Everyone wants to play golf in Scotland and Ireland. Fact. Maybe this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or perhaps an annual pilgrimage. The bucket lists will be overflowing with your old courses, whether that’s at Portmarnock or St. Andrews! The Open Championship courses will roll off your tongue, including Portrush, back on the rota, and rightly so. There will even be the must-plays that very few can play, unless well connected, financially sound, or both.
I can understand why the usual suspects are always on the golf itinerary. And, by writing this, I don’t want to question their appeal, or their quality. But my argument lies in that in this day and age of travel and tourism, it is all about going off the beaten track, exploring, living a little, and not conforming. Some may argue my selections aren’t off the beaten track enough, but they’re there to debate!
It is with a great deal of smugness that I present to you 10 golf courses (11 if you include two at Moray) I have experienced — five in each country — where you can be assured of as Scottish and Irish golf experience as you richly deserve.
Protruding deep into the Atlantic on the west of Ireland is Carne Golf Links. The village of Belmullet lies almost exactly 3,000 miles from New York City, and Carne idly inhabits an area that is low on population, but highly populated with dunes. Sand dunes of the highest order! Now offering 27 holes, you will think you are driving to New York, but just before tipping off the edge of Europe, the dunes come into view. They are something to behold.
Traveling farther down the West Coast and driving beyond the practice greens of Ballybunion, Lahinch and Tralee is Castlegregory on the Dingle Peninsula. Surely I am not recommending a 9-holer? I will grant you access to one of the usual suspects in the morning, but following a couple pints of Guinness while watching the boats bob up and down off the Inch Peninsula, it seems appealing to play nine more, doesn’t it? Castlegregory gifts dramatic views across to Tralee, the steep-sided Mount Brandon as a backdrop and a challenge that simply not enough people know about. But, that’s its charm.
The Wild Atlantic Way, the world’s longest defined coastal route, should send you in the direction of the Ring of Kerry. A beautiful stretch of road and home to Waterville and Dooks, but perhaps controversially we will head cross-country to County Wicklow on the Irish Sea.
Pat Ruddy designed The European Club. In fact, he is still designing the European Club. Heading out with his spray can, he will mark where bunkers need to be tweaked and changed before heading in again to talk to his golfers about Tiger’s course-record 67, how Padraig Harrington has his three majors thanks to the European and how Rory thinks it’s the best links he’s ever played. Oh yes, I forgot, you get 20 holes for your money and the world’s longest green.
Not too far away and inland is Druids Glen. Sometimes referred to by the over-used phrase of the “Augusta of Europe,” they may be right. This is as close as I have come to what I imagine Augusta to be like. Spectacularly manicured, fascinatingly interesting, wonderfully unexpected and a lot of fun. Monty has won twice at Druids, while Sergio won his first tour event here. It goes to show it’s not just about how pretty the golf course looks; it’s tricky, too.
At the end of the 19th century, golf was steadily becoming more popular with the elite of the day. The Island Golf Club north of Dublin was originally a spur of land opposite Malahide. One fine day, a Syndicate of gents jumped in a boat and acquired the slice of land for their golf course. You could still get a boat to the course until 1973, with the clubhouse putting up colored disks to draw the attention of the boatman. Once on dry land, the dunes loom. It’s hard to tell just how big they are when you’re in Malahide, but after 18 holes and a couple pints of Guinness, trust me, they’re massive.
Hidden gems is a phrase too often used. Because a lot of the time, how you feel about a course is dependent on how you play and what type of courses you prefer to play. My challenge in Scotland is to demonstrate that no matter how low or high your handicap, or how close to it you play, you will still walk away appreciating what has just happened. This must be the reason we play? Personally, if I play poorly then I appreciate the view. If I play well I appreciate the scorecard, not forgetting the view. In Scotland, we will start by sauntering down the Edinburgh coast.
