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 ]
Surely the addition of zip grooves to wedges is an innovation?
In my opinion - I believe the Lawnmower has proved to be the biggest impact on all of the equipment at a Golf Course. (yep that's good 'ol Byron Nelson's original idea).
I would say the ability to measure accuratly yardages wether by laser, gps, mobile phone or what ever. Gave every player their own personal caddy certainly helped me as I now know that 87 yards to the front is a steady swing with 9 iron or a wollop with a pitching wedge depeding on wether the greenkeeper has been kind with his pin positions (he isn't usualy)
I think from a fitting perspective, adjustable heads on drivers should be on your list. The ability to change loft, lie, face angle, etc...or just changing out a shaft for that matter...is HUGE when it comes to custom fitting someone for a new driver, fairway, or even hybrid. You can buy an off the rack driver and get fit on a launch monitor for the best possible conditions.
As far as your shafts section goes...graphite will never match steel for accuracy for irons. I would think that tour players would have all switched to graphite all the way through the set if steel was not still superior.
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