With the proliferation of golf shafts, both in composite and steel, there's never been a better time to let shaft companies speak their mind. We recently assembled a few questions for several shaft equipment companies to answer, all to help get a better idea of the personality and perspective various companies have. What you're about to read may very well alter your decision on which shafts to include in your next clubs.
GOLF TIPS: What have been the most significant changes to graphite shafts in the past three years? Tim Gillis, director of sales at Miyazaki Golf: Composite materials and manufacturing technology have infinitely improved over the last three years. Engineers at shaft companies have also opened their minds to lighter shafts that are stiffer and have the correct torque, in zones, to help performance. Chad Hall, director of product marketing and global Tour operations at True Temper/Grafalloy: There's been a focus on design more so than material advancement. We will unveil a couple of aggressive material technologies in the coming 12 months under both the Grafalloy and Project X graphite brands. Robb Schikner, vice president of sales and marketing at UST Mamiya: Maybe not a significant change, but there has been a trend toward lightweight shafts. Companies are making golf clubs lighter so they're easier to swing, and to help increase distance. We're now seeing shafts that are in the 40-gram range that helps achieve this lighter-club target. John E. Oldenburg, vice president, engineering/product development at Aldila: The most significant change has been making extremely light shafts (45-55 grams) with flex profiles and torques that meet the needs of highly skilled players. But don't assume that a shaft weighs what it says in the logo. There are shafts on the market and in current ad campaigns that weigh significantly more than the misleading number shown in the shaft name/logo. Additionally, shaft balance points have been moving up the shafts (toward the grip end) to accommodate the heavier driver heads and longer assembled club lengths that are becoming commonplace. These higher balance points allow club companies to maintain acceptable swing weights in longer, heavier-headed clubs.
Bryan Nicholson, certified PGA professional and chairman of the nVentix Golf advisory board: Much of the golf industry has been focused on developing longer and lighter shafts in the pursuit of distance. Unfortunately for golfers, consistency, accuracy and smash factor (ball speed relative to clubhead speed) are sacrificed because the longer and lighter shafts are subject to greater flex, twist and droop in the impact zone.
Dave Schnider, president and COO at Fujikura Composites America: Exotic materials, lighter weight, increased durability in lightweight structures, materials and design usage of these new materials. We create lighter, stiffer and more durable shafts.
Mike Diehl, aftermarket sales manager at Graphite Design: Graphics have become more eccentric and elaborate. We're also seeing requests for lighter-weight shafts that produce high launch and low spin. GOLF TIPS: What misconceptions do golfers still have about graphite versus steel?
Miyazaki Golf: Graphite has a bad rap for having high torque and being too soft in flex. Also remember that the lower the cost of the shaft, the less actual graphite it has and the more resin (glue) it has.
TT/Grafalloy: The biggest misconception is that graphite shafts have greater technology than steel. That couldn't be further from the truth. While there's certainly a significant amount of technology in graphite shafts, the recent advancements made with steel, from both a material and process perspective, have been truly exceptional. For example, it takes about three weeks and 150 individual processes to make our Tour-proven Dynamic Gold golf shaft from start to finish. Our GS Series goes through an additional 15 or 20. Another example would be the new DG Spinner wedge shaft that delivers an improvement in wedge ball spin of 500+ rpm. The creative engineering and manufacturing that allowed us to bring that product to market are truly astounding. UST Mamiya: Many players believe that graphite iron shafts are not as consistent as steel, and the potential for fliers or poor distance control is more prevalent with graphite. This is definitely not the case. Designs and manufacturing methods allow us to precisely control the flex profile of each shaft length, thus creating a stable shaft that performs as well as or better than steel. Since not many pros use graphite iron shafts, many players are not convinced that graphite will benefit their own game. Our goal is to create iron shafts that perform better than steel, and we are on the brink of launching a new iron shaft line that will do just that. Larry Bodle, director of marketing at FST Shafts: You may have heard that graphite shafts for irons are lighter than steel. In reality, on average, graphite shafts commonly used for irons are very close in weight to today's lightweight steel shafts.
