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Historically, equipment companies have relied heavily on one selling feature with their products. Distance. It has been the measuring stick all too often recreational and elite players employ in determining whether its time to make a change in clubs or balls. It may sound like a fairy tale to say once upon a time, it was standard operating procedure to boast 10, 15 or 20 yard gain by switching to and then fill in the blank. Today with the advent of customization and adjustability, its inferred that it leads to improve distance performances even though its no longer explicitly stated for any and all who employ these tools.
What was once the equivalent of a plug and play application has now filtered to a more involved process. In the meantime, equipment manufacturers are still the default mechanism, masterminds if you will, behind uncovering the ways and means to the never ending mystery. Technology is a wonderful thing, especially when it works. Just remind your computer of that the next time it decides to display a mind of its own. Golfers have relied extensively for many years now on equipment companies to generate game improvement possibilities for a price. It begs the question how much room is left to top what has already been uncovered.
One person who has perhaps more insight than his contemporaries on such things has an interesting take on the topic of the modern day bogeyman often associated in golf: Distance. Wally Uihlein, Chairman & CEO, Acushnet Company (Titleist, FootJoy and Cobra Golf) penned an essay titled: USUAL TECHNOLOGY QUESTIONS NOT NECESSARY THIS YEAR.
“For the past decade, it has been the practice of
select media at this time of year to question
technological advancements in golf equipment, and
more specifically, the golf ball. This year, however,
it should not be necessary.
“For the past five years there has been no material
increase in driving distance on the PGA Tour as a
result of three major factors: 1) the impact of the
revised golf ball Overall Distance Standard (ODS)
that has been in force since June 2004; 2) the further control and regulation of golf clubs, including limits on CT ("COR"), MOI, head size & volume and golf club length; and 3) the arrival of the S-Curve of invention maturity phase where past exponential improvements give way to small, if any, incremental advances.
“The fact is, we are coming off the most activist 10-year period in the history of golf ball and golf club regulation, and a bold and rigid line in the sand has been effectively drawn by the game's regulatory bodies. The statistics speak for themselves. Driving distance has flatlined, and actually has decreased in each of the past two years. The USGA and R&A have effectively fenced in the driver and golf ball, so that there is little or no more distance to be had from equipment under the current rules and regulations.
“The size, weight, initial velocity and overall
distance of the golf ball are controlled.
Optimization of the aerodynamics package
of a golf ball is near complete. Higher
compression golf balls might provide
more ball speed, but will also have more
spin, which will reduce distance. Spin and launch angle are coupled, so if you change one, the other will change as well. The bottom line is that when you attempt to tweak a golf ball parameter for more distance, other parameters are affected that limit the distance opportunity.
“Based on our internal testing against the golf ball ODS limit under the current specified launch conditions, we are already 98 percent downfield towards reaching that absolute ODS limit (including the tolerance), and that is with our longest tour-played product. That translates into a maximum additional distance availability of approximately 5-7 yards.
“Potential advancements in driver technology provide
even less opportunity for increased distance. The
driver's COR, MOI, head size and volume, and shaft
length, are already capped and cannot be increased.
Incremental changes in head geometry, weight
distribution and loft, lie and face angle adjustability,
all go to optimization for a given players launch
condition, and do not represent opportunities for
distance increases generally. This is particularly true
for Tour players who are already optimally launch
monitor fitted for both clubs and ball.
The facts are the facts, and any suggestion of
dramatic yardage spikes going forward is either
disingenuous or propagandist. Take your pick.”
Not exactly the words many were likely expecting
from someone with more than an inside view on
the topic. While the story in 2009 is focused on the
macro economy which has lead to consumers’ discretionary spending being curtailed, the balance of the golf equipment has been directly tied to technological innovations. If this has essentially run its course with respect to uncovering distance enhancements, replacement cycles perceived (titanium to multi-materials or adjustable weights, etc) or otherwise (such as persimmon to titanium drivers and wound to solid core golf balls, etc.), will essentially be stunted. While the economy will one day again revive itself, the question is whether consumers will return to their old buying habits if they think what is new isn’t an improvement over what they already have...