The views of the Bass Rock extend out into the North Sea, while 150,000 gannets stare at you as you hover over the birdie putt. The ninth at The Glen Golf Club, North Berwick Glen drops to the seashore and has the rock as its aim. A visual treasure, and perched up high so susceptible to the odd breeze, it’s hard to concentrate on the swing when there is so much else to consider. The pretty town of North Berwick is a pleasant 5-minute stroll along the beach if you fancy a boat trip to see the birdies.
It’s not all about the sea and links, though, if you truly want to experience Scottish golf. The hills, the heathland, the contours and the gradients have helped assist the Queen’s at Gleneagles. Slightly over-shadowed by its bigger brothers of the King’s and the PGA Centenary (venue of the 2014 Ryder Cup), on a summer’s evening the views across the Ochils are worth the trip. Deer and rabbit will frolic in the rough, while the swans will serenely cruise on the loch at Nos. 13 and 14.
Back on track, the Aberdeen coast has recently been synonymous with the arrival of the Trump International Golf Links. No matter what your political persuasion, it’s a marvellous golf course. But a little farther up the coast is Royal Aberdeen, the sixth-oldest golf club in the world. It was founded in 1780 as the Society of Golfers at Aberdeen. The front nine is arguably the best group of links holes anywhere on the planet, yet it might depend on how well you’re playing. Either way, the tradition, the atmosphere, the welcome and the clubhouse are reassuringly characterful.
The farthest north I will head is Moray. I know some of the purists will cite Dornoch as THE Scottish golf experience, but the 36 holes of the Old and New at Moray will once again offer pure Scottish golf. It’s important to play one “Old” on your trip, so Old Tom Morris’ Old can then be followed by Henry Cotton’s New. That’s not a bad combination. They won seven Opens between them, so they knew what they were doing.
Heading back down the road, the steam from the Highlands’ only steam railway will welcome you to Boat of Garten. Home to the ospreys and nestling by the River Spey, the course was designed by the legendary James Braid. The railway also runs alongside the fourth hole, so don’t forget to give the passengers a wave, not a fore. It is a beautifully untouched end to the tour. There is not much flat terrain to be had, but then you are in Scotland.
It’s without question that Scotland and Ireland offer the ultimate golf experience. But it’s important to explore beyond the brochure. Where Turnberry and Ballybunion are our Colosseum and Eiffel Tower, the plethora of courses will equally fulfill your romantic notions of Scottish and Irish golf. With a Guinness or whisky in hand, come rain or shine, your tour of golf heaven awaits.
The Wedge Guy: Understanding versus learning versus practice
I’ve long been fascinated with the way the golf swing works, from full driver swings to the shortest chip shots. I’m sure that curiosity was embedded in me by my father as I began to get serious about my own golf around the age of 10. His philosophy was that the more you know about how something works, the more equipped you are to fix it when it breaks.
As I grew up in the game, my father and I spent hours talking about golf and swing technique, from the grip to positions at impact to conceptual aspects of the game and swing. I’ve continued to study and have conversations with knowledgeable golf professionals and players throughout my life. But back to my father, one thing he made very clear to me early on is that there is a big difference between understanding, learning, and practice.
Understanding and learning are two very different aspects of getting better at this game. The understanding part is where you actually grasp the basic concepts of a functionally correct golf swing. This includes the fundamentals of a proper grip, to the geometry of sound setup up, and alignment to the actual role and movements of the various parts of your body from start to finish.
Only after understanding can you begin the learning process of incorporating those fundamentals and mechanical movements into your own golf swing. I was taught and continue to believe the best way to do that is to start by posing in the various positions of a sound golf swing, then graduating to slow motion movement to connect those poses – address to takeaway to mid-backswing to top of backswing to first move down, half-way down…through impact and into the follow-through.
Finally, the practice part of the equation is the continual process of ingraining those motions so that you can execute the golf swing with consistency.
The only sure way to make progress in your golf is through technique improvement, whether it is a full swing with the driver or the small swings you make around the greens. There are no accomplished players who simply practice the same wrong things over and over. Whether it is something as simple as a grip alteration or modification to your set up position, or as complex as a new move in the swing, any of these changes require first that you understand…then clearly learn the new stuff. Only after it is learned can you begin to practice it so that it becomes ingrained.
