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Club class

Foresight: Christmas special

Golf club designers must completely rethink the way the game's latest drivers are developed. Alan Sparks looks at how the latest restrictions on technology are giving engineers an extra headache this Christmas.

Vanguard golf technology is set for a major shake-up after a ruling from the game's governing body which will make many club manufacturers' products obsolete in the New Year. The problem is a new constraint on the allowable coefficient of restitution (COR) characteristics for driving clubs, and engineers have been scratching their heads to tackle it.

Designers have been developing clubs to maximise this COR value - reducing the amount of energy lost when club strikes ball and boosting distance covered as a result. But recently the game's guardians of tradition have thrown a spanner in the works to try and control technology's rate of development.

COR is basically a measure of how 'springy' the club face is. A perfectly elastic collision between club face and ball would have a COR of 1. Two plates of sand that slap together with no bounce at all have a COR of zero.

At next year's 132nd Open Championship at Royal St George's Golf Club, drivers with a COR greater than 0.830 will be banned, meaning that engineers must chase other methods in their search for the holy grail of the longest possible shot.

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and the United States Golf Association made the ruling earlier this year, urging professional tours to fall in line.

In five years' time all golfers, from Tiger Woods standard down to weekend hacker (see NCE golf day 26 September 2002), will also have to meet these restrictions.

So when perusing the selection of flashy drivers at your local pro shop, remember that they could have virtually no resale value as the deadline approaches.

For many golfers, gaining extra length off the tee would be their ideal present from Santa this year.

To achieve this, golfers will invest around £1,000 in a new set of clubs even though their swing might more resemble a man trying to get out of a telephone box in a hurry than the raw power and balance of a Sergio Garcia.

And manufacturers are more than happy to promise the earth in return. Mesmerising technology using CAD design, heat treatment, wax prototypes, sand blasting and even mechanical golfers, help create saucepan-sized club heads of space-age materials that guarantee ever-greater distances from the tee.

Club manufacturer Golf Craft's managing director Graham Armstrong is suspicious of the real benefit offered by high COR value clubs. He says: 'In the past couple of decades we have seen advances from wooden to metal clubs. And then graphite shafts, peripheral weighting, titanium heads, tungsten inserts, carbon fibre shafts, thermoplastic hosels, variable face thicknesses, double core balls etcetera, each claiming to add 10 to 20 yards to the length of your tee-shot. If this were true, then we would all be driving the ball 100m further than in the 1970s. In fact, players were hitting it at least as far back then.'

Club manufacturers produce spellbinding PR myths, designed to convince golfers that they need to have the right name on their golfing kit. But for a quarter the price they can effectively buy the same kit with a different label on it, as most of the major manufacturers use exactly the same basic castings from the same supplier in China.'

But surely having the best equipment makes some difference. 'Custom-fitted clubs will take most players forward, as at least then you have a chance to use the club to its full ability. Make no mistake, golf club design is much better than ever before, but you do not need to pay through the teeth to get it.'

So unfortunately, spending hundreds of hard earned pounds will not help you to hit the ball like Tiger. Because for us pussycats who will one day roar, there are sadly no short cuts. If you ain't got that swing - then it don't mean a thing.


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