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GolfWRX takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Callaway ball plant

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In Chicopee, Massachusetts, there is an unassuming red brick building that predates the existence of every modern golf OEM. From the outside, it could be confused for any other American manufacturing facility if not for the proudly displayed Callaway sign. Inside, there are over 400 hard-working people producing the highest quality golf balls using state-of-the art manufacturing techniques and tools — this red brick building is the Callaway golf ball plant.

To understand what you see when you first enter the ball plant, it’s best to first understand why it is here in the first place. When I initially asked this question to one of my tour guides, Vincent Simonds, the Senior Director of Global Golf Ball Operations, his answer started with a story that predated cars…it was at this point I knew that these guys mean business.

The modern history, however, starts in 2003 when Callaway purchased Top-Flite brand and subsidiaries, and with it purchased the entire Top-Flite manufacturing facility. In its it heyday, Top-Flite/Spaulding was producing its full line of clubs and balls out of this building, and that included equipment made for Bobby Jones. Chicopee, Massachusetts, was essentially the center of the golf club technology universe.

Part of the original Spaulding golf club factory

Letter from Bobby Jones discussing the advantage of the newly designed ball

Page 2 of the Letter from Bobby Jones

When its comes to balls, most modern golfers don’t equate Top-Flite with premium equipment or breakthroughs, but during this time period the ball plant in Chicopee was responsible for just as many technology and scientific breakthroughs as its modern Callaway self.

One Example is Bob Molitor. In 1972, Molitor developed the first two-piece golf ball with a Surlyn cover by combining the right amounts of various ionomers. This allowed golf balls to have much greater durability and along with it improved distance. This development is part of the reason the USGA had to establish the “One Ball Rule” because players would switch out depending on the hole since there was a huge distance advantage to this Solid Core Surlyn Cover design. Imagine that – the USGA having to change rules to accommodate a new technology, seems to me our current daily discussions about bifurcation aren’t something so new after all.

There were a lot of other great innovations over the years that lead to new technology making its way into the bags of players all over the world, one of which caused a revolution that we still benefit from today. In the 90s Top-Flite, under the Strata brand, cracked the code of merging the soft, high-spin “tour ball” performance with the lower-spinning, longer-flying, and more durable “distance ball”, this three-piece ball was like two balls in one. Strata’s design team accomplished this feat by placing a soft polyurethane cover on a Top-Flite distance ball, and then added a thin layer between the cover and the core that encased the ball’s already large and solid rubber core. In short, the modern golf ball was born. 

This brings us back to the modern day Callaway ball plant, a facility where the average employee tenure exceeds 20 years, and where every single premium Callaway Ball on the planet is made. The thing I quickly realized upon entering the plant for the first time is the pride every person has for their role in making world class golf balls. This sense of pride, and a friendly, yet hard-working environment is something I witnessed before at Callaway’s Carlsbad facility too — a testament to the company’s corporate leadership and the culture that they promote everyday. The “Victory Flag,” as they call it, was flying high thanks to Xander Schauffele’s win just a few days before my visit. 

The start of production begins with materials formulation

I was able to observe a pre-shift meeting, and you would think that based on the discussion of machine tolerances, quality control, & equipment inspections this plant is making parts for a yet-to-be-seen shuttle being sent into space, but they’re talking golf balls. Speaking to the tolerances the plant works within, the in-house machine shop had some amazing equipment, including some things I unfortunately could not share through pictures. This equipment works with the tolerances of less than the 1/30th the thickness of a Post-It Note. For example, each single side to a cover mold for the Chrome Soft line takes more than 30 hours of machine time to complete — an amount of time which might seem excessive, but when you think of the speed and forces impacting a golf ball from first driver strike and along its parabolic trajectory, we really are talking space shuttle physics.

Some of the most impressive equipment has nothing to do with the performance of the balls but rather how they look. I’m talking here about the Truvis patterned balls. What was perceived by many golfers at first as a gimmick (and something than even some Callaway management believed would be a fad) has proven to be an absolute slam dunk. The pentagon pattern provides a tangible benefit by creating an optical illusion that makes the ball look bigger (and easier to hit) especially out of the rough, and also gives visual feedback for short game shots and putting.

