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Golf club history: woods and irons

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If you’re going to play golf, you’re going to need some clubs. The game dates back to the 1400s in Scotland, so naturally, golf club history does too. We’ve come a long way from wooden clubs and feather-filled balls. For the sake of this piece were going to stick with the modern evolution of the game’s equipment starting off with the invention of the steel shaft in the early 1900s.

Some of the first steel shafts came from a fishing rod producer in Britain by the name of Apollo and we’re developed in the early 1920s. The shafts were much more consistent than the wooden shafts they were attempting to replace but they were still considered inconsistent by many players. Steel shaft also didn’t catch on until a number of years after their conception because until 1924 the USGA considered them nonconforming equipment. It took 5 more years for the R&A to make them legal in 1929.

It was that same year in 1929 when True Temper advanced the steel shaft and developed the process to taper shafts down or create “steps”—something we are all familiar with now. These steps could be moved around the shaft and change the flex which created more options for golfers to find the right equipment and be fit.

Since that time, the biggest steps (no pun intended) we have seen taken in steel shafts have come from stronger, lighter materials to create more flex and bend profile options for golfers.

If you are curious about graphite shafts, check out my piece “The real firsts of the golf industry” for the history behind their development as well as some other technological firsts.

Here’s a broad survey of recent golf club history.

Golf club history: woods

best driver 2020

Now to the “big stick.” The term “driver” comes from the idea that the longest club was meant to be driven as far as possible from the teeing area and hence the name stuck. The club heads were made of persimmon, because of the strong dense nature of the wood. To get these wooden heads to where they needed to be for weight, they would be fitted internally with lead weights.

The video below profiles one of the last persimmon wood manufacturers in the world.

With persimmon becoming more expensive and golf growing in popularity, many manufactures shifted from using solid persimmon to laminate—that change also made the clubs more durable, and also a change in golf club history. Those companies included Wilson, Spalding, MacGregor, even Ping with the introduction of the Karsten driver and woods.

As technology continued to move forward, other companies used various materials like graphite composites to make woods, and as much as they worked well for increasing durability they never quite caught on.

The next jump came in 1979 when Gary Adams had an idea to make wood a thing of the past. He took out a $24,000 loan against his house to found TaylorMade Golf. The first product to market was a 12-degree metal driver; the very first of it’s kind in golf club history.

Since then, metal wood technology has continued to move forward leaps and bounds; shifting from steel to titanium, and titanium to multi-material heads featuring aerodynamic designs built for speed. The rules of golf have limited size and spring-like effect of drivers but manufacturers continue to innovate and make drivers faster and more forgiving.

golf club history: Irons

Until Karsten Solheim and Ping arrived on the scene (see Greatest Ping irons of all time), iron design remained mostly the same—thin, forged blades that weren’t very forgiving. It’s not to say that everything was exactly the same, quite the contrary, but from an evolution standpoint, these were just baby steps.

To see the blade evolution here are a couple of great reads:

Then, just like with putters, Karsten Solheim designed an iron that would help reduce the severity of shots hit away from the sweet spot and the modern cavity back was born: the Ping 69. It was then only a few years later in 1982 that the most popular iron of all time, the Ping Eye 2, was set free into the world and this is where iron technology went from baby steps to full-blown Olympic sprinting.

Cavity back irons make the game more enjoyable and easier because their design reduces the severity of mishit shots and get the ball in the air easier, something that benefits all level of golfers, even professionals. Just like drivers, over the last decade, we have seen the introduction of faster, longer more forgiving multi-material designs enter the market. As CAD design and manufacturing techniques go well beyond was would have been imaginable only a decade ago.

Golf club history: beyond cavity backs

New 2020 PXG Gen 3 Irons

The next leap forward was thin-faced irons so fast they needed to be reinforced with polymer materials to prevent them from caving in. The idea wasn’t new, with the introduction of clubs like the PXG 0311 or Taylormade P790, but they perfected the ability to build ultra-thin faced irons that not only performed but felt good too. The title of the first thin or slot-soled irons belongs to Wilson golf and their Reflex irons.

Conclusion

Technology will continue to push the boundaries of design, and golfers will benefit from these breakthroughs. The question of “how much further can we really go?” is up to engineers and advancements in materials and manufacturing, but however far it is, we should be excited about what they will think of next!

 

 

 

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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.

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Equipment

2020 TaylorMade P770 irons: Distance and precision redefined

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New 2020 TaylorMade P770 irons are here, and with them, a reminder that every club in your bag has a purpose.

