The shaft is the greatest mystery in modern golf equipment. To most golfers, understanding the shaft is about as easy as deciphering rocket science.
That being said, unraveling the mystery of different shafts and how they perform for different golfers has become the passion of an increasing number of players as well as golf companies.
At its U.S. headquarters in Vista, Calif., shaft maker Fujikura Composites is about to unveil a dream come true for golfers who are shaft junkies. Called The Fujikura Experience, this service will allow individuals to thoroughly test all the popular Fujikura shafts in a variety of clubheads from major golf club manufacturers.
Experiencing The Experience isn’t cheap. The cost varies between $300 and $500, depending on whether a golfer wants an extensive lesson to go with it. All the testing is supervised by experienced fitters who also are PGA professionals.
At the end of the session, the company will refer the player to a Fujikura charter dealer. This provides a glimpse into what some think is the future of golf: Golf pros will become shaft and club experts, and the best fitters also will be the best teachers. The two functions will become inseparable. Or, in another scenario, a fitter will work hand-in-hand with a teacher to prescribe equipment that properly fits the individual.
It may sound improbable, but only recently has it become fully evident that golfers should be fit according to their dynamic swing characteristics. For example, the point at which a golfer releases the club on the downswing has an enormous influence on how a shaft performs.
That means two golfers of similar stature, strength and handicap level may need dramatically different golf shafts, depending on their swings.
“Club manufacturers may tell you it’s the head that will most affect launch angle and spin rate,” says Chris Elson, senior executive of business development and tour relations for shaft maker Harrison Sports. “However, if you are hitting it consistently, I will tell you the shaft is clearly the most important element in determining launch angle and spin rate.”
Today the choice is complicated by the fact that manufacturers are making more shafts with more variables than ever before. Today’s shafts can have separate, bewildering bend profiles in the tip, butt and center section. Understanding what this means is part of the mystery.
Consumers – forced to deal with considerations such as shaft weight, flex, flex point, tip stiffness, frequency, and torque – often are mightily confused. Professionals, too, can become lost amid all the jargon.
Still, dedicated golfers are becoming more sophisticated and knowledgeable about technology. This trend started in Japan and the Far East, and it has spread to the United States.
American golfers, embracing the new technology, are hungrier than ever for exotic shafts.
At Titleist, a company that has staked its reputation on catering to serious golfers, more than half of its 983 series drivers now are sold with custom shafts. Titleist has been at the forefront of the custom movement, and all these custom shafts have recognizable names (such as Grafalloy ProLite, Graphite Design Ac, Aldila NV, Fujikura Speeder) and have been engineered to perform optimally with Titleist’s bore-through head design.
The quest to understand the golf shaft is global. Callaway Golf Performance Centers in London, Tokyo, Seoul and Carlsbad, Calif., regularly are packed with golfers seeking to understand the symbiosis between their bodies and the golf swing. Squarely in the middle of this probe is the golf shaft, for Callaway has endorsed custom shafts in addition to designing its own line of shafts.
The mystery persists, but the universal shaft detectives are getting closer and closer to the truth.
And what is this truth?
Hook or crook, slice or dice, it is imperative for every golfer to find the proper shafts for his or her game: Identify them, purchase them, practice with them, do not forsake them and cherish them – in irons and in woods, in good rounds and in bad, as long as you both shall birdie.