I think we can all agree that the game of golf has changed immensely over time. From the days of mashie niblicks and featheries to adjustable drivers with graphite shafts, the game we now play bears little resemblance to the game of Scotland of yore. Most of the changes have been fairly recent and hugely innovative.
With new scientific discoveries made daily, not one among us would dare to predict where the game might be in 25 years, or even 10 years from now. So I thought it might be fun to think about some of the inventions that have most radically changed our game. Here’s my list of the 15 best innovations in golf history, and I invite your thoughts on the ones you think I missed.
I did not go into any depth with these, as they can all be explored elsewhere. The list is not in any particular order, but we will start in antiquity.
The Molded Golf Ball
From hard wooden balls, followed by Featheries, followed by the Haskell ball, then the Balata era and finally the solid core, multi-layer urethane, the modern golf ball hardly resembles its ancestors. The biggest impact here was clearly cost. While no one could argue that their aerodynamic performance was seriously enhanced with each passing era, the mass production of the molded golf ball made the game more affordable for everyone. A Featherie could cost as much as the modern day equivalent of $20 per ball… Of course, if we keep going we may be headed back there.
Clumps of dirt and later sand were used to tee the ball for some 500 years before the first peg actually designed to stick in the ground was invented in the late 19th century. Imagine how dirty a golfer’s hands used to get by the back nine.
The Lawn Mower
Grazing sheep can nip grass down pretty tightly, but mowers can do it a LOT more quickly and over much greater areas. It is interesting that the game was played for hundreds of years before greens keepers and their staff started riding mowers. By the 1980s, the whole course was being mowed by riding mowers and we had better lies everywhere.
The first golf clubs were rather primitive looking things made mostly from hickory wood. Go into any collectors golf shop and you see them displayed conspicuously in the “unplayable classics” section. Golf clubmaking was an artful and tedious task in which some of the early golf professionals specialized, but because of this clubs were expensive and the game remained an elite affair.
The invention of mass produced steel-shafted clubs brought golf to more people because they could afford them, but steel had another effect — they played much differently than hickory shafts. It was said that one could hold the shaft of a hickory club in one hand and the head in the other hand and twist it almost halfway around. Compare that to the low torque graphite shafts of today, and the picture is quite clear: The same swing for both clubs is simply not going to work.
An interesting note: Bobby Jones retired from competitive golf when he was 28, allegedly to escape some of the pressures he faced and pursue his myriad other interests. It is also said that his golf swing never quite adjusted to the steel era, which was well under way by the mid 1930s (steel shafts were patented in 1910). Personally, I think he would have figured it out.
Mother nature in the form of precipitation watered golf courses for hundreds of years. The first fairway irrigation system was developed in Dallas, Texas, in 1925. The impact? Golf courses could be built where they previously could not. Irrigation and the roaring 20s saw a proliferation of golf courses like never before. Thus began the “greening of American golf,” an era from which we are only now beginning to recover. Courses in America and across the pond were so distinctly different, the first time Sam Snead saw the Old Course he asked what it was! Impact? American golf became an airborne affair, and yet another expense was added to our pastime.
Being blocked by an opponent’s ball, or being “stymied,” was outlawed in 1952. Match play, the oldest form of play, was never the same. I would love to see one tournament a year played with stymies still in effect.
The 14-Club Rule
It wasn’t really an “invention,” but it shaped a lot of future ones.
The year 1938 saw the end of unlimited clubs in the bag and I’m sure caddies all over the world rejoiced. Lawson Little, the great amateur player of the 1930s, once went to battle with 31 clubs in his bag. Shotmaking has evolved in the modern era, or at least it had until the ball became nearly impossible to curve.
Although they were used as early as the 1930s, golf carts were everywhere by the 1950s. Their impact was immediate, bringing many more people to the game and allowing people who previously had trouble walking the course to play. In fact, the 1950s saw a huge wave of popularity in our game influenced largely by the emergence of fan-favorite Arnold Palmer and Dwight Eisenhower, a popular president who played a lot more golf than any of his predecessors and didn’t care who knew about it.
Another 1950s legacy, the first televised golf event, was in 1954 at George May’s famous Tam O’Shanter Open. This was really the first time viewers could enjoy the game as spectators even if they didn’t play. A great surge, particularly of professional golf, followed and the game began to lose much of the pomposity many attached to it. The era of the blue collar golfer was just around the corner.
