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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 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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Whats in the Bag

Brandt Snedeker WITB 2024 (Thursday)

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Driver: Titleist TSR2 (9 degrees, D4 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Red 6 X

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth (15 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue 6 X

5-wood: TaylorMade Qi10 (18 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue 8 X

Irons: Srixon ZX Mk II (3), Bridgestone J15CB (5-9)
Shafts: AeroTech SteelFiber i110cw, AeroTech SteelFiber i95

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM10 (48-10F, 52-12F, 56-10S), Vokey WedgeWorks Proto (60-K)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400

Putter: Odyssey Rossie White Hot XG, Bridgestone TD-O2

Grips: Lamkin UTx

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

Check out more in-hand photos of Brandt Snedeker’s clubs here.

 

 

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Spotted: SuperStroke Pistol Lock 1.0 & 2.0 grips

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SuperStroke’s Pistol series is one of its more popular models with an oversized — but still traditional — shape that fits in the hands comfortably.

This week, we spotted a new grip on the practice green at the Cognizant Classic with the “Pistol” name but a little different shape. The traditional pistol shape flares out into the palm on the upper hand and usually has a flat top for your thumb to rest easily. The new grips feature two sizes at the moment, the 1.0 and 2.0, with the latter looking significantly larger.

This new Pistol Lock grip looks to have a similar flat top and flared-out back in the upper hand like the original. The taper to the upper hand looks to start further down the shaft and has a more pronounced shape at the top of the grip. The lower-hand section also might look to have a touch more taper to it, but sometimes these shapes are hard to tell from just photos. Here are the new Pistol Lock grips next to the current Pistol.

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Whats in the Bag

WITB Time Machine: Justin Thomas’ winning WITB, 2018 Cognizant Classic

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In 2018, a playoff at 8 under par determined the winner of the then-Honda Classic. Justin Thomas rolled in a three-footer to defeat Luke List on the first playoff hole, capturing his eighth PGA Tour victory in the process.

See what JT had in the bag at PGA National six years ago below.

Driver: Titleist 917D2 (8.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana BF 60 TX

3-wood: Titleist 917F2 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei CK Blue 80 TX

5-wood: Titleist 915Fd (18 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Motore Speeder VC 9.2 Tour Spec X

Irons: Titleist 718 AP2 (4), Titleist 718 MB (5-9)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM5 (56-14F), Vokey SM6 (46-08F, 52-12F, 60-12K)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue (46-60), Nippon N.S. Pro Modus 3 (60)

Putter: Scotty Cameron X5.5
Grip: SuperStroke Pistol GT Tour

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

More Justin Thomas WITBs

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