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If you are looking at a definitive answer to the title’s question, you may be sadly disappointed with the answer and for good reason. Absolutely no one in whole wide world can answer that question and I am here to tell you the real reason. So sit back and absorb some vital information if you truly want to understand golf shaft flex better.
What is an R-flex?
Our opening question could have easily been what is an L, A, S, or X-flex as it is a means of establishing a standard. For those of you who are unaware of the nomenclature, R stands for Regular and is designed for – well, you guessed it – the regular guy. It is simply the flex built into the shaft to complement the strength of what the average male golfer may produce to provide the right feel and consistent results.
Shaft manufacturers have their own internal method of determining flex and building that into the design of a raw, uncut shaft and then suggesting a systematic way of trimming the shaft based on the weights and lengths that club manufacturers produce their wares. Believe me, that is no easy task. The reason being is there are no standards in the industry for the last two parameters.
Don’t Resist Change
Clubmakers and golfers alike want things that are neatly organized. That is from one manufacture to another or shaft model to the next, if it says R-flex on the label it will be the same. Well for one, if that were the case then all shafts would play exactly the same and we wouldn’t have any product differentiation. I think all of us would agree that would not be a positive situation.
But clubmakers would like the shafts to fall with in a tight range. For instance, if the shaft’s deflection or frequency (two methods of measuring relative shaft flex) were between X and Y-amounts, then the shaft can be definitively characterized as an R-flex or whatever flex we are trying to determine. As of now that does not occur and that is why I want to go over the reasons this type of system does not work.
For many, many years steel shaft producers made shafts that were all the same weight. Today we refer to them as standard weight steel shafts. These are shafts such as Dynamic Gold as one example that weigh approximately 3.0g or more per inch for irons. I like to put the weight in those terms because not every raw, uncut shaft is produced at the same length. A classic illustration is the True Temper TT Lite XL which is 128g at 43” or just under 3.0g per inch, hence the “Lite” in the name.
When you have shafts that are of similar weight per inch there is not a whole lot of manipulation that steel shaft makers can do that a graphite shaft manufacturer can as the materials are consistent (or homogeneous) throughout. One of those ways to create differentiation is the step pattern or geometry of the shaft which affects the flex distribution which we will talk about next. We will re-visit the importance of weight afterwards.
The flex distribution of a shaft, also known as bend point, kick point of flex point, is one way a manufacturer has in altering the feel and potentially the ball’s trajectory between different models. This is influenced by the distance between the steps or “knurls” on a steel shaft, parallel tip and butt lengths, outside diameters and wall thickness.
A shaft classified as a “low” bend point (a shaft designed to hit the ball high) has more of the flex built into the shaft more toward the tip section or where it is attached to the head. Conversely, a shaft classified as a “high” bend point (a shaft designed to hit the ball lower) has less of the flex built into the shaft’s tip section. A shaft classified as “mid” bend point has the stiffness distribution more evenly spread along the length of the shaft.
In order for a low bend point shaft to have more flex built into the tip means the shaft has a disproportionate amount of its stiffness in the butt end. In determining the flex of the shaft whether by deflection or frequency is done by clamping the butt end of the shaft and obtaining the measurements.
If you have two R-flex shafts of the same weight and length, the one with the lower bend point shaft will often appear to be stiffer even though it may not feel that way when swung. The Apollo Shadow R-flex steel shaft is a prime example. The weight is the same as a Dynamic Gold which has the stiffer tip section. To offset this, the butt end is more flexible on the Dynamic Gold subsequently exhibiting a lower frequency or deflection reading. For that reason alone, there should be no absolute standards for the flex of a shaft.
Emergence of Lighter Steel Shafts
Manufacturers have continued to produce lighter weight shafts as a means of lowering the overall weight of the club so it can be swung faster or with less effort so consumers could obtain more distance. In the early days of steel this was not possible. But as years went on, steel manufacturers figured out ways of reducing wall thickness and yet build durability into the shaft. The first generation of lighter weight shafts was a mere 7g lighter than their standard weight counterparts. Not exactly Earth shattering. Over the length of a 41” shaft, 7g amounts to 0.17g per inch.
Manufacturers built the flex of their new lighter weight shafts the same as the standard weight shafts. The formula worked for years until the next generation of even lighter weight shaft began. Those shafts weighing at least another 7g lighter than the lightweight steel shafts at the time again were created with the same flex. However, this time the thinner walled shafts began to feel “boardy” or unresponsive. The standard deflection and frequency readings that stood for years no long fit the formula.