If you are trying to learn and perfect an improved path of your hands through impact, for example, the first step is to understand what it is you are trying to achieve. Only then can you learn it. Stop-action posing in the positions enables your muscles and mind to absorb your new objectives. Then, slow-motion swings allow your muscles to feel how to connect these new positions and begin to produce this new coordinated motion through them. As your body begins to get familiar with this new muscle activity, you can gradually speed up the moves with your attention focused on making sure that you are performing just as you learned.
As you get comfortable with the new muscle activity, you can begin making practice swings at half speed, then 3/4 speed, and finally full speed, always evaluating how well you are achieving your objectives of the new moves. This is the first stage of the practice process.
Only after you feel like you can repeat this new swing motion should you begin to put it into practice with a golf ball in the way. And even then, you should make your swings at half or ¾ speed so that you can concentrate on making the new swing – not hitting the ball.
The practice element of the process begins after the learning process is nearly complete. Practice allows you to ingrain this new learning so that it becomes a habit. To ensure your practice is most effective, make several practice swings for each ball you try to hit.
I hope all this makes sense. By separating understanding from the learning process, and that from the practice that makes it a habit — and getting them in the proper sequence — you can begin to make real improvements in your game.
Beyond limits: Carbon bending and the future of shaft manufacturing
My name is James, and I am an equipment junkie. Like many of you, I am also a (mediocre) golfer struggling to take my golf game to the next level. But since I’m not so keen on hitting the range or the gym, I’m always searching for the next big breakthrough to help me avoid excessive practice and golf lessons.
TLDR: I am back to report that I may have found the ultimate breakthrough involving how golf shafts are manufactured. It will sound mind-boggling and counter-intuitive, but the new technology involves controlling a shaft’s variables of weight, flex (CPM), and torsional strength (torque) all independently of one another. As if this alone doesn’t sound far-fetched enough, it also purports to control the subjective aspect of how stiff the shaft feels without affecting the other variables.
To the best of my knowledge, I never knew any of these were possible, but seeing (and feeling) is believing, though I’m still reeling from my recent experience. Moreover, I dare predict that the sheer novelty of this discovery has the potential to redefine the golf shaft industry as we know it.
Also, the article is long. You’ve been warned.
In A League Of Their Own
Over the years, I have reported on several golf innovations and technologies that made golfers sit up and take notice. Of those finds, let me briefly recap two products that especially stood out before I unveil my most recent discovery further below.
Starting at number three, I present the now-famous Autoflex shaft by Dumina. Introduced in early 2020 during the COVID epidemic, the small Korean company claimed that their shafts didn’t use any flex designations and are to be selected solely based on a golfer’s swing speed. Against conventional wisdom, the company claimed that a super flexible, ultralight shaft can improve distance and accuracy for golfers of all swing speeds. The AF shaft, with its mysterious Korea Hidden Technology (KHT), sounded too good to be true, but more often than not, golfers who braved the steep price and the hot pink color agreed that the shaft seemed legitimate. Many also credit it with creating a whole new category of soft and hyper-flexible performance shafts.
Next in the number two spot is the groundbreaking FreeFlex shaft from SJ Golf Lab, also out of Korea. When the FF shafts surfaced in early 2023, I first thought they were a slightly improved version of the Autoflex. At weights and flex even softer than the AF, the shafts also improved distance and accuracy at a lower price point than their counterparts.
Upon delving further, FreeFlex Technology (FFT) was far more amazing than I could have ever imagined. Against the norm, the inventor of FFT claimed that a shaft’s weight, flex (CPM), and torque are NOT relative to each other and that each variable can be controlled separately. According to SJ Lab, a lightweight, flexible shaft with a strong torque was possible, and vice-versa. The incredulous claim went largely unnoticed at the time, but the folks at SJ Lab recently decided to prove their technology by introducing the ultimate unicorn of a shaft.
