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Flex Appeal: An interview with shaft guru Robin Arthur

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Life has a funny way of throwing people together. I was recently surfing the web, researching a new shaft for my driver. I sent off a few emails to shaft companies and OEM component companies asking for some advice. To my surprise, they all answered and had useful suggestions. But the response that captured my attention most was from Arthur Xtreme Engineering, a company that designs, tests and markets the Xcaliber brand of golf shafts. I received an email from Robin Arthur asking me a bunch of questions. Turns out he’s the CEO and President, so I was nice getting some VIP treatment!

I did a bit of Googling on Robin and, to my surprise, a ton of stuff came up. He’s a bit of a rockstar in the world of golf shafts, known in golfing circles as the King of the Lightweight Shaft, as his Grafalloy Prolite shafts are tagged as the “winningest ultralite shaft in Tour history,” according to multiple sources.

He’s now his own boss at Arthur Xtreme Engineering and XCaliber Shafts (King Arthur, remember!) and some of his YouTube videos, like this one, make compelling viewing. But don’t let this self-styled, West Virginian fool you. He’s a smart guy with degrees in engineering, applied science and business from Yale.

I recently caught up with Robin in his office in San Diego. A scheduled 30-minute interview turned into a fascinating two-hour journey covering grounds on all sorts of interesting and educational topics. I have tensile strength, modularity, fiber and resin content coming out of my ears. It’s hard not to feel the sense of enthusiasm with “King Arthur.”

Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Mark Donaghy: What’s your background, Robin?

Robin Arthur: After college I spent my early years working in the aerospace industry, joining General Dynamics in 1982. I was involved in many, many programs designing and manufacturing aerospace composite structures. The evolution of graphite and epoxy materials were critical keys. They led to advancements in reducing weight while maintaining strength, opening doors to next generation design and manufacturing techniques. And I was at the forefront of all that.

MD: It’s a big transition from rockets to golf shafts. So how did that come about?

RA: Well, not really. I saw the opportunity to bring my knowledge and experience into another industry, one that was crying out for it. At that time I had just started playing golf and I was obsessed by the game. I was headhunted for a role in Grafalloy, a relatively unknown company in California, to breathe some life into it with innovative R&D and manufacturing. Graphite shafts had really just taken off, so you could say I was in the right place at the right time.

MD: When starting out in the industry, what did you think you could bring to the game of golf that was different, and do you feel you accomplished that?

RA: When I first started in the golf industry, I met a lot of people and asked a lot of questions. I spoke with all the major OEMs and saw what was available in the market and the claims that some of the existing shaft companies were making. I quickly began to realize that there was huge opportunity to improve on what was out there. Both manufacturing and design processes were archaic and resulted in shaft inconsistencies. I knew with my materials, science and engineering background, and experience in the aerospace industry, I could develop something lighter and more consistent, but I had to put some fundamental processes in place first and that took a few years. I’ve always seen myself as an “imagineer” — seeing the art of the possible — and I am constantly challenging both myself and the industry with new concepts. A lot of the stuff I’ve come up with has never made it to market, but I think my lightweight designs have held their own in the industry and then some.

MD: Why lightweight shafts?

RA: Lightweight shafts were originally targeted at the Asian, senior and ladies markets. They allowed more speed to be generated and the dampening properties of graphite meant they were easier on the joints. I tested some of these shafts, and although really whippy, I thought once the guys on the senior tour got hold of them, they would take off. The problem was getting something to play in the No. 1 head on all Tours – The Great Big Bertha. It was a great, titanium head concept….except the distribution of mass wasn’t….ummm….optimal. What some of the shaft companies were doing was sanding down an X-flex shaft to an R-flex, sometimes all the way to an L-flex, taking off 20g of weight and making it almost impossible to do it consistently. Some OEMs were using lighter weight grips (The Bubble) and altering the distribution of mass in the clubhead. Remember the Great Big Bertha? The pros were still putting the ball in orbit with four and five degrees of loft. The problem Callaway was having with the Great Big Bertha was the mass distribution of properties (weight, etc.) of that head design. This was complicated by the distribution of stiffness along the length of the shaft that existing shaft companies used. It took a while to get it right, but when I did, things really took off.

MD: With all your successes at Grafalloy, what keeps you going?

