The development of the Haskell ball and it’s innovative dimple design was a major leap forward for the game of golf at the turn of the twentieth century.
The next major innovation in golf equipment was the development of the steel shaft. The earliest steel shafts proved unwieldy because they were very heavy because they were made of solid steel. A noteworthy innovation by Allan Lard and nicknamed the “The Whistler” addressed that problem by having hundreds of small perforations in the shaft. The club would make a distinctive whistling sound when it was swung.
It wasn’t until 1924 that the USGA finally decided to allow steel shafts in tournament play. The R&A finally followed five years later but only after the Prince of Wales used steel shafted clubs at St. Andrews.
In 1929 True Temper developed a seamless tapered step-down shafts that allowed players of various ability levels to have golf clubs custom fitted to their needs. By the mid 1930’s steel shafts replaced hickory shafts as manufacturers were able to make a set of clubs with a matched set of shafts that were incredibly consistent from one club to the next.
In 1967 Spaulding’s chemical engineering team revolutionized golf ball design by developing a chemical resin, known as surlyn, as a cover for their new two-piece ball. The ball quickly became popular among recreational players as it offered greater distance and durability. Professionals and low handicap golfers, however, continued playing balata balls through the end of the 20th century.
The creation of graphite shafts by Frank Thomas in 1969 would take the golf industry by storm because they offered a lighter weight and reduced torque.
In the late 1970’s club designer Gary Adams revolutionized the golf industry with the development of the Pittsburgh Persimmon. The first metal wood was a 12-degree cast stainless-steel driver that provided greater forgiveness for off center hits. The metal wood quickly made persimmon woods obsolete.
In 1980 True Temper introduced the Dynamic Gold Shaft and its combination of low torque and reduced weight has proved to be the gold standard for irons.
The development of metal woods and the use of graphite shafts ushered in an era of longer shafts and larger club heads for drivers and fairway woods. The use of graphite shafts allowed the standard length of drivers to increase by over two inches. Meanwhile, the use of stronger metals allowed for thinner walls and larger club heads without increasing the overall weight of the club. The two developments together made it easier for golfers of all ability levels to hit the ball farther than ever before.
The launch in 2000 of the Titleist Pro V1, a three-piece multi-layer ball, was a true game changer. It was the dawn of a new day as touring professionals were able to increase their driving distance by nearly 20 yards, but also have the feel and control around the greens that the best players demand.
The goal for club and ball manufacturers has always been to give golfers what they want; more distance off the tee. The use of graphite shafts and stronger and lighter metals have allowed golfers of all ability level to hit the ball farther and straighter than ever before. Finally, the modern golf ball allowed players to select a golf ball that optimized their ball speed, launch angle, and spin rates.
The net effect of the the equipment and ball innovations was to encourage players to swing close to 100% because they were afforded a larger margin of error than generations of previous golfers have ever enjoyed. As the game of golf continues to evolve, perhaps future golf ball and equipment innovations will allow an increasing number of players to enjoy the game more than ever before.
About the Author
Rich O’Brien is the Editor of Long Drive Golf Magazine. He is also serves as a member of the Advisory Board for the National Alliance of Accessible Golf and is the Program Director for PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) Charleston.