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Chapter 2: Current Golf Club Design

Do the conventional golf club designs that you see advertised and displayed in your pro shop or retail golf store provide consistency?  The answer is no.  There are many variables in club design and most golfers do not have a clue as to what they are.  If the intent of a golfer is to improve his or her game then they must be aware of the parameters of the equipment that dictate their performance.  In studying golf clubs offered by the numerous manufacturers it becomes apparent that there is little standardization in the golf industry.  One manufacturer’s “stiff” flex shaft might be the equivalent of another manufacturer’s “regular” flex shaft; one’s #6 iron loft angle might be the same as another’s #7 iron loft angle; the club length of one’s #5 iron might be the same as another’s #7 iron; and the lie angles used by different manufacturers are all over the place.  Indeed, between the clubs within a set there can be numerous inconsistencies.  Don’t forget to throw into this mix the fact that most golfers purchase their golf clubs “off the rack” with little, if any, chance of the length of the golf clubs fitting them properly.  The fact is that ideal golf club specifications and proper fitting are vitally important if the goal of the golfer is game improvement.  Would you purchase a pre-drilled bowling ball “off the rack” or a “standard size” pair of shoes?  The answer is no, yet everyday golfers spend their hard earned money on top-of-the-line golf equipment when all they are receiving in return is inconsistency.  Do not be fooled into believing that the clubs the pros use and endorse have the same specifications as the ones you purchase in a pro-shop.  The pros are properly fitted and the specifications of the golf clubs are adjusted to them individually.  In addition, when we speak of pro endorsements let us not forget that these fellows are being paid millions of dollars to use specific golf equipment – makes you kind of question the validity of these endorsements does it not?  The point here is that there is virtually no consistency in the design of golf clubs throughout the industry.

The average specifications for golf clubs are as follows, and I use the term average loosely:

Woods

     Club Length  Loft Angle  Lie Angle

 #1      45.0″            10.5º          56.0º

 #3      43.0″            15.0º          57.0º

 #5      42.0″            19.0º          58.0º

Irons

 #2      39.5″            18.0º          57.0º

 #3      39.0″            20.0º          58.0º

 #4      38.5″            23.0º          59.0º

 #5      38.0″            27.0º          60.0º

 #6      37.5″            31.0º          61.0º

 #7      37.0″            35.0º          62.0º

 #8      36.5″            39.0º          63.0º

 #9      36.0″            44.0º          64.0º

Bear in mind that these are averages.  Every golf club manufacturer uses varying specifications.  For instance, the change in loft angle progression between clubs may vary anywhere between 3º and 5º degrees depending on the manufacturer.   

Shaft types.  Currently there are two basic types of shaft materials that are used in golf clubs:

•   1.  Steel.

•   2.  Graphite.

There are two main differences between these materials that are of importance to the golfer. Thefirst is weight.  Graphite is much lighter than steel and the use of a graphite shaft will lower the overall weight of the golf club.  The second is torque.  Torque is the expression in degrees that is used to describe the twisting of a golf shaft around its axis.  For example, take the grip of a golf club in one hand and the head in your other hand and twist in opposite directions.  That is torque.  Graphite shafts typically have a high torque rating in comparison to that of a steel shaft.  A steel shaft has a torque rating of approximately 2.5º compared to a graphite shaft that has torque ratings of up to 7.0º or 8.0º.  If a shaft has too much torque, and in my opinion any torque greater than 2.5º is too much, the result will be an open club face at impact resulting in a slice or push of the golf ball.  As you can see, the higher the torque rating of a shaft the less consistent and accurate that shaft will be.  There is a third difference between steel and graphite shafts, and in my opinion, the most important.  This is flex plane stability.  Every golf shaft has a unique flex plane, one in which the shaft tries to deflect when placed under load.  This flex plane is dictated by numerous factors including shaft wall thickness and the seam that runs from the tip to the butt-end of the shaft.  This seam is created during the manufacturing process when the shaft material is wrapped around a blank and the edges welded in the case of steel or overlapped in the case of graphite.  The seam is less flexible than the rest of the shaft causing it to flex differently in relation to its orientation when placed under load.  A steel shaft has only one seam, and therefore, only one inherent or stable flex plane, whereas, a graphite shaft, due to the overlapping of material that creates the seam, does not possess a singular stable flex plane.  The result is more stability and consistency of play with a steel shaft once the inherent flex plane has been oriented correctly.  It is interesting to note that very few players on the PGA tour use graphite shafts in their irons, and this is due to the inherent instability and subsequent inaccuracies of this type of shaft. 