Let’s just say that what started as a toe dip with one machine has turned into an area of the plant with more than a dozen machines,  and Callaway is also producing Truvis balls with custom colors and logos — they’re not just printing pentagons anymore.

GolfWRX Truvis

For actual production, every ball starts as raw materials, and compounds are precisely mixed in house, allowing Callaway to control the entire production process. The amount of materials engineering and chemistry I witnessed was way beyond what I was expecting, and to be frank, I went in with already high expectations. After initial mixing each batch is tested and sent to the next step.

Mixing Station

Pre cut core “slugs” ready for baking

Ever wonder why the cores of various golf balls from a single OEM are so bright and differently colored? It’s actually done to make each material identifiable in the process and give production staff another way to make sure materials get to the right manufacturing line. Of all the questions I asked, this one had the most simple answer.

Callaway ERC ( Left ) vs. Chrome Soft ( Right )

The next step is the “cooking” process of the inner core. Each oven press is precisely controlled for pressure and temperature along multiple areas of each unit, this ensures a core that comes from the outer part of the press is formed and “cooked” to the exact same spec as one from the middle. The same process is used for both parts of the dual core.  

Hydraulic press “oven” for producing cores

 

Cores post-pressing and still hot

Callaway utilized a proprietary manufacturing and molding technique to ensure exact specifications are met for centering the core and achieving correct cover thickness. Once the covers are in place, we officially have a golf ball, but we’re not done yet. There are still more quality control checks done by machine as well and humans to once again ensure each ball that leaves the plant is built to the highest quality standards and will perform just like the one before it.

Chrome Softs just after the cover process – Still very warm to the touch as the urethane cools

Even the final paint and clear coat are highly engineered to resist staining, sheering, and stay on during deformation. To quote of one my tour guides, “The force applied to the cover and paint on the ball by a wedge would be like taking a hatchet to the paint on the side of your house.” It might seem like a simple process, but to ensure full coverage of sphere requires some pretty unique tools to get the job done.

This brings us to the new Triple Track Alignment system and how it was developed to help golfers play better. The new system helps improve alignment on putts from all lengths and it also happens to be on Callaway’s longest ball to date: the ERC Soft.

The alignment aid wraps 160 degrees around the ball and offers three parallel lines with high contrast (no more need to try and draw that long Sharpie line around your ball).  For those who choose to putt without the Triple Track alignment, Callaway considered you too, since the other 200 degrees around the ball unsure that you won’t see those lines from address.

Triple Track Alignment visible vs hidden

Every shot taken means something to someone, whether it be a golfer trying to break 100 for the first time, or a tour professional lining up a putt on Sunday afternoon of a major championship. The golf ball is the one piece of equipment a golfer will use on every shot, and each person at the Callaway ball plant in Chicopee, Massachusetts, is proud to put their name behind it, even if you don’t see those names on the box.

 

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. DanT

    Mar 14, 2019 at 7:52 pm

    PROBLEM – NOT ALL CALLAWAY BALLS ARE PRODUCED IN THE US!!

    The SuperSoft is made in Taiwan!!

    In my opinion – this story makes you think – all Callaway balls are made in the US –WRONG!!

  2. Perplexed

    Jan 20, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    Did the USGA come up with the one ball rule? I don’t recall having ever seen it in the USGA rules. It seemed like a PGA Tour rule to me.

  3. Mark

    Jan 19, 2019 at 11:26 am

    I’m curious if you asked if they run special batches for their tour players and what % play one of the standard production balls?

  4. Willie Carmichael

    Jan 19, 2019 at 11:01 am

    It’s spelled Spalding.

  5. Bill C

    Jan 19, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Golf balls are very fascinating. They seem so simple, yet the amount of engineering which goes into their design and manufacture always amazes me.