Aldila: The biggest misconception is still consistency. Many players still think that graphite shafts, especially in irons, won't perform as consistently as steel, and this is simply not true. A high-quality graphite iron shaft is every bit as consistent as its steel counterparts and in many cases has significant performance advantages. Graphite is a much more versatile material than steel and can give golfers a better ability to fit their swing characteristics without sacrificing performance or consistency.
nVentix: Many golfers believe that graphite iron shafts cannot be made as consistent as steel shafts, in terms of distance and shot dispersion. While graphite iron shafts of the past may not be as consistent as steel shafts, they will be produced (in the future) to exceed the performance of steel shafts. Hiroyuki Fukuda, head of sales and marketing in the Americas at Nippon Shaft: The biggest misconception is the belief that graphite shafts are superior to steel, due to the higher prices for individual shafts and clubs. Also that they're lighter than steel shafts, feel softer at impact and increase distances.
Fujikura: You may have heard that steel shafts are stiffer and stronger than graphite, but this simply isn't true. You can see that Tour players use graphite shafts almost exclusively in drivers, fairway woods and hybrids. The newest high-tech airplanes are made of graphite because it's lighter, stiffer and stronger than steel. When graphite shafts first came out for irons, they got a bad reputation because they were too light for stronger players and inconsistent because of the materials available at the time. With the advancement in design and the use of premium graphite, we're now able to decrease the torque and make the tip section stronger. We design graphite iron shafts as stiff and heavy as steel, yet unlike steel, we can manipulate the stiffness profile and move the shaft's balance point.
Scott Bartosik at Matrix Shafts: Regarding graphite iron shafts, the consumer wrongly believes that you can't get the same flight patterns that you get with steel, or the same consistency and flex characteristics. In fact, from a designer's perspective, graphite offers greater breadth and depth in terms of flight modeling. Graphite shafts can be designed with much lower torque than steel, much heavier or lighter, with a greater range of flexpoint and with much more consistent flexural properties. Graphite Design: Going back 20+ years to when graphite first hit the scene, there were inconsistencies in what was being produced. A regular steel and regular graphite shaft were not the same. Today, we produce a much more consistent product with tighter tolerances, as well as offer multiple bend profiles for different playing abilities.
GOLF TIPS: Generally speaking, what will be the next big trends in graphite shafts?
Miyazaki Golf: A continuation of lightweight designs that will benefit every level of golfer. Many more pros are using sub-60- and even sub-50-gram shafts. The benefits are faster clubhead speed and longer shots. Even some long-drive guys are into the 50-gram shafts.
TT/Grafalloy: A continued push for lighter and longer, with a focus on reducing overall club weight.
UST Mamiya: Customization, which could come via customized graphics or even a customized shaft design that's made for a specific golfer.
FST: Hybrids, usually sold with graphite shafts, could trend toward steel due to new lightweight steel options that offer advantages in lower torque and more consistency over graphite.
Aldila: Shafts will continue to get lighter while maintaining performance characteristics suitable for better players.
Nippon: For one, cosmetics: A few club manufacturers recently offered painted or ion-plated steel shafts. There also will be longer lightweight steel shafts–there are new lighter, higher-strength raw materials in development that will allow steel shaft manufacturers to produce longer lightweight steel shafts for hybrids, fairway metals and drivers. Customization also will be big.
Fujikura: Custom shaft fitting. There's more and more talk about custom fitting, but not that many players have yet taken the time to get fit for their equipment. The right shaft/clubhead combination can make a huge difference on a player's performance. Every Tour player is custom fit with the best possible combination, to maximize his or her performance. It's only a matter of time before all golfers get some sort of custom fitting. It'll help golfers at all levels enjoy the game more.
Graphite Design: Wood shafts are becoming lighter, and this will most likely continue until we reach the sub-40-gram range. Durability will become the big challenge, as will maintaining a lower torque specification that better players demand.
GOLF TIPS: Some club manufacturers are using longer driver shafts this year as standard. Can average golfers handle that extra length?
Miyazaki Golf: The average golfer can handle these if fit properly. Too many don't have the correct flex or tip stiffness, to get it to perform. Only one club manufacturer offers different lightweight shafts with different stiffness and tip stiffness. Most offer one type of shaft for everyone.
TT/Grafalloy:Some can and some can't. The ultimate goal is efficiency. It's important to find the right balance of clubhead speed and consistent delivery of the clubhead to the ball, for maximum ball speed.
