Don Wood, a senior designer for Cleveland Golf, is tooling down a series of California freeways. The more he gets stuck in traffic, the more he chatters. He talks,
What I like most about Wood is the way he embraces golf history while remaining on the cutting edge of modern golf club design. In a sense, he has one foot in the past and one in the future.
Understanding club design has two clear advantages: one, it helps us choose the proper golf clubs for our individual games; two, it provides us with some wonderful conversational material.
Wood on the modern driver: “The Tommy Armour 693 was sort of the standard-bearer among post-war (World War II) drivers. It was 43 inches long and weighed 131/4 ounces.
“Today the standard arguably would be 45 inches. These modern drivers weigh 111/2 ounces, even 11 ounces or less. So you’re talking about drivers that are 2 inches longer and 2 ounces lighter, with the same swingweight. Obviously you’ve got a golf club that moves quite a bit faster.
“If that hasn’t been the most in-your-face change in golf equipment, I don’t know what else has. In 1980, we were still using drivers that were post-war lengths and weights. The change has been dramatic.”
Wood on the lie angle of drivers: “The modern driver is 3 or 31/2 degrees more upright, nominally, than an old driver. When you add an increase of 2 inches in length, it means that drivers today are effectively as much as 8 degrees more upright than they used to be. This may be the single most profound change in golf club specifications in the last 25 years. Is it any wonder that we no longer slice the ball the way we used to?”
Wood on some useful conversion figures: “We figure an increase in swing speed of 21/2 miles an hour for every additional inch of length. That’s 5 miles an hour faster for a driver that is 2 inches longer. When we start talking about
the lie of the golf club, we figure that if you add an inch you effectively make the club 2 degrees
Wood on the loft of modern irons: “Just because the lofts are stronger, people shouldn’t be fooled. The ratio of loft to length is still the same as it used to be. We’re making irons with stronger lofts, but we’re also making them longer. So now we call a 2-iron a 3-iron. The old 2-iron has almost exactly the same specs as the modern 3-iron.”
There is widespread agreement, Wood said, that lofts often become crazy in the short irons or game-improvement irons. Savvy golfers, though, have learned to pay no attention to a player whose pitching wedge has the loft of, say, an 8-iron.
Wood on club fitting and the human body: “The days of the pot-bellied smoker like Roger Maltbie are gone. The PGA Tour could (one day) be loaded with guys who look like (former football player) Howie Long. The modern golf club is the length it is because of our height, the length of our arms and legs, our posture over the ball and factors like that.”
Wood on the future of graphite shafts in the irons of touring pros: “There are two reasons why
composites could creep into irons at the highest level. One, they’re already there in woods. Two, golf clubs have to get longer to accommodate guys who are taller. This requires lighter shafts in order to maintain the optimal balance and swingweight.”
Wood on wedges, for which Cleveland Golf is famous: “If you don’t have three wedges today, you’re weird. The standard-bearer sand wedges of 30 and 40 years ago were, in many cases, too bouncy. They had flat soles. They rarely had any camber (curvature of the sole), either from heel to toe or front to back. Another thing is grooves. Today’s grooves are absolutely perfectly
engineered to optimize spin. Back then it was all V grooves, and they were stamped in. Somebody was standing there with a hammer – they weren’t very good grooves.”
Oops, traffic is moving again, and Wood reluctantly stops grooving.