2002: Business - Callaway’s C4 looking to break sound barrier
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
With apologies to Julie Andrews, Callaway Golf is betting that the sound of music is more a solid whack and less a high-pitched explosion.
In an age of titanium drivers that sound like a collection of firing guns, Callaway sees its new C4 driver as a silent assassin in sound, feel and accuracy. The C4 is different – the head is made of graphite rather than titanium, the club’s overall weight is about 10 percent to 15 percent lighter than most drivers, and the sound is a throwback to the days before drivers learned to talk.
This sound – or lack of – has emerged as a hot topic among golfers in 2002. The muted sound of the C4 has been a deterrent to sales, as some contemporary golfers have grown so accustomed to the “bang” or “boom” of titanium drivers that they are unwilling to go back to quieter clubs.
“The hurdle over the sound has been a challenge,” said Ken Morton Jr., director of retail for the Haggin Oaks Golf Super Shop in Sacramento, Calif. “The response has been slower than we anticipated. I personally think the concept is a great one. Simple physics explain that a lighter club will be swung faster than a heavier one.
“The sound, though, is an issue. It’s funny to remember that it was Callaway (with the Big Bertha driver) that changed the perception of what a wood should sound like. Now it is that same perception that is keeping the C4 from selling better.
“For those golfers who let the performance of the club alone dictate which driver they should buy, it has been a good seller. Unfortunately, far too many people simply think it sounds like a dull shot.”
What should a driver sound like? According to Geoff Goodman, Callaway’s senior vice president of product management: “We spent a lot of time thinking about the sound of the C4. We wanted to engineer in as pleasing a sound as we could. On the other hand, golf balls are deaf. They don’t know what sound the club makes when it strikes the ball.
“In the end, we figured it was better to deliver performance to the golfer in terms of forgiveness and launch conditions and distance, rather than to worry so much about sound. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to the risks we took in the early ’90s with the initial Big Bertha. It looked different, it sounded different, and people thought it was weird. But we were willing to take those kind of risks back then, under Mr. (Ely) Callaway’s leadership, to create what we knew was a demonstrably superior product. And we feel the same way about C4.”
Among golf aficionados and even club designers, it is generally acknowledged that Titleist got it right – this elusive combination of performance and sound – with the 975 series of drivers. Starting with the 975D, Titleist was able to produce a solid, powerful sound without an offensive yelp.
Callaway, with the C4, is offering what has been described as a retro sound. Said John Wells, head professional at Waverley Country Club in Milwaukie, Ore., “I like it because it reminds me of persimmon.”
Beyond the sound, though, the C4 has its own personality:
The C4, with a head size of 360cc, originally was designed for women with swing speeds in the range of 60 mph and men in the range of 70 mph. The goal was a driver that weighed less than 10 ounces (283 grams).
Callaway quickly discovered that skilled golfers could benefit from the club. Annika Sorenstam and Liselotte Neumann, who finished 1-2 in the Kraft Nabisco Champion-ship, the year’s first LPGA major, used the driver. Jesper Parnevik and Paul Lawrie, along with several other touring pros in the United States and Europe, also switched to the club.
The C4 produces more backspin than Callaway’s VFT series of drivers. This works well for top golfers (such as Parnevik) who hit their drives with low spin. It also provides an advantage for ordinary golfers who have a difficult time getting their drives up in the air. Some golfers will require less loft in the C4 than the VFT. Because of increased spin, most golfers will hit the ball straighter and have a more difficult time maneuvering their drives with the C4.
“The last time I looked,” quipped Parnevik, “straight was good.”
Will golfers achieve more distance with this driver? Almost everybody will swing it faster because of its light weight, but the combination of swing speed, backspin and launch angle will determine the final distance. Some will hit it farther, some won’t. This, in essence, is why major manufacturers offer different drivers with different characteristics. With the C4, as with any driver, it is wise to demo the club before buying it.
Although Yonex sold a popular graphite-headed driver in the early 1990s, Callaway’s C4 has a lower overall weight plus an internal weight strip of urethane and tungsten for enhanced weight distribution.
The C4 has a suggested retail price of $499 but can be found for $429. Lofts vary from 8 to 12 degrees in one-degree increments. There is also a 14-degree C4. Standard length is 45.5 inches. A helpful hint: Replace the grip only with Callaway’s special 35-gram grip. Using a normal 50-gram grip may lower the swingweight of the driver significantly.
Golfweek.com readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.