Throwing a Curve Ball
Soon afterward the steel manufacturers replaced those “boardy” feeling shafts with newer models that had more flex built into them. Manufacturers began doing blind testing with golfers to determine what feels and performs to the R-flex they were familiar with rather than using a secret formula.
Clubmakers cried foul. These aren’t R-flex shafts they measure closer to senior (A-flex) shafts. Therefore the clubmaker or fitter would suggest S-flex shafts in the lighter weight pattern because the frequency and deflection reading matched that of the heavier weight R-flex shafts. After all, frequency is frequency and deflection is deflection at the same length – isn’t it? The chart listed shows plots typical assembled club frequencies of R-flex #5-irons at different cut shaft weights.
For years, graphite irons shafts were much more flexible than their steel counterparts – some 25 cycles per minute (cpm) lower in respect to the same flex steel-shafted #5-iron. It had always been accepted within the golf industry that 10 cpm was considered one full flex. At first club makers questioned why the great disparity but gradually over time began to accept it for various reasons such as different raw materials and assembly lengths. Plus the graphite shaft manufacturers didn’t deviate and start building back stiffness into their products to get them to have similar deflection and frequency reading as steel
But now we have steel shafts like the Apollo Acculite 75 and True Temper’s GS-75 that are the weight of many graphite shafts. Their flex is also more proportional to graphite shafts of that weight too. Those that play these two shafts don’t find the playing flex to be characteristic of the lower frequency reading that would indicate the shafts are too weak.
What exactly is an R-flex shaft now?
Simply the answer varies depending upon the weight of the shafts and even the stiffness distributions. So if you are looking a nice tidy frequency or deflection reading for an R-flex 5-iron at x-amount of length it doesn’t exist.
If you are a clubmakers, trying to standardize flex, this is only hindering your fittings and not providing your customers with the right flex. Consumers conducting research on shaft flex can’t look at deflection or frequency readings alone without comparing like weights. Maybe it is time to trust the manufacturers as they have a vested interest in providing product that will fit as there is too much competition to do otherwise.
Consumers are now enjoying the benefits of the new breed of ultra-lightweight steel shafts (2.5g per inch or less). We can thank the manufacturers from deviating from their standard and producing products that fit and feel what they are supposed to be rather than targeting a specific number.
Before you purchase your next golf club, you should consider the following ahead of plucking down your hard earned money. Like many other products in today’s world, there are a number of ways golf clubs are bought and sold. Hireko is a different type of company who manages to sell our products through different distribution channels than traditional manufacturers. The reason for this will become self-evident as we explain each of the four basic methods below.
The most common way that golf clubs are purchased today is what I will call “ready made or pre-assembled”. In this day and age I avoid the term off-the-rack because so many consumers have opted to order on-line where a golf club is already pre-assembled and sitting in a box waiting for someone to buy it rather in a traditional retail environment where is may be on a rack, shelf or back room.
Why? The overwhelmingly number one reason is convenience. This is the same reason why you decide to buy a shirt. It is an impulse purchase that you must have now rather than wait to satisfy a need or want. Like any impulse purchase, there is buyer’s remorse if transaction provides less than satisfactory results.
For example, that large shirt doesn’t seem to fit even though all the other shirts in your closet are labeled as large and yet you can wear them on a regular basis and the fit is fine. It will eventually be moved to the back of the closet probably never to see the light of day before it end up at a yard sale or donated to Goodwill or someone you think can use it.
You see each and every ready made golf club model will be built exactly the same whether you buy it off-the-rack or from a warehouse in Miami, FL, Bangor, ME, Seattle, WA, San Diego, CA or anywhere in the American Heartland. These golf clubs amount to be nothing more than commodities when you think about it as you are buying based on price and convenience.
Manufacturer has already decided to use certain components (head, shaft, grip, etc.) and specifications (lengths and swingweights) that the club will be built to. These are what are referred to as stock options. But these same clubs may have different options for loft, flex and (right or left) handedness to offer different option to fit as wide a range as possibly with the fewest number of SKUs (stock keeping units) possible.
Consumers should be aware the selections could be very limited, such as the steel shaft in the iron is only offered in their “Uniflex” option. There may be only one loft in left hand or the wedge comes only equipped with a “Wedge Shaft” or what many of you would know basically as an S-flex Dynamic Gold. In some cases the club could be offered in all five flexes (L, A, R, S and X) and 3 lofts. However, when was the last time you saw all those options on a rack (like an X-flex 12º driver) and ended up having to special order the club from a warehouse far away?
