A Look Back At Club Technology

pingeye2For as long as I have been playing this game – which is about 25 years – I have seen a dramatic change in the equipment used to play it. I think I have a fair argument in claiming that I’ve lived in the “industrial age” of golf equipment advancement. Back in the 60s and 70s, all “woods” were actually made of wood, and generally were very small and unforgiving. Golf balls were made with liquid centers and wound with rubber bands. You could get any kind of irons you wanted, as long as they were forged blades with steel shafts. Clubs were most often sold as a complete set of woods and irons, and people’s choices on which clubs to buy hinged mostly on which of their favorite players was endorsing them. In 1969, Karsten Solheim released the K1 iron with a cavity back to create perimeter weighting, and in 1970 the Karsten 1 woods hit the market.

It wasn’t until 1979 that the equipment world started to see the changes that would lead to the great technology boom of the 90s and beyond. Gary Adams hit the floor of the 1979 PGA Merchandise show with the Taylor Made Original One, a driver made of metal. A few years later in 1982 Karsten Solheim introduced the Ping Eye 2 irons, probably the most influential club since the invention of the sand wedge in the early 30s. Everyone who has played golf has probably hit them, and if you were playing in the 80s you either had a set or wanted a set. I always had my eyes on that set of blue dots in the pro shop, but my meager cart boy wage wasn’t going to come close to helping me buy them. I still remember the day I walked into the pro shop to see the proud buyer walk away with them under his arm…

Once the golf club technology revolution was started, there was no stopping it. Gary Adams and Karsten Solheim had unleashed a monster – one that could only be stopped, or maybe slowed, by the USGA. After the Taylor Made Metalwoods and Eye 2 Irons, companies started experimenting with composite and graphite shafts. The same year Ping released the Eye 2 irons, a wine maker called Ely Callaway sold his vineyard and bought a stake in a company called Hickory Stick USA, which a few years later became Callaway Golf. In 1991 Callaway released the first wide body (190 cc) metal wood, called the Big Bertha. Mark Brooks quickly won twice on the PGA Tour using the Big Bertha, and seemingly overnight everybody wanted one. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, we’ve seen drivers grow from 190cc to over 550cc, then back down to the USGA limit of 460cc. We’ve seen shafts evolve to a whole new level. Companies are now offering shafts with different weights, materials, launch angles, spin, flex points, diameters and colors, all in an effort to improve your game. Irons have morphed from tiny forged blades to oversize cavity back multi metal elastomer plugged implements. Wedges come with custom grinds, stampings and more lofts than we know what to do with. We also have fully adjustable drivers that come with instruction manuals and five piece golf balls with two covers! With all the new designs and technology out there, choosing a set of clubs and a golf ball that are just right for you can take months! Club fitters used to talk about length, lie and flex. Now, we have to deal with ball speed, launch angle, spin rates, coefficient of restitution and smash factor. Really? What the heck is smash factor, anyway?

It’s been really exciting to go to the PGA Show for the last 15 years to see what’s new and hot in club technology, but with every passing year my interest seems to be waning. New clubs promising more distance, better accuracy and better feel seem to be released every 6 months, and the USGA is scrambling to keep a muzzle on any technology that might make the game too “easy” to play. I find it ironic that for the last 100 years, despite all the improvements in golf club technology, balls that go way further, courses that are playing faster and greens that roll truer; the average golfer still shoots around 100. As David Feherty once said: “Maybe we’re all supposed to stink at this. It’s our punishment for playing this insane game.” Not only that, but for the amount of money that used to get you a full set of customized clubs with bag and putter, you can now be the proud owner of a shiny new Scotty Cameron putter. You know the one, it looks a bit like a copy of the Ping Anser putter; The one that was designed in 1969…

3 thoughts on “A Look Back At Club Technology

  • golfrocco

    nice article i share your view.

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  • Gary R. King

    I am looking for information regarding a club manufacturer called “Greenfee”, from Oak Park, Ill.. They made woods called “Grasshopper’s”, that I have and can’t find anything on them. HELP–please!! Thank you!

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