2006: Shaft testing made simple, fyg

Carlsbad, Calif.

For decades, golf club manufacturers have sought to develop the perfect interchangeable shaft system.

The primary motivation: With interchangeable shafts, fitting becomes much faster, easier and more effective. Any golfer can compare the performance of different shafts in the same club head.

Henry-Griffitts Golf, a pioneer in custom fitting, developed one system. Burrows Golf devised another.

The Burrows system was praised widely by golf professionals and club fitters, but the company went out of business in 2005. The patented system remains in the control of Burrows’ investors.

Enter Callaway Golf. In 2003, Callaway initiated an interchangeable-shaft project. Eventually it included engineers Steve Ogg, Matt Cackett and Denver Holt under the supervision of Dr. Alan Hocknell.

Ogg, whose title is senior category director for customization, is the primary spokesman for Callaway’s OptiFit System. Callaway is about to introduce OptiFit to golf courses and fitting centers around the world.

“We believe this is the best driver fitting system ever,” Ogg said. “Once a golfer finds the right combination of clubhead and shaft, we can duplicate that club. Everything, including the swingweight and center of gravity, will be exactly the same.”

Callaway has designed a sleek fitting cart that rolls easily onto any practice area. In the beginning, the cart will include 13 FT-3 driver heads (with different lofts and neutral, draw and fade configurations). New X460 heads will be added to the cart in the future.

A variety of shafts from six manufacturers – Aldila, Fujikura, Graphite Design, Grafalloy, UST and Mitsubishi Rayon – will be featured on each cart.

Changing a shaft is done with a torque wrench and takes only a few seconds.

All the test clubs look identical to finished clubs. To accomplish this, Callaway designers used an anodized aluminum tip sleeve inside the clubhead of the hosel-free FT-3. Shafts can fit into the sleeve in just one position, insuring that the shaft and grip are in the proper place.

How challenging was this?

“More difficult than most people will ever know,” said Ogg, who came to Callaway 81⁄2 years ago from Boeing, where he worked on the aerodynamic design of commercial airliners.

After specializing in the aerodynamics of golf balls, Ogg switched to the OptiFit project. Such is the nature of today’s golf business, where scientists and engineers design modern golf equipment.

As Golfweek observed testing of the OptiFit system with ordinary golfers, one conclusion was apparent: Every golfer noticed drastic differences as shafts and clubheads were switched.

Because the U.S. Golf Association continues to explore further restrictions on driver performance, areas such as driver fitting are attracting more attention from clubmakers. OptiFit is the primary example, but there are others.

At the 2006 PGA Merchandise Show, Nakashima Golf introduced its Htec driver with an interchangeable shaft system. Once a golfer finds the proper combination of Nakashima clubhead and shaft, he can purchase that exact club on the spot.

Because the shaft is secured to the head by a screw and an interchangeable hosel, the shaft and clubhead can be changed easily.

Unfortunately, the Nakashima Htec driver might be nonconforming. Dick Rugge, the USGA’s senior technical director, said his interpretation of the rules is that shafts must be permanently fixed, or glued, into the cluhead.

Rugge explained his reasoning: Under existing regulations, golf clubs can be adjustable for weight but nothing else. Changing the weight of a club – before or after a round, but never during play – has historical precedence because golfers have been sticking lead tape on their clubheads for decades.

When TaylorMade introduced weight ports in drivers and other clubs, this was permissable because it was strictly a weight issue.

Nakashima has raised a shaft issue that is being discussed by the equipment standards committees of both the USGA and R&A. Interchangeable shafts are great for fitting, but nobody knows for sure whether they will be allowed to migrate from the practice tee to the golf course.

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