Ready made equipment is also fine and dandy is you are fortunate enough to be Mr. or Mrs. Average. So check the name on your driver’s license now and also check to see if you are the typical height and weight while you are at it too. Let me tell you this, if you happen to be tall, short, lanky or portly, you have one arm or leg longer than the other or simply clothes off-the-rack don’t ever seem to fit, you have probably looked into our next possibility which is made to order or sometimes said as made to measure.
Made to Order
No, we are not talking about the movie comedy from 1987 starring Ally Sheedy with a similar name. The concept behind made to order is the complete opposite of ready made. While there may be inventory or raw materials, there is no finished product sitting on a shelf or in a box. Rather the product is built from scratch by selecting different component like the fabric, zipper and buttons to make a jacket. The basic pattern may be identical to a model, but alterations are made to change the appearance or improve the quality of the final product.
For example you could go to our website or to an independent clubmaker and say I want that club. But instead of the standard grip option, you say “I would rather have that grip instead. Also, while you are at it, I like this shaft option instead because I like that brand or color better”, even though the specifications are somewhat similar to that of the suggested model.
The other possibility is to take a standard club off-of-the rack and have it altered. Not only do you have the initial cost of the club that you have already paid someone to build the clubs, but now you have to pay someone else to alter it. Plus don’t forget about the cost of the replacement components. Add it up and the cost can get out of hand when you could have waited to have the clubs made to order in the first place.
This next point is very important to understand. Custom made simply means that the final product varies from one to the next. Think about a custom made house. The floor plan may be same, but the exterior colors, cabinet finishes, etc may be changed to suit the need of the owner. Custom made can also mean that the final product could be more than just a cosmetic change. An addition for a guest bedroom could be added above the garage or the kitchen could be moved to where the dining room and den used to be is just a couple of examples.
Independent clubmakers and hobbyists from around the world have at their disposal clubmaking catalogs from the likes of Hireko Golf where there are a plethora of clubhead designs to choose from. For instance there may be eight right-handed 10.5º drivers. On top of that there may be 70 different shafts that might fit the driver’s inside diameter and another 100 grips to choose from. That is just the tip of the iceberg as that is over 50,000 possibilities and we haven’t even factored in other things like length, swingweight or final grip size.
The concept of custom made is that each product is not set to any one standard that a ready made golf club on the market might have. Some may argue that you cannot just slap together three different golf components and have them work well. With endless possibilities that is always a risk. However, the risk is minimized by the support material and information the component distributor provides to the consumer for each of their products. The slight risk can far outweighs the limited number of options ready made clubs are offered in, especially if the only difference is ½” longer or shorter to accommodate the size of the golfer using it. This is the reason why component suppliers sell tens of millions of dollars annually in shafts, grips and supplies for independent clubmakers, club fitters and hobbyists to retro-fit existing equipment.
The next term “custom fit” has a whole world of different definitions depending on who you talk to. It offers some element that a process is used to “fit” the player and that club is then custom made with those exact components and specifications where as custom made does not. The “fit” could be far ranging from filling out a simple online form or utility for basic information like their hand size and height to a performance center with all the latest gadgetry that professional golfers are privy to and everything in-between. We won’t get into that right now as that will take better part of a book to address correctly. But remember some fitting, no matter how basic is might be, is often better than none whatsoever.
Hireko sells the vast majority of their heads, shafts and grips to independent clubmaking, repair and fitting centers across the globe. Each shop may have their own methods to fit the players in their locality. There may be some that conduct their fitting strictly outdoors using limited tools and demo clubs, those that fit indoors with the assistance of computer launch monitors and some they may do both. However, the common goal is to make sure what you buy fits you.
If you are in doubt of what you really need to improve your game and lower your score – seek out these individuals. Ask fellow golfers who have been fit, referrals, what their success has been after the fitting. Remember that pricing can vary greatly depending upon the level of fit, final components fitted for, but you can be assured they will be lower in cost than comparable fitted name brand clubs. But most importantly, you will be assured that the final product fits you.
As I mentioned ahead of time, Hireko sells through different distribution channels for a reason. We strongly feel that one club with one standard set of specifications does not fit all. While we do offer a limited number of products on our site are ready made like junior clubs or boxed sets that a beginner may need to get started, our products fall into the category of made to order and thus finding an exact demo of what you want won’t be the same as a national retail brand. But remember you have an almost unlimited number of custom options at you disposal with Hireko branded clubs.