Golf gear: A decade of change

What's the most significant technological revolution you have noticed?

Bob Warters
Fri, 18 Dec 2009

Centre of a storm: Callaway's ERC II driver was one of the first to be ruled as non-conforming because of the extreme distances the ball was being struck in 2000.

  As we're approaching the end of the decade it's opportune to look back to the turn of the century and identify the evolution in golf equipment and how it has enabled many of us, perhaps, to become better players without necessarily improving the overall handicap averages.

Improvements to golf balls and the technology of golf clubs have helped us hit our shots further and with more consistency but while making the game more enjoyable, the statistics don't necessarily show the average golfer's handicap has come tumbling down.

The latest 2009 Titleist ProV1 ball

At Tour level, courses have become longer - and often tighter - to counteract the distances balls are being hit by the game's top players, who are now rightly regarded as athletes with their fitness and dietary regimes. But scoring averages haven't necessarily come down.

Meanwhile amateurs are much more savvy when it comes to equipment and balls to suit their swing and their stature and have reacted favourably to manufacturers encouragement to get themselves custom-fitted.

Ten years ago most of us would buy clubs because we liked the look and feel of them (usually from a quick waggle in the pro shop or retail store) and because they matched the recommendation we'd had from our mates. Today few self-respecting golfers would consider a purchase without being fitted by a professional.

A look back in the Golfmagic archive reveals there were four major developments in golf equipment during the last decade - multi-layer golf balls, the growth in driver head size, introduction of hybrids replacing long irons and the emergence of higher-lofted wedges with deeper, wider, sharper grooves. Here's a brief assessment but don't hesitate to tell us what in your opinion has been the biggest revolution of the decade.

Golf balls

At the 2000 US Masters, 59 out of 95 players hit wound balls. A year later, only four competitors chose to use wound balls as the solid-core ball quickly became the ball of choice. When Tiger Woods used wound balls, he averaged a 288-yard drive; with the solid-core ball spearheaded by Titleist's Pro V1, he averaged 305.4 yards. Further development in innovative dimple design and "ionomer casing" helped deliver higher ball speed with lower spin - the perfect combination of longer, straighter tee shots.

TaylorMade R510 - its 330 cc head was large for its era

Over the past 10 years, ball manufacturers have worked to make multi-layered balls optimize driver spin rate and deliver the same spin-rate as the two-piece distance balls of the past. Players can now launch the ball higher, with lower spin, and subsequently increase the distance of Tour-type balls. Another major change is the feel. In 2000 two-piece golf balls were very firm, around the 90 to 100 compression range. However in 2009, most two-piece balls are very low in compression with softer durable covers - offering feel and control for pitching and putting as well as high launch and distance off the driver.

Driver head size

Around 2000, the heads of drivers rarely achieved 350 cc - until Callaway (Great Big Bertha II), TaylorMade (Burner 420) and inevitably King Cobra started stretching the boundaries, the latter with its SS370 and then SS430 Unlimited. Earlier that year Callaway's Big Bertha ERC II driver had been outlawed as non-conforming because of its excessively 'hot' face.

By 2004 the R&A and USGA decided to restrict head sizes to 460cc and put a further curb on the 'hot' trampoline effect of driver clubfaces, though manufacturers found a way to ensure balls flew higher and further by tinkering with the internal workings of the clubhead, adding interchangeable weights, moving the centre of gravity and widening the sweetspot.

Forgiveness from miss-hits, torque and MOI (moment of inertia) became the new buzz-words before the latest craze in personalised, adjustable custom-fitting was introduced. This enables the golfer to set the lie and face angle to suit his or her own specification. Now you can effectively build your own driver with the help of a simple wrench supplied with the club.

TaylorMade Rescue Mid from 2003

Hybrids and utilities

The utility club has been around for 20-odd years - a cross between an iron and a fairway metal, with Adams (Tight Lies) and Cobra (Baffler) vying for the bragging rights as pioneers.

But it was TaylorMade who took the design to the next stage with its Rescue Mid utility wood in 2002 in a series of four models, with Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5, identifying the respective long-irons they intended to replace. Designed to combine high launch angle with high spin, these hybrids produce a high trajectory, long carry and quick-stop action, thanks to a centre of gravity lower and deeper in their heads than traditional long irons. Suddenly the long-shafted clubs in your bag are much easier to hit and flight.

As a result the 'rescue club' has been quickly embraced into golf club terminology and now they even form part of set of irons. As every leading manufacturer has created it's own hybrid design, even the pros have taken them on board - some with as many as three in their bags.

Gap and Lob wedges

Apart from the introduction of pre-rusted oxide wedges to help keep the grooves sharp, rarely more than two wedges (pitching and sand) could be found in a pro's bag until the Gap wedge became a familiar addition, providing loft between its two traditional companions.

Cleveland 588 Raw wedges from 2006

Soon, with the introduction of lob wedges between 60 and 65 degrees, top players were revealing they were using as many as four different model wedges in every round. And with manufacturers becoming more cute in their design of the grooves, it soon became inevitable that the Rules of Golf regulators were going to have find a way of preventing players turning the game into 'drive and pitch' farce, such were their abilities of securing birdies from almost any condition, even on a long par-4.

And so it has come to pass that from January 2010 players on Tour must use irons (and wedges in particular) with grooves that allegedly make it more difficult to spin the ball from difficult lies. Meanwhile, as a compromise to the manufacturers, the rest of us can keep buying the deeper-grooved models - at least for the next 12 months - and use them for at least another decade.

All-in-all, the transformation in golf equipment and the boundaries that technicians are exploring has been spectacular.

Tell us on the forum: What are the biggest changes in equipment affecting you that you have noticed in the last 10 years? Maybe back-weighted mallet putters, muscleback irons, shafts and softspikes on shoes have been the biggest revolution on your radar.

What's in your bag?

If you've had some new golf equipment through your hands lately we want to know about. Submit one or more products into our review system during the next couple of months and we're offering the chance to win the revolutionary ProStance, training aid, which set to become the must-have tool for any golfer wanting to improve their game.

For a chance to win one of FIVE Pro Stance training aids, we're giving away, tell us what's in your bag or what clubs you've tested on a demo day. Tell us about the strengths and weaknesses of a club, a ball, a trolley, pair of shoes or weathersuit, give us a detailed impression of how it worked for you and add your star ratings.

We'll judge the most appealing - whether singular reviews or multiple reviews - at the end of December and give a ProStance training aid (each worth (£49.95) to the most deserving members.

To enter CLICK HERE.



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