A driver is designed to go as far as possible, wedges are designed to be versatile precision instruments, and iron sets are built for both. The new 2020 TaylorMade P770 irons from TaylorMade bring together the distance of the extremely popular P790 with the precision of a midsized player cavity to offer distance and control to an iron unlike TaylorMade has ever produced.

2020 TaylorMade P770

2020 TaylorMade P770 6-iron. Cavity view.

TaylorMade P770 irons: The origin story

The story of the P770 starts with two clubs—the P760 and the P790. Now, if my math is correct, the combination of the two clubs would actually create the 775, but in the world of irons, that model number was taken over a decade ago by another OEM, and if we’re being honest, 770 sounds better anyways.

2020 TaylorMade P770, TaylorMade P790 comparison.

2020 TaylorMade P770, TaylorMade P790 comparison.

Let’s start with the P790 and its ability to infiltrate the golf bags of players of all skill levels. According to TaylorMade’s fitting database, the 790 is a club that can be found in the bags of players from +4 handicaps all the way up to golfers looking to break 100.

What makes the P790 so functional and appealing to so many golfers starts with its looks and ends with its performance. The P790 has the clean appearance of a blade iron from the back, and from address, it maintains sharper line associated with a  players club.

But off the clubface, or should I say all over the clubface, you get ball speed and launch conditions normally reserved for a much larger game improvement club. This iron helped redefine what is now known as the “players distance” category, and whether you consider that title an oxymoron or not, it’s impossible to argue with its popularity.

Then we have the P760, TaylorMade’s first combo iron set, which combined the power of SpeedFoam-filled longer irons with the precision of single-piece forged short irons. These irons again found their way into the golf bags of mid-handicaps to players all over the professional tours thanks to their ability to offer extra forgiveness and launch in longer clubs while still maintaining a small player’s look and preferred feel.

Regardless of skill, one of the biggest factors in the playability of any iron relies on a golfer’s ability to create speed, launch, spin, and angle of descent—the below video featuring our own Brian Knudson testing the P790 Ti is the perfect example of how an iron with strong lofts, for example, can launch higher and descend at an angle to make them playable when you combine the right technologies.

The ultimate design goal of the P770 was to combine the best of both these irons into a small, fast, playable package using every technology available to the engineers and designers at TaylorMade. This iron is about precision without sacrificing distance.

If you are a golfer looking for maximum workability and shotmaking control that puts less of a premium on distance, then the P7MB or P7MC is probably more up your ally, but if distance is still a big part of your decision-making process for a set of irons, then buckle up.

The technology

A look inside the construction of the P770

A simplistic way to describe the P770 would be to call it a shrunk-down version of the 790, but doing that would not give justice to the actual engineering that went into this design. The reason is, you can’t just shrink down a golf club and expect it to perform the same as a larger club, because not only are the mass properties different, but trying to maintain additional ball speed would be like expecting a smaller trampoline to bounce you as high as a larger one with bigger springs—the physics don’t add up.

“Designed to deliver P790-like performance in a smaller package, the all-new P770 leverages forged hollow body construction to pack as much distance and forgiveness as possible into a compact player’s shape.” – Matt Bovee, Product Creation

From address, and looking at the sole and toe profile, the P770 has a much stronger resemblance to the previous P760 than the 790, but from the back and from a technology standpoint, its got the guts of the P790.

The key technologies are

  • A SpeedFoam-supported forged 4140 high-speed steel face attached to a soft forged 8620 carbon steel body. Since the hosel is part of the forged body, you get the full lie and loft adjustability of a forged club along with the ball speed of a larger one. The secondary benefit of SpeedFoam is it creates an iron that feels extremely solid while being a multipiece construction
  • The other part of the speed story is the Thru Slot in the sole which helps shots hit lower on the face retain more ball speed and helps create extra launch. This technology runs from the 3-7 irons.
  • Speaking of launch, the new P770 has 46 grams of tungsten in the 3-7 irons positioned as low and as far back as possible towards the toe to boost MOI and launch in the longer clubs while precisely locating the center of gravity.
  • The final piece of the puzzle that helps with both distance and distance control is the Progressive Inverted Cone Technology or IVT. It is positioned closer to the toe in the longer irons to help with common mishits and moves higher and more heel ward into the shorter clubs. This keeps ball speeds variances as consistent as possible through the set.

More photos and discussion in the forums.

