The truth about driver shafts
When testing drivers aimed at better players recently, we were struck by the limited choice of shafts generally available without an additional charge. We also wanted to learn more about what happens when a version of a certain shaft is made exclusively for a manufacturer. Often, this will say ‘Engineered exclusively for X manufacturer’. Are such shafts different to the real thing and if so, in what ways?
We decided to investigate and put the questions to three expert sources
ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS
Dave McCarthy (DM) of True Temper – maker of the world’s most popular shafts
Brad Schweigert (BS) – director of engineering at leading club manufacturer Ping
James Whitaker (JW) – head professional at Moor Allerton Golf Club and top fitter
What is more important to the performance of a driver – the shaft or head?
DM: While we would love to take the position that the shaft is the most important, that’s simply not accurate.
The head design plays a crucial role in placing someone into their optimal performance range.
The shaft then plays a very important role in ‘fine tuning’ the club system. For instance, if a golfer has a difficult time getting the ball in the air and they’re playing an 8-degree driver, the quickest way for them to launch the ball higher is to add more loft.
Then they can further optimise launch/spin conditions by finding a complimentary shaft.
BS: Our experience gained from over hundreds of thousands of tests and fittings clearly indicates that overall head design combined with proper loft and shaft fitting are by far the most significant factors in optimising driver performance.
Mass properties of the head such and CG location and MOI combined with the structural design elements of the head can significantly alter both trajectory and forgiveness.¬† Shaft design elements such as overall flex, flex profile, torque, CG location and weight all significantly affect trajectory, consistency and control.
It may sound a little complicated, but every player I have seen go through a proper fitting with an experienced fitter sees significant improvements in distance, accuracy and consistency.
JW: I would say that the shaft and the head are of equal importance, both play a key role in the performance of a driver.
Generally speaking, there are a limited choice of shafts widely available without upcharge – is that good or bad? How fair to consumer that they might have to pay £100 extra when the average driver is nearly £300?
DM: This is one of the difficulties of our industry – there is a true cost associated with technology.
In these difficult economic times, it’s hard for many to justify the expense associated with upgrading their driver and/or shaft.
In the end, we as equipment manufacturers must continue to invest in R&D to ensure we’re providing the very best products.
BS: While it’s true there are lots of aftermarket options available to consumers, many of these shafts can be organised¬†by design characteristics into a smaller subset of categories.
We make it a point to have high performance shafts options available at no upcharge in the majority of these conceivable shaft categories.
JW: The reason that a limited choice of shafts are offered by some manufacturers without up-charge is because it would cost them too much money to buy in, stock and fit the shafts as standard and the overall price of the driver would need to increase to incorporate these extra costs to the manufacturer.
The reason that there are few shafts without up charge is that the standard shafts fitted by manufacturers will suit the vast majority of consumers. As the average handicap is around 18 and only 4% of golfers maintaining a single figure handicap it only makes sense that the manufacturer would cater to the mass market. If a low handicap player requires a shaft that is more suited to them, then it is only right that an up-charge should be paid for this in the same way that a personally tailored suit would cost much more than buying one straight off the rack.
Unfortunately, the golf market place is littered with consumers trying to buy the cheapest goods possible and expecting the best performance but I am afraid you get what you pay for.
"While we would love to take the position that the shaft is the most important, that’s simply not accurate." – True Temper
Is a shaft made specially for a club manufacturer generally inferior?
DM: While they may not always be of the same quality/technology as the premium aftermarket shafts, no major equipment manufacturer would risk a product launch by putting a shaft into their club that failed to meet their performance targets – the risks are far too great.
BS: I cannot speak for all the other OEMs, but I could make a very strong argument that our proprietary shaft designs are generally superior for the vast majority of consumers.
First, by controlling the design of both the head and shaft, we have the ability to better optimise the overall club design.
For example, we have developed an extremely high balance point shaft in our proprietary TFC169 D in the G20 driver.
This technology moves the CG of the shaft up towards the grip allowing us to maintain the same swing weight and overall system mass of the club with a head that weighs approximately seven grammes heavier than what we use with a typical aftermarket shaft option.
This allows the golfer to deliver a heavier head at the same club head speed, which in turn increases ball speed
JW: Another very common misconception is that the shafts fitted by manufacturers as ‘standard’ are weak or of poorer quality than the original. The truth is that these shafts are produced for the manufacturer by the shaft company to a specification that makes their clubs perform better.
What is typically the difference between a proper shaft and one made for a manufacturer? Is it true shaft flexes aren’t as accurate?
DM: Many times it may be the total percentage of high modulus material versus standard modulus material.
This can have a significant cost impact.
As mentioned above, there is still a level of performance that must always be achieved prior to the product being put into the club system.
BS: Once again I cannot speak for other OEMs, but we have strategic partnerships with many of the top aftermarket shaft brands to co-design our proprietary shafts using the very same materials, construction and manufacturing processes as the majority of the aftermarket options.
I strongly believe that leveraging the combined expertise and resources of our shaft suppliers along with our own internal knowledge and testing capabilities leads to superior shaft designs.
If significant differences occur, they are generally because we have specifically designed in elements to the shaft that we feel better optimise that product for the target player, such as the high balance point technology.
The flex signature of a shaft is really defined by its EI profile.
A shaft’s EI profile provides both a measure of the overall stiffness of the shaft as well as the stiffness profile of the shaft.
Unfortunately, the technology does not currently exist to measure shaft EI profiles in a production setting, thus other measurements are used such as butt and tip flex and or frequency specify or classify the overall shaft flex.¬† In general I would say that our proprietary shaft flexes are in line with the industry standards used by the majority of aftermarket shaft companies.
In terms of shaft to shaft consistency our specification standards not only for flex, but also for weight, CG, torque, and straightness are all held to the very tightest standards used in the industry.
JW: TaylorMade or Nike may ask for some of the shaft characteristics to be altered in order for their newest product to perform better for the majority of consumers. These ‘standard’ shafts are built to the same tolerances as the originals but may spin more or launch higher in order to help the product’s performance.