Aptly named ‘Hammer Throw’ the rubber-like shaft featured a conventional shaft’s weight of 62g yet measured only 140 CPM to be incredibly soft and flexible. To top it off, it also featured a strong 3.5 torque similar to an S-flex shaft, all unlikely numbers that have never been combined in a single shaft before. The Hammer Throw proved to be a wonder shaft for slower swingers, helping to increase club head speed, distance, and even accuracy.
Ultimately, SJ Lab redefined the concept of ‘shaft customization’ by proving that a shaft’s WT, CPM, and TQ can be controlled independently to any degree.
The AF and FF shafts are indeed quite amazing, but what I’m about to share with you may be an even bigger discovery than both of them combined.
It was a Thursday afternoon in October when I arrived at SJ Golf Lab. I had just finished a round of golf that morning and felt flush after having bested my buddies on a tough track. I was to cover the story of a new line of putter shafts (based on the Chaos Theory in physics, no less) and was looking forward to seeing if it could help my putting.
I was making small talk with Dr. Choi, the inventor & CEO of SJ Golf Lab, when a courier arrived to hand him a sealed envelope. Inside was a patent certificate for a new golf shaft manufacturing process, which was to be featured in SJ Lab’s latest MetaFlex series of shafts.
“Oh, that sounds interesting” I said politely. “Is it like FreeFlex technology?”
What came next was a barrage of information so contradictory and yet so transformative in its revelation that I forgot all about the putter shafts.
Entering The Realm Of The Senses
Carbon Bending Technology (CBT) is the latest brainchild of Dr. Choi, the inventor of FreeFlex shafts. As incredulous as his FFT may seem, his new CBT technology takes it even further by stating that a fourth variable, the shaft’s level of firmness, can also be controlled independently of the other variables.
“CBT technology involves bending or wrapping carbon in a certain way to control how stiff a shaft feels, independently of weight, flex, and torque.” – Dr. Seung-jin Choi, inventor of CBT Technology
Take a moment to let that sink in. Not only is he saying that the objective values of WT, CPM, and TQ can be controlled in any manner desired, but he can also control the subjective aspect of how firm a
If CBT technology is legitimately possible, the implications of his discovery are immense and may well change the way golf shafts are made. Needless to say, such a spectacular assertion begs the question, “How can such an improbable idea be possible?”
As I struggled to comprehend what I just heard, Dr. Choi handed me a shaft and asked me to try and bend it. Grabbing it at both ends, the shaft felt light and soft, and I was able to bend and flex it easily. I was then given another shaft and asked to do the same. The new shaft felt much firmer from the get-go, similar to what I’d expect from a typical S-flex shaft. When I said that the second shaft felt much stronger than the first, I was in for a rude awakening.
“They’re the same shafts” Dr. Choi said. “The only difference is that the second one was treated with the CBT process. Other than that, both are practically the same in CPM and torque.”
“What do you mean these are the same shafts? This one is definitely stiffer.” My eyebrow arched in puzzlement at such a blatant contradiction.
After all, I was holding both shafts in my hands, and no one in the world was going to convince me that these two had the same CPM and TQ measurements.
The skepticism in my voice must’ve been obvious as I was led to a measuring device. I wish I could’ve seen the look on my face at that exact moment when my eyes confirmed both shafts to have the same CPM and torque.
Goosebumps broke out on my arms, and my brain felt numb. Stunned, I took turns grabbing each shaft by the ends and bent them over and over again. There was absolutely no doubt that one was stiffer than the other. It wasn’t even close. Yet, if the numbers don’t lie, how was I to reconcile the two empirical facts at odds with each other before my very eyes?
Seeing Is Believing… Or Is It?
After repeated measurements to ensure I wasn’t dyslexic, I regained enough sense to sit down with Dr. Choi to hear more about the sorcery of carbon bending.
ME: How does CBT differ from your earlier FFT technology?