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M9: Shane Ryan on Bryson: Nobody else is trying hard enough | Mike Davis moving on | Rory loves Domino’s

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1. Mike Davis leaving USGA in 2021
Scapegoat? Villian? Whatever your impression of the man, Mike Davis is moving on… Golf Digest’s Dave Shedloski…”The USGA on Tuesday announced that Davis is stepping down as its chief executive officer, effective at the end of 2021, to embark on a career in golf course design and construction. Davis plans to team up with Tom Fazio II to create a new golf course architecture company, Fazio & Davis Golf Design.”
  • “I’ve absolutely loved the USGA, and I hate the idea of leaving,” said Davis, 55, who became the USGA’s seventh executive director in 2011, succeeding David Fay, a role that segued into that of CEO in 2016. “I’ve grown up around here. I mean, it will have been 32 years by the time I leave, and my work in championships and governance and so on is just … in some ways, I never thought I’d leave.
  • “But at the heart of this, I have always loved golf course design. I loved learning, seeing, playing, studying golf courses. I’m closer to 60 than I am 50, and there was almost a sense that if I don’t do this, I’m going to regret it.”
2. Replacement search underway 
Shedloski again…”The process of finding a successor to USGA CEO Mike Davis, who announced Tuesday he will leave the association at the end of 2021, commenced about a year ago with the help of a search firm. So it is, according to USGA president Stu Francis, that the association already has taken meaningful steps toward an eventual leadership transition.”
  • “Francis would not divulge how many candidates might have been identified, be they inside the halls of Golf House in Liberty Corner, N.J., or outside them.”
3. More meditations on the Bryson Effect
Shane Ryan, as can be gleaned from his headline, thinks the Bryson DeChambeau Effect is going the change the game of golf…and I for one think his points are superb…
“For a moment, let’s forget the specifics. Let’s forget the weight and distance gain, the muscle activation fitness regimen, the protein shakes, the single iron length, the putting lasers, and a thousand other things that fall under the umbrella of “science.” Forget it all and think broadly. We need some distance to understand Bryson DeChambeau’s win at the U.S. Open-the most consequential result for golf since Tiger Woods won the Masters in 1997-and to internalize the only conclusion that really matters: On an intellectual level, nobody else is trying hard enough.”
“If that sounds like an insult to a group of professionals who have dedicated their lives to becoming elite practitioners of the sport, so be it. DeChambeau is putting them to shame simply because he has the courage not just to seek out innovative ideas, but to pursue them with monomaniacal energy. His commitment is so rigorous, so fanatical, that everyone else comes off looking like a dilettante.”
“This makes people uncomfortable, fans and players alike, but the ultimate legacy of his astonishing win at Winged Foot-a course that was supposed to be the antithesis to and kryptonite for the DeChambeau Style-is that we can no longer dismiss him as a pretentious pseudoscientist. That comfort is gone, and now we reckon with a reality that forces from the mouths of the doubters the three most painful words imaginable.
“He was right.”
4. …and even more…this on Bryson’s putting
Mike Purkey for the Morning Read…“DeChambeau also uses a device that measures putts in miles per hour. Yes, you read that correctly. So, he knows how far to swing his arm-lock putter to produce a particular speed, therefore a precise distance. Then, he takes slope and break into account, using the same device.”
  • “It’s not pretty like Ben Crenshaw putted, but DeChambeau thinks that’s the best way for him to putt. And you can’t argue results. He tied for 11th at Winged Foot in putts per round, at 28.75.”
  • “You see me out there on the greens with the device trying to control my speed,” he said. “It’s just something that allows me and gives me comfort to know that on this green, or these speeds of greens, it’s going to be repeatable. It’s going to be comfort in knowing how far I can take it back and go through.”
5. Danny Lee offers an apology after six-putt horrorshow 
Golfweek’s Julie Williams…“Danny Lee made an early exit from the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club on Saturday evening – one culminating with a six-putt from 4 feet on the 18th green for a quadruple-bogey 8. After that, Lee withdrew from the championship, citing a wrist injury, and left the property.”
  • …”In the Tweet, Lee pledged to think about his actions and use it to get better.”
  • “I apologize for my poor actions at (the) U.S. Open at week. It was very unprofessional and foolish. Obviously hurts lots of my fans and followers and my sponsors out there,” Lee wrote in part. “My frustration took over me and combined with injury I had to fight with it all week. … I shouldn’t have left it like that.”
6. Watch out for Will Zalatoris 
Adam Stanley for PGATour.com…“Zalatoris’ play on the Korn Ferry Tour has been, in a word, impressive. He has finished in the top 20 in his last 11 starts, the longest streak in that circuit’s history. He’s hitting 81% of greens this season, which is on pace to be the most in KFT history, as well.”
  • “He’s also first in Scoring Average and Ball Striking.”
  • “He might be the best ball striker out there,” said Josh Gregory, a performance golf coach based out of Maridoe. Zalatoris credits a lot of his recent success to his work with Gregory along with Troy Denton, who is the head golf professional at the club.
  • “Denton calls Zalatoris a “freak ball-striker.”
  • “Gregory works with 11 golfers across the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA TOUR, and has been with Zalatoris for the last 18 months. He said Zalatoris was the “perfect candidate” for his way of teaching – mostly wrapped in games and drills and repetition.”
7. JT, TW win Payne’s Valley Cup…
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…“Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas edged Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose in the first-ever Payne’s Valley Cup, played at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri to mark the opening of Woods’ first-ever public course design.”
  • “Woods and Thomas teamed in a Ryder Cup-style match against a pair of former world No. 1s from Europe, with the match divided into three sections. The first six-hole segment, won by McIlroy and Rose, was played using best-ball format. Nos. 7-12 featured alternate shot and saw the Americans strike back to tie the match at one point apiece, setting up a singles’ showdown across the home stretch.”
  • “Woods faced off against Rose in a singles match, while Thomas went against McIlroy. Those two points were also halved, with Rose beating Woods, 1 up, and Thomas beating McIlroy, 2 up. Both matches ended on the picturesque 123-yard, par-3 19th hole at Payne’s Valley, and with the match tied 2-2 Woods and Thomas got the win by virtue of a closest-to-the-pin tiebreaker after Thomas hit his final shot inside 9 feet.”
 
