The golf bag scene today is more exciting than it's ever been. Instead of a row of bags with little difference besides the brand, now there are many options. With more consumers being willing to go online to buy bags, the market has opened up to new direct-to-consumer brands.
One of the first of this new breed of bag brands to make a splash was Vessel. With a clean, minimalist look, the brand quickly gained a strong following in the luxury bag category.
Over the past few years, however, this space has become more crowded, with fellow DTC brands like Stitch Golf and legacy specialty bag brands such as Jones Golf turning more online. Even the significant OEMs seem to have taken design cues from Vessel and others in updating their bags.
All this means that it's not good enough to make a great-looking bag anymore. Now, the emphasis has to be on an excellent performing bag along with the looks. In this review, we'll see if the latest Vessel bag is living up to the brand's luxury reputation (as well as its price tag).
While Vessel had been turning heads at the PGA Merchandise Show since 2013, their original impact in the industry was hard to see. While Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, and many others started using their custom staff bags, the Vessel brand was overshadowed by the corporate logos dominating the sides.
Within the past few years, however, the Carlsbad, CA-based company has made a much stronger push into the general consumer market. This push includes more golf bag options along with non-golf goods such as luggage and accessories.
Vessel is also notable for its social consciousness. For several years, they have implemented a Buy a Bag, Give a Bag program where a school backpack is donated to a student in need for each bag purchased. Each Vessel golf bag features a unique number above the Vessel mission statement to signify the number of backpacks donated. As the bag I received attests, that number is now reaching almost 100,000.
The Player III Stand Bag
New for 2021, Vessel released the Player III stand bag. Vessel rebuilt this bag from the ground up with several updated features from the original Player and Player II bags. Like most Vessel bags, the Player III is constructed primarily from a synthetic-leather material that is durable and easy-to-clean while giving the premium look and feel of a leather bag. The Player III bag is available in both a 6-way and 14-way divided top and five colorway options.
For full details and specifications, check the Player III product page on Vessel's website.
Without a doubt, the Player III is a striking bag. I went with the white bag both for its clean looks and also to test out the claims that the material is relatively easy to keep clean. The bag includes a color and material-matched rain hood, a cart strap sleeve for when riding, and a small combination lock to secure the valuables pocket. The bag's straps came pre-attached, so no instructions or setup are necessary outside of removing the plastic.
I went with the 6-way top out of personal preference. Even without a 14-way top, I still found the process of pulling out clubs to be as smooth as any bag I've had. There were no signs of bunching or tangling.
For the carry straps, the Player III features a semi-rigid structure that is easy to slip your arms into. Vessel calls the straps their new Equilibrium 2.0 system, which offers balance and comfort and can change between dual-strap and single-single strap carrying quickly. Fully loaded, I found the bag very balanced and stayed that way even around the course. My club is very hilly, turning walks into hikes, so the fact that the bag stayed so stable was definitely a plus.
While I definitely look more for function over form, I still like to look good out on the golf course. In this regard, the Player III definitely positively draws attention. While I've gotten a comment or two on the Sunday Loma bag I frequently take a half-set of clubs out with, I don't think I've ever been complimented on my golf bag before. The Player III has gotten several. While waiting on the first tee or down on the practice range, I could definitely notice people looking over the bag and a few asking me about who made it.
Player III Bag Features
As to the function and storage of the Player III, the best word I can think of is "intentional." Far from being just about the looks, each pocket and placement feels very thought out and useful.
One of my personal favorites is the dual water bottle holders that bracket the ball pocket. These expand out to hold various bottle sizes. They have magnetic closures to keep them tucked against the bag when not in use. This small addition helps maintain the bag's clean lines. Another magnet closure seals a large microfiber pocket able to hold a rangefinder, phone, or other devices. It is placed for easy access while walking.
As an Arccos user, I found this pocket to be an excellent place for my phone. I could quickly grab it to check things then toss it back in the pocket without messing with zippers.
While there aren't any compartments that can handle a pair of shoes, I can't think of much else you couldn't find a place for in the bag. I tend to pack pretty light with my bags. Still, I tried to load it with everything I conceivably would want to. This included plenty of balls & tees, a light jacket, an extra glove, and pair of socks, as well as a folding tripod for my phone and GrooveIt brush. Even when carrying all the extras, I noticed that the bag still didn't look bulky or overstuffed.
As for the bag's durability, over numerous rounds the past couple of weeks, no issues have popped up. I've played in mist and drizzle a couple of times, and the material seems to hold up well to the elements. Additionally, mud and turf easily wipe off with my towel. I haven't had to really clean the bag yet, but I am told that a Mr. Clean Magic Erasure will take care of any marks or stains the bag might pick up.
There aren't many negatives to note for the bag itself, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind.
First, the Player III is the largest of Vessel's stand bags. At 6lbs., the bag is about 2lbs heavier than "lightweight" carry bags. Those two pounds are equivalent to around 2 extra golf clubs or 20 golf balls, nothing massive, but still noticeable.
While I never had a problem walking 18 holes with it, I wouldn't likely try for 36. The size and feature set make the Player III more of a tweener. It sits between a carry-only and a hybrid bag. The Vessel VLX model might be a better choice for walking-only golfers. The Player III also doesn't have some of the storage features that some hybrid or cart bags have, such as an insulated cooler pocket for drinks.
Last, while the strap system fits me just about perfectly, I'm relatively skinny. I can't say for sure that the straps won't accommodate larger body types, but the semi-rigid structure does make me wonder. This brings up one of the primary disadvantages of any direct-to-consumer brand, the inability to try before buying.
I could likely write more about the Player III's positives and not much more on negatives. Simply put, the Player III is the best stand bag I have ever used. That said, there is one elephant in the room that I haven't yet mentioned; the price.
Vessel is a luxury brand, and the Player III is a luxury bag carrying a fairly large price tag. At $375 (before tax or any customizations), this bag is less expensive than some, such as bespoke full leather bags, but still is at the high upper end of the general consumer market. There's no question you can find a good, functional stand bag for cheaper. Can you find one as functional that looks as good? That's a more challenging question.
How much is a great golf bag worth? That's a question that everyone will have a different answer to. In all honesty, had you asked me a month ago if I would have ever considered spending that much on a golf bag, I probably would have said no. Today, though, I'm not so sure. In the end, that might be the biggest compliment I can give to the Player III bag. Even for a "practical" minded golfer like myself, the product makes a solid case for justifying paying the premium price.
The Player III Stand Bag is available directly from the Vessel website. Note that, like several golf brands, Vessel bags are currently out of stock in several options, but more are on the way.