UST Mamiya: The general thought is that you should play as long of a club as you can control. Most golfers should be able to handle the extra length. Extra length means extra distance, and when most consumers try out new drivers, they're looking to maximize distance. Matrix: This is such an individual question. While some may be able to keep a longer club on plane and square the face, others will struggle. The easiest way for most golfers to increase distance and accuracy is to seek the help of a PGA professional for possible swing adjustments. With these adjustments, golfers who previously couldn't handle the extra length may be able to.
Aldila: To a degree. But is the small distance advantage gained worth the control advantage lost? Is hitting an 8-iron from the rough better than hitting a soft 7-iron from the short stuff? The player needs to decide this when pondering whether to use a longer driver. Most average golfers will benefit more from hitting the driver more consistently, and that won't happen with a longer club.
nVentix: No. We've experienced this firsthand and have changed the opinions of some clubfitters and builders. Golfers tend to hit an occasional good shot with a longer shaft and, consciously or not, develop a blind spot for the typical results they're generating with this equipment. The longer any shaft is, the more prone it becomes to the adverse influences of excessive flex, twist and droop.
Nippon: From a manufacturer's viewpoint, yes, golfers should be able to handle the extra length. The top concern for longer shafts is tip stability. However the top graphite shaft manufacturers have offered many sub-70-gram graphite shafts with stable, consistent tip action.
Fujikura: Yes and no. Some golfers can adjust to the extra length and still hit the center of the clubface. Adversely, many players aren't able to consistently hit the center of the face–resulting in loss of ball speed even if their clubhead speed increases.
Graphite Design: This really depends on the player's ability.
GOLF TIPS: What are the advantages of having graphite shafts in wedges?
Miyazaki Golf: Graphite can be a benefit in wedges. The shaft can be manufactured with precise kick points, to better affect the ballflight and control on wedge shots. The material can offer more feel and better performance. The key is to make the shaft with higher-grade material, which makes it more expensive.
TT/Grafalloy: A wedge is 100% about control and precision. Simply put, there's never a scenario where we would recommend a graphite wedge shaft.
UST Mamiya: It really depends on the player and the type of graphite shaft used. We're now working on Tour with a new performance graphite wedge shaft that feels better than steel and outperforms steel in head-to-head testing. The main importance in putting graphite wedges into play is to make sure that all types of shots can be hit successfully. More than any other club in the bag, wedges are hit in a variety of situations, from full shots into greens, to shorter-length shots and control shots around the greens. The advantage is that your score will be lower if you can consistently hit wedge shots close to the hole.
Aldila: The advantage to graphite in wedges is the tailor-ability of graphite. It allows for a much wider window of performance characteristics than metals. Tip stiffness, torque, weight, balance point, etc. can be changed much more readily with graphite to fit each player's needs. Does the player need more spin, less spin, a higher launch, or lower flight? Changes to the shaft characteristics that control these performance parameters are much more easily made using composites. nVentix: Graphite shafts can be made stiffer and less prone to droop than steel shafts. The more stable the shaft, the greater the potential for control for the golfer.
Fujikura: Graphite lessens vibration in your hands, compared to steel. This can be a big advantage, as vibration fatigues your muscles. Graphite wedge shafts offer better feel and higher spin rates. Standard wedge shafts weigh around 120 grams, making your total club weight much heavier than the rest of your set. Creating the same feeling from club to club will generate a more consistent set of irons.
Graphite Design: They produce more spin and maintain feel.
GOLF TIPS: At what point do you think lightweight shafts are too light?
Miyazaki Golf: I don't think you can make a shaft too light. Everyone will benefit from lightweight shafts–but not the same lightweight shaft. The lightest will be good for one swing profile, but another will be good for another swing profile. The key is the design of the shaft's flex, torque and balance as related to the golf club.
TT/Grafalloy: Our philosophy is that you play the lightest shaft you can control. As with the longer drivers, many players will see an increase in distance without a loss of control by using the lightest shafts. However, others will see a change in tempo, resulting in loss of control and distance by going too light. In those scenarios, they should find a slightly heavier shaft that provides the optimal balance of speed and consistency. It's important to remember that distance is generated by ball speed, not clubhead speed. While you must have maximum clubhead speed to generate maximum ball speed, if the club isn't being delivered to the ball efficiently, a higher clubhead speed often results in reduced ball speed through inefficient transfer at impact.