8. Tiger on Payne’s Valley…
Derek Duncan for Golf Digest…“My goal when starting TGR Design was to create courses that are fun and playable for golfers of all abilities,” Woods told Golf Digest. “This was particularly important at Payne’s Valley, my first public golf course.”
“Woods has always been at his best on the biggest stages, and Payne’s Valley, named for the late Payne Stewart, who grew up in nearby Springfield, is unquestionably big. The course plays atop a broad, starburst arrangement of low bluffs in the southwest Missouri Ozarks, where ancient peaks and ridgetops have been scrubbed and worn by time. (Parts of the property were formerly nine holes of the defunct Murder Rock golf course; the other nine became parts of Ozarks National, Golf Digest’s Best New Public Course in 2019.) Yet Payne’s Valley manages to effect an impression of height by pushing the holes, particularly on the first nine, out to the edges of the extended fingers of land that tumble down into wooded ravines, giving rise to cross-valley vistas. “While shaping the golf course, we spent a lot of time thinking about the views that we wanted to capture from various greens, fairways and tee boxes,” Woods says.”
“To this point, he and Johnny Morris, founder of Big Cedar Lodge and Bass Pro Shops retailers, made several in-the-field adjustments to maximize the down-valley sightlines, including reconceptualizing two of the closing holes into the downhill par-3 16th and the par-4 17th, a classic Bottle hole with a strand of bunkers breaking high and low sections of fairway. (Fitting a drive into the upper fairway is more risky, but it provides a straight look into the angled green.) Woods and Beau Welling, senior design consultant for TGR Design, filled the bare, blufftop panoramas with vast wall-to-wall fairways (the course has a considerable 116 acres of maintained turf), sprawling bunkers and expansive greens with false edges that slip off into smooth, low-cut chipping zones. Zeon zoysia green collars and approaches, which can be cut lower than other zoysia grasses, encourage shots along the ground.”
9. Rory loves…Domino’s pizza…?
Our Gianni Magliocco…“The Payne’s Valley Cup on Tuesday provided plenty of entertaining moments, but one thing golf fans perhaps weren’t bargaining on hearing was a Rory McIlroy deep dive into his current favorite pizza joint.”
“While his partner Rose was preparing to putt, McIlroy revealed that he was on a ‘big Domino’s kick’ at the moment, and it elicited a pretty hilarious reaction from Justin Thomas.”
“The Ulsterman justified his choice by claiming that when you don’t know the good local spots, then Domino’s Pizza is ‘solid’. When asked by JT what toppings he goes for, McIlroy responded that his go-to order is the ‘Deluxe’, which according to google consists of ‘green peppers, black olives, and meats like pepperoni, ham, and Italian sausage.”