The Lob Wedge
Although not that new, the popularity of the lofted wedge has had a significant impact, particularly on professional golf. Where players once feared “short siding” themselves, they now are more apt to go for tucked hole locations because of the lob wedge. Even the amateurs who have suffered forever from the perennial condition of trying to flip more loft on the club have benefited greatly from the lob. It is underrated in its impact on modern golf.
If I had to pick one man who may be more responsible for changing the modern game more than any other, I would unequivocally choose Karsten Solheim. His concept of moving the weight from the center of the clubface to the perimeter of putters and then irons has made golf easier for all of us. I’m 66 years old and still play fairly well thanks to Karsten’s curiosity.
A more efficient, economic way to make golf clubs, casting has pretty much sent forged clubs packing. Ninety percent of irons today are cast, and all the woods… or metals, I mean, are cast.
This oxymoron has confounded some English teachers, but has been the single greatest blessing to the modern game of golf. It’s now almost inconceivable to think of driving a golf ball with a wooden club head. Think about how slow we were on this one: The idea arrived in the 1970s, meaning that the game was played for about 500 years before someone raised the question: Isn’t the wood absorbing a lot of the energy in the hit? Duh!
It’s a good thing, too. Let’s leave the trees alone! When I hit a solid drive in the persimmon/balata era, which was when I wore a younger man’s clothes, it might go 250. Now I’m on the mid-to-late back nine of my golfing life and I can still drive it 250. Let’s use another sport as an example. In college I could dunk a basketball, but now I can’t even touch the net.
Some 25 years ago, Ely Callaway got to wondering if larger drivers might make the tee ball easier for golfers. He came out with the “Big Bertha” and the rest is history. My 460-cubic-centimeter driver looks perfectly normal to me now.
Talk about taking over the game. Try finding a steel-shafted driver driver in any serious golfer’s bag now. Do you want to swing this thing or this other thing that is a third of the weight? Golfers are pretty smart, after all. Credit Frank Thomas for this concept.
Curiosity might kill cats, but in golf it has made the game easier for all of us. While it is true that there are downsides to some of the changes — the lively golf ball, hot drivers that require larger playing fields and the like — changes are inevitable, and if these changes help the average golfer enjoy this wonderful game just a little bit more I’m ok with that. I am an advocate of some degree of bifurcation and think it’s only a matter of time.
Again, I welcome your comments on other inventions I may have omitted.
As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.
Club Junkie Review: Samsung’s Galaxy Watch5 Pro Golf Edition
Technology has been playing a larger part in golf for years and you can now integrate it like never before. I don’t need to tell you, but Samsung is a world leader in electronics and has been making smart watches for years. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is the latest Samsung wearable running Google’s Wear OS operating system and it is more than just a golf watch.
The Watch5 Golf Edition is a full function smartwatch that you can wear every day and use for everything from golf to checking your text messages. For more details on the Golf Edition made sure to check out the Club Junkie podcast below, or on any podcast platform. Just search GolfWRX Radio.
Samsung’s Watch5 Pro Golf Edition has a pretty large 45mm case that is made from titanium for reduced weight without sacrificing any durability. The titanium case is finished in a matte black and has two pushers on the right side to help with navigating the pretty extensive menu options. The case measures about 52mm from lug to lug and stands about 14mm tall, so the fit on smaller wrists could be an issue. I did notice that when wearing a few layers on colder days the extra height did have me adjusting my sleeves to ensure I could swing freely.
The sapphire crystal display is 1.4 inches in diameter, so it should be very scratch resistant, and is protected by a raised titanium bezel. The Super AMOLED display has a 450 x 450 resolution with 321ppi density for clear, crisp graphics. Inside the watch is a dual-core 1.18Ghz Cortex-A55 CPU, 16GB + 1.5GB RAM, and a Mali-G68 GPU to ensure your apps run quickly and efficiently.
I do like that the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition’s white and black rubber strap has a quick release system so you can change it out to match or contrast an outfit. The Golf Edition strap is very supple and conforms to your wrist well, holding it in place during multiple swings.
Out on the course the Watch5 Pro golf Edition is comfortable on the wrist and light enough, ~46g, where it isn’t very noticeable. I don’t usually wear a watch on the course, and it only took a few holes to get used to having it on my left wrist. Wearing a glove on the same hand as the watch doesn’t really change much, depending on the glove. If you have a model that goes a little higher on the wrist you could feel the watch and leather bunch a little bit. Some of my Kirkland Signature gloves would run into the watch case while I didn’t have an issue with my Titleist or Callaway models.