In the shafting of golf clubs we find a built in problem.  As the irons progress from the low lofted irons through the high lofted irons the tips of the shafts are trimmed in increasing 0.5” increments prior to installing the club head.  For instance, a #2 iron might have 0.5″ trimmed from the raw shaft tip prior to installing the club head, and a #9 iron 4.0″.  The butt ends of the shafts are then trimmed for final club length.  It must be understood that tip trimming increases the stiffness of a golf shaft so that with each 0.5” incremental tip trim the shafts become stiffer and stiffer.  Assuming that a set of irons is shafted with “regular” flex shafts, the high lofted irons will play much stiffer than the low lofted irons due to this progressive tip trim even though they are built with shafts of the same stated flex.  Supposedly, these progressive tip trims and subsequent stiffening in shaft flex from the long irons through the short irons is offset by a progressive weight increase that is designed into the club heads.  Club heads are typically designed having incremental weight increases of 7gm from the lowest loft club head to the highest loft club head within a set.  The idea being that the lower head weight coupled with the longer shaft length and reduced tip trim of the low lofted irons will result in the same shaft flex as the heavier head weight coupled with the shorter shaft length and increased tip trim of the high lofted irons.  Theoretically this makes sense, but in reality it is ridiculous.  Regardless of how club heads are weighted there is absolutely no way that flex can be matched throughout a set of golf clubs when the shafts are of varying lengths.  In essence then, a standard set of golf clubs will have shafts of varying flexes ranging from “weak” in the long irons to “stiff” in the short irons.

Does this relate to consistency?  No.

Club head weight.  As noted previously, there is a weight progression between iron club heads of approximately 7gm from the low lofted irons through the wedges.  A #2 iron head typically weighs 233 grams and a PW typically 289 grams.  There are two theoretical reasons for this:

  1. The theory that a progressive weighting of the club head will produce a constant shaft flex as the shaft length incrementally decreases from the low lofted irons through the wedges.
  2. The theory of a consistent swing weight between clubs or the feeling that all clubs within a set weigh the same during a golf swing.The idea that a longer length iron with a lighter weight club head will feel the same as a shorter length iron with a heavier club head during a golf swing.

Since we have already examined the first myth for progressive club head weighting let’s take a look at the second.  Swing weighting has been a buzzword in the golf industry for years, the idea of having all of the irons within a set feel the same during a golf swing.  The reality is that it is impossible to achieve this with conventional golf clubs simply because there is no way to mask the fact that each club is a different length and, hence, will feel differently during the swing regardless of weighting.

Does this relate to consistency?  No.

Golf Club length and swing speed.  Why is there a club length progression throughout a set of golf clubs from the #9 iron through the driver?  It is based upon the assumption that the standard 0.5” incremental club length increases throughout a set of golf clubs will result in higher swing speeds and thus greater distances.  Theorists will point to the radial arm length in a golf swing as being the prime determinant of swing speed; stating that the longer the radial arm, the greater the swing speed and resultant distance in a golf shot.  A common misconception however, is to use club length alone as the determinant of the radius of a golf swing.  Regardless of how many hinging points and resultant secondary arcs/planes are involved, the true center of a golf swing is a point somewhere between the golfer’s shoulders (this center point moves laterally between the shoulders during the swing).  Therefore, you must include the golfer’s arm length into the radial arm length equation for any meaningful analysis.  As an example, assuming a 37” #7 iron length and a golfer’s arm length of 24”, the radial arm in the golf swing is 61”.  This means that a 0.5” increase or decrease in club length results in a radial arm length change of only 1/122nd or 0.008197.  Obviously, this small change has no affect on either swing speed or distance.  In fact, the only thing that incremental club lengths do is to make it harder to hit each progressively longer golf club.

Does this relate to consistency?  No.

Loft angle.  The loft angle of a golf club determines the launch angle of the golf ball at impact.  The greater the loft angle, the higher the trajectory of the ball.  Consequently, a #9 iron produces a high trajectory shot while a #3 iron produces a lower trajectory shot.  Make no mistake, the degree of loft change between clubs is what produces the distance gap between them, i.e.: 10 yards between successive irons.  It would follow then that for a consistent distance gap between irons there would be consistent loft change between them.  Such is not the case.  In a standard set of golf clubs there is generally a 2º loft angle change between long irons, a 3º loft change between mid irons, and a 4º-5º loft change between short irons.

Does this promote consistency?  No.