 

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The DailyWRX (9/22/2020): 12 steps back, 1 step forward | Golf ball compression goals | Elk’s truth hammer

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Sometimes yah gotta take 12 steps back to take 1 step forward…

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@berndwiesberger after the US Open ???? #USOpen

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Rick looks…pi$$ed off…

Samesies…

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Compression goals from @brysondechambeau. ????

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Truth hammer…If a course is 7,400, they only actually play 6.300 of it. That’s what happens when you can carry…everything.

St’i emit I dnuof a wen emag…….

MD @ynnhoj_rednuw or @johnny_wunder

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An inside look at the world of golf club design

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The design process has always fascinated me, especially when it comes to golf clubs.

The ability to create something new while also making them distinctly recognizable within a brand is impressive. The most parallel comparison I can draw would be in the car industry, where new models are released on a yearly basis that both look familiar yet refined. Add in the technological improvements, and you create something worth upgrading to.

The keyword here is “improvement,” because when OEMs release new equipment, the ultimate questions from golfers are “How is this better, and how can it help my game?” There is no doubt we are seeing advancements in technology, but whether those advancements are designed for you or a different segment of golfers is up the engineers behind the products. I have had the opportunity to speak with designers and engineers from multiple OEMs, and they all have a few things in common.

Obviously, nobody is trying to design a worse-performing golf club, and the process to create something new always starts with goal setting.

Pulling levers and reaching goals

Like with any engineering project, end goals are mapped out, with performance and looks as key factors in the success of the project. Thanks to computer modeling, and a deep understanding of materials, it’s not overly difficult for engineers to design to the far outreaches of what’s possible—but the difference between possible and playable is massive.

For example, we have seen extremely low spin drivers enter the market and help golfers hit it further, but to build that Center of Gravity (CG) location into a driver, you have to sacrifice forgiveness. On the other end of the spectrum, you can create a driver that goes very straight with higher MOI but then you lose the potential to maximize distance – its a fine balancing act and engineers are very good at pulling the right levers to balance performance depending on the target demographic.

So to answer one of the questions from the top “how is this better?”, in some individual cases it might actually not be, it could be that a previous generation had all the design characteristics to perfectly match your game. That doesn’t mean designers haven’t actually created a better club, it just means that it’s not better for you!

One of the best examples is in modern-day fairway woods. Unlike drivers where the end goal is to continue to drive the ball as far as possible, with a fairway wood it is a fine balancing act between distance and control. A 3-wood that goes as far as your driver off the tee doesn’t make a lot of sense since you already had a driver, and if it can’t be hit from the fairway, then you are basically wasting a spot in your bag.

Who’s driving the technology?

When we look at the golf industry as a whole, it is a substantial economic driver, but compared to other industries that rely on using the same raw materials to produce products, golf is just a tiny fraction of that business. No other part of the industry better exemplifies this than golf shafts.

They are made from exotic raw materials, including various forms of carbon fiber that can be quite expensive, but when you compare the types and amounts of carbon fiber used in golf shafts versus commercial and military aviation applications, then golf is obviously a very small player. This is why we see golf shaft companies utilizing materials from the aviation industry—the most recent example is the ProjectX RDX line of shafts which uses HexTow® carbon fibers to add more stability to the already extremely stable line of HZRDUS Smoke shafts. Although you might have never heard of Hexcel before this, to put them into perspective, they topped over $3.25 billion dollars in sales last year–that’s near twice the sales of Callaway’s entire portfolio.

Photo by S. Ramadier – Airbus

The same goes for club heads. Maraging steel, for example, which is used in both fairway woods and even some iron faces, wasn’t developed for golf clubs, it was developed in the 1950s, and was primarily used in military applications including rocket casings. We still use it today even though it was developed in the age or persimmon woods—How’s that for a mind-bender?

 

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