Pros: The Great Big Bertha is Callaway’s most forgiving fairway wood, and the Alpha 816 can be configured with two different CG positions (forward and back), giving better players the ability to alter launch conditions independent of loft. Both fairway woods offer some of the fastest ball speeds we’ve seen in testing. 

Cons: Unlike Callaway’s Great Big Bertha and Alpha 816 drivers, the fairway woods don’t allow golfers to move CG more toward the toe or heel.

Who’s It For?: The Alpha 816 is designed for better players, especially those in search of a flatter trajectory. The Great Big Bertha targets golfers who need more forgiveness or want to hit their fairway woods higher. 

The Review

Fairway woods or “metals,” as the old timers at my club like to call them, are packed with just as much technology and performance as their larger brethren. And for all the attention drivers garner, fairway woods occupy a crucial space in the bag of any any golfer. 

To fill that crucial space, however, different golfers need different solutions. “What kind of fairway wood do I need and what do I need it to do?” If you’re interested in a new fairway wood, that’s the question you should be asking yourself. And Callaway has two new answers for golfers to consider.

Big Bertha Alpha 816 ($299.99)

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When it comes to packing as much technology as possible in a fairway woods, few models can match Callaway’s Big Bertha Alpha 816. It’s the first Callaway fairway wood to use the company’s Forged Composite Crown, which helps lower the center of gravity (CG) to reduce spin. It has two adjustable weights (16 grams and 3 grams), allowing golfers to adjust the CG location to alter spin and launch conditions independent of loft. 

If you want to hit the Alpha 816 lower, position the 16-gram weight in the forward weight port and the 3-gram weight in the rear weight port. If you want to maximize forgiveness or need a higher ball flight to improve carry distance, swap the weights. Positioning the heavier weight in the rearward position will also add a bit of draw bias to the club, while moving it forward makes the clubs slightly more fade biased. 

Great Big Bertha Alpha 816 ($249.99)

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The next option is the Great Big Bertha. Like the 816 Alpha, it comes with the 8-way Optfit hosel adjustable hosel. While there are no moveable weights on its sole, the hosel provides a 3-degree range of adjustability, and each of the three possible loft settings can be paired with a unique lie setting — neutral or draw.

The Great Big Bertha lacks the CG adjustability of the Alpha 816, but its target audience won’t be interested in that. It’s for golfers who can be helped by a slightly higher-spinning fairway wood, those who prefer a fairway wood with maximum forgiveness, or both.

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Callaway Big Bertha Alpha 816 (top), Great Big Bertha

Now that pretty much every OEM offers some type of fast-face technology, being the “longest” fairway wood doesn’t carry the same weight that it used to carry, but the Great Big Bertha and Alpha 816 are extra long. They’re likely two of the longest, if not the longest fairway woods currently available in their classes.

The Results

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Both clubs were tested on a FlightScope X2 Monitor at 5000 feet of elevation. Results show the average of 15 shots, tossing out the two best and two worst as well as any obvious outliers.

Through testing, both the Great Big Bertha and Alpha 816 exhibited excellent feel and responsiveness, especially on shots hit slightly toward the toe or heel. Give credit to Callaway’s extremely thin and light Forged Hyper Speed Face Cup, which improves ball speed on shots hit across the face.

It’s no coincidence that Callaway’s XR (2015) and X2 Hot fairway woods (2014), which also used Face Cup technology, were the top-ranked fairway woods in our Gear Trials Club Test in their respective years. The technology continues to churn out some of the fastest ball speeds we see in our fairway woods tests. 

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Callaway Big Bertha Alpha 816 (Left), Great Big Bertha

When it comes to looks, the fairway woods don’t appear all that different from one another at address, but there is a size difference — the Alpha 816 is 165 cubic centimeters, while the Great Big Bertha is 182 cubic centimeters. The Great Big Bertha uses Callaway’s Chevron logo as an alignment aid while the Alpha 816 has no alignment aid, but both fairway woods are all-business at address thanks to their matte black crowns.

I reviewed Callaway’s Alpha 815 fairway woods last year, and in the review I made mention of just how much of a change in ball flight I saw when the orientation of the 30-gram and 3-gram weights were switched. Apparently, being able to reposition 27 grams of weight proved to be too much, as Callaway received feedback that many golfers preferred weight configurations that were less severe. So with the Alpha 816, there’s a little less than half (13 grams) of weight to move back and forth. That’s enough for a noticeable change in ball flight, but it’s less than than it was with the Alpha 815.

