each athlete has 3 sets built for them to the exact specs they desire.  There were bags, boxes, heads, shafts, and grips all over the place with various tags on them of the various Nike pros.  While we didn’t get to see some of the prototype products or products in development because of patent and development secrets, we did get to see how the process works.

The VIP treatment continued with an outstanding supper on the patio between the main “Oven” building and their putting/driving range building.  The final phase of the tour was to see the technology that goes into fitting, putters, balls and clubs to the athlete.  Here we leaned about David Franklin’s creation; the Method putter.  They had a full SAM Puttlab set up to track every tiny movement of the golf ball from the putter face to the hole.  It was interesting to learn how the Method works even in comparison to Nike’s previous putters.

This smaller building was more like a dream garage.  While it wasn’t full of cars, it had clubs, shafts and balls everywhere.  The end of the building had large overhead doors that opened up to the driving range.  This allowed both indoor and outdoor fittings with a Trackman Launch Monitor.  In the back corner of the garage was an Iron Byron and a fridge of snell golf balls for testing.  Here is also where there were the New VR V-Rev wedges.  I got the opportunity to chat with Charlie Knight about the new C-grind on these wedges, which are tour inspired.  Tom Stites was also chipping and putting in the background and fielded a few more questions here and there.  

All in all “the Oven” is the heart and soul of Nike Golf.  They have come a long ways from their humble beginnings.  Their goal is to have 14 Nike clubs in everyone’s bag, including all their staff players.

While Nike’s VIP treatment at “the Oven” is currently limited to mainly PGA pros, and a rare opportunity for media folks like myself, they suggested that in the future they hope to offer this VIP treatment to the consumer too.  I was really impressed by how hard Nike is working to put out the absolute best products possible at the tour level and for the consumers.  They understand clubs with 230 years of combined design experience; at the same time they are making clubs to improve scores for the common golfer.  I’m also amazed that I would be treated like VIP as a simple Internet writer, but they understand that this is where the information gets out in 2010.  I had a great experience being treated like a VIP by Nike.

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“This visit was sponsored by Nike Golf, I was able to see their R&D Headquarters, The OVEN, and learn more about their brand. I also received sample product to review.  The opinions expressed in this article are only my views.”