Pros: Callaway’s most adjustable drivers to date. Big Bertha Alpha’s Gravity Core offers the ability to adjust vertical center of gravity up or down to adjust spin independent of launch angle. Big Bertha’s Adjustable Perimeter Weighting maintains MOI and allows golfers to fine-tune their ball flight.
Cons: Both drivers are more expensive than the recently launched X2 Hot drivers. At $499, the Big Bertha Alpha might be out of reach for some golfers.
Bottom line: Both drivers are making their ancestors proud and living up to the Big Bertha name by delivering higher ball speeds and distance while advancing driver technology. They’re packed with innovative features and are more adjustable than any other driver Callaway has released, offering golfers of all skill levels the ability to fine-tune their launch conditions and maximize ball speed and distance.
In the last few months, Callaway has been bringing back some of the most iconic names in golf equipment history. The company started with the Apex irons, and now, Callaway is bringing back the name of the driver that is responsible for ushering in the modern era of metal woods: Big Bertha. I’m sure a lot of us remember when the original Big Bertha came out, and many GolfWRX readers probably owned (and still own) one. We could reminisce, but I don’t believe a trip down memory lane was Callaway’s goal. It is difficult to successfully bring back such a popular name, and we’re glad Callaway waited until they had a truly innovative product worthy of being called “Big Bertha.”
The Big Bertha Alpha, Callaway’s lowest-spinning driver, is designed for the better player looking for several adjustable features to fine-tune launch conditions by adjusting vertical center of gravity, loft, lie and directional bias.
[youtube id=”9joDgq69IDI” width=”620″ height=”360″]
The Big Bertha driver on the other hand, has more forgiveness, a larger sweet spot, and the ability to fine-tune the CG bias with Adjustable Perimeter Weighting. While golf clubs themselves don’t win tournaments, they certainly help, and the Big Bertha Alpha has already been in a winning bag on both the PGA and European tours.
[youtube id=”60d8jt50_m4″ width=”620″ height=”360″]
Unlike the original Big Bertha, which was comprised of only stainless steel (and later titanium), the new Big Bertha drivers are made up of eight different materials including carbon fiber, titanium, aluminum, tungsten and yes, steel. Callaway engineers managed to make all the materials work together to remove weight where you don’t need it, such as in the crown, and use it in places where it can be useful such as the Adjustable Perimeter Weighting or Gravity Core.
One of the issues with adjustable drivers is that when you adjust the loft of the club, the spin rate also adjusts in a fixed relationship. For the first time, Callaway has created a way to adjust the vertical center of gravity through a movable weight system called Gravity Core.
One end of the Gravity Core is a heavy 12 gram Tungsten weight, while the other end weighs only 1.5 grams. The Gravity Core can be inserted into a carbon fiber tube that connects the sole to the crown and sits in the middle of the club head. Inserting the core with the heavy end down will push the center of gravity lower in the head and create a lower-spinning driver. Inserting the Gravity Core with the heavy side up will raise the driver’s center of gravity and offer additional forgiveness for shots high on the face and create a driver with intermediate spin.
Adjustable Perimeter Weighting
Callaway has been working for a long time on a sliding perimeter weight track and they decided to finally launch a production driver with the technology. The Big Bertha driver uses an 8-gram weight on a 5-inch sliding track positioned around the perimeter of the head allowing golfers to fine-tune their CG bias while also increasing the club’s MOI making it more forgiving.
Similar to the Optiforce and X2 Hot drivers, both drivers have the Advanced OptiFit hosel which allows golfers to optimize their launch conditions by adjusting the loft and lie independently. The loft of each driver can be adjusted up 2 degrees or down 1 degree. You can also set the drivers to neutral or draw, which makes the lie angle more upright and encourages a more leftward starting trajectory (for right-handed golfers). Changing the driver’s loft will change the face angle slightly, but most golfers will not notice a difference at address.
The Big Bertha driver is available in three different lofts: 9, 10.5 and 13.5 degrees, and comes stock with a 45.5-inch Mitsubishi Rayon Fubuki Z shaft in light, regular and stiff flexes. The head will weigh about 199 grams and the stock swing weight is D2.
