Archived Story

Equipment changes spur endless debate

Published 12:57am Thursday, April 26, 2007

The rule book that applies to any sport contains a section on equipment to be used. In golf the rules pertaining to equipment are at the forefront of endless debates. The game’s rules-making organizations have had difficulty in keeping up with the pace of equipment evolution.

The Rules of Golf Appendix II, Section 1, Item A reads: “The club must not be substantially different from the traditional and customary form and make.” Traditionalists may have difficulty applying that stated rule to the “hot” new trend in golf drivers.

The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary (my “new” 1989 edition) reads, as the 9th definition of the word “square”: highly conservative or conventional. It is difficult to apply that definition to the new trend in golf drivers — square club heads. Several companies have unveiled models for the current season, and there will no doubt be many more to jump on the bandwagon. The primary benefit that is being touted is the club?s improved moment of inertia. In simplest terms this means the club’s ability to avoid twisting.

Some companies without a square model claim that the square design adversely alters the “gear effect.” Gear effect refers to design features that, due to weight distribution and club face angle, help negate the loss of directional control when contact is made on the heel (inside of center) or toe (outside of center) of the clubface. Time will tell if this is a valid criticism.

Observing the golf equipment industry will be interesting as the ceiling of physics is approached. Advances in technology and materials has resulted in shafts that are about as light as they can be. Rules are in place that limit the shaft length and clubhead size to models that are currently available

Equipment manufacturers, almost all of which are publicly traded companies, are under constant pressure to grow their profits. We are most likely at a point where the law of diminishing returns comes into play. It is difficult to imagine advancements that are going to have a dramatic effect on playability, which makes one wonder where the manufacturers will turn for the next generation of clubs.

At the forefront will be exotic materials. Shaft manufacturers are turning to what they term nanotechnology to improve stability and durability in ultra-light shafts. Expect to see similar different composite materials in club heads as well. Weight distribution and, as we have already discovered, club head shape will be at the forefront of new designs.

It remains to be seen if the equipment companies will be able to convince players that they need to continue to upgrade their equipment. With the clubs as light, long, and lively as they can be, it is easy to believe that one of three scenarios will emerge. The rules of the game will give-in to advances in technology, the companies will work within the current rules on advances we can’t yet fathom, or there will be a “shakeout” within the manufacturing industry.

—Jeff Bass is head pro at Pebble Lake Golf Course

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