2006: Good vibes for scandium shafts

It was Davis Love III who called attention to the new scandium golf shaft, which is known for its superb vibration dampening.

Love has long been interested in the dampening characteristics of shafts. He was one of the first PGA Tour players to use graphite shafts in his irons. He pioneered the use of True Temper’s SensiCore shaft insert.

Last fall, Love had a scandium shaft installed in his 5-iron. This was for testing. Later, at October’s Chrysler Championship, he decided to install scandium shafts in the entire set of irons he was playing.

Titleist, Love’s equipment sponsor, balked. Nobody knew much about this shaft.

Love was insistent, and the irons were delivered to him on the second hole of the Wednesday

pro-am at the Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla. In the tournament, Love posted rounds of 68-69-70-76 and tied for 16th.

Scandium has been in and out of his bag since, but the name has remained on golf’s radar screen. Several dozen PGA Tour players are testing the scandium iron shaft, and consumers are talking about it.

What is scandium?

The material, which was used extensively by the Russians in their military programs, is the 21st element on the Periodic Table of the Elements. This inspired the name of the company that manufacturers and sells scandium golf shafts in the United States – Element 21.

The shafts, made of a scandium alloy, have been designed by a familiar name in the golf industry – Dr. Howard Butler, who formerly was a vice president at True Temper. Butler first made prototype scandium shafts in the late 1990s and has remained the material’s loudest cheerleader.

“Its dampening characteristics are remarkable, and its symmetry is amazing,” Butler says. “Handling this material properly is not easy, but we have figured out how to do that. These shafts have a buttery feeling, but at impact they are more consistent than any golf shafts ever made.”

The shafts weigh about 115 grams, ideal for iron shafts but too heavy for wood shafts. Butler is developing a new lightweight scandium design that will be suitable for fairway woods and drivers. He expects it to be available sometime this year.

Dr. Nataliya Hearn, the president and CEO of Element 21, was involved in a joint venture with Easton Sports that resulted in the scandium baseball bat. Easton reportedly has sold more than 3 million of these high-end bats.

The golf shaft, too, can be classified as high-end. The scandium iron shaft currently is available from GolfWorks for $69 per shaft. Several golf club manufacturers are considering the addition of the shaft as a custom option.

Will scandium be successful in golf? This is not guaranteed. Titanium golf shafts developed a loyal following in the 1990s, but the difficulty and cost of manufacturing were too much to overcome.

Hearn believes the cost of scandium shafts will decrease as demand rises.

In today’s shaft marketplace, scandium’s challenge is made more daunting by a new generation of lighter-weight steel shafts and a huge variety of graphite shafts that essentially can be customized for individual golfers.

Meanwhile, Element 21 is developing other products. A 444cc scandium driver head will be unveiled at the PGA Merchandise Show, and Butler raves about its performance.

“With scandium, we can make the bulges and rolls the way they should be made,” he says. “With conventional materials (titanium), the faces can’t be made flat enough. They would cave in at impact.

“Our driver is not just another oversized head. It is a lot flatter. If you hit it on the clubface, it’s coming back to the fairway.”

If nothing else, scandium provides more evidence that science and golf are now constant bedfellows.

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