The Big Bertha Alpha driver is available in one loft, 9 degrees. However, a 10.5-degree Big Bertha Alpha has been spotted on the professional tours and at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show, making the release of the higher-lofted head a near certainty. The driver comes stock with a 45.5-inch 60-gram version of Mitsubishi Rayon’s Fubuki ZT shaft in light, regular, stiff and x-stiff flexes. The Big Bertha Alpha also has two pre-installed removable weights of 7 grams and 1 gram, which can be positioned in either the heel or toe of the driver to add draw or fade bias. Additional 3- and 5-grams weights are also provided to give golfers the ability to further fine tune swing weight and trajectory bias. The stock swing weight is D3.
The Big Bertha ($399) and Big Bertha Alpha ($499) will be available at retail on Feb. 14. The drivers can also be customized through Callaway’s uDesign program, which allows golfers to create a Big Bertha or Big Bertha Alpha driver with a primary color and accent color of their choosing (there are eight different color options) , as well as add a custom grip, shaft and laser etching.
I tested the clubs outside at a driving range during calm conditions. My playing swing speed is around 105 mph and I can max out a little above 110 mph, but for testing I was swinging with my normal playing speed. I tested both drivers stamped 9 degrees with the stock Fubuki stiff shaft. I also hit my current gamer during the same session to use as a baseline. My goal was to simply see if the ball flight matched Callaway’s claims.
I started with the Big Bertha in the stock loft and neutral perimeter weighting position. My first few shots with the driver had a really nice, effortless launch, with good carry and a straight to slight cut ball flight. Looking at the trajectory, I wouldn’t call it penetrating, but it also wasn’t spinning up too much.
Above: The face of the Big Bertha Alpha (bottom) is taller than the Big Bertha’s face.
I don’t want to take anything away from the work Callaway did on the Big Bertha, but I’ve been gaming the 440 Optiforce and more recently, the X2 Hot Pro, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Alpha. I started in the standard loft and neutral lie with the Gravity Core in the low position. The first shot rocketed off the face. It felt more like the X2 Hot than the Optiforce and had a similar sound profile. The ball easily launched in the air, but had a more penetrating flight than the Big Bertha and a slight cut ball flight.
The next step in testing was to get on a FlightScope launch monitor and run a series of tests with multiple different settings so I once again headed out to Bentwater Golf Course in Acworth, Ga. I tested numerous configurations of both clubs including low and high Gravity Core in the Alpha and neutral and draw positions in the Adjustable Perimeter Weighting of the Big Bertha. I threw out true mishits and also looked at ball speed on shots off the toe and heel as well as high and low.
Performance: Big Bertha
On average, when compared to the Big Bertha Alpha, the Big Bertha generated statistically similar ball speeds, 2 more yards of carry but 2 yards less total distance. The launch angle was very similar but the Big Bertha generated 400 more rpm of spin on average. Almost every shot on the range was straight to a slight cut, but I could also hit draws and even a hook or two.
Even though the Big Bertha was spinning more than the Big Bertha Alpha in the high Gravity Core position, it was still producing 100 rpm less spin than the 440 FT Optiforce.
I also wanted to test the Adjustable Perimeter Weighting to see how it affects directional bias as well as stability. Since my shots all day had a slight cut to them, I slid the 8 gram weight toward the heel and into the draw position. The draw bias straightened the shots out immediately and I was back to hitting draws. Instead of only being able to swap weights in fixed positions, I was able to tell how effective it is to be able to slide the weight up and down on the track to add a little — or a lot — of draw or fade bias. Similar to the X2 Hot driver, which also has the Hyper Speed Face, shots off the heel only dropped on average 2 mph of ball speed. Shots off the toe resulted in a loss of 3 mph of ball speed during testing.
Performance: Big Bertha Alpha
There are four different adjustability options on this club including loft, lie, perimeter weights and Gravity Core. In the right hands, the Big Bertha Alpha can be optimized to fit virtually any swing and not just the swings of better players. I could’ve spent all day on the monitor testing out a variety of different configurations, but I focused on the neutral and draw-bias positions using the perimeter weights and also tested both the high and low Gravity Core positions.
