Tech Director Jeff Summitt Reviews the Last Decade In Golf

Here is a look back at the decade of the 00’s in the golf industry.  As we all know, this decade lacks the catchy name like the Roaring 20’s or the Psychedelic 60’s and in some ways lacks any identity whatsoever.  I am not sure what to even call it, the “Zeros”?  It started out good as our computers turned on after Y2K, but after that we had hanging “chads”, 9/11, two wars, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, infidelity was in the spotlight, a tsunami and hurricanes, Iran and North Korea, global warming, sub-prime mortgages, … just to name of few of the images to leave their endearing marks. But there was good too.

For golfers, this decade provided a lot of improvements when it comes to the equipment we play.  After reminiscing by thumbing through catalogs and reading countless articles, here is a brief capsule I came up with to reflect on this past decade of progress and innovation.

Age of Rules and Regulations
If there was one common theme regarding equipment that spanned the entire decade, it would be this topic. The USGA and R&A have had The Rules of Golf for some time now that provides the rules and regulations which golfers and manufacturers abide by. Alarmed by the rapid advancement in technology, the ruling bodies started to impose several technological restrictions at a hare’s pace to “preserve the integrity of the game.”

Volume
Normally in golf, progress is measured by decades, but that was not the case with driver’s size or volume as clubs made out of stronger and lighter materials grew in size exponentially. At the beginning of the decade the largest driver produced was in the 325 – 350cc range. As a matter of fact, many of the drivers sold were 250cc (or smaller) and produced wholly from stainless steel. Consider in that short period of time that not one driver produced today is made of stainless steel!

2001 saw the first 400cc driver, while 2002 marked the year a 500cc driver was made available for sale. It was well known at this time that the larger driver would have a higher moment of inertia (MOI) and subsequently makes it easier to hit the ball straighter even on off-center shots. At this point, the USGA stepped in and began to propose size limits on drivers as they were potentially seeing technology threaten to diminish skill level. So in October 2003, the USGA imposed a 460cc limit on clubhead size effective January 1, 2004.

Length
With much less fan-fare, a rule limiting the length of a club (except for putters) was established at 48” and became effective January 1, 2004.  I remember the initial reason why club length was addressed – not to obsolete any golf courses, which obviously has not happened.  Golfers have long found that clubs of that length are just too difficult to hit as evident of drivers found in the golf bags and showrooms across the globe are still a good 2-3” shorter than the maximum allowable limit.

Coefficient of Restitution
In 1999, the USGA began a non-conforming club list for drivers, but soon afterwards they needed to create a separate Conforming Driver list. Manufacturers began submitting clubs to become tested instead of relying on the integrity of the companies to police themselves.  One of the testing protocols was to measure the “spring-like effect” of the ball coming off the face of the club.  Using an air cannon to fire a ball at the clubface, the USGA would measure the velocities before and after impact to formulate the Coefficient of Restitution (COR).  Those that exceeded the 0.830 COR measurement were deemed non-conforming effective January 1, 2003.

However, the R&A had a different perspective as they did not adopt the same set of rules the USGA had formed when it came to the spring-like effect.  Even Arnold Palmer stood up on behalf of the ordinary golfer not to limit technology but only to receive backlash amongst the golfing elite.  The R&A even allowed up to a 0.860 COR driver limit for some levels of play.  It wasn’t until January 1, 2008 that the both USGA and R&A adopted the same set of rules regarding spring-like effect.

As COR became part of golf’s vocabulary, eventually a less catchy name would replace it called CT (Characteristic Time) to reflect a new, quicker test protocol that is used today.  The 0.830 upper COR limit was now 257 milliseconds.

Moment of Inertia (MOI)

As mentioned previously, as the moment of inertia (MOI) of a head increased, the more forgiving the driver would become.  The USGA saw a trend with the MOI of drivers increasing three-fold in just 15 quick years.

USGA proposed and implemented a test to limit clubhead moment of inertia (5900 g-cm2) and become effective May 1, 2006.  What was a lot of hubbub at first turned out to be much ado about nothing as currently no clubhead (other than a novelty model) to this date has exceeded this limit. But as a result of this rule, it forever changed the shape of clubs to come. “Square” and “triangular” clubs were just some of the geometric shapes created to push the envelope toward this MOI limit.

As a new decade is about to begin, it is only fitting that a new rule will exist on grooves that is bound to spark confusion as well as controversy amongst golfers.  Stay tuned! But the rules and regulations were not all about stifling or reigning innovation. The USGA did throw club designers a bone with the allowance for club adjustability. It was relaxed to allow for interchangeable clubheads and shafts like the Dynacraft Prophet ICT. Plus new dimensions for putter head became permissible to allow some of the innovative designs you see today.