The screen is great in direct sunlight and is just as easy to read in overcast or twilight rounds. The images of holes and text for distances is crisp and has a bright contrast agains the black background. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition comes with a lifetime membership to Smart Caddie for your use on the course. Smart Caddie was developed by Golfbuddy, who has been making rangefinders and GPS units for years. I didn’t sign up for the Smart Caddie app as I did not buy the watch and have logins for multiple GPS and tracking apps. Smart Caddie looks to be extremely extensive, offering a ton of options beyond just GPS and it is one that works seamlessly with the Galaxy watches.
I ended up using The Grint as it was an app I have used in the past and was already signed up for. Getting to the app to start a round was very simple, needing one swipe up and one tap to start The Grint app. The screen is very smooth and records each swipe and tap with zero issues. I never felt like I was tapping or swiping without the Watch5 Pro acknowledging those movements and navigating the menu as I desired. The GPS worked flawlessly and the distances were accurate and consistent. With The Grint’s app you did have to keep the phone in your pocket or in the cart close enough for the Bluetooth connection. For most that is’t a big deal and the only time I noticed it was when I used my electric cart and drove it well in front of me down the fairway.
Overall the Samsung Watch5 Pro Golf Edition is a great option for golfers who want one device for everyday wear and use on the course. The Watch5 Pro Golf Edition still has all the fitness and health options as well as being able to connect to your email, text messages, and social media apps. With the Watch5 Pro Golf Edition you won’t have to worry about buying a device just for golf or forgetting to bring your GPS to the course.
The Wedge Guy: Why modern irons don’t make sense to me
One of the things that really bothers me about most of the newer iron models that are introduced is the continued strengthening of the lofts — I just don’t see how this is really going to help many golfers. The introduction of driver and hybrid technologies into the irons – thinner faster faces, tungsten inserts and filling the heads with some kind of polymer material – is all with the goal of producing higher ball flight with lower spin. But is that what you really want?
I’ll grant you that this technology makes the lower lofts much easier to master, and has given many more golfers confidence with their 5- and 6-irons, maybe even their 4- and 5-. But are higher launch and lower spin desirable in your shorter irons? I’ve always believed those clubs from 35 degrees on up should be designed for precision distance control, whether full swings are when you are “taking something off,” and I just don’t see that happening with a hollow, low CG design.
Even worse, with lofts being continually cranked downward, most modern game improvement sets have a “P-club” as low as 42-43 degrees of loft. Because that simply cannot function as a “wedge”, the iron brands are encouraging you to add in an “A-club” to fill the distance void between that and your gap wedge.
But as you ponder these new iron technologies, here’s something to realize . . . and think about.
Discounting your putter, you have 13 clubs in your bag to negotiate a golf course. At one end, you have a driver of 10-12 degrees of loft, and at the other end your highest lofted wedge of say, 58 to 60 degrees. So, that’s a spread of 46 to 50 degrees. The mid-point of that spread is somewhere around 35 degrees, the iron in your bag that probably has an “8” on the bottom.
Now consider this: From that 35-degree 8-iron downward, you have a progression of clubhead designs, from the iron design, to hybrids, to fairway woods to your driver, maybe even a “driving iron” design as a bridge between your lowest set-match iron to your hybrids. At least four, if not five, completely different clubhead designs.
But in the other direction, from 35 degrees to that highest lofted wedge, you likely only have two designs – your set-match irons and your wedges, each of which all essentially look alike, regardless of loft.
I feel certain that no one in the history of golf ever said:
“I really like my 6-iron; can you make me a 3-wood that looks like that?”
But do you realize the loft difference between your 6-iron and 3-wood is only 12-14 degrees, even less than that between your 6-iron and “P-club”? So, if you can’t optimize an iron design to perform at both 28 and 15 degrees, how can you possibly expect to be able to optimize the performance of one design at both 28 and 43 degrees?
And you darn sure won’t get your best performance by applying 6-iron technology to an “A-club” of 48 to 50 degrees.
This fact of golf club performance is why you see so many “blended” sets of irons in bags these days, where a golfer has a higher-tech iron design in the lower lofts, but a more traditional blade or “near blade” design in the higher lofts. This makes much more sense than trying to play pure blade long irons or “techy” higher lofts.