RA: I love golf and I love helping people, be it a tour professional, a club maker or the regular guy on the street. I get a kick out of helping someone get the right shaft to match their game, making it a lot more enjoyable. I really enjoy getting feedback that a shaft has made a big difference. So the pursuit of designing and manufacturing the best shafts available on the market always drives me. Also, being able to offer that at a realistic price is a fundamental cornerstone to my philosophy.

But here’s the real bottom line. I grew up as an athlete and performed at a high level. Every day I worked on becoming a better athlete, every single day. I take this same approach of continuous improvement to my shaft designs, marketing approaches and even pricing. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning!

MD: What’s next with Xcaliber?

RA: Since leaving Grafalloy, I’ve been involved in several projects. I’ve worked with shaft companies like Royal Precision, Wishon Golf, and Golfworks, and served as a consultant to smaller OEMs. I also took a bit of a hiatus to follow some personal ambitions. But I’m now energized to really get going again with Xcaliber. For a few years I was running a one-man show, doing the R&D, the manufacturing, sales and marketing all by myself. But I’ve turned a corner. I have a whole new line-up of shafts coming out for 2017, and I’m excited. In fact, I’m just back after some extensive player testing all over the U.S., and with Gene Parente at Golf Labs. The results look awesome! So I’m ready to start scaling up. I’ve invested a lot of resources in new management and marketing, and I want to set up channels not just in the U.S., but also Europe and Asia. And I want to take that to the world with a reasonably priced product. Watch out for me in Orlando at the PGA Merchandise show. I’ll be the guy with the big smile on his face!

MD: What do you see as the next shaft developments over the next 10-20 years?

RA: The (golf) head guys have so many restrictions these days that it’s hard to see any major developments there in the near future. The only real way to improve is with the shaft. Luckily the launch monitors are getting so good these days that measuring shaft performance has become a lot more scientific. This is great because it allows me to give the golfing community objective differences in shaft designs. When this info is combined with subjective feedback from extensive player testing, which is just as important as in-lab testing, I can feel confident putting my name on an Xcaliber golf shaft. That’s because I know it’s the best, high-performance shaft I can make for a particular golfer.

I’m always experimenting with new, exotic materials no one has ever heard of before and continuing to blend existing materials such as steel, fibreglass and graphite epoxy in innovative ways. So lighter, stronger shafts will continue to grow in popularity. Also geometry will be a major development but I can’t say too much about that for now. Watch this space!

MD: Where do you get your inspiration?

RA: I already described myself as an imagineer. Technically I’m pretty good across the board, but I’m more of a concepts guy. My latest project came from watching a Zorro movie. When Antonio Banderas cracked his bull whip, it got me thinking about the angular acceleration of the lower portion a shaft, and immediately I was off developing a new concept. I also get ideas from the questions I ask. But like they say, genius is only 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. It’s funny…I’m constantly doing the perspiration part. Maybe someday I’ll get a glimpse of that genius thing.

MD: Over the years, have you worked on any special projects with any high-profile golfers?

RA: I’ve been lucky to have worked with a bunch of PGA Tour players, and of course, players of all abilities. I’ve learned from them all. But one of the biggest highlights in my career was working with Gary Player at Augusta. Mr. Player was in his early 60s and could still hit the snot out of his driver. He had heard about the Prolite shaft and asked me to get him a couple for his Bridgestone heads. He wanted to do a head-to-head comparison with his current gamer, and at the start he was skeptical. It came down to four shots, two with his current set up and two with the Prolite. He asked Peter Brooks, the CFO of Grafalloy at the time, to head down to the fairway to measure and mark the shots. Mr. Player hit his first two shots about 250 yards down the fairway and then indicated he was going to try my Prolite. I watched as his first drive sailed over Pete’s head! After Peter walked to the longer mark, Mr. Player’s second shot sailed over his head again! I wish I could have videoed Gary’s expression…and my smile. He leaned over to me afterwards and whispered, “Robin, I think you may be onto something big here with this shaft. I’ll take ‘em.” They weren’t even for sale!

MD: What sort of golfer are you?

RA: I’d love to tell you I was a scratch golfer, but the truth is that these days I play off about a 10 index. At one point I played to about 4, but right now all my energy is going into developing the business. Twelve- to 14-hour days mean I don’t get to play as often as I like, maybe only two or three times per month. It’s around the greens where I suffer. But I test a bunch of clubs. I’m a “testaholic,” and I can hit a ball well enough to know the difference. I then pass along those shafts I think are good enough to my testing teams who help me either continue the design process or say, “We’ve got it!”