CHOI: CBT came as a result of golfers loving our FreeFlex shafts with the FFT technology but wanting even more. The FFT allows us to control the weight, flex, and torque independently. We used this discovery to design a new breed of shafts that help all levels of golfers increase club head speed and distance. But some of the stronger, faster-speed golfers were eventually turned off from it, as they couldn’t get accustomed to the soft feel and flex. The fear of spraying the ball all over the course was just too much.
To solve this issue, I looked at many factors that led golfers to describe whether a shaft is soft or stiff. Similar to FFT, I soon discovered that a shaft’s stiffness is not relative to its CPM value. By reinforcing a shaft through a special process I call carbon-bending, it can be made to feel as stiff as I wish without changing the original CPM or torque.
ME: (blank stare)
CHOI: Did that answer the question?
ME: Uhh… no? What do you mean the CPM doesn’t change? If the shaft became stiffer, it means the CPM value must have increased, doesn’t it? How we perceive stiffness is subjective, so we measure the CPM value objectively with a machine. That way, we can compare the CPM values of different shafts to see which one is stiffer with the higher number.
CHOI: Normally yes, but like I said, how stiff the shaft feels does not have to correlate with the CPM. They are independently controllable. As I just showed you with the two shafts earlier, both measured at the same CPM and torque. It was only when I applied the CBT method to one of them that it became stiffer than before, as you have seen for yourself.
ME: Yeah, I’m still not sure how that is, feeling firm in my hands but the machine reading it as soft. Is this like the cat in Schrodinger’s box, where the cat is both alive and dead at the same time? This shaft is also both soft and firm simultaneously?
CHOI: Not quite. But how about this? What if the CPM measurement we currently use to gauge and compare stiffness between shafts is not the only method? What if there were other ways that we haven’t considered to control the feeling of firmness?
ME: So you’re saying you discovered a new way to objectively measure how we feel or perceive stiffness?
CHOI: I think it’s better to say that I realized that a shaft’s CPM and stiffness can be independent of each other, whereas before, we thought they were directly relative. It led to look for other ways to make the shaft firmer, which is what I did. In the process, it also made me think, what else are we missing? Maybe we’ve been limiting ourselves in believing there’s nothing new left to discover.
Shaft Manufacturing 101
According to Dr. Choi, the method of manufacturing carbon shafts has remained largely unchanged since 1979, when Taylormade first introduced the first graphite shaft that offered many advantages over conventional steel shafts. Since then, various new materials and technologies have made the shafts lighter and stronger, but the basic shaft-making process remains the same.
The making of a modern golf shaft consists of wrapping layers of prepreg (treated carbon fiber) sheets around a steel shaft (mandrel). As more layers are applied, the shaft becomes progressively thicker and heavier (WT), which makes the flex (CPM) stiffer and increases the torsional (TQ)
The current method and its proportional relationship between WT, CPM, and TQ is widely accepted. However, it also presents a big challenge for shaft-makers, whose main goal is to make shafts that improve distance with more accuracy. This is because generating more club speed for more distance necessitates a light and flexible shaft; while improving shot accuracy requires the shaft to be firm in both flex and torsional strength.
To balance the trade-off as best they could, OEMs have continually researched new materials and higher-quality carbon, along with their own, often secret, ways of weaving and arranging the carbon prepreg. A good example to illustrate shaft improvement in this manner is the lighter 50-gram range of X-flex shafts, which were a rarity only a few years ago.
At least for now, 5X shafts seem to be the pinnacle of conventional shafts that can be made with the existing process.
Shaft Manufacturing 2.0
In physics, Force equals Mass multiplied by Acceleration (F=MA). The same can be applied to golf at impact, but since a golf club is designed to be in motion, its dynamic energy is calculated as Impulse=MAT, where T is the time the ball stays in contact with the club face.
Dr. Choi explained that increasing any of the three factors would transfer more energy to the ball (I).
In other words, by making the club head heavier (M), faster (A), and getting the ball to remain in contact with the clubface longer (T), the distance will increase as a result.
Now that we can get faster club head speed (FF shafts), how can the shaft be made to feel stiff while retaining a longer distance? The solution was surprisingly simple, as most discoveries tend to be at first.