It’s my hunch is the vast majority of players who bag the Alpha 816 will find the rearward weight setting to work best, as it’s still a low-spinning fairway wood in that configuration, and offers extra forgiveness, too. As you might have noticed in the testing data, I generated an average of 1 mph more ball speed with the Alpha 816 moving the weight rearward, creating the longest overall shots.

Tech Talk: Learn more about the technology in the Great Big Bertha and Alpha 816 fairway woods. 

Distance and accuracy are generally the most important factors when it comes to fairway woods, but for some players it’s more important to be able to use a fairway wood confidently from the tee, fairway and short rough. Both the Alpha 816 and Great Big Bertha are good performers from the tee and the ground, but I was particularly impressed with the turf interaction and playability of the Great Big Bertha. Credit its nimble and forgiving Warbird sole for that. 

On the launch monitor, and more importantly on the course, the Great Big Bertha was tenacious and had a penchant for high-flying bombs. It’s so easy to catch the ball a bit heavy or thin with a fairway wood, especially when they lie isn’t perfect, but the more I hit the Big Bertha the more certain I was I could hit any shot required.

The Takeaway

If you’re a better golfer, or one who generates high amounts of spin, you’ll want to see what Callaway’s Big Bertha Alpha 816 can do for you. It’s offered in three lofts (14, 16 and 18), which is plenty because of the dual-CG and loft adjustability. It’s a top choice for golfers who want to maximizing the distance they hit their fairway wood or fine tune the perfect ball flight.

The majority of golfers will see as good if not better results from the Great Big Bertha, however, which is offers one of the categories best blends of distance and forgiveness — along with a highly playable sole design that makes shots from the turf a breeze. It’s offered in a variety of lofts as well (15, 18 and a 20-degree Heavenwood that has the length of a 4 wood). Callaway also offers non-adjustable 21- and 24-degree models for slower swing-speed golfers.

Last but not least, each of the fairway woods can be equipped with a variety of premium shafts — many offered at no upcharge — that can seal the deal for shaft-conscious consumers and helps justify the premium price of the Great Big Bertha ($249.99) and Alpha 816 ($299.99).

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I didn't grow up playing golf. I wasn't that lucky. But somehow the game found me and I've been smitten ever since. Like many of you, I'm a bit enthusiastic for all things golf and have a spouse which finds this "enthusiasm" borderline ridiculous. I've been told golf requires someone who strives for perfection, but realizes the futility of this approach. You have to love the journey more than the result and relish in frustration and imperfection. As a teacher and coach, I spend my days working with amazing middle school and high school student athletes teaching them to think, dream and hope. And just when they start to feel really good about themselves, I hand them a golf club!

21 COMMENTS

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  1. Good review Chris, test the clubs where you live. Ignore the negativity, I live in Colorado as well and am at about 6000 ft haha. I have the previous model Alpha with a Diamana White Board 82x and I consistently carry the ball 275-280 with the 16.5 (4 wood). Best advice for some of these guys is to get off their butt, wasting time nit-picking your review and go hit one for themselves! Great club the 816 Alpha is!

  2. The elevation for testing may not be helpful or ideal in absolute terms. However, to me, absolute terms is less relevant as I will hit the clubs very differently and have a different swing than Chis. What I found most interesting and helpful, is the relative comparison of the two models. Interesting to me that in comparing GBB to 816 (with weight back) that the ballspeeds and distance very similar notwithstanding GBB launches significantly higher and spins significantly more. Strikes me that is sign that GBB may much more forgiving club unless the narrowing of the distance gap is impacted by the elevation. For what it is worth, I have tested both at normal elevation (in Toronto area) and the results held for me (i.e., distance was very similar but GBB launched/spun higher and was more forgiving. Personally, I also like the more “triangular” look of the GBB head.

  3. Chris, I am not trying to piss on your fire but, the reality of the situation is as follows: Having been in contact with FlightScope they confirm the following; At 5,000ft (approximately 1,500m) the expected difference in carry distance is + – 10%. Therefore should any of you be wondering the more accurate figures for these clubs, for the majority of us who are not “double rugged mountain men” are as follows.

    816 Weight Rear Tested Carry Distance @ + – 5000ft = 263
    816 Weight Rear Expected Carry Distance @ Seal Level = 236.7

    816 Weight Forward Tested Carry Distance @ + – 5000ft = 254
    816 Weight Forward Expected Carry Distance @ Sea Level = 228.6

    Great Big Bertha Tested Carry Distance @ + – 5000ft = 266
    Great Big Bertha Expected Carry Distance @ Sea Level = 239.4

    So the reality is that while these Callaway are good clubs they are OK, not super long as one might originally take from the article.

