By Zak Kozuchowski
GolfWRX Managing Editor
Winston Churchill called golf “a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into a even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”
With that outlook, it’s no wonder that Churchill eventually abandoned the game. But had Churchill been born into the current era of golf, where golf balls last until they’re lost and putters swing themselves, he may not have stopped playing so quickly. That brings to mind another of Churchill’s quotes:
“To improve is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed a lot.”
Golf equipment has improved tremendously in the last two decades, making it almost unimaginable that golfers could have played their best using equipment like balata balls and 180cc drivers. But even those products were revolutionary in their day. While seasoned golfers sometimes wonder how much better golf equipment can get, new materials and breakthroughs in technology have shown that perfection is still likely a long way off.
There were a handful of products from 2012 that sent shockwaves through the golf industry, equipment that made the game easier, more stylish and more fun. And since it’s that time of year again, when the rumors of next year’s gear are heating up, we created a list of predictions for each major equipment category for 2103.
No one can be sure if 2013 will be a year characterized by small improvements, or if the refinements of last few years will pave the way for something revolutionary. But based on some of the winners from 2012, we can project what we’re going to see next year (or at least what we hope to see).
No other piece of golf equipment brings more excitement to golf’s landscape than a groundbreaking driver design. But USGA limits on clubhead size and clubface rebound mean game-changing technologies are going to be harder to come by. Golf equipment companies have spent a substantial amount of money on driver R&D as well, which means drivers are likely at the top of the performance pyramid until the next breakthrough.
In 2004, TaylorMade became the first company to release an adjustable driver, the r7, which had four moveable weight ports. Recently, we’ve seen TaylorMade and other companies add even more adjustability to their releases, such as adjustable hosels and adjustable sole plates.
Other major OEMs, including TaylorMade, Callaway, Cobra, Nike, PING and Titleist currently have at least one adjustable driver in their product line, proving that driver adjustability is here to stay. Companies like TaylorMade and Cobra have also had success getting their staff players to use drivers that are untraditional colors, such as white and orange, which has translated into retail success.
Prediction: The advancement of driver adjustability means that one day we won’t need to buy drivers in different lofts — golfers will be able to adjust them to a wide range of lofts, face positions and center of gravity (COG) profiles. This will save manufacturers money and cut down on the amount of heads retailers need to carry. It will make consumer buying simpler as well. Look for major steps to be made toward a “uni-driver” in 2013.
Also, expect manufactures to continue to experiment with bold colors and/or custom color options. In the not too distant future, golfers will look back and wonder why they once preferred drivers with glossy black finishes.
Before this year, there was a good chance that the oldest club in a tour pro’s bag outside of a wedge or a putter was a fairway wood. But that changed for many top players in 2012 with the introduction of high-coefficient-of-restitution (COR) fairway woods that were long, forgiving and pleasing to the eye. The Adams XTD Super Fairway Wood and TaylorMade’s RocketBallz were the most talked about clubs in the fairway woods category since the release of the modern game’s most successful fairway woods, the Adams Tight Lies and the Orlimar TriMetal that debuted more than a decade ago.
The Rocketballz and XTD Super Fairway Woods use slot technology to give the clubs a rebound effect similar to the most cutting edge drivers. The Super Fairways, which have a titanium body, have a slot on the crown and on the sole to achieve high ball speeds and more forgiveness. The Rocketballz fairway woods, which have a steel body, have an extremely wide slot on the sole.
Prediction: The success of slot technology means fairway woods are no longer going to receive simple hand-me-down technology from drivers. Going forward, look for fairway woods to be treated as a separate entity similar to the way hybrids have been uniquely engineered for years. But there’s a problem — what happens when fairway woods and hybrids simply go too far? Look for manufacturers to find a way to use slot technology or something similar to make the most forgiving fairway woods we’ve ever seen. They will be high-launching, low-spin canons.
When Titleist released its AP2 iron in 2008, the company set the standard of what a large-faced forged iron should look like. By using exotic materials such as tungsten that increase the movement of inertia (MOI) in irons, designers were able to move even more weight toward the perimeter of the irons. This allowed them to squeeze even more length and forgiveness out of forgings and still maintain a profile that appeared to serious players. That’s why for all but the best players in the world, blades are dead and are not coming back.
Game-improvement iron designs have improved as well, bringing golfers “hybrid irons,” as well as a variety of options that are not only longer, straighter and more forgiving, but won’t be called shovels by their playing partners.
Prediction: Cobra scored a slam dunk with its AMP Forged iron, an AP2-esque design with an orange color scheme. Expect iron aesthetics to go the way of drivers — the back cavities of irons will become the canvas for OEMs to showcase the energy of their brand. And it’s not hard to imagine an iron that will provide golfers the ability to change the aesthetics in the back cavity of their irons through adjustable parts.
Many consumers buy a new wedge for only one reason: to get more spin. But 2012 proved that wedges purchases are no longer just about what wedge has the sharpest grooves. TaylorMade’s ATV wedge was designed to perform well from most lies for most golfers, and the majority of GolfWRXers that had the opportunity to review the ATV agreed.
Customization options of wedges also increased increased in 2012. Growth in custom wedge design can be sourced to Scratch Golf, which was founded in 2003 and was one of the first companies to provide golfers with the access to custom grinds that professional golfer enjoy. Now almost every major company provides the custom grind options, finishes, stampings and paint fill options that Scratch pioneered.
Predictions: One-size-fits-all wedges may not appeal to every golfer, but a simpler approach to wedge fitting and a focused effort on wedge-fitting education will certainly benefit the majority of golfers. Expect versatile sole grinds become the norm, not the exception, and for custom options to continue to become more popular.
Whether you love them or hate them, every golfer will admit that 2012 was the year of the belly putter. Golfers should expect the popularity of belly and long putters to continue in 2013, but it’s not a certainly. The success of tour players that have used anchored putting styles have led to a decision by golf’s major ruling bodies to evaluate the legality of the putters, and many experts believe that the USGA has already drafted language that will outlaw them.
Prediction: The uncertainly looming over belly and long putters has likely effected production of 2013 belly putters, meaning golfers won’t see much of a change in next year’s line even if the putters are not banned.
There’s been a (golf) war taking place in short putter design for years — those who like putters with inserts and those who don’t. Inserts are a great way to save weight in putter designs, making putters more forgiving, more stable and in many cases providing golfers with a softer feel. But many prominent putter designers believe that the use of synthetics in putter faces can cause durability issues, especially in extreme weather.
Whether you’re a fan of inserts or not, a new technology has taken hold of putter design in recent years: groove technology. Some putter designs are “groovier” than others, as some have actual grooves in the putter face while other designers prefer high-friction milled faces. These manufacturing techniques are said to get the ball rolling off the putter face as soon as possible.
The problem with putter face technology is that there’s no consensus in the industry about what works best. Tiger Woods uses a putter with grooves, but Rory McIlroy doesn’t. But Luke Donald uses an insert putter, which means the top 3 players in the world can’t even agree on what works best.
Predictions: With the exception of a few brands, putter makers have stuck to a standard color palate of black, gray and brown. Nike’s Core Concept putter debuted in 2012 in an aggressive red-and-black color scheme. It wouldn’t be surprising to see more brands experiment with brighter colors in their putter lines. Also, the acceptance of larger putter grips means that grips like SuperStroke’s Fatso and Slim will come stock with new releases. These grips, as well as standard putter grips, will be made in colors that will accent the untraditionally colored putter shafts and putter heads that are sure to come.
Love the predictions? Hate them? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.