“Imagine wearing a pair of skin-tight nylon stockings,” Dr. Choi said. “It’s tight, but you can still move and bend your knees easily.” Truth be told, I’d never worn stockings before, but I nodded to see where it would lead.
“If you were to put on one more, your legs will feel stiff, and with yet another, it’ll now be very difficult to even bend your knees,” he was building up towards a big reveal. “But no matter how stiff your legs now feel with the layers of stockings, you can still rotate them.” Come again?
“When you try to sit down, the legs will stick straight out like they’re in a cast, right? But you’d still be able to twist or rotate your leg [left and right] because the stockings are not exerting force in that direction.”
Dazed at the anticlimactic turn, I tried to recall the last time I had a cast but he plowed on. “The original characteristics of your legs don’t change because of the stockings. They’re still your legs, which are bendy and flexible.”
I may have missed a whole lot there, but loosely translated, CBT technology is like adding tight pairs of stockings to make a shaft feel firmer, but won’t change what the original shaft was in terms of
torque or CPM.
Helical Carbon Armour
Carbon bending involves a new step in the shaft manufacturing process, where a thin strip of carbon is helically wrapped tightly around the shaft to increase stiffness. This new sheath of armor will firm up the feel of the shaft but will not affect the CPM or torque. In addition, Dr. Choi’s in-depth research further showed that the width of the strip band and the spacing between the helical spirals all played a part in changing the characteristics of the shaft in minute ways.
The truly mind-blowing prospect of CBT, however, is its ability to create an endless number of unique shafts with specific performance characteristics. For example, the number of new shaft possibilities can reach tens or even hundreds of thousands, depending on various factors, including but not limited to the width and thickness of the band, the spacing and orientation of the helical spiral, the weave pattern of the band fabric, and each of the different materials that all of these factors can be applied to.
“Can you imagine a PGA tour pro being able to dial in a golf shaft to squeeze 99.9% of the performance potential from their favorite shaft, without giving up anything they prefer in WT, CPM, TQ, and now FEEL?” – SJ Golf Lab 2023
If It Looks And Barks Like A Dog?
Several days later, I returned to SJ Lab to test the new MetaFlex CBT shafts. The lineup consisted of three driver shafts of 5H, 6H, 6.5M, and iron ix90 shafts (H for high kick, M for mid-kick). Again, the MF series is designed for faster-speed golfers who swing at least 100mph to well over 120mph. I purposely asked not to see the shaft specs beforehand, as I wanted to remain neutral in determining how the new shafts felt and performed.
Waggling the 5H shaft first, it felt similar in weight and flex to a typical R-shaft. I usually average a smooth swing of about 95 mph with my FF38, but the 5H shaft instinctively made me try to swing harder to compensate for the firmer feel. The good drives launched high and carried as far, with spin between 1900~2000 rpm. As I warmed up, I was hitting it quite well, despite swinging a bit harder than usual.
I had grown accustomed to swinging smoothly and in tempo with FF shafts, so it felt good to swing hard again and not worry about the head catching up. The overall distance was comparable with my own driver at 240~250 yards, so I guessed the 5H specs to be about 220 CPM and close to 4.0 torque. On the downswing, the shaft reminded me of the many 5S shafts I had been using before being turned onto softer shafts. I imagined I could play it well, but struggle to keep it straight on the back nine when I gradually get tired.
Next, the 6H shaft felt like a conventional 5S on the waggle, but much stiffer like a 5X shaft on the actual downswing. I guessed it to be about 230~240 CPM and 3.5 in torque, as I was only able to turn the club head over about one-third of the time. I got a couple out to 240 yards but the rest of the shots varied from a fade bordering on a slice interspersed with low pulls. I felt the shaft demanded more speed for it to show its potential, and my slower speed wasn’t making it sing as it should.
Lastly, the MetaFlex 6.5M told me right away that it was out of my league. The waggle reminded me of a Ventus or a Tensei shaft, and the actual swing was even stiffer and closer to a 6X shaft. As expected, my shots were mostly pushed dead right, as I couldn’t effectively load the shaft with speed.