Golf Clubhead Lie Angle.  This is the angle formed between the golf shaft and the ground at address with the club face square to the ground.  Lie angles are properly determined based upon trigonometry since the golfer’s wrists, the, and the shaft form a right triangle at impact. The vertical side of club head the triangle represents the wrist-to-ground distance of the golfer at impact, and the hypotenuse representing club length. This right triangle is shown below and from this the proper lie angle can be determined given a particular club length and the wrist-to-floor measurement of the golfer which can be mathematically translated into the wrist-to-ground distance at impact.

golf club length and lie angle

As you can see in the specification of conventional golf clubs, for each 1/2″ decrease in shaft length, there is a 1º increase in lie angle for the irons.  This is because as the shaft length decreases the golfer is forced to stand closer to the golf ball, which produces a more upright shaft position.

The importance of proper lie angles cannot be over emphasized.  The sad thing is that most golfers do not appreciate this importance or ignore it completely.  If you have trouble hitting the long irons, improper lie angles in relation to club lengths are probably to blame. 

There is no consistency between golf club manufacturers when it comes to the relationship of lie angle to club length.  For instance, one manufacturer’s #5 iron might have a lie angle of 60.0º while another’s might have a lie angle of 63.0º, both using the same club length.  In fact, the latest trend in golf club design is to make the lie angles in the long irons more upright.  The manufacturers claim that this will help the golfer make a more upright swing, which will improve his long iron play.  This is ridiculous.  There is a direct relationship between club length and lie angle and this cannot be ignored, although it is by any golf club manufacturer who offers sets of clubs “off the rack” where one size fits all.  Current golf club design does not promote consistency between clubs with regards to lie angle and it completely ignores the basic relationship of club length to lie angle.

Does this promote consistency?  No.

Golf Clubhead Design – perimeter weighting.  Other than the shift from hickory shafts to steel, the most important change affecting golf club design is the development of perimeter weighted club heads.  Generally referred to as cavity back in the irons, the idea is to move the weight from behind the club face and redistribute it around the perimeter of the club head.  The result is a more stable club head that resists twisting when hit off center.  Club head designers have gone crazy with the possibilities created by perimeter weighting, and although this has resulted in many good club head designs, enough is enough.  The fact is that most manufacturers use club head design to promote new models each year as opposed to determining the best design and sticking with it.  Madison Avenue has invaded golf and it has become the norm for manufacturers to come up with “new and improved” designs each year in order to increase sales.  Unfortunately, quite a few of these designs are cosmetic changes only.

The variety of perimeter-weighted designs is enormous, each promoting certain ball striking characteristics.  For instance: more weight on the sole of the club to lower the center of gravity creating higher ball flight, more weight on the toe of the club creating a higher moment of inertia and assisting to keep toe hits on line, etc.  There is even a switch now to removing some of the peripheral weighting and placing it behind the club head’s sweet spot in order to provide more stability in the impact area.  The change in driver and fairway wood heads to steel and other metal alloys has allowed the benefits of perimeter weighting to be applied here as well.  Probably the biggest difficulty that golfers have with the driver and fairway woods is the ability to get the ball in the air.  Club head designers solved this problem through perimeter weighting.  By moving weight to the sole and rear of the club head, they effectively lowered the center of gravity making perimeter-weighted woods extremely easy to get airborne.          

Golf Clubhead Offset.  Offset refers to the relationship of the hosel of a club head to the leading edge of the club face, and is expressed in degrees.  For example: on a club head with offset, the hosel of the club will be in front of the leading edge of the club face.  In other words the shaft of the club will be in front of the club face at address.  The purpose of offset is to help ensure a square club face at impact. 

Golf Club Offset.jpg

Consistency in relationship to current golf club design.  As you can see, there is none: 

  • Different club lengths.
  • A different address/swing plane with each club.
  • Varying shaft flex within a set of golf clubs.
  • Varying weight and weight distribution between clubs.
  • Inconsistent loft angle progressions within a set.
  • Inconsistent treatment of lie angles in relation to club length.

​The fact is that current golf club design promotes inconsistency.  Is there a better design?

Yes – 1 Iron Single-Length Golf clubs.

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Jim - NC

I haven’t been able to hit a “long iron” effectively in fifteen years.  Now I'm hitting my one length #3 and #4 irons like I was born with them in my hands.

Fred - Germany

I tested a couple of other brands of single length golf clubs but they felt clunky to me and did not perform well.  However, after playing your 1 Iron - single length irons for only four rounds I'm completely sold.

Jake - The Villages, FL

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