Best of decade: Top 5 equipment developments
November 27, 2019
By Andrew Tursky, Equipment Insider, PGATOUR.COM
- November 27, 2019
- Improvements in driver technology has been one of the biggest equipment stories of the decade. (Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR)
There’s a famous quote from the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” which goes, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
As golfers try their best to constantly improve, golf equipment companies do their best to make golf easier, and help golfers achieve their goals. In the ultra-competitive modern space, golf technologies improve at a rapid pace, so as the decade turns and the year 2020 hits, we wanted to “stop and look around” at the past decade of golf equipment developments.
When we look back in 20, 30, 50 or 100 years, how will this decade have left its mark on the history of golf equipment?
Here are the top 5 golf equipment developments of the decade.
PORTABLE LAUNCH MONITORS
No, launch monitors weren’t invented this decade, but they certainly exploded into the mainstream.
Trackman, one of the most popular launch monitors, was invented in 2003, but the first iterations cost around $200,000. In the early days, it was equipment manufacturers and club fitters who used the data-gathering systems.
By the early 2010s, however, due to more affordability and portability, PGA TOUR players were using launch monitors in their personal practice sessions and club testing sessions to dial in their swing and golf clubs.
Now, if you’re not using a launch monitor, you’re at a severe disadvantage against whatever competitive field you’re in.
Launch monitor systems, with their abilities to identify ball speed, spin rate, launch, angle of attack, impact location, etc. have changed the way players think about and play the game, and how golf club and shaft companies make products. It’s likely that some of the products mentioned below would not have been instituted had launch monitors not been as available to the golfing public.
DRIVERS CONTINUE FORWARD
Golfers want to hit the ball farther and straighter, and that likely will never change no matter what decade it is. As such, golf club companies will continue to focus on making drivers longer and more forgiving.
In this decade -- especially since USGA limits are now easily met on center strikes -- a variety of design philosophies were explored and expanded upon, including different materials, aerodynamics, CG locations and adjustability.
Many modern drivers of today use lightweight materials, such as carbon composites, in their crowns and on different locations in the heads to free up weight to be used more effectively in the head; mostly, as companies have figured out, a lower CG (center of gravity) is optimal. This means that drivers can be made lower spinning, higher flying and more forgiving for longer and straighter shots.
Equipment companies also continue to study and test aerodynamic designs in order to help golfers swing the club faster and avoid the drawbacks of drag as the club moves through space.
Additionally, as club fitting becomes more accepted by mainstream golfers, driver companies have introduced adjustability to help each individual find an optimized driver setup for their needs.
Just before the start of this decade, in 2009, the first adjustable hosel on a driver became available to the general public. This hosel system allowed golfers and fitters to adjust loft and lie angle of the driver to fine tune flight characteristics. Now, nearly every driver that hits the market includes a hosel adjustability system.
Also, sliding and otherwise adjustable weights have become popular on the soles of drivers. These help golfers find the right CG (center of gravity) location for their needs. In general, a more forward CG helps lower spin and launch, a rearward CG helps raise launch and forgiveness, a heel-ward CG helps a golfer reduce their slice, and a toe-ward CG helps a golfer reduce their hook. As discussed previously, the common denominator is a low CG, which has been found to be best for most golfers.
HOLLOW-BODIED IRON DESIGNS
While not completely new in this decade, hollow-bodied iron constructions remerged and became widely popular in the mid-2010s.
PXG was at the forefront of this movement when it introduced a set of two-piece irons with a soft material infused between the faces and bodies. This line of thinking influenced many iron companies to create small-sized players irons with hollow-bodied constructions in order to take advantage of both the playability of small irons and the distance, launch and forgiveness of game-improvement irons.
Before this decade, most “skilled” golfers used one-piece irons, whether they were blades or cavity-backs. Now, hollow-bodied irons are seen throughout bags of all skill-level golfers, including PGA TOUR pros.
This design philosophy has had a tremendous impact on the top-end of iron sets, too. The modern driving iron, spearheaded by the Callaway X Utility prototype in 2012, uses hollow constructions and other designs to make long irons more forgiving, higher-launching, and provide greater distances to players both off the tee and from the fairway.
In 2019, these modern driving irons have significantly reduced the usage of hybrids, especially in the bags of PGA TOUR players.
MULTI-MATERIAL SHAFTS AND THE EXPANSION OF GRAPHITE
Of course, graphite shafts go back to well before 2010, but the progression of the shaft category post-2010 has been astounding. And that doesn’t just mean in drivers and fairway woods, either.
Shaft companies have figured out how to use stronger and lighter materials, and combining different materials, to make shafts more stable than ever before. They can pinpoint exact locations they want to bolster, as well.
For example, there are certain players who need a stiffer tip section, whereas others need the butt end of the grip to be stiffer. Shaft companies, due to both materials and processes, can develop shaft to suit the exact needs of both players, and everyone in between.
The advancement of composite shaft technology has lent itself to players expanding the usage of graphite, as well. Not just amateurs, but some PGA TOUR players, too, are using graphite shafts in their irons, putters and even wedges. Bryson DeChambeau recently became the first golfer on the PGA TOUR to use graphite shafts in all 14 of his clubs during the 2019 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Graphite shafts are allowing golfers to keep their clubs more stable – that is, to prevent unwanted twisting and turning – throughout the bag. This means more precision on all shots.
NIKE EXITS THE HARD GOODS INDUSTRY
Maybe this isn’t a “development” as far as the rest of this list goes, but this was absolutely a tectonic shift in the golf equipment industry that changed the landscape.
During the early and middle portion of the decade, Nike Golf was undoubtedly one of the biggest names in the golf club and ball industry, and the company sponsored top players such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka to use its equipment. Nike Golf, however, exited the hard goods industry in 2016, and no longer makes golf clubs. That meant Woods, McIlroy, Koepka, and other Nike athletes were no longer under contract to play Nike’s clubs and were free to play whatever they chose.
Ultimately, Woods and McIlroy signed contracts with TaylorMade, and TaylorMade significantly reduced the amount of PGA TOUR players it paid to use its equipment.
Koepka, and other former Nike players such as Patrick Reed and Paul Casey, continued on with their PGA TOUR careers as equipment free agents. Prior to this industry shakeup by Nike, it was relatively unheard of for a player to compete on the PGA TOUR while not under contract with an equipment company.
Of course, other factors could be at play, but the moment Nike announced it was ceasing to make golf clubs, the golf equipment industry changed.