In any game, raw talent will crush technology any day. But golf, much more than its less-nuanced contact-sport cousins, is a pursuit where the plethora of equipment options can seem overwhelming.
Take a good player with a seven-iron and a putter playing against a poor player with a full set of clubs and you'll have a tight race.
But winning a major on the pro tour can literally come down to a matter of millimetres. This is where science can make a difference. And the benefits of the research for the pros flow through to the bag of the Sunday ambler.
To get a grip (sorry) on the current science driving (sorry, again) the game of golf — either for the beginner or for the guy who's let his time on the course fall by the wayside — we spoke to the R&D department at Callaway Golf, who gave us the run-down on the latest developments in club and ball design.
Clubs, with senior manager of product performance Callaway Golf, Evan Gibbs:
1. Adjustable Drivers
In drivers, adjustability and speed have been huge areas of focus. Advances in adjustability have stemmed from things we were trying to do to help optimize/fit the clubs for individual tour pros.
It was also recognizing that the club fitting process has changed significantly and that having a club that could be adjusted and optimized for a given player was very appealing.
It has resonated in the marketplace for a number of reasons. First, it allows players to better optimize their ball flight and change the set up of their club as their game evolves or if they play different kinds of courses/conditions.
It also enhances the club fitting process and purchasing experience. Plus, it’s also cool and techy. All of these things add value to a club with advanced adjustibility. Our Razr Fit Xtreme Driver, which was just released earlier this year, is certainly a good example of this and I think consumers can expect to see a lot more advances in this area of club design going forward.
2. Generating Speed
A lot of focus in R&D has been about helping golfers generate more clubhead speed and this can be accomplished in many ways. Recently, we’ve been focusing on the configuration and shape of the drivers. Advancements in aerodynamics and the development of ultra-light shafts and clubheads have almost made this its own driver category.
The new FT Optiforce Driver is the best example of this from Callaway. It has an aerodynamically efficient head shape, long and light shaft, and light clubhead made of Forged Composite. Together, these all give the consumer an opportunity to increase their clubhead speed and get more distance.
With regard to the adjustability factor mentioned earlier, this new FT Optiforce Driver also has adjustable face angle and adjustable loft components allowing players to dial in their ball flight.
3. Fairway Woods
Another area of major advancement in the last three years has been in fairway woods. It’s been the biggest performance story in golf and has really changed how many professionals configure their bags and approach the game.
(The biggest example of this being Phil Mickelson winning the Open Championship two weeks ago without carrying a driver in his bag, and instead using a Callaway fairway wood off the tee.)
Many of our competitors have used slots in the sole, whereas we have focused on high strength forged face cups to increase the ball speed, using some of the same technologies and design philosophies that were used for high COR drivers in the past.
(COR, or Coefficient of Restitution, measures the energy transfer between two objects—the ball and the club head, in this case.) Fairway woods are easier to hit than they’ve ever been and have staggering distance advantages over clubs designed just a few years ago.
Golf balls, with senior manager of golf ball R&D, Dave Bartels:
In 2001, Callaway introduced the HEX surface pattern to improve in-flight performance.
The concept of eliminating dimples and covering the hole surface of the ball with tubular protrusions arranged in hexagons and pentagons, instead of concave depressions, allowed us to get to 100% surface area coverage and better design the best lift and drag attributes into the golf ball for longer distance.
Although the USGA has implemented fairly rigid velocity and distance limitations on golf ball design, there is still room to make longer, softer golf balls that golfers of all abilities can experience.
Much of the room for further innovation lies in advanced aerodynamics; in addition, we continue to innovate with new materials to develop balls that have faster ball speed off your clubs while still conforming to the USGA regulations.
2. Dual-core / multi-layer constructions
Towards the end of the 2000’s golf ball manufacturers figured out how to cost-effectively add additional layers to the golf ball and it opened the door for different combinations of materials to be used to design different performance attributes into the ball.
The result was more complete performance with golfers not having to give up distance for more spin. This mulit-layer innovation has advanced to now include dual core construction offerings. Today, our HEX Black Tour ball has a dual core, dual mantle, urethane cover construction.
3. Soft-distance balls
The evolution of the ultra-soft 2-piece golf ball is a result of extensive material development and rubber chemistry advancement. We are now able to make a durable golf ball that is very soft, very resilient, and can be compressed by lower swing speed golfers.
The large deformation at impact (due to the soft compression) actually reduces the spin because there’s less torque on the ball, leading to longer distance and much straighter shots.
Typically ~100rpm less driver spin will result in a distance pickup of 1 yard, not to mention the added roll from hitting the fairway instead of winding up in the rough.