The four-piece Hogan Apex Tour is actually a first cousin to the Strata Tour Ultimate balls. (Both companies operate under the Spalding golf umbrella). In fact, the Apex Tour originally began development as a Strata project. The folks at Spalding say that the ball turned out so well that they deemed it worthy of being the flagship of a new line of premium golf balls carrying the vaunted Hogan name. This turned out to be savvy move on Spalding’s behalf. The Hogan signature script gave the ball an instant cachet that it may not have had under the Strata banner.
Feel and Appearance
The Hogan Apex Tour has a serious, understated appearance. It comes wrapped in handsome, expensive-looking, black boxes. Everything about this ball says that it is a high-priced, performance-oriented ball intended for demanding players. It’s a good look that makes most players want to give the ball a try. Many Titleist, Callaway and Maxfli players have been immediately drawn to the popular, new ball.
Our testers also liked the look of the Apex Tour. As with the Strata Tour Ultimate, the Apex Tour has a small, bearing-sized energy core. Feelwise, it can compete very successfully against premium, high-spin balls from Titleist, Maxfli and Precept. It is responsively sweet with no trace of the muted dullness that can afflict some softer balls. It is, like the Ultimate, a high-flying, enjoyable ball that leaves the clubface with a pronounced sense of liveliness. Compared to the Ultimate, it is softer, less bouncy ball, however.
Aside from being a pleasant ball to use, the Hogan has turned out to be, arguably, the longest hitting, high-spin balls we have tested. Though most of our testing with this ball was done in playing rounds, we did use it in four, general comparison sessions with drivers. In these sessions, we used the following balls: Callaway HX Red and Blue, Wilson True Distance, Pinnacle Gold Distance, Wilson ProStaff Platinum Pure Distance, Top Flite 3000 Super Distance and Super Feel and, in one session, the Titleist Pro V1.
Throughout the sessions, the Apex Tour more than held its own in terms of distance. It maintained a small, but clearly distinct edge over the premium balls from Callaway, Wilson and Titleist. The rival balls showed better consistency of distance, but best hits from the Hogan were routinely longer by several yards. Of the fifteen longest drives posted by premium balls in these sessions, fourteen came from the Hogan. The Callaway HX Red, which came in an overall strong second in most sessions, delivered the other long hit.
Against the two-piece, distance balls used in the sessions, the Apex Tour also fared well. The overall distance winner was the Top Flite 3000 Super Distance. Best hit yardages for the Super Distance were three to six yards longer than the Hogan’s. Against the other two-piece balls, however, the Hogan proved to be an easy equal on best hits. Its maximum distances were almost identical to those of the Pinnacle Gold Distance and were slightly superior to those of the Top Flite 3000 Super Feel and Wilson ProStaff Pure Distance. However, on weak hits, the Apex Tour showed a tendency to fall off shorter then did all of the lower-spinning, two-piece balls.
The Top Flite 3000 Super Feel is a popular, low-compression ball that is also lively, sweet and fun to hit. Side by side, the Super Feel and the Apex Tour produced very similar flight patterns, though the Hogan did show slightly more curvature to its trajectories due to its higher spin rates. Both often flew high, but neither ballooned.
With the release of the Titleist Pro V1, premium, higher-spin balls began to approach the performance of two-piece, distance balls in terms of maximum distance. The Apex Tour continues that positive evolution. The fact that this soft-feeling, high-spinning, premium ball can hold its own against most distance balls will be a very real boon for many players. Range testing echoed what we saw on the golf course in terms of tee shot distances. This is a ball that can deliver the big mega-hit when asked to. Although roll after landing does not account for too much added yardage, hang time is great and carry is outstanding.
It should be noted that not every player will see superior distance with the Apex Tour. This Hogan seems to respond disproportionately better to stronger swings than to slower ones. It likes to have some substantial juice laid into it at impact. A senior tester who hits relatively high, soft fades found that the Hogan could climb a tad too high and fall off a bit too short to the right to suit his tastes. He found that lower-trajectory, premium balls such as the Callaway HX Red and Titleist Pro V1 Star served his long-wood needs better.
Our stronger draw hitters and power faders have seen better, comparative results with the Apex Tour than have the slower swing players. Big pulls and hooks became a problem for some, however. The Hogan is a very enjoyable ball to smack hard. Unlike some other well-known, sweet-feeling, premium balls, this ball can launch lively and fly high for great distances. That knowledge caused a little over-zealousness in our testers. In opposition, the Titleist Pro V1 and Callaway HX balls seemed to inspire a bit more restraint.
In spite of its good performance, the Apex Tour is not for everyone. Off of the tee, many players will benefit noticeably from lower-hitting, hotter-running, distance balls that penetrate better and roll farther. But – and it’s a big “but” – players who do yearn for a high-spin ball that is capable of delivering the truly big hits will find that this Hogan has enough internal resolve to get the job done. Headwinds on a long par-5 may leave it well in the wake of true, low-spin distance balls, but in all other circumstances, the Apex Tour will be in contention.
