Best Golf Club Innovations?
Having been in the golf equipment industry for over 30 years, I obviously have paid close attention to the evolution of golf equipment over its modern history. While I've never gotten into the collection side of golf equipment, I have accumulated a few dozen clubs that represent some of the evolution and revolution in various categories. As a club designer myself, I ponder developments and changes to the way clubs are designed, to try to understand the goals a designer might have had and how well did he achieve those goals.
A few questions from readers about these innovations got me thinking about my own "Hot List" of the most impactful innovations in equipment over my lifetime – the past 60 years or so. So, I offer up this analysis to all of you for review, critique and argument.
Woods: I would have to say that the two that made the most impact on the way the game is played have been the introduction of the modern metal wood by TaylorMade back in the 1980s and the advent of the oversized wood pioneered by the Callaway® Big Bertha® in the 1990s. Since then, the category has been more about evolution than revolution, to me at least.
Irons: Here again, I think there are two major innovations that have improved the playability of irons for recreational golfers. The first is the introduction of offset to help the average golfer keep his or her ball-flight from straying right. (But if you naturally draw the ball, this is NOT your feature.) The second is the introduction of perimeter weighting, which made the lower-lofted irons so much easier for less-skilled golfers to get airborne. But you all know that I firmly believe this innovation has had a negative effect on all golfers' proficiency with the higher-lofted irons.
Putters: This is probably the most design-intense and diverse in the entire equipment industry. Thousands of designs and looks in the endless pursuit of that magic wand. The first most impactful innovation has to be the Ping® Anser® putter, which has been (and still is) copied by nearly every company that even thought about being in the putter business. Moving the shaft toward the center of the head, at the same time green speeds were increasing and technique was moving toward a more arms-and-shoulders method, changed the face of putting forever. I actually cannot think of another innovation of that scale in the category.
Wedges: Very simply, there hasn't been one in this category. The "wedges" on the racks today are almost identical to those in my collection dating back to a hickory shafted Hillerich and Bradsby LoSkore model from the late 1930s, to a Spalding Dynamiter from the 50s, Wilson DynaPower from the 70s, and so on.
[But I truly believe the SCOR4161 approach to the short end of the set will prove to earn this spot when this article is written again sometime in the future by someone else.]
Shafts: Hands down, the most powerful innovation is the creation of the carbon-fiber, or graphite, shaft. After fruitless ventures into aluminum and fiberglass, this direction has improved the performance of golf clubs across the board. You haven't seen a steel-shafted driver in a decade or more, and irons are rapidly being converted. Personally, I cannot see ever playing a steel shaft again in any club – even my putter! Behind that, I'd have to say the concepts of frequency-matching and "spine-ing" shafts made it possible to achieve near-perfection in building golf clubs for any golfer.
Wild Card: This has to go to the invention of the hybrid. After decades of trying to find a way to make clubs of 18-24° play easier... the application of every possible perimeter-weighted iron concept and smaller fairway wood head concept... Sonartec® and Adams® finally figured this out. And golfers of all skill levels are benefitting, as this is just a better way to get optimum performance out of clubs of that loft and length.
So, there's my review of a lifetime of golf club engineering. What can you all add to this? What do you think I missed? I hope to see lots of conversation on this one.
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[ comments ]
Scott Shields says:
The well made hyrbid is a great innovation. Remember when Alien golf first came out with them but no one purchased the because they weren't made well or marketed. Then came the big manufacturers to correctly do it. Also, better and lighter (not longer) shafts have helped as well. Old super heavy shafts really hurt the regular golfer.
The best innovation was the ProV1 ball. Went farther, drop and stop control instead of spinning off the green and holds up better than an old balata without giving up all that great feel.
To me club fitting with a Launch Monitor has also dramatically changed golf clubs by allowing amateus to optimize their launch angle and spin.
hybrids are awesome. Taking the 3i and 4i out of my bag, and give me flexibility to my game and making it easier to hit long irons. I am no Tiger, who can hit those 2i 3i stingers off the deck, but sure nice to be able to hit 3h and 4h off the deck much easier than irons.
i didn't read anything about golf balls in your article... I'm no expert at all, but all this hype about ball fitting must be meaning something... different compressions, cores, layers... i would think there is something to it, or is it just another commercial oax?
If shafts get a mention for best golf club improvements (which they should) you need to include golf grips as well. 50 years ago every club in the bag had a spiral leather grip which mirrored the shape of the golf shaft. D shaped grips for putters, pistol grips and grip spines have changed the way grips feel and allow for tactile alignment. Leather grips crack and perform poorly in damp conditions. The new materials have changed the way golfers can connect with their clubs regardless of the weather conditions. Poor grips demand more hand pressure to hold the club. Too much pressure in your hands kills distance and accuracy.
joe jones says:
For me...The long putter. I started in 1969 and made my own. It took a while for the world to catch up but look at them now. I have to laugh at the uproar that is going on now. As soon as players start to have success with anything the old farts of the USGA and The Royal and Ancient get their shorts in a knot, Don't worry about the effect the modern ball has had on golf course design. Nobody had to alter the golf course because of the advent of the long putter but new shaft, club and ball design make old style golf courses obsolete.Lets stop making them longer and change par to 66. It makes just as much sense as all of the suggestions about anchoring and the so called unfair advantage anyone gains by using the long and belly style putters.
I guess I should start taking advantage of these "new developments." Still love steel shafts, and low irons! I have moved on to a mallet putter, which I guess may have grown out of the initial Ping off shoots, no?
I did jump on the Big Bertha right away when they came out, Warbird, Greatest Big, etc. And still love those big low-spin drivers. I still feel like balls have improved a good deal, but not enough to warrant a real "award." I mean, we're not still stuffing them with goose down, or was that quail spit? Once the DT came along, and the solid 2-piece (Like an XL-2000), wind-boring length was now a reality, but had much to do with the drivers.
So what are the percents, for equip innovation(for their effect on our game)?
Butterscotch Ripple: 2%
@onedollarwed: Nice Willy Wonka reference.
Hybrids and Woods: 5%
The shaft can be included with the driver. I don't use gps or range finders, gloves or glasses. Light weight cold-weather and wet weather gear is a plus. Shoes have improved a bit. Some courses have much better yardage markings/ yardage books - not just the old "170-130 bush!" As for leather grips, I have some clubs whose leather grips have held up. Did people used to oil those, or was the combination of sweat/ hand oil the right mix not to get them too slippery or too dry? Did people wipe dirt on them in humid weather, use corn starch?
Good call on the original Ping Anser design, doesn't get the credit that it should. The offset, the perimeter weighting, it's the best putter head design IMO.
IMO new golf club tech is helping the average guy stay average longer. While it helps grow enjoyment of the game by a wider range of players, it's not helping anyone get better. Shoot lower, but not get better. There's a difference. When i was younger, i think i was only as good as i was because i was playing with small headed, blade style, steel shafted clubs. I played persimmon woods up until the late 90s while the other guys on the team and other locals got the newest and best thing. While i wasn't the best, i became a good striker and was the most consistent match to match. Since getting all the new stuff, i feel like i've become less consistent and not the best striker anymore. Wish i wouldn't have sold those old wilsons.
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