Callaway’s biggest claim in the Alpha is that the Gravity Core, when the 12 gram Tungsten weight is placed in the low position, can decrease backspin up to 600 rpm in certain situations compared to having the weight positioned near the top of the club. Without adjusting anything else, positioning the Gravity Core weight low in the head actually dropped my spin by an average of 205 rpms compared to having the Gravity Core weight high in the face. The low core position also lowered the launch angle by 1 degree, the peak height by 3 yards, and generated an extra 3 yards of carry. Ball speed on mishits low on the face only lost about 1.5 mph of ball speed. Similarly, when the weight was placed in the up position, shots hit higher on the face lost less ball speed than when compared to shots hit high on the face with the Gravity Core in the low position.
Switching the perimeter weights worked as expected. This isn’t new technology, but it is yet another form of adjustability and I wanted to test it out. I was able to put the 7 gram weight in the heel position and the 1 gram weight in the toe position and immediately move the ball from being 4 yards right on average to 2 yards left.
Callaway has released some pretty impressive drivers over the last six to eight months. By comparison, my peak ball speeds with the Big Bertha Alpha ended up only about 1 mph over the X2 Hot and the 440 Optiforce. The peak ball speed with the Big Bertha was about even with the X2 Hot driver. That said, the adjustability of these clubs, especially the Alpha, makes the extra cost well worth it in my opinion. The Big Bertha Alpha is going in my bag and when I get back on a launch monitor and really fine-tune my launch conditions and I’m confident I’ll pick up even more speed, distance and even accuracy. The power of both of these drivers — but especially the Big Bertha Alpha — is in the fine-tuning adjustability. For those golfers willing and interested in taking advantage of the options, they will be happy they spent the extra money.
Looks and Feel
Above: Callaway Big Bertha Alpha (left) and Big Bertha.
Looks are subjective, and the initial comments in the GolfWRX forum range from loving to hating the look. Personally, I think these clubs are stunning in person.
At address, the crown of both clubs is completely clean with the exception of a chevron alignment mark on the Big Bertha. The pearlescent paint on the crown looks almost black in low light, but in direct sunlight gives off a metallic shimmer and you can really tell it is a rich dark blue color. The shimmer is very subtle and doesn’t detract from the clean, traditional crown. The midnight blue on the crown starts to lighten as you move around to the sole, and that gradient creates a pretty cool depth effect. There is a nice balance of pure metal and pearlized paint on the sole and you can’t help but feel very American looking at the red, white and blue paint job.
The Big Bertha at address
At address, the Big Bertha appears noticeably larger than the Big Bertha Alpha, but it doesn’t feel like an oversized driver. The lighter colored shaft and the New Decade Whiteout grip complete the look. I’m happy Callaway brought back the New Decade Whiteout as the standard grip, just like they had on the FT Optiforce.
The Big Bertha Alpha at address
The Alpha has a slightly smaller footprint and more traditional shape at address that better players will likely find appealing. Both clubs are confidence-inspiring, but I prefer the slightly smaller footprint of the Big Bertha Alpha at address. The Gravity Core gives off a futuristic look and let’s be honest, did we expect anything else? “Gravity” is in the name. The font and design of the core’s screw look like something SpaceX might design and I love it. The whole sole of the Alpha really gives off a very modern, even futuristic look, with all design lines directing the eyes back to the Gravity Core.
The face of both drivers feel really solid at impact and very similar to the X2 Hot Drivers. The face feels springy off the sweet spot and offers good feedback on mishits. Both clubs also feel very easy to hit. I still prefer the sound of the FT Optiforce to the sound of the Big Bertha drivers. Both Big Bertha drivers have a louder, more firm sound at impact and I prefer slightly less initial pop and more reverberation. That said, feel and sound are extremely subjective so give them a hit and see what you think.
Bertha is back. Yes, Callaway’s marketing team is blanketing the globe with that phrase, but it is true. I give Callaway a lot of credit for having the restraint to hold out bringing back this iconic name until a time when they could stamp it on a truly innovative new product. The Big Bertha Alpha, with the Gravity Core, is that product. Both drivers offer advanced adjustability, maximum forgiveness, and in the case of the Big Bertha Alpha, the ability to adjust spin rate independent of launch angle.
The Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha really are total performance drivers. High and low handicap golfers will be able to find something to like in both options.