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High-Tech Golf Clubs

Can New Golf-Club Technology and Design Improve Your Game? Maybe Yes. Maybe No.
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 2)

"I was thinking that a tennis racket had its weight around the perimeter and the hitting area was in the middle," says Solheim. "I thought you could make a golf club with the weight at the toe and heel. So I worked on making a putter that way. I gave it to someone to try out and he said it had a sound like a ping, which is where I got the name."

He got Julius Boros to try the putter and he won the 1967 Phoenix Open using it. The age of high-tech golf had begun. Solheim went on to develop his Ping irons, with the weight distributed around the hitting area and the head offset from the shaft. He went on to develop club heads of beryllium copper and manganese bronze. He also went on to develop a considerable fortune as 30-handicappers, 20-handicappers, 10-handicappers and scratch players filled their bags with Solheim's perimeter-weighted wonders, the most important improvement in golf clubs since the steel shaft took over from hickory.

Toolmaker John Zebellean would develop the concept of metal woods in the 1970s, and entrepreneur Gary Adams would market them through his company Taylor Made Golf. Ely Callaway, the vintner, would sell his winemaking business, found a golf company and ultimately produce Big Bertha, the jumbo-headed metal driver that has virtually taken over the market. Metal woods, too, work on the principal of perimeter weighting, and Big Bertha pushed the weight to an extreme. Callaway introduced an even bigger metal wood this summer: Great Big Bertha. It is designed for high-handicap golfers; the size of the club face assures that if you can get it anywhere near the ball, you can hit it.

The graphite shaft was the brainchild of Frank Thomas, who conceived it when he was working for the Shakespeare Co. In charge of monitoring and approving golf equipment for the United States Golf Association, Thomas' job is to make sure that technology alone does not significantly improve a player's game or render golf courses obsolete.

These days a walk through any large golf-equipment retailer, or even through the local pro shop--can be a boggling trip through the computer age instead of a stroll through the romantic myth of the game. There are clubs manufactured by Cubic Balance that have Computer Made etched into the top of the metal woods. The Powerbilt Co.'s display touts the Ellipsoid of Power, which may either help you hit the ball farther or overthrow the government of Portugal. The Japanese club maker Mitsushiba has announced its Carbon Impact System, with carbon fibers in the cavity which, the company says, gives a softer feeling and focuses the power.

And just what are these Cleveland VAS Irons? Did they fall off a Roto-Rooter truck or what? These dark ovals of steel with the shaft entering at an odd angle and a sherbert-colored logo in the cavity may be high-tech, but they look more like a plumber's tool.

Wayne Cashman is the assistant coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League. The former all-star defenseman of the Boston Bruins is a cigar smoker and golfer. And he is passionate about his golf clubs. There is a vacant lot next to the Lightning's practice facility, and, on any given day before practice and sometimes after, you can find Cashman with a club in his hand, hitting a few short shots to work off nervous energy.

Cashman loves his clubs. Recently he took delivery of a brand-new set of Wilson Ultras with Firestick Shafts. The new clubs were still wrapped in plastic, resting against the back of his car on a balmy winter day. Still in the truck were a set of VAS irons, a set of beryllium Ping clubs and a bag of mixed clubs of varying technologies, including good old-fashioned irons with forged-steel heads.

"What else am I going to spend my money on?" asks Cashman between swings and puffs. "There's just something about putting a new club in your hand: it makes you feel better right off the bat. I love looking at new clubs. It's kind of a hobby just to buy them."

Cashman is a decent 14-handicapper who is better in the summer when hockey is on hiatus. He is also proof that putting a new club, almost any club, in someone's hands boosts confidence and lowers the old handicap, at least a trifle.

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