MD: What clubs/shafts do you currently game?

RA: As you might expect, all my clubs have Xcaliber shafts in them, but because I am continuously testing clubs my bag is never the same. I do always carry a Maltby Tricept 58-degree with one of my Spin Wedge shafts in it. I’m getting 2000 rpm more spin with setup because of whip action in the shaft. I love that club! I can stop it on a dime. But I’m forever testing new heads with new shaft combinations so I’m usually grabbing what’s near, or what’s in test and heading out.

MD: Thanks, Robin. My brain hurts. Can I go now?

RA: Yes, go forth, newly appointed Sir Knight. The battle rages, so spread the word.

Have shaft questions for Arthur? He can be contacted at robin@xcalibershafts.com.

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. W

    Jul 10, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Did something happen to Robin, saw him at the PGA show and was looking forward to his new products.

  2. Donna Greco

    Nov 30, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Very cool Robin, Im proud of you!

  3. Jafar

    Nov 30, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Great interview, had no idea about these shafts and have been playing for several years now trying to digest all of the information and nuances about golf shafts. Very refreshing to hear his story and even better to have his products affordable. Can’t wait for my XCaliber hybrid shaft to come in.

  4. Jim

    Nov 25, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    Reshafted 2 hybrids for a gentleman seeking to seriously limit cost. Found XCaliber in Maltbie catalog and gave them a try (less than 40 ea? – can’t recall exact $). Anyway, while doing a manual FLO install & Freq analysis, was amazes to find virtually no spine and uniform readings with both 454gr weight chuck or clubhead.

    Exceptionally well constructed shaft, felt great. They’ve become our recommended ‘budget’ replacement shaft for most average repairs

  5. Dave R

    Nov 23, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Smiz smiz smiz.

  6. Blue Man

    Nov 23, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    Mr Arthur is a hero to me! The Grafalloy Blue is the best shaft ever made! I play the Blue 65 X which is stiff as a board and I love it!
    I also play the Xcalibur Tour as well and it’s also awesome. For the price, it’s amazing!
    I’m looking forward to

  7. Grizz01

    Nov 23, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    Not a lot of new innovation/performance enhancing in clubs. But its the shaft! The shaft in the engine of the club. You get that right, just about any club will play well.

  8. Shortside

    Nov 23, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    Aside from the driver (which is only a matter of time) every club in my bag is Xcaliber. Like Robin I LOVE my wedge shafts. Not in a hurry to rebuild the bag but looking forward to seeing his ’17 offerings.

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Podcasts

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: Task to target

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In this week’s episode: How having a target will improve your direction and contact you have with the ball.

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On Spec: Blades vs cavity backs | Classic gear vs. modern equipment

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In this episode, host Ryan talks about a recent experience of playing poor golf and what it took from an equipment perspective to get his game back on track.

The talk is wide-ranging and offers an inside look at what equipment tweaks or experiments might help you play better golf—or get you out of a rut.

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From the GolfWRX Vault: How far should you hit your golf clubs?

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Editor’s note: Jaacob Bowden‘s 2013 piece on how far a club “ought” to carry based on clubhead speed—i.e. how far you should hit your golf clubs–remains one of our most widely read pieces (thanks, Google search). And while seven years have passed since its publication, the data remains the same, and thus the piece remains just as relevant today. 

We’re happy to crack open the GolfWRX Vault for this excellent bit of writing. 


One of the nice things about having all this new fancy technological equipment like Trackman, Flightscope, ShotLink, etc., at various PGA Tour events is that distance data can be gathered for each of the players.

In case you haven’t come across it already, here are the approximate Trackman carry distance averages for men at the professional level.

Average PGA Tour Carry Distances (yards)

Club Carry
Driver (Total) 289
Driver (Carry) 269
3-Wood 243
5-Wood 230
Hybrid 225
3-Iron 212
4-Iron 203
5-Iron 194
6-Iron 183
7-Iron 172
8-Iron 160
9-Iron 148
PW 136

Pretty cool info. Perhaps they hit it farther than you might have thought…or maybe they hit less than you may have been lead to believe based on what you’ve seen on TV, read on the internet, etc.

Since I deal a lot with swing speed training and helping people in general hit the ball farther, a relatively common question I get is, “How far should I hit my clubs for my swing speed?”

