After more than a decade pursuing other passions, I’ve re-taken-up the game of golf this summer. And given the game’s relatively stodgy reputation and conservative foundations, you wouldn’t think I’d have missed much in terms of social or technological progression since 2010 – when I last seriously played or even paid attention to the pro level of the game – but you’d be very wrong. The game has moved on!
Not only are more couples playing together but many more juniors are playing too, a sign that the whole game is becoming more family-oriented.i Where once the fairways were the exclusive purview of (mostly very WASPy) men taking refuge from their families and work, perfectly manicured intraurban landscapes are now being enjoyed by many more generations and many more creeds of players. The resulting energy of the game is therefore evolving, and I’d argue for the better. I mean, who doesn’t want to see loving grandparents take their grandkids to golf lessons while the parents run errands or even just enjoy their quiet house for a few hours? And who doesn’t want to see smack-talking Caribbean women mix it up with yolo’ing Jews, bubbly Ismailis, respectful Chinese, and belly-aching old white guys all on the same driving range?
And then there’s the progress in equipment! Most of my sticks are from the 2005-2008 era, and they were perfectly fine by the standards of their day, but there’s been a yuuuuuge amount of new tech development not only for clubs but for data. On the data side, Trackman was maybe(?) a high-end thing back in the day but it was hardly pervasive the way it is now. Today it’s super simple and really quite affordable to figure out club head speed, attack angle, ball speed, “smash factor,” launch angle, spin rate, max height, land angle, carry, and roll on every shot. There’s even smart sensors that plug into the butt end of your club’s grip to automatically track every shot and leverage Big Data to advise you what club to hit for a given shot. Arccos is just one such example, but the list of data-backed tools at a player’s disposal just goes on and on!
On the club tech side, the wedge groove technology was rolled-back in 2014 to minimise spin and make shots from the rough more penalising, but after 7 years of improving the new rolled-back grooves, I tell you there’s no difference between the new Taylormade Hi-Toe Raw wedges and my 15-year-old Vokey Spin-Milled, at least not with the new Pro V1 ball, which finally has less spin and is now basically perfect: launching high with low-spin off the driver, stopping dead with irons, not over-spinning with wedges, grabbing just right on chips, with a super-durable cover, and available in easy-to-see-for-semi-blind-guys yellow!
The new drivers also launch higher, with lower spin, and can now be adjusted for loft, lie, and weighting with just a couple turns of a screwdriver. Shafts are also quickly interchangeable, making fitting more flexible, faster, and much more fun. The new irons are obviously delofted, as is the seemingly inevitable progression in the game to make amateurs think that they’re hitting it longer than ever before so as to move product. But even without that, shafts are lighter and stronger, which brings spin rates down to improve dispersion, a meaningful innovation that does actually yield improvements even for low-handicappers like yours truly.
Maybe none of this is surprising given that the golf club industry is worth about USD $3.7 bn per year and growing, but for someone that’s always blamed the Indian instead of the arrow – mostly to cope with the fact that I had more time than money as a junior and couldn’t afford to tinker with clubs very much – it’s eye-opening and really rather exciting to learn how much the game has moved on and how much there is to experiment with. Between new equipment and new data, not to mention another COVID summer with which to dive deep into it all, there’s no time like the present to bust out the colourful pants and collared shirt and hit the links!
See you on the greens.
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