What’s changed most in golf equipment over the last 50 years? | Fully Equipped Mailbag
Welcome to another edition of the Fully Equipped Mailbag, sponsored by Cleveland/Srixon Golf, an interactive GOLF.com series in which we field your hard-hitting gear questions.
I’m turning 50 this year and I’m gifting myself a new set of clubs. Curious, what’s changed in gear since the day I was born? – Richard N., Oregon
Happy birthday, Rich!
Check this out: In 1973, Jack Nicklaus won the PGA Championship, shooting 72-68-68-69 to book his 12th major and secure a four-stroke victory over runner-up Bruce Crampton. Unsurprisingly, Nicklaus utilized straightforward clubs—a persimmon driver, blade-style irons with flat soles, and back then, a balata golf ball that barely lasted a few holes at a time. That’s just the kind of stuff they used back then and one can only imagine the heights he would have reached in his prime if he had access to the clubs available today.
In honor of the Golden Bear’s 12th major championship, let’s examine the most significant changes in golf equipment over the last 50 years, listed in no particular order:
While it took some time for players to fully embrace steel driver and fairway wood technology, once it became the norm, persimmon and laminate woods quickly became obsolete. Interestingly, the technology has continued to evolve, with mixed-material composite technology starting to surpass metal alloys in wood construction.
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Srixon ZX5 MKII Driver
From hickory to aluminum, steel, and now carbon composite, modern golf shafts have significantly advanced to help more golfers hit the ball higher, farther, and also straighter.
Some of the most significant improvements have occurred not just over the last 50 years, but within just the last five.
A major development occurred in the 1980s when golf club manufacturers incorporated perimeter weighting in irons and putters. This design distributed the weight around the outside of the back of the club, increasing forgiveness on off-center hits and improving overall shot consistency. This advancement made the game much more playable for amateurs, sparking a huge boom in the number of people playing golf. Hollow-body technology has pushed this envelope further, benefiting players of all skill levels.
While it took time for them to gain popularity, polymer-based spikes and rugged outsoles are now a mainstay. These advancements have made golf shoes significantly lighter and more comfortable and have contributed to a reduction in the spread of turf disease.
In the 2010s, golfers gained the ability to customize their clubs with the introduction of adjustable clubhead and hosel technologies. This allowed golfers to modify loft, lie angle, and face angle to fine-tune their equipment according to their swing preferences and course conditions.
New Putter Technology
Fifty years ago, putters were considered the most mundane club in the bag. Today, they offer the most variety, with endless designs and fitting options available. Many putters now feature visual aids and face technology that were nonexistent in the past.
Solid-Core Golf Ball Technology/Urethane Covers
Golf balls have come a long way from having liquid-based cores and rubber windings. Modern golf balls are composed of multiple layers using different materials and firmness levels to optimize performance. The introduction of urethane cover technology revolutionized the game, making high-performance balls far more durable than ever before.
Launch Monitors/High-Speed Motion Capture
Launch monitors and high-speed motion capture have not only transformed golf instruction but have also aided custom club fitters in understanding club performance during the swing. This includes analyzing shaft bending and torque, clubface flex, and other crucial factors.
With these advancements, golf equipment has significantly evolved over the past 50 years, enhancing the playing experience for professionals and amateurs alike.
We’re not saying you’re old Rich, but golf equipment sure has sure come a long way since 1973!
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