Well, since we also know that the average driver swing speed on Tour typically runs around 112 to 113 mph, using a bit of algebra and the above distances we can approximate a guide for how far you could expect to hit the ball (assuming fairly consistent and solid contact) given your personal driver swing speed.

Here are those carry distances.

Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

 Approximate Carry Distances by Driver Swing Speed (mph)

I took the ranges down to 60 and 70 mph because those are swing speeds I’ll encounter when working with some amateur women and seniors. I also went up to 140 mph because numerous long drivers I’ve trained can get their drivers up that high (RE/MAX World Long Drive champions like Joe Miller, Jamie Sadlowski and Ryan Winther can actually reach over 150 mph).

Aside from using the chart as a general reference point, here are a few other things that I think are worth pointing out:

First, these numbers are based off how the average Tour player strikes the ball. Although Tour players are overall good ball strikers with all their clubs, most of them are actually not as efficient (the Tour average is about 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed) as they can be when it comes to distance with their drivers because on average they hit drives that launch too low and with too much spin.

LGPA Tour players (2.65 yards/mph of swing speed) and Professional Long Drivers are actually more distance efficient with their drivers…but that’s a topic for another article. The good news for you is that greater carry and total-driving distances can be achieved at all the range of swing speeds shown above if you are a more efficient driver than the average male tour player at 2.58 yards/mph of swing speed.

With a 2-degree change in driver loft and some minor adjustments made to his swing path, angle of attack, etc, one of my amateur students went from being an already above-average efficient driver at 2.61 yards/mph to an extremely efficient one at 2.75 yards/mph. So with no change to his 102 mph swing speed, he increased his driving distance average from 266 to 280. Then after some swing speed training, he got up to 112 mph and can now hit drives around 307 yards with that same efficiency of 2.75 yards/mph. That’s 41 more yards!

Second, the club distances are based on the driver swing speeds that you would get from a system like FlightScope and Trackman. So if at all possible, get yourself checked on one of those. Otherwise, if you measure with something like a Speed Stik (which measure higher in my experience), you could get a false sense of how far you might expect to hit the ball.

As another example, Sports Sensors Swing Speed Radars (SSR) also read faster. It should be pointed out that SSRs are still a great personal training aid, and because of their accuracy and relative affordability and portability, they are actually the radar I recommend in my swing speed training programs.

However, the Doppler radar in an SSR measures the fastest moving part of the club head (typically the toe) versus a Trackman or FlightScope, which each have proprietary algorithms to calculate the speed at the center of the club face. For this reason, SSRs will read about 5 to 12 percent faster, depending on how you as an individual move the driver through impact. If you have an SSR, just hit 5 to 10 balls with it and a Trackman or FlightScope at the same time and you’ll find out your personal difference for sake of comparison.

Third, the above numbers can be useful for a good general reference, but like I mentioned in my article about understand distance variance, recognize that carry distances can vary a lot depending on conditions. Slopes, wind, temperature, altitude, etc., are all things that can affect how far the ball flies, so remember to factor that in.

Fourth, keep in mind potential loft differences between your clubs and the ones here. As a general rule of thumb, club manufacturers have made their club lofts (especially in the irons) continually stronger over the years as a way of marketing and selling consumers the new clubs.

Many top Tour players are being paid to play the latest clubs, which could mean they might also be playing irons with stronger lofts than the set you are playing. This isn’t always the case, however, but it’s another thing to be aware of.

Last, once you start approaching less than 80 mph with the driver, notice how the distances start bunching up between clubs.  At this point, you start getting to an area where you really don’t need a full set of 14 clubs. If this is you, perhaps you might also find that you hit a 3-wood or 5-wood further than a normal driver.

My wife is very strong and athletic, however, as a beginner who doesn’t play or practice very much, she hasn’t developed much swing speed. For that reason, we got her fitted for a 9-club set of Wishon 730CLs, a set that is designed specifically for men and women with less than 80 mph of club head speed.

The shafts are very light, the driver is 16 degrees and only 42 inches, the fairway woods are 20 and 26 degrees (versus the commonly used 15- and 19-degree fairway woods), and the remaining hybrids/irons are gapped out in 6-degree loft increments (compared to the normal 3- or 4-degree). Also, since many beginners, lesser skilled players and those with slower swing speeds can struggle with really high lofted wedges, the highest lofted wedge in the set is 54 degrees.

All of these things combine to provide a driver that can actually be hit in the air for distance, clubs that have substantial distance gapping, plus it’s just less clubs in general to lug around and choose from.

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