Great Leaps Forward
The Evolution of a Game, From 1890 to Today
By Cameron Morfit
From persimmon woods to ProV1s, the modern era has spawned hundreds of important equipment innovations. Here are several groundbreakers that made the game more fun and a whole lot easier.
The first persimmons were plentiful, beautiful and way more durable than their birch-wood predecessors, even if early models bore little resemblance to more artful persimmon iterations such as MacGregor's MT M85 Eye-O-Matic (1952-55), which is considered the classic in 1987, persimmon woods were hanging on. (Louisville Golf still cranked out 4,000 clubs a week.) But a decade later, when the last of the superstar persimmon devotees Justin Leonard and Davis Love III among the switched to metal, the persimmon era ended.
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1999Mass-marketed hybrid club
With its popular Rescue hybrid club, TaylorMade took and old concept and made it better, in this case Spalding's XE model (1986-88), a full set of clubs defined by their low-profile, wide-sole design to help get the ball airborne, and even out of the rough -- attributes that would come to define the hybrid/utility club. William Mills, of Stanford Golf, predated both TaylorMade and Spalding with an aluminum-headed model with features of both irons and woods in the early 1900s.
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Soon after its introduction, Top-Flite's Strata garnered a dedicated following where it counts most: on the PGA Tour. Jim Furyk and Hal Sutton were among the big names to recognize the high-tech breakthrough of golf's first multilayered ball, which flew farther than pillowy-soft balatas but was just as obedient on the greens.
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Innovators: Callaway and TaylorMade
By the mid-1990s, drivers generated 20 percent more profit for manufacturers than other clubs, thanks in large part to the introduction of titanium, a lighter, stronger-than-steel material that allowed manufacturers to build bigger clubheads with thinner walls. Callaway's Big Bertha and the TaylorMade Burner led the way, but Cleveland, Cobra, Titleist, Nike and Ping also joined the party, doubling their combined market share to 28 percent from 1999 to 2004.
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Innovators: Faris McMullin and Ernie Deacon
Easier on your back, gentler on your greens (especially if Vijay Singh is playing in the group behind you in the Masters) and less lightning-friendly, soft spikes changed the game from the ground up. The original fan-like spiral design, later acquired and marketed by Softspikes, was dreamed up by the Boise , Idaho tandem of McMullin and Deacon after several Western golf associations enforced a winter spike ban. Wynstone Golf Club in Illinois led the way in banning metal spikes.
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It didn't have a dimpled head like TaylorMade's earliest effort, but the first thin-walled, oversized steel driver, named for a German cannon in World War I, was supremely easy to hit thanks to its huge sweet spot. The original Bertha was one of the most influential clubs of the last century and putt Callaway on the golf equipment map.
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Eighty-eight years after the first metalwood, TaylorMade's traditional-shaped metal driver, designed by Gary Adams, minimized the damage on heel-toe hits and eclipsed Scotsman William Currie Jr.'s innovative gunmetal 1891 design and Pinseeker's 1976 attempt. Ron Streck became the first PGA Tour pro to play the club, and TaylorMade ruled the metal market for the next 12 years.
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1968Mass-marketed cavity-back iron
American iron makers had been experimenting with casting, which allowed for a larger sweet spot than forged blades, since 1966. But Ping's Karsten 1 casting created the mold for inexpensive, forgiving, perimeter-weighted clubs and set the stage for a commercial juggernaut, the Ping Eye2, in 1982.
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1967Modern solid-core, two-piece ball
The company's popular Executive model, which spun less and lasted longer, made the game more affordable to the masses. The Executive ball led to the introduction of Spalding's more popular Top-Flite, which featured a more durable synthetic cover. The Executive's two-piece, solid-core construction is still in use today.
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Innovator: Golf Pride
Golf Pride's slip-on Victory grip wasn't necessarily any easier to attach than wrapped leather, but it never unraveled. It also was conducive to a diagram of the proper grip and much easier to mass-produce, leading to lower prices for the consumer and bigger profits for Golf Pride, and later, its pitchman Ken Venturi.
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Although Gene Sarazen is often credited for this invention, MacClain was the first to patent the concave-face technology that helped dig the ball out of the sand. Bobby Jones proved as much when he used a sand wedge at the 1930 British Open on his way to winning the Grand Slam. Sarazen then tweaked the design, adding a generous flange and extra weight, and won the 1932 U.S. and British Opens before his wildly popular Wilson R-90 hit the market a year later.
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Innovator: E.H. Winkworth Scott
Scott patented a square steel shaft in the U.K., though it was at first used only in putters. Steel remained a mere novelty until it made its way into woods and irons around 1915: Allan Lard's perforated design was one of the most popular early models. Steel's stability, consistency and versatility eventually set it apart from hickory, which was defunct by the mid-1930s. Still, the USGA did not allow steel-shafted clubs until 1926, and the R&A continued its ban until 1929.
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Innovator: Coburn Haskell
The wound-rubber Haskell ball ended the gutta-percha's long reign in 1898. It caught fire in 1901, after its success in both the U.S. and British Opens. Built from a rubber core wrapped in a rubber thread encased in a gutta-percha sphere, the Haskell flew 20 yards longer than traditional "gutties." In 1908, William Taylor improved the design when he added dimples, which helped reduce drag and maximize lift. The modern golf ball was born.
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2000Urethane-covered three-piece ball
Tiger Woods switched from a wound-construction Titleist ball to a two-piece Nike in May 2000 and blew away the competition to win four straight majors through the 2001 Masters. But Titleist's answer, the Pro V1, proved more dominant than Tiger himself. With its superior mix of distance and control around the greens, the ball signaled doom for the wound ball as it became the industry leader almost the minute it entered the market in the fall of 2000.
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