Choose your own P700 Series adventure

This is the part where the whole iron series really excels. For a long time, it used to be OEMs would release a number of iron sets that catered to various golfers but didn’t really have any cross over potential as far as building combo sets because of the large differences between designs. To counter this, they would often design exclusive combo sets either catered to better players or to higher handicaps/slower speed players with game improvement irons paired with hybrid long irons.

From the beginning and by design, the entire P700 series has been built to be custom combo’ed for any golfer—an impressive design feat. This allows players of varying ability with different swing and player traits to get exactly what they need out of different parts of their set. They have even gone as far to make sure that no matter how someone is looking to build their set, they can get looks, offset, bounce, and performance to match up from club to club—they even have an easy-to-follow chart!

Pricing, availability, and specs

The TaylorMade P770 irons will be available for pre-order starting August 14th and will be be available in retail shops starting September 4th.

They will be available from 3iron to pitching wedge in right and left-handed with an A wedge option available to right-handed players only. An 8 piece set starts at $1399 (174.88 per club) with KBS Tour steel shafts and Golf Pride Z-Grip grey and black as stock.

P770 Stock Specs

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2020 Mizuno E21 wedges: High performance reimagined

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New design, new construction, and a new way to look at what a high-performance wedge can be—these are Mizuno E21 wedges.

When talking about new clubs and the technology being utilized by engineers, the conversation eventually turns to mass properties and how adjusting them within the clubhead helps to create higher-launching lower-spinning shots. This is great when talking about drivers and fairway woods, but at the other end of your bag, high-launching, low-spinning shots are the enemy of great wedge play and distance control.

The key to hitting lower-launching, higher-spinning wedge shots is making contact below the center of gravity lower on the face. To help players achieve these optimal launch conditions, the Mizuo E21 utilizes multipiece construction to place the center of gravity higher in the head than ever before.

More photos and discussion in the forums. 

Mizuno E21 wedge technology

Mass properties play a massive role in the performance of any club. By design, wedges are the heaviest full swing clubs in the bag. This gives designers more mass to move around. To get the most of the Mizuno E21’s performance, the focus was to relocate as much mass higher and deeper in the head without sacrificing both looks and feel. The only way to do this was by using a hollow body construction.

The E21 wedge brings together a 1025 Grain Flow forged boron face and hosel with a 431 Stainless steel back, this helps the wedge maintain the soft and solid feel Mizuno is known for while also increasing groove durability. Don’t think that because a wedge is packed with technology it makes it a club meant for higher handicap golfers either—any golfer can benefit from improved wedge technology, the same way we can all benefit from hitting higher launching, lower spinning drivers.

More photos and discussion in the forums. 

The new E21 wedges even offer the exact same, if not thinner appearance from address than the Mizuno T20’s even though the back of each wedge looks extremely different—again, just like with drivers, something that looks different is different for a reason.

Soles designed for versatility

Beyond the new and improved mass shifting the E21 wedges provide, the most important part of the wedge is the sole, and Mizuno R&D pulled out all the stops when configuring the soles of these wedges to fit a wide variety of players.

They come in both a narrow and wide sole option, but unlike with irons where a wide sole is generally reserved for game improvement clubs, the wide sole models of the E21 have been configured for maximum versatility. Mizuno is not the only OEM offering versatile wider sole wedges, Callaway has the “X” grind, and Titleist with the low bounce “K”, to give you a few examples.

The wide sole E21’s have a lot of heel and toe relief along with a lot of front and back camber to keep the leading edge closer to the ground for those tight lies around the greens.

Mizuno Hydroflow Micro Grooves

Just like with last year’s release of the T20 wedges, instead of using traditional laser etching parallel to the milled grooves, Mizuno engineers took the concept of tread from high-performance tires and went perpendicular to the grooves and parallel to the direction the ball moves up the face to channel moisture away.

This directional tread has proven to increase spin on shots especially in conditions with moisture up to 1,200 RPM on a 60-yard shot. It’s not just about spin either: the more the friction created also means more control on launch angle and less of a “floating” ball flight. That’s how those low flying “zippers” really zip!

The other part of this groovy tale has to do with the reconfiguration of the grooves. Just like with the T20, the lowest groove on the E21 wedges has been shortened and centered. This puts it closer to the leading edge without having it disorient the look of the club from address and making it appear that the heel or toe is thinner on one side.

By bringing together the new CG placement with leading groove technology and reconfigured soles, Mizuno is once again changing the way players think about wedge performance.

More photos and discussion in the forums. 