The Decade of Domination
Love him or hate him, there was no doubt who was the best golfer of the decade.  Who was the last person to hold the number one spot in the world rankings before Tiger?  If you said David Duval, you just lost a bar bet.  Anyway, that was the 90’s.  Vijay Singh briefly took the lead in September 2004 after Tiger changed his swing. After a few victories (including the Masters) they swapped leadership roles back and forth. Woods finally overtook the world rankings for good in July ’05.

There was one product of the decade that deserves special attention. Golf balls are items we all have to use, but no other ball dominated the ‘00s like the Titleist Pro V1.  Not just the Titleist brand, but a single ball peaked the charts and accounted for what might be more sales than all other balls combined.

No wonder the waistlines of the population has inched outwards.  No longer do you have to leave your house to play golf as you can play on your Wii or your teenager might be playing Tiger Wood PGA Tour 10 on their Xbox 360.  What happened to exercise like walking off yardage from the sprinkler head or at least standing next to the white stake and knowing that was close enough to 150 yards from the center of the green.  No, Rangefinders were introduced.  That wasn’t good enough, we had to add GPS devises this decade so you know that you have exactly 144 yards, 1 foot and 7.6 inches to the flagstick, which doesn’t help you out since you are still in-between your 6 and 7 iron. Sorry, but this is one technology I think I will pass on.

In drivers, TaylorMade had to be considered king of that category for the decade.  In what seemed like a roll out of a new driver every 6 months, TaylorMade forever changed the concept of “product life cycle” for all manufacturers, except maybe Ping to emulate. No longer were new designs supposed to last 2 or more years, but you brought out products when they were ready and did not need to coincide with the annual PGA trade show or any other calendar event.

While Scotty Cameron could be considered the name in putters for the decade, it was Odyssey that dominated in flatsticks sold. At one time during the 00’s the Odyssey brand was in the Top 10 in sales if it would have been a stand alone company let alone just one of the divisions of Callaway Golf.

Wedges were dominated by Cleveland, but almost could have shared honors with Titleist.  Between those two, it seemed as any other wedge was a boutique brand.

This was a decade were there was no dominate iron model like in decades past.  Yet innovation did in fact occur by the introduction of more front-to-back curvature of the sole and the addition of bounce.  Irons became so much more playable than the flatter soled irons as we had entered the decade.  Plus Callaway brought us the undercut cavity. Few game improvement irons do not possess some sort of undercut to re-distribute clubhead mass in a more effective way so your shots go straighter.

The Start of a New Category: Hybrids
Utility woods as they were once called were clubs designed to be the solution between those hard-to-hit long irons and fairway woods.  I don’t even think the term hybrid was coined until 2004. TaylorMade might be given credit for the boon with their “Rescue clubs” and a few other companies like Kasco and Sonartec paved the way with their wares too. But there is no doubt, this category exploded and helped more golfers enjoy this game a little bit more.  In fact the way clubs were bought and sold changed so much that the traditional 3 and 8 set (3 woods and 8 irons) is pretty much a thing of the past.

A New Look in Putters
Mallet putters look a whole lot different now then what was considered a mallet at the beginning of the decade.  Back then a mallet was either a solid half-round block of wood or a hollow-body metal shell.  No manufacturer would dare produce many of the putters you see today in fear of that Plain and Simple Rule written into the Rules of Golf.

Then all of the sudden the Odyssey 2-Ball putter came out with a hole through it to re-distribute mass and more importantly it sold like hotcakes. Well it probably had to deal more with the two alignment balls on the top than the hollow opening, but soon the whole industry soon followed with all sorts of looks that had not been seen before. That was aided by the USGA relaxing the rule on putter dimensions allowing more varied high-MOI shape are now available to help improve your putting.

Putters in the 00’s became milled.  No, we are not just talking about face being milled, but the whole putter.  Overnight, anyone with the ability to design (or copy) a putter in CAD and had CNC milling machines could enter the high end putter market.  These new milled boutique putter companies charged what was an unheard of $200 per putter if they were lucky enough to get one of their products in the hands of a PGA tour player.
Shafts
Only two graphite shafts (Aldila VX/VL and Grafalloy ProLite 35) are the only familiar faces from a decade ago as graphite shaft manufactures had been busy creating newer models at a rapid pace. Big butt shafts (0.810” and larger) came and went.  So too did the True Temper BiMatrix™ which was part steel and part graphite.  Steel wood shafts are disappearing and not being even made when a new steel shaft is introduced. I wouldn’t be surprised to see those go 10 years from now, not because they became obsolete like stainless steel drivers, but due to lack of demand.  Steel iron shafts have become lighter and lighter during this decade.