In playing rounds, control with the Apex Tour has been quite good. In contrast, during range sessions, patterns have not been particularly tight. However, it should again be emphasized: This is a ball that inspires enthusiasm in its users. With the very reliable Callaway HX and Wilson True balls, our testers tended to think, “A little dull, but accurate. Go for control.” Patterns have been consistently tight with both the Wilsons and the Callaways. With the Apex, our testers – a pathologically weak-willed lot intent primarily upon self-amusement – liked to watch the Hogan soar. They were routinely thinking, “This ball is fun to hit. I’mma gonna blast it.” Consequently, range results have not been as consistent as those we have seen during serious playing rounds.
How does the Apex Tour compare to its corporate kinfolk, the Stratas? While the Hogan is a dynamic ball, its performance is not as exuberant as that of the Tour Ultimate and Tour Ultimate 2. The Hogan is not quite so high-flying and lively as its Strata cousins. In comparison, it feels more like a softer, balata-style ball. It seems to bite better with less of the bounciness of the Stratas. In terms of consistency of accuracy, the four-piece Hogan has been more predictable than the sometimes unruly Ultimates.
One of the stated design goals of the Spalding engineers was to make the Apex Tour a moderately high-spin ball. They did not want a super spinner that would generate excessive backspin. They succeeded in their efforts. Unlike some high-spin balls, the Hogan does not readily go to extreme. It can easily be made to bite and grab, but it does not reel back excessively on full wedge shots. Nor does it tend to balloon upwards without serious provocation. The Apex Tour produces a more gently looping trajectory than that of its primary rival, the Titleist Pro V1. It does not climb to a pronounced peak before dropping off as the Titleists are designed to do. In addition, the Hogan does not generate the active spin that the Maxfli A10 is wont to produce. It is not as apt to reel back or scoot off left or right after landing. Those who find the A10 somewhat unpredictable may prefer the more subdued Hogan. Those who love the A10 may not. Some players may find that the Hogan lacks a bit of the stopping power of the above-mentioned rivals on longer approach shots.
Readers should not be misled: The Apex Tour is a high-spin ball. It’s just not an ultra-high spin ball. It will definitely produce much more spin than most bump and run players need. Back and sidespin has been greater with the Hogan than that we have seen from the Callaway HX balls, the Nike TA’s and the Titleist Pro V1 Star. High shots, slices and hooks can be exaggerated and forward roll is minimal on most shots.
Around the green, the feel and touch of the Apex Tour has been found to be quite fine. The four-piece construction, 78 compression rate and soft, urethane cover all combine to produce a soft, responsive action to the ball. While not as buttery smooth as our favorite short game balls, the Titleist Professional and the Maxfli Revolution, the Hogan did get thumbs up from all for its greenside performance. It is a responsive ball that may be played aggressively without too much fear of running hot past the pin. Finesse players will be able to cozy the Apex Tour up to the hole – maybe not quite as close as with the Professional or the Revolution, but close enough to suit most. Even our resident flop shot junkie liked the Apex Tour. He found it lively yet predictable for use with his flashy (and needlessly high) short game. He found the Hogan to be a very satisfying, all-around ball – good on firm greens and everywhere else.
As for putting: The Apex Tour got mixed responses. We used sleeves from two, different batches on our slick, test surface. Though the second batch rolled quite nicely; the first batch did not. It produced some semi-sloppy rolls that fell off decidedly in their last rotations. The sense of imbalance was not as great as we have seen in some other premium, multilayered balls, but it was still there. On the course, there were no objections to the quality of the Hogan’s roll and most praised its pace and feel. To our regret, however, no one has seen the Apex Tour display the exemplary putting characteristics that we saw with the Strata Tour Ultimate. That ball tracked with a beautiful purity and almost predetermined constancy.
Luckily for Spalding, the Hogan Apex Tour lives up to the lofty image it projects. This is a very fine golf ball. It is still too early to tell, but the Apex Tour seems well on the way to restoring golf ball respect and dignity to the Hogan name. It should make some significant inroads into Titleist’s upper end market dominance. For a high-spin, premium ball, it produces excellent distances and generates very manageable spin rates. In addition, this is a sweet-feeling ball that is highly enjoyable to use. It has a sense of enthusiasm about it.
All that said, this Hogan is not a ball that weaker players, or players with poor control, will probably want to play. The Apex Tour works best for harder hitting, low-handicappers. The Hogan is an expensive ball and most higher handicapped players will not see a decent return on their investment over the price of less expensive, two-piece balls – unless they place a premium on having a ball with a relatively gentle touch around the green.
Note: Durability has been an issue with early Hogan Apex Tour users. We did not see any undue wear on the balls we have used, but many aggressive wedge and iron players (often with square grooves) have complained about excessive shredding and premature wear. Spalding turned out to be “on the ball” concerning this situation. They already have the problem covered – or rather, recovered. All Hogan balls now being produced have, in the words of Spalding, “improved abrasion resistance”. Since the urethane covers have been toughened up, the newest Hogans may be a bit less sweet feeling compared to our test balls. Their spin rates may also be reduced by a rotation or two coming off the clubface.