    • Paul – You’re not pissing on anything – Many factors influence how far a ball flies and elevation is one of those factors – buy so is temperature, humidity, etc. That doesn’t make my figures any more or less accurate than your figures – but to reach a grand conclusion that that the clubs are only “okay” ignores one of the most important attributes – that being ball speed. No doubt, these clubs/shafts weren’t optimized for my swing, but the fact I was able to generate as much ball speed as I did is certainly reason for me to believe they’re something quite a bit better than just “good.”

  4. What bugs me is the test was done at 5,000 ASL.
    Why was this not done at a more reasonable elevation. I’d dare say that less than 2% of all US Based golf courses are at or above 5k feet.
    A 280 yard carry BTW would require PGA touring pro club head speed.
    99.9% of all users of golf equipment cannot come close to those numbers

    • Ken – Honest question…Why does the elevation at which the club is tested bother you? Also with any test, unless you have the exact same tempo, swing speed, athleticism, release, etc. as the person/people testing the club, you’re going to have to find a way to make the information relevant to you.
      The most important part of any club is how it performs for you…not someone else. If you think the features of this (or any) club might help improve your game, give it a run. If not, stick with that you have. Thanks for the read!

    • YEAH! Why didn’t he get on an airplane and fly somewhere reasonable to do the test so you don’t have to do 7th grade math to convert his findings to your specific geography!. Shame on Chris.

  5. So you tested two clubs – one for better players with higher swing speeds and one for players needing forgiveness and higher launch. It would seem to me that the club designed for players needing higher launch and more forgiveness should be tested by someone with those swing characteristics and not someone who is hitting a 3 wood 30 yards further than most of those players hit their drivers.

  6. I too am confused by the #’s. Assuming that speed losses are equal/opposite to speed gains, your 1 mph loss of speed when hitting the 816 with the weight forward should result in approximately a 2.5 yard loss in distance. Your 9 yard loss in Carry Distance and 7 yard loss in Total Distance doesn’t fit. While we can conclude that a 500 rpm drop in spin rate and a 1 1/2 degree drop in launch angle would certainly reduce your Overall Carry, there should be a definitive gain in Total Distance as your ball should be running out more, but that is simply not the case here. This tells me that there is more to the story than simply the #’s. Did you have more mishits when the weight was shifted forward? What is your standard ball flight? The weight forward position is said to create a fade bias, did this turn your normal fade into a slice? It would make sense that a ball curving more from left to right than normal would reduce BOTH Carry Distance & Overall Distance, while the more open face would also account for the reduced ball speed. Did your shots finish well right of the target with the weight forward and closer to the target with the weight back? If so, you did not “generate” more speed with the weight back, you simply lost speed with the weight forward due to your inability to square the face with the given configuration. Anyone looking at these clubs as potential gamers would be greatly helped if you shared all of the information that you acquired during your fitting, not just what you felt was important. Isn’t that the purpose behind a club review? As Paul stated above, this is an interesting article, but because the information provided is selective, it leaves us, the readers, with as many questions as it does answers.

    • Prime – Thanks for the read and the thoughts – While I completely understand your desire to get into the particulars of my review, most readers simply don’t want that level of detail. In addition, when you test clubs in real conditions, they don’t always conform to accepted performance parameters.
      We generally try to keep reviews to about one-thousand words and in that try to convey the most important information which helps people figure out if this is a club they think could help them.

  7. So basically Callaway has been marketing the same technology Tour Edge has been using since the early 2000’s as new!?! LOL It’s funny how they call it Face Cup when Tour Edge uses Cup Face. Marketing 101 I guess if it works and they sell tons of clubs who cares I guess

    • You might be right, this was from an old article on the Exotics CB2 which was 2006 I think. Regardless maybe the callaway face cup is different, we can’t just assume its the same.

      “The CB2 has a titanium-cupped face that is 30% lighter than the original Exotics fairway, providing for more discretionary weight. Tour Edge engineers moved the weight to the back of the head to increase the Moment of Inertia (MOI) by 30%.”

  8. Chris, an interesting article but do please help me out here. Why were these clubs tested at 5000 feet of elevation? Surely not because at that altitude the air is less sense and the balls will fly further? If the general public are going to read your articles at least do the testing in a reasonable manner. Sea level, Nil wind, 70 degrees temperature. The results you have provided are totally unrealistic unless one lives in Colorado, Nairobi Kenya or maybe Kabul all of which are at those altitudes!!

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