Most of my column posts are oriented to offering a solution to a problem you might have in your game, but this one doesn’t. As long as the industry is focused on the traditional notion of “matched sets,” meaning all the irons look alike, I just don’t see how any golfer is going to get an optimum set of irons without lots of trial and error and piecing together a set of irons where each one works best for the job you give it.
If you want to see how an elite player has done this for his own game, do some reading on “what’s in the bag” for Bernhard Langer. Very interesting indeed.
2022 Hero World Challenge: Betting Tips & Selections
The Hero is the only full 72-hole tournament left of the year stateside, and the one many golf fans were excited for due to the expected return of Tiger Woods.
Unfortunately, on Monday, Woods withdrew from the event citing plantar fasciitis – pain in the base of his foot, leaving a hole in the event but we still have some big names floating about in the limited field.
I wrote last week about the context of the short-priced favourite Cameron Smith at the Australian PGA.
Comparing him with Jon Rahm when he was 9/4 for his home Open, the most recent Open Championship winner looked fair at 7/2. It was a bit of a scare, but in the end, Smith showed the undoubted class gap, sauntering home down the stretch.
This is crucial in assessing this week’s favourite, Rahm.
Neither Jordan Smith or Justin Thomas have threatened strongly to win here, Xander Schauffele has seen his finishes get progressively worse since a debut 8th, Matty Fitz looked tired in contention in Dubai, and defending champ Viktor Hovland had won twice in 2021 before winning here, that pair of victories including the week before at Mayakoba.
Now for the favorite.
2022 starts with a runner-up to Smith in Hawaii at the similarly stacked Tournament of Champions, before eight straight cuts lead to a victory in Mexico. In a disappointing season for majors, Rahm’s 12th at the U.S Open is the best he can record in the biggies, but it’s another in a series of weekends that leads to T5, T8 and T16 at the three Fedex play-off events. 7
Hardly a disastrous season, but Rahm will have felt a degree of dismay at a season bereft of a gold medal and that saw him slip outside the world’s top five, that without the likes of Dustin Johnson and Smith, both off to unranked LIV.
However, that ‘failure’ seemed to act as a genuine spur, with both him and fellow anti-LIV player Shane Lowry, exploding through the third and final round of the weather-affected prestigious BMW Championship, before winning by a street in Spain, stumbling at the wrong time when fourth at the CJ Cup, and last time proving far too good for a stellar field at the DP World Tour Championship.
For those (including myself) that felt his rant against the OWGR points distribution would count against him, being wrong was painful, but we have the chance to turn it around this week.
Simply, there is no Rory McIlroy or Cam Smith, probably the only other two players that can hold claim to being the current best in the world; the Spaniard’s current form reads 1/4/1/2; his tee-to-green figures average over plus-10 in his last three outings; Rahm ranks top three for scrambling when he misses the green; has been outside the top eight for putting just once in his last six starts, and he’s been first and second in two tries at Albany!
Sure, neither he nor Smith had such a talented field to beat at their ‘home’ events, but they both landed short prices. For me, Rahm has even greater claims, and at anything bigger than 4/1, is a must bet.
The only other player of interest is in-form Tony Finau, one of three to be beaten by a single shot by Rahm in Mexico.
The 33-year-old has always had the ability to do what he has done over the last four months, but, for whatever reason, he is now fulfilling some lofty opinions, winning three times since July.
Beaten four shots by Rahm on his debut in 2018, an opening 79 was always going to hurt any ideas he had about revenge a year later. However, he bounced back from being 18th after round one with three rounds of 68, 69 and a closing 65 to finish inside the top-10, before finishing 7th last year after a stellar opening 68,66.
Big Tone closed with a best-of-the-day 64 at the Tour Championship before looking rusty at Mayakoba, his first outing for over two months. That certainly brought him on as he waltzed home at the Houston Open, the four-shot winning margin half of what it could have been had he not taken his foot off the pedal very early on Sunday.
Finau has always been a strong tee-to-green gamer, but now he’s added confidence with the flat-stick, expect him to challenge at all the biggest events through 2023.
Having been all over Finau to do a double-double and back up his win at the RSM Classic, the ‘injury’ withdrawal was tough to take, but he’ll suit the relaxed nature of this week’s challenge and should be one of the strongest challengers to his old foe.
- Jon Rahm – WIN
- Tony Finau – WIN
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