Price, availability, and specs

The E21 wedges will be right-hand only and available this October with the exact date upcoming and priced at $200 per club.

The stock shaft is the KBS HI Rev 110 Wedge flex in black ion finish, along with a Lamkin ST Hybrid grip

Mizuno E21 wedge loft and bounce availability

More photos and discussion in the forums. 

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2020 TaylorMade Spider FCG putter: Blade performance, mallet forgiveness

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2020 taylormade spider putter cover

If you love the feel of a blade putter but struggle with alignment and need the extra stability only a mallet can provide, then this could be the putter you have been waiting for—the all-new 2020 TaylorMade Spider FCG (Forward Center of Gravity).

Although the new Spider FCG doesn’t look like any Spider ever imagined by the putter team at TaylorMade, it is a Spider through and through thanks to its multi-material design, and it’s built to offer the extra stability synonymous with the Spider name.

2020 TaylorMade Spider FCG putter: It’s what’s inside that counts

The key to the new Spider FCG putter is the distribution of mass relative to the face along with the extreme heel and toe weighting to boost MOI. This isn’t a small tweak either, to offer you a direct comparison, the center of gravity of the standard Spider X is 3 times further back in the head compared to the new Spider FCG. This is why most mallet putters, including the Spider X from TaylorMade, rely on various hosel configurations to fit a player’s stroke—and even then they can only get so much toe hang out of these designs.

Tech/fitting note: The reason we don’t see many high MOI (low and back center of gravity) putters that also have more than around 30 degrees of toe hang is that the nature of high MOI designs makes them harder to open and close relative to square. For someone with a more gated stroke, this means a high MOI style of putter requires more manipulation to get back to square at impact oftentimes results in the face being left open causing a “push.”

To get the center of gravity as forward as possible, TaylorMade did a number of things to the weighting properties of the head, including using more than 100 grams of tungsten weight in the heel and toe of the putter and positioning the interchangeable head weight directly behind the face. The most clever design trick was removing as much weight as possible from the back of the head, but maintaining the shape from address.

“We tried to think of the top and rear portions of the putter as a canopy. It’s rigid, allows us to create a long alignment tool, but takes up a very small portion of the putter head’s total mass” – Bill Price

The face also plays a big role since TM is using a new CU29 PureRoll insert, which offers all the same roll enhancing properties as other inserts in the line except for the fact it is constructed of pure copper and weighs 25 grams, making it the heaviest insert TaylorMade has ever created.

This putter is all about TaylorMade expanding available options to golfers, because the Spider FCG offers greater toe hang than any other putter in the Spider family ever at 46 degrees (with the slant next), which puts it directly in line with the TP Soto at 47 degrees. It also comes with two other hosel options to give players with a less gated stroke a better fitting putter—while still offering a longer alignment line and more forgiveness.

“In developing Spider FCG, we sought insights from many of the top players on TOUR. We compiled that information to construct a clean and traditional mallet shape that performs in a non-traditional way. The result is an intelligently designed high-MOI mallet that’s built for golfers who have an arced putting stroke. Forward CG placement lets the toe release freely like a blade, while the mallet shape and perimeter weighting help maintain the signature Spider family forgiveness.” – Bill Price; Product Creation Putters and Wedges

Now Speaking to alignment, the Spider FCG has what TaylorMade is calling TruePath T-Sightline. It combines the perpendicular alignment from the face with the long line pointed at the target. Giving this a technological name might seem like a bit of a stretch, but when talking with TaylorMade’s Bill Price about the top’s contrast he noted

“White is the very bright to our eyes and by creating high contrast along the front of the putter it helps players set up more square to their putting line regardless of eye dominance.”

It’s been proven time after time that player alignment is very much attributed to their eye-dominance; some players use the leading edge while others use longer alignment lines on the top of the putter—the FCG with TruePath is offering both.

Price, availability, and specs

The Spider FCG will be available at retail and online starting September 4th with the retail price of $350.

It is offered in three different neck styles to help golfers varying amounts of face rotation in their stroke to find the right model

  • The L-Neck (aka Plumbers Neck) with 25° of toe-hang
  • Short slant next with 46° of toe-hang, which puts it in line with most blade putters on the market
  • Single bend which is close to face-balanced for those with limited face rotation

It will come stock with a KBS Stepless Black CT putter shaft along with a Super Stroke Pistol 1.0 black and white grip, with other grip options available through custom order.  The putter will come in both right and left-handed and will come in the stock lengths of 33”, 34”, and 35”.

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