2000: Business - Steel shafts have dynamic history, future
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
The most popular iron shaft among today’s touring pros was invented way back in 1941. Yes, the Dynamic steel shaft by True Temper is about to celebrate its 60th birthday.
Considering the firestorm of technical innovation in modern golf, such domination by a 60-year-old shaft design is remarkable. Also remarkable is the fact that Tiger Woods, who has won three consecutive major championships and four of the last five, uses Dynamic Gold steel shafts in 13 of his 14 clubs. The only exception is his putter, and there is no Dynamic putter shaft.
The Dynamic Gold shaft is about 25 percent lighter but utilizes the same design as the original Dynamic of 1941. Woods, by the way, is in good company. Byron Nelson won 11 straight with the Dynamic. Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus used Dynamic shafts. No other golf shaft of the 20th century, not even the venerable hickory shaft, had the longevity or influence of the Dynamic.
“There were several reasons why steel began to supplant the popular hickory shaft in the middle-1920s,” explained golf historian Gary Wiren, the former director of education for the PGA of America. “One, a more consistent ball-flight pattern could be produced by steel because of the material’s greater resistance to torque (twisting). Two, steel was more durable and needed less maintenance than wood. Three, the supply of quality-aged hickory in this country was diminishing.”
Gurdon Leslie joined the American Fork & Hoe Co. in 1928 for 45 cents per hour and retired in 1972 as vice president, member of the board of directors, and general manager of tubular products for True Temper.
The name True Temper was first used during Leslie’s early years with American Fork & Hoe. After the company developed and patented a process for manufacturing steel shafts with a step-down pattern, these extraordinary shafts were marketed under the True Temper brand.
Leslie, who died in 1994, once recalled that some early steel shafts were painted to look like wood. “During the ’30s, we made quite a few different shaft models under the True Temper label, as well as specials for manufacturers,” Leslie said. “At the time, there were no flex categories for various shaft models. Each model was different, with its own design and flex.”
In 1941, the Dynamic shaft changed all that. It was introduced with a series of flexes – a black band signified stiff, a red band meant regular, a yellow band was for ladies. Later these designations became S for stiff, T for regular (eventually changed to R), and L for ladies.
“We knew different players required different flexes,” Leslie said. “So we developed a series of flexes using one design. This was quite revolutionary – the idea of a family of shafts all with the same design but in a variety of flexes.”
Steel shafts were plated as far back as the 1930s, using a nickel plating followed by chromium. As heat-treating processes were perfected, uniformity was greatly improved. By 1953, when Hogan won three majors with Dynamic shafts in his clubs, about 90 percent of PGA Tour players were using Dynamic.
The original Dynamic shaft was made of low-carbon steel. As modern steel alloys were developed, the weight of the Dynamic shaft was reduced. Still, in today’s market, it is among the heaviest shafts in golf. While some graphite driver shafts weigh less than 50 grams, the Dynamic Gold driver shaft weighs approximately 125 grams.
Although many instructors advocate lightweight shafts for ordinary golfers, touring pros generally have stuck with heavier steel in their irons. They like the overall balance it provides, as well as its stability.
The Players Championship probably provides the best yardstick for equipment usage among touring professionals. In the 2000 Players Championship, 133 golfers used steel in their irons, eight used graphite and three used titanium.
Most of these steel shafts were either True Temper Dynamic Gold or the Rifle shaft from Royal Precision, with Dynamic Gold outnumbering the Rifle by about 2-to-1.
The Rifle shaft is different from the Dynamic in that it has no external steps. It features a smooth taper on the outside of the shaft and has been used by many star players, including two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen.
Graphite, rather than steel, monopolizes the pro tours in the wood category. At this year’s Player Championship, the total wood count included 304 graphite shafts and 53 steel shafts. Regardless, stronger players such as Woods remain defiantly loyal to steel in all their clubs.
Many observers have predicted the demise of the steel shaft, and many have been wrong. Steel simply won’t go away. Actually, the Dynamic family has grown and now includes Dynamic Lite, which is about 12 percent lighter than Dynamic Gold.
As it was back in 1941, the Dynamic shaft remains very dynamic.