True Temper Dynamic Gold still remains the number one shaft on Tour and for the better player, although 70% more expensive than 10 years ago.  Premium graphite shafts in 2000 were well under $50; today premium models are more like twice that figure and some can fetch nearly $300 as more exotic materials, material lay-ups and marketing have driven prices north.

Grips
Men’s grips at the beginning of the decade were almost all black, except for this new company called Winn.  Insiders were skeptical that $4.00 grips would sell.  Now popular grips sold today are nearly twice that and consumers don’t make a big fuss.  While longtime favorites like the Golf Pride Green Victory were retired, now there are all sorts of colors, new materials that remain tacky, dampen shock or vibration to the hands or all the above.

Putter grips gained a lot of attention this past decade instead of being an afterthought.  Not only were made in every conceivable size allowed by the USGA, but the introduction of long, one-piece belly grip came into existence.

Tools
Once staples for clubmaking shops, the availability of whipping and polyurethane for wooden woods soon disappeared from component clubmaking catalogs as the demand fore those service went quietly away.  Re-gripping became more environmentally friendly with the new and improved water re-activated tape, although few clubmakers paid attention.

Clubmaking shops became more sophisticated with the advent and access of the portable launch monitor to obtain accurate information.  Now one could truly compare two drivers and definitively say which performed better on a given day.

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Few mass produced clubs are assembled in the USA as that work had mostly shifted to China for cheaper labor where the heads and shafts are made. Certain manufacturers doing assembly in the US is only on a small scale for custom work.  The same thing occurred with the manufacturing of the clubheads themselves, with only a few boutique putter manufacturers and persimmon woods still being produced here.  Even the venerable Ping golf club head were shifted abroad, although still assembled in the US.

Decade of Consolidation
The big got bigger and gobbled up their competition.  In some cases they got so big they burst when the golf boon waned.  Storied names like the Ben Hogan Company and MacGregor were bought and sold and in some cases never rose from the ashes only to remain a footnote in golf’s long history.

The consolidation didn’t just affect club manufacturers, but all facets of the industry like golf chains, shaft and grip manufacturing, component companies to name a few. Sadly the local independent Ma and Pa golf shop is all but a relic by the big getting bigger and the popularity of the Internet.

Product Information
Even though consumers were buying clubs on the Internet at the beginning of the decade, they were not at the rate they do today.  Who would have thought, ordering a new set if irons on your portable phone while out on the golf course? Forums where fellow clubmakers and consumers could gather in cyberspace became popular. People could communicate about golf and golf products anywhere in the world with an Internet connection 24/7/365.

Blogs, what the hell were those just a few years ago? Tweets, Facebook and other social networking sites sprung up to provide product information, reviews, videos, you name it. Now we can’t seem to live without them.  What does the next 10 years have in store for us we can only imagine and probably someone planning that as we speak?

Adios to the 00’s
Despite the additional rules the USGA imposed and the consolidation of golf club companies this past decade, golfers still enjoyed big oversized drivers, the addition of hybrids, undercut cavity back irons and pretty unusual looking high MOI mallet putters just to mention a few thing to make this game we all love just a little bit easier to play.

While part of me is glad to see this decade ending on a lamb, I look forward to the 10’s (what the heck are they called the tens?) coming in like a lion.  I am sure the next decade will forever change the look of the equipment we play, how it is put together, the way it is sold, etc. Hopefully Hireko will play a big part in that. Oh, if only I had a crystal ball to look into the future…

2 Comments on A Decade in Review (2000-09)

  1. Great summary, Jeff! I agree with almost everything, and you hit a few points I hadn’t thought of.

    One correction, though. TaylorMade brought out the Rescue in the ’90s (probably 1998 IIRC). It may have been until the 2000s before other manufacturers caught on.

    Your comment about the 3+8 no longer being the standard was spot-on. My own bag consists of six irons (5-PW, Hireko XP905-Pro) and three hybrids (17, 20, 23, Hireko Prophet), plus a driver, a couple of wedges, and a putter. And yes, that’s only 13 clubs. I’ve been playing that way for a couple of months now, and it’s working very well. The missing club is the 3-wood. I don’t get quite as much distance with the hybrid as my best shots with the 3-wood; but I bet my average distance is longer, and more wind up in the fairway.

  2. John Wuest says:

    A fun and insightful read. Thanks Jeff.

    Being a certifiable ‘Hirekoholic” I’m looking forward to what you guys bring out in the future.

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