UST Mamiya: At some point, there will be a physical limit to how light graphite shafts can be made. We're approaching that limit now, with shafts nearing the sub-40-gram threshold. Designing lightweight shafts means removing material to get to a lower weight. We can remove only so much material and still have a structure that's stiff enough and durable enough. The graphite materials we use are already among the lightest available, with the best strength-to-weight ratio of most any material in the world.
FST: Generally, the 90-gram range for iron shafts is the realistic limitation for steel shafts. They can be made lighter, however manufacturers have concerns about durability.
Aldila: That point is reached when the balance and feel of the club during the swing is no longer comfortable or the player can no longer adequately control drives. There's a limit to how low you can go in weight without sacrificing certain important performance parameters, such as torque, tip stiffness, etc., that ultimately affect the club's overall performance. Players should use as light a shaft as they can, without sacrificing feel (during the swing, not impact) and performance. This threshold is different for every player. nVentix: We're already far past the point of diminishing returns, when it comes to lightweight shafts. Lighter shafts coupled with heavier clubheads produce flex, twist and droop, which reduce the consistency and accuracy that average golfers obtain from their equipment.
Nippon:We have produced steel iron shafts weighing around 50 grams, however durability and tip stability become concerns. But with lighter, stronger raw materials in development, shaft weights can get lower. At this time, there has not been much demand for sub-75-gram steel iron shafts.
Fujikura: When it adversely adjusts your swing by losing control of the club. Golfers can lose the feeling of the club at the top of their swing and create a bad transition down at the ball. As we continue to push the boundaries of the lightweight platform–as long as we can maintain stability and control–we'll go as light as possible.
Graphite Design: It seems that a shaft lighter than 40 grams is simply too light and almost too hard to control at high swing speeds. This also depends on durability.
GOLF TIPS: What are your thoughts about standard-izing shaft specs, so consumers would be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons when buying shafts?
Miyazaki Golf: That would be wonderful, but it won't happen. There's too much money to be made in golf, and a standardization wouldn't allow companies to honestly advertise their shaft specifications. Many shafts are sold on the premise of information based on that specific company's measurements and are dressed up to make its product look better than others. Another issue is that the OEM community operates with many different philosophies. Normally they like to sell clubs to everyone, but they all have a target group that they design around. Thus, you'll see one company's stiff flex as another's regular flex, based on the target market of its profile.
TT/Grafalloy: This will most likely never happen because each shaft and club manufacturer has an individual philosophy on flex, torque, lie, loft, etc. To that end, it's very important that consumers educate themselves and seek proper fitting for the right club/shaft combination for their individual games.
UST Mamiya: It's a great thought, but the shaft industry went down this road 10+ years ago with no resolution. The main issue we have is that every manufacturer (both shaft and club OEM) has its own methods for measuring shaft flex and torque. Changing these methods effectively renders all of its past data obsolete. What would be ideal is for an independent body to measure all shafts in the market and make the data available to the consumer.
Matrix: It's an interesting idea that was proposed years ago with the premise that all shaft companies would follow the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) methods and publish findings accordingly. It didn't go very far. In the years since, scientific and technological advancements have allowed individual companies to develop methods that surpass the original proposal. Many of these would be considered trade secrets. It's unlikely that these methods will be shared.
Aldila: We'd love to standardize specs, but it would be very difficult. Every shaft and club manufacturer has a slightly different way to measure specs. And each feels its method is the best. Additionally, there's so much history ingrained within the companies with regard to shaft measurements, that changes would be a major hassle. Even if a standard measurement for flex/frequency could be established, it would likely be impossible to get everyone to agree on what constitutes a regular flex versus a stiff one, and so on. nVentix: While the concept has appeal, it would be difficult to implement. For example, while much of the industry believes that golfers of higher handicaps and slower swing speeds should be fitted with shafts with greater flex, twist and consequently droop, we believe that those shaft designs introduce greater variability and, therefore, actually make the game more difficult for these golfers.
