Advancements in technology give golfers a range of new options in equipment
So as the weather warms, you’ve just pulled your old golf clubs out of the garage closet, taken them out to the practice range or even played a couple of rounds, and realized that, well, they’re old golf clubs.
Your driver seems small, and antiquated, especially when your buddy with the funky swing and the new white-crowned TaylorMade R11S driver is suddenly hitting everything by you. Your putter is as contemporary and effective as a leisure suit at a job interview. And, gosh, who else in your group carries a 3-iron anymore?
Think you might need some new clubs? Well, consider this:
According to Alan Whalen, general manager of Fiddler’s Green Golf Center, the business started by his father on Highway 99 north of Eugene in 1976, never before have golfers had so many choices in equipment, and in a wide price range.
Consider that Whalen can quickly gather up seven styles of irons made by one manufacturer, Cleveland. (Or point to a chart explaining the specific benefits of the nine different golf balls produced by Bridgestone.) Or that drivers can feature adjustable heads — to reduce your tendency to slice or hook the ball — and special shafts and custom lofts.
“Generally speaking, when you buy a car, you don’t decide what engine you want in it, and have five different engine options,” Whalen said. “But you can buy a driver, and we can do a shaft fitting … and we can spend as much time fitting you for a shaft.
“So there are a lot of options.”
Furthermore, the technology of the industry has led to measurable improvements in equipment during the past decade.
“It’s changed a lot,” Whalen said. “If you haven’t bought equipment in 10 years, yeah, you’re going to notice a difference.”
At Fiddler’s Green, a regional draw in the golf club industry, the salespeople — who do not work on commission — will have a golfer start by hitting his or her old clubs on the outdoor practice range, and precisely measure swing speed and distance for comparison with the new clubs the customer will try.
“We’ve told customers on a number of occasions that the best club for you is the one you already own,” Whalen said.
Whether you’re looking for a specific club, or a whole new set, here’s a primer on the possibilities:
The biggest club in the bag can be the biggest-ticket item; the aforementioned TaylorMade R11S is priced at $399 with a standard shaft.
Big also applies to the head size — the maximum is 460ccs, as regulated by the U.S. Golf Association — and that’s generally what you’ll see on sales floors. The USGA also regulates the co-efficient of restitution (COR, the amount of spring in the face) and the moment of inertia (MOI, the resistance to twisting on off-center shots).
The new buzzword is “adjustability” — the ability to adjust the face of the club (though, by rule, not within a round). Thus, a golfer who is fighting a slice can adjust for that — and then go to a neutral setting when his or her game improves. “It increases the life of that club in the bag,” Whalen said.
Another development is the willingness of manufacturers to continue selling the previous year’s technology.
“These companies have to come out with new equipment every year,” Whalen said. “Back in the day, when a new driver came out, they retired the old driver. It just wasn’t available anymore. Now last year’s model just gets marked down … so now you can buy a TaylorMade driver starting at $120 all the way up to $399, and everywhere in between.
“As a result, it’s quite likely that a golfer can come in and buy a driver that was last year’s technology and realize 98 percent of the benefit of what’s out there today.”
Fiddler’s best-selling new driver this year: TaylorMade RocketBallz, $280.
The new technology is having an effect here, too.
“For years, the manufacturers were focusing on the driver, the driver, the driver, the driver, and the USGA was setting maximums, and no one was paying much attention to the fairway woods,” Whalen said. “Now, the push has come with the fairway woods and hybrids.”
Essentially, manufacturers have sought to increase the spring-like effect of the smaller-faced fairway woods, and some have done so with a groove behind the face called a “velocity slot” by Adams, or a “speed slot” by Nike. “It’s not completely traditional looking,” Whalen notes, but effective. Also not traditional is the combination of loft and shaft length available on modern fairway woods.
“A lower-lofted golf club should go farther, but that’s only if you can get the ball in the air,” Whalen said. “I don’t carry a traditional 3-wood, I carry a 4, because I like a little more loft. TaylorMade makes a high-launch 3-wood, and instead of the traditional 15 degrees they’ve taken it to 17 degrees, which is essentially a 4-wood loft, but it’s on a 3-wood shaft, so you’re going to hit it a little bit farther than a 4-wood.”
Fiddler’s best-selling new fairway wood: TaylorMade RocketBallz, $205.
In essence, a hybrid is a hollow, wide-soled club typically used to replace a harder-to-hit longer iron such as a 3-iron or 4-iron (though hybrids continue up into the higher-lofted clubs).
“The hybrids are significantly easier to hit (than an iron),” Whalen said, and an example of technology filtering down from the PGA Tour.
“Tour technology often isn’t applicable to us,” Whalen said. “I shouldn’t be using Tiger (Woods’) latest, greatest deal. … The hybrid is probably one of the major revelations in the golf industry, where it was born in the Tour world, but applies to both, the professional golfers and the amateur golfers.
“As courses get longer, and you need longer yardage options in your bag, I think it’s made the game more enjoyable for some people.”
Whalen noted that hybrids can be “a set-saving category,” because golfers who think they need a set of new irons can often benefit from simply replacing one or two longer irons with hybrids. “It’s really changed the way people buy golf clubs, and the way we sell golf clubs, because configuration has now become a critical part of the set,” Whalen said.
Fiddler’s best-selling hybrid: Adams a12 OS Velocity Slot, $150.
Traditionally, a golfer purchasing a new set of irons would get a 3-iron through a pitching wedge, and add a sand wedge. And Fiddler’s still sells such sets, ranging from classic blades for scratch golfers to perimeter-weighted cavity-backed clubs that are more “forgiving” of off-center shots, and with permutations in between.
But “configuration,” how a golfer chooses to put together the 14 clubs allowed by the USGA, and “gapping,” the yardage distance from club to club, are the buzzwords now, so that golfers increasingly combine hybrids and irons, and manufacturers, in fact, offer sets that combine both, and instead of two wedges a golfer is more likely to carry three.
“I want more full-swing yardages inside the scoring zone, that distance where you feel that you should be putting the ball on the green,” Whalen said. “When I get inside 120 yards, I want more choices, not fewer choices.”
Fiddler’s best-selling wedge: Titleist Vokey Spin Mill Wedge, $120.
As in drivers, the key phrase here is “moment of inertia,” the resistance of the putter face to twisting on off-center hits. The Odyssey two-ball putter, so named for its distinctive shape, remains highly popular because it helps golfers feel properly aligned over putts.
Long putters (anchored to the sternum) and belly putters are gaining traction, and figure to do so as long as the USGA continues to allow the anchoring of clubs to the body.
“They’re rising in sales,” Whalen said of the alternative putters.
Interest increased when seven golfers, including Keegan Bradley in the PGA Championship and former Oregon star Ben Crane won PGA Tour events last year using alternative putters, and earlier this year, Fiddler’s found that it couldn’t keep enough in stock. Now, Fiddler’s even has a special fitting tool for alternative putters.
Fiddler’s best-selling putter: Odyssey White Ice 1, $95.
Buying golf clubs properly takes time. Plan on spending several hours, over perhaps a couple of visits, to try various options, and give those options a second look. If that seems daunting, consider that it’s a small investment in the time spent in a round of golf.
“We sell golf clubs to people who play golf,” Whalen said. “We want to do due diligence. We want you out there happy. We don’t want your friend showing up with new technology and you feel slighted because we didn’t show you. … If we do our job right, every question we ask should funnel all those choices to a manageable group for you to try.
“That’s our sales pitch. Come out, hit them, see if they work for you. If it doesn’t look right here, don’t buy it.”