When I tried to force the head to turn over, I’d overcompensate to flip the wrist and pull it low left. The few that managed to land on the fairway barely traveled 210 yards with a noticeable decrease in ball speed. I can usually muster enough muscle to make a typical stiff shaft work over nine holes at least, but the 6.5M felt like an iron rod.
Overall, MF shafts’ waggles felt similar to conventional aftermarket shafts and felt even firmer during the actual swing.
I was now ready to see the actual spec measurements of the three shafts.
“There’s no way these numbers are the actual specs,” I protested. “These are softer than my FF38, so how…?” Hearing my voice hit a high pitch, I quickly closed my mouth. I already knew to expect something different, but this? Trying to reconcile the stiffness with such low numbers was just as difficult as it was the first time I encountered this phenomenon.
For lack of a better comparison, imagine picking up a cute kitten to hear it purr, only to be shocked at hearing it bark like a big angry pitbull with its tail stepped on. Does this mean I can no longer use phrases like “seeing is believing,” What will happen to “if it looks like a dog and barks like a dog?”
More importantly, what does this mean for the future of golf shafts?
Implications For The Future
Deep down, I believe every golfer wants to increase their driver distance. It doesn’t matter if you average 150 yards or 300 yards. As golfers, the need to hit it farther is in our DNA.
Since discovering that longer, easier distance (and accuracy to boot) is possible with the advent of AF shafts, I’ve never looked back. When FreeFlex shafts debuted earlier this year, I switched all my shafts throughout the bag and couldn’t be happier. I’ve received dozens of similar emails from golfers who read about my experiences and took the plunge, mostly to their pleasant surprise.
As amazing as the shafts are, some scoffed at the absence of such shafts on professional tours. If they’re so good, why aren’t they used more? After all, a distance gain of 10 yards on drives can mean as much as 5-10 percent closer to the pin on approach shots for shorter putts, which can translate to millions of dollars in winnings. In fact, dozens of pros from all major tours have tried them, some openly and some in secret.
As a recreational golfer, I can live with an occasional OB if it means consistently out-driving my friends. But an elite tour pro for whom a single stroke may be worth millions? Not a chance. Even the best can become a psychological wreck if the shaft flexed more than Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Especially on the back nine of a major on Sunday afternoon.
But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose there exists a shaft that truly offers longer distance and accuracy of the soft FF shaft with the reassuring feel and playability of a stiff shaft. Better yet, what if your favorite shaft can be readjusted to fit all of your needs for maximum performance output and feel preferences? I’d bet my last Pro V1s that elite professional golfers will stop at nothing to have them tested and optimized to benefit each of their own swing metrics and performance. It’s in their DNA.
Dr. Choi also mentioned that he is nearing completion of his state-of-the-art swing and shaft diagnostic system, which can prescribe precisely the type of shaft (weight, flex, torque, feel, kick, kitchen sink?) needed for a player. And he builds it to that specification. Customization to the fullest.
As the company’s name implies, that is the ultimate goal of SJ Golf Lab and Dr. Choi, who hopes his shafts will come as a “Special Joy” for each and every golfer.
All in all, CBT certainly felt to me like the next evolutionary step in golf shaft technology.
So, what do you think? Can we trust the accuracy of the statements made by SJ Golf Lab? I would love to hear from other golfers and knowledgeable shaftoids in the industry, and what it can mean going forward.
The Wedge Guy: The science of spin
Over my 30-plus years writing about equipment and designing wedges, I must have been asked thousands of times: “How do I get more spin with my wedge shots?” That seems like such a simple question, but the answer is as far from simple as you can get. So, today I’m going to try to break down the science of spin into its separate components.
The amount of spin imparted to the golf ball in any wedge shot will be affected by three basic things:
- The ball you play
- Your personal swing skills
- The specific wedges you play.
Let’s look at each of them.