Nippon: Different shaft specifications/characteristics are key points to separate shaft manufacturers from each other. By standardizing specifications, shaft manufacturers will be limited in design and production. Instead, standardizing shaft measurement scales and techniques would be more beneficial for consumers.
Fujikura: We're 100% on board with the standardization of shaft specifications, in order to better educate golfers and keep shaft labeling ethical. We've introduced three technologies–Enso fitting system, RACK, which measure's a shaft's endurance, and Shaft Scan to measure bending stiffness.
Graphite Design: Each shaft manufacturer has it own unique way of identifying flex. However, from the consumer standpoint, it would be nice to be able to compare apples to apples, when it comes to flex and frequency. On the other hand, taking advantage of today's fitting technologies (i.e., launch monitors and fitting carts) is the best advice we can offer a player wanting to identify the proper flex requirement and optimize shaft performance.
GOLF TIPS: Do you think we'll eventually see graphite become the norm in iron shafts? Miyazaki Golf: No. Steel is still well respected, and there's so much unused capacity that it will stay around as long as the cost of raw steel stays comparably low. Remember, a good graphite-shaft raw cost is 15 to 20 times more than steel.
TT/Grafalloy: No, because steel shafts offer significantly greater consistency throughout the set compared to even the best-made graphite shafts. This is the overwhelming reason why 98 percent of PGA Tour players play steel in their irons. They want to know that shot trajectory and distance control are going to be consistent, shot after shot. Within the past six years, we have advanced our steel-iron-shaft development with the GS 75, 85 and 95 series to where we're now producing steel shafts at the historical weights of graphite. Since distance is primarily due to weight reduction, why would a golfer want to sacrifice accuracy and consistency by playing a graphite shaft that weighs the same as superlight steel?
Matrix: I have no doubt that it will take over the lion's share of the performance-based product of the future. Look at what has happened in tennis over the last 20 years. Wooden rackets were phased out in favor of steel, then aluminum and finally graphite. The best players in the world don't give steel a second thought. In golf, the more price-sensitive products of the future will probably continue to utilize steel. The highest-performing products will undoubtedly be equipped with graphite.
nVentix: We think steel iron shafts will continue to have a place for the foreseeable future. However, as shaft manufacturers begin to produce high-quality graphite iron shafts, we expect that the transition from steel to graphite iron shafts will accelerate.
Nippon: PGA Tour pros are trendsetters in the golf world. Since they continue to play steel iron shafts, despite the technology and performance advances in graphite iron shafts, steel will remain the norm for iron shafts.
THE MEN OF STEEL SPEAK OUT
Steel shafts remain popular choices for many golfers, because of their lower price, performance consistency and, in many cases, because golfers are used to their feel. So we posed a couple of unique questions to a few steel manufacturers, as well.
GOLF TIPS: What advantages do lightweight steel shafts have over graphite?
TT/Grafalloy: Our GS steel shafts offer distance benefits historically found in graphite because they are made at the same weights (75, 85 and 95 grams). The true benefit is that they deliver much better trajectory control and shot consistency, which is the best of both worlds for someone who has traditionally played graphite shafts in their irons because of their lightweight properties.
FST: Aside from the cost factor and a more efficient way to lower torque, the main advantage of steel shafts is consistency from shaft to shaft. For example, steel shafts are manufactured from a single material that has multidirectional properties. Feel and flex curves can be determined and controlled by weight (or wall thickness) and diameters; on the other hand, graphite shafts use multiple materials in one shaft and are assembled at various angles, creating a bigger margin of error from shaft to shaft, which will affect feel and flexing characteristics . Nippon: Steel shafts are in the irons of professional golfers, since they offer more performance consistency (vs. graphite) for better distance control, trajectory control and tighter shot dispersion. Steel shafts also provide more feedback.
GOLF TIPS: What have been the most significant changes to steel shafts in the past three years?
FST: There have been no significant changes; however, some new designs allowing golf professionals and skilled players more options in weight, balance point, and feel have been introduced, moving some top-tiered players away from the traditional perceived "better player" shafts.
Nippon: Lighter-weight steel shafts, even for irons. Also, top steel shaft companies are offering more models with different bending points, especially lower-bend-point models. This offers an option to use steel shafts, from game-improvement irons to blades.