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The Technology Debate in Golf

I posted a story at The Sand Trap which discusses the distance professional golfers hit the ball these days. My conclusion is that distance is not everything, but that other factors, such as player conditioning, course conditioning, the lob wedge, and the spin players get from the rough are the main reasons scores get lower each year.

When looking at sport in the past 100 years, it strikes me that perhaps only tennis has undergone such a dramatic improvement due to equipment. Big-headed tennis rackets made out of graphite coposites replaced aluminum (which replaced wood) in the 1980s - just a few years before graphite and titanium stormed into the golf world. But even tennis falls short of golf's frenetic pace - the ball and the courts remain essentially unchanged.

Other sports have remained relatively the same. Baseballs are no longer as mushy as they were in Babe Ruth's day, but the bat is still the same, parks are still the same dimensions, and the glove is essentially the same. Football added protective equipment. Hockey sticks are now composite, but the puck, net, and ice are still the same. Basketball - with a ball and a hoop - may be the least changed of the major sports. Besides Air Jordans, what's changed?

Golf, though, has changed dramatically. 100 years ago golfers were using hickory shafts. The ball has undergone major transformations and the aerodynamic research budgets of golf ball manufacturers challenge those of carmakers. Woods are no longer made of wood, but instead feature thin-walled titanium and, yes, carbon composites. The iron has remained essentially the same, but casting took hold in the 1980s and hasn't let go, with many top pros playing the "more forgiving" cast clubs over forged blades.

In golf, not only has the equipment changed, but the courses have as well. A basketball court is a basketball court, and it's tough to imagine today's pros demanding better playing conditions than even the local high school gym can offer. Yet today's golf courses are inordinately well maintained, even when compared to maintenance practices only 20 years ago.

Perhaps only auto racing technology has kept up with the pace of golf, but I still don't consider auto racing a sport.

4 Responses to "The Technology Debate in Golf"

  1. I'd say that bicycling is the closest to golf in terms of technological advancements.

  2. It's interesting to note, I think, that advances in technology allows ice hockey to be played in places like Texas year round.

  3. I received Chi Chi Rodriguez cheap irons for Christmas when I was 11. 25 years later I got Ping 3 o-sized irons, mostly because people were making fun of my old clubs.

    The Pings are so much more forgiving than the old-style, it is just ridiculous. On the old clubs, you are screwed unless you hit the ball exactly in the center of the face.

  4. There's a difference between blades (what you got) and cavity backs (the Pings). I just switched back to blades because, for better players, they offer more control.