One very simple way to improve the spin you get with your wedge shots is to play a premium ball with a soft cover. The harder and usually less expensive balls typically have a firmer core and a cover that is more durable but doesn’t allow as much spin. You should experiment with various balls to see which gives you the optimum combination of distance and spin.
We all know those golfers who seem to spin the ball better than others. That’s because they have honed their skills to make an accelerating, pure strike to the ball most of the time, and to make contact very low on the clubhead – elite players wear out a dime-sized spot on their wedges that is center-face and between the 2nd and 5th grooves. My bet is your wear pattern is more the size of a quarter or even half dollar and centered several grooves higher. You’ll see later why that is so important.
Anyone can learn to be a better wedge player by engaging a golf professional and spending lots more time practicing your wedge shots. I highly recommend both, but also realize that spin is greatly affected by swing speed as well. A strong player who can hit a gap wedge 120 yards is likely to generate much more spin than an equally skilled player who hits gap wedge only 90 yards.
Now we get to the fun part – how the specific wedges you are playing will affect the amount of spin you can impart to any given shot.
Very simply, if you are playing a wedge that you’ve had for years, the grooves are likely well past worn out and are costing you valuable RPMs on every wedge shot. That said, no wedge brand has any measurable competitive advantage over another when it comes to groove technology. The USGA has not changed the rules on grooves in over a decade, and every premium brand of wedges is utilizing the best CNC-milling techniques to push those regulations to the limit. There’s just no story here. And my robotic testing indicates the total absence of grooves only reduces spin by 15-17 percent on a dry ball.
Yes, wedge shafts are that important. You should have shafts in your wedges that closely match the shafts in your irons in weight, material, and flex. This is particularly important if you have evolved to lighter and softer iron shafts. The exception to that is if you play X-flex shafts in your irons, take a tip from almost all tour professionals and opt for a slightly softer flex in your wedges.
What is much more important to make a wedge “spin-ier” is the design of the clubhead itself. While wedges really didn’t change much for decades, over the past few years, every major wedge brand has begun to position a bit more mass in the top section of the wedge clubhead. This repositioning of mass raises the CG a bit and improves the “gear effect,” which enhances spin on every wedge shot.
While they all are doing so to a different degree, most are held back by their reliance on their tour professionals’ input. Those elite players already spin the ball as much as necessary, and they don’t need or want more spin in their wedge shots. But that isn’t in your best interest.
This subject simply cannot be addressed without referencing my own work in wedge design for over thirty years. My wedges for Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, Ben Hogan and now Edison Golf have put increasingly more mass in the top half of the clubhead to help recreational golfers get more spin on all their wedge shots. I’m flattered that all major brands are finally starting to follow my pioneering of this design concept, because it works. (Caliper measurement reveals that none of today’s wedges even have as much mass above center-face as my original Reid Lockhart wedges did in the mid-1990s)
Regarding my reference to tour players’ skills and their dime-sized wear pattern earlier, by striking their wedge shots so low in the face, they are optimizing spin on their traditional “tour design” wedges, because it maximizes the amount of clubhead mass above the point of impact. We all know that “thinned” wedge shot that flies low but has sizzling spin – same concept.
To help explain how this CG placement affects spin, look at what has happened in drivers, fairways, hybrids, and now irons.
As the “launch monitor wars” have come to dominate club-fitting (and selling!), the “holy grail” of distance is high launch and low spin. The engineers are achieving this by continuously finding ways to put maximum mass low in the clubhead with carbon crowns, tungsten inserts and thin faces. But good wedge play is all about penetrating trajectories and optimum spin — and all that mass in the bottom of the wedge head is exactly the opposite of what is needed to deliver that ball flight.
I’ll also leave you with this thought on getting maximum spin on your intermediate-range wedge shots. You are quite likely to discover you actually get more spin with your 52- to 54-degree wedge than with your higher-lofted 56 to 60. That’s because the ball is less likely to slide up the clubface, which causes loss of spin and higher ball flight. Give it a try to see for yourself.
This has been one of my longer posts, but the topic is worthy of a full explanation. I hope the “science of spin” is much less mysterious now.
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