Shaft Month: A call for industry standards

Occasionally I am asked to speak to groups of golfers about golf equipment.

My opening comment is always the same: Do not compare your R shaft to somebody else’s R shaft; do not compare S shafts or X shafts or any shafts.

Why? Because the golf industry has no standards. Because one company’s R flex is another company’s S flex. Because the method of measuring shaft flex is different from one shaft manufacturer to another and one golf club manufacturer to another.

Don’t look to the U.S. Golf Association and R&A for help. Golf equipment is defined by the Rules of Golf. Plain and simple, the USGA and R&A can tell us which clubs, balls, shafts and grips are conforming and which are not. Legal or not – that’s about it for the ruling bodies.

In the early 1990s, I watched the golf industry wrestle with the proposed implementation of standards that would be submitted for approval to the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM). Mike Bennett, a serious man who was one of the founders of shaft manufacturer Aerotech Golf, devoted two years of his life to this project in a chairmanship role.

And it went nowhere. Golf companies, which have developed their own proprietary methods for measuring and evaluating their products, could agree on practically nothing. They gave up.

Even something as seemingly straightforward as measuring the length of a golf club has been complicated by the golf industry. When the USGA and R&A added a maximum length rule – limiting drivers and other non-putting clubs to 48 inches – they had to come up with a measurement method.

So what did they do? They invented their own procedure that was slightly different from every other existing procedure. As a result, the length of drivers marked 45 inches can easily vary by a quarter-inch or more, depending on the method of calculation.

More than any other product or component in the golf industry, the golf shaft is handicapped by this lack of standards. The measurement of frequency and torque, for example, can be widely different from company to company.

Golf shafts are getting lighter and lighter, and graphite driver shafts are knocking on the 40-gram door. However, any discussion of shafts that weigh less than 40 grams can be complicated by golf’s lack of standards.

How do we weigh these shafts? At raw length, which is 46 inches for many manufacturers, or at trimmed length?

Answers to such questions matter because they help define the pursuit of the Holy Grail – or at least shaftmakers' version of it: the sub-40 gram driver shaft.

Some say such products are nothing new, but in my opinion, True Temper broke new ground with the recent launch of its PXx 39 shaft. According to Chad Hall, True Temper’s director of global tour operations, the shaft weighs 39.5 grams at 46 inches raw (untrimmed) length.

Not only did the shaft dip under the 40-gram barrier, it endured a unique durability test: At the Demo Day that preceded the PGA Merchandise Show in January, the shaft withstood the assault of several legitimate long-drive competitors. No shafts broke; there were few balloon balls.

Previous sub-40 shafts were essentially one-off efforts that originated in the Asian market and didn’t meet the durability requirements for everyday shafts. In the hands of American golfers with aggressive swings, they broke with regularity.

Modern design and construction techniques have improved dramatically, thanks in large part to Japanese manufacturers such as Fujikura, Mitsubishi Rayon and Graphite Design that concentrate so much of their efforts on lightweight graphite.

If only we had industry standards, it would be simpler to compare all these contemporary shafts and much easier to fit golfers with the proper equipment.

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