Evolution of the Golf Swing Thanks to Modern Materials

Royal St.Andrews

Most things in life change. The golf swing is no exception. Today’s golfer has space age equipment compared to our forefathers. Swings have changed; equipment has changed. The spirit of the game however, has endured.

If you could somehow enter a time machine to find yourself on a golf course 400 years ago in Scotland, the birthplace of modern golf, you likely wouldn’t recognize the game you were playing. Modern materials have completely changed the game. From the clothes and shoes golfers wear, to their bags and the clubs in them, very few similarities exist between today’s amateur and professional golfers with those of royal and upper crust standings so many years ago.

As the equipment has changed and become better, faster and stronger, so have golfers themselves. In those earliest days, the shafts of golf clubs were made of wood. Ash, lemon wood, blue mahoo were all eventually replaced by then, state of the art, hickory. The hard and durable shafts allowed the best players of the day to swing with full force through their shots. Previously, some level of restraint was generally required due to the fragility of the shafts, and their tendency to break on the downswing.

Have you ever broken one of you clubs in this manner? Perhaps you’ve whipped a wedge into a nearby tree, or even taken an errant driver over your knee? If so, you know just how tough it can be to break a modern day golf club! Prior to the introduction of steel and graphite shafts, titanium and other strong light weight head materials, clubs were heavy, fragile, and likely to wear out in relatively short time.

In addition to the material evolution of golfing equipment, the techniques used to study and analyze various aspects of the game have undergone dramatic change. This has provided hidden insight to the secrets of perfecting ones golf swing. Video technology alone has provided instructors and their students with the ability to expertly analyze their swing to determine where improvements are required.

Some analysis of the golfers swing can lead to recommendations for different, new and improved equipment. If the player has a challenge generating appropriate head speed, they may find respite in a club which has titanium heads and graphite shafts. Both materials are lighter and in most cases stronger than their steel counterparts. This means a serious impediment to the golfer’s ability to succeed has now been removed thanks to the materials their equipment is manufactured from. In today’s day and age – if your clubs don’t work for you, you can just buy new ones – back in the early days of golf however, golf clubs were expensive, and you made an effort to fit your swing to your equipment.

As with clubs, golf balls have morphed from the carved wooden orbs they originally were to miracles of modern science today. In those earliest days of the game, craftsmen could only produce so many balls, which tended to be quite expensive. In today’s dollars, you would have to pay from $10 to 20 for each ball you owned. At those prices, you had to be quite rich and had better be pretty good at hitting straight. Lost balls could bankrupt a golfer! Hence, why this game was reserved for aristocrats in it’s humble beginnings.

The next iteration of golf ball was a leather pouch that was stuffed with boiled feathers. As the feathers dried inside the sphere, they would expand causing the cow’s hide to stretch and harden. This innovation allowed for the ball to travel much farther and with better accuracy than the previous wooden ones.

Today, the U.S.G.A. oversees most of the regulations concerning golf equipment. Golf balls are required to be within a certain size and weight, can have only so many dimples (which affect their trajectory and distance) and be made of certain materials.

If you are golfing today, you know that some balls perform better for your style of swing than others. One of the challenges of the modern golfer is to experiment with various combinations of materials in order to find the best combination for their swing style.

About the Author…

Eric Wilson Ph.D. is a PGA Master Professional and the Vice President of golf school: The College of Golf at Keiser University in Port St. Lucie, FL. You can find The College of Golf on Twitter (@CollegeofGolf) or on Facebook.


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