CLUB TRUTHS

Golf equipment truths: Does a club deteriorate over time?

Michael Johnson/Mike Stachura  

Photo by Mats Silvan/Getty Images

We are lucky to have two of the most knowledgable golf gearheads in our office. And they are sharing their golf equipment knowledge with you. Golf Digest's equipment editors, Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson, have covered the golf equipment business for decades, and there are few who know the equipment industry better. 

How many rounds of golf before a club deteriorates?

Deteriorate? Please tell me you’re not teeing it up regularly at Chernobyl Dunes Golf and Country Club. That said, the half-life of titanium is probably 60 years or so, which should mean your golf clubs should be OK. You, on the other hand, might want to get that third ear checked out. Seriously, though, unless you’re washing your iron heads nightly in an acid bath, golf clubs aren’t going to deteriorate, especially in the hands of an amateur.

Ben Hogan’s famous 1-iron from that majestic 72nd hole approach shot in the 1953 U.S. Open at Merion, while practically unhittable for mere mortals, likely would respond just fine today if it was removed from its case at the USGA's Golf House. (The leather grip and shaft might not have held up so well, of course.) Point is, if you’re not leaving your clubs out in the rain for months at a time, everything should last and continue to perform in line with your abilities. Do grooves get dull? Yes, especially on wedges, where you’re hitting out of the sand. So those should be replaced conservatively every three years, more often the more you play. That happens with iron grooves, too, but on a much longer timeline. Can driver faces weaken over time?

We’re just starting to figure that out because there is evidence that is happening with the pros, but almost no study as to what’s happening with use by us regular Joe’s. (Stay tuned.) Given that there are centuries-old samurai swords using basically the same kind of steel found in some irons today, it’s probably fair that your irons aren’t going to decompose in your lifetime. (Grips, of course, are another matter. If you’re not getting them changed at least once a year, you’re playing worse, hands down.) Basically, though, your game is going to deteriorate long before your golf clubs do. We’ve said it hundreds of times and we’ll say it again: If you’re not sure whether your old clubs are as good as some new ones, take them in to a fitter with a launch monitor and see if the numbers tell you otherwise. We trust you’ll be enlightened. Which is different than glowing, which again, you should have checked out.

Any talk of golf equipment manufacturers finally going with lofts on the bottom of irons rather than the current model of claiming distance increases with continually strengthened lofts? 

Clearly one iron model’s loft is not equal to another’s. Having just finished reviewing plenty of iron models for the 2020 Golf Digest Hot List, we’ve seen loft variances as much as 5 degrees. That’s a full club. But don’t expect manufacturers to start stamping lofts on the bottom of clubs—and it has nothing to do with trying to bamboozle you into thinking you’re Hercules hitting that 7-iron 175 yards.

Fact is, this has been tried before and it’s been an epic fail. Ben Hogan produced irons in 2016 with lofts instead of numbers stamped on the bottom and those weren’t exactly a hit. Ryan Moore, always known for being a little different, had the lofts stamped on his irons a number of years ago, but it became a short-lived experiment as he didn’t want to have to remember if his 30-degree iron was his 6- or 7-iron. In short, we’ve become creatures of habit who are comfortable knowing what club we hit what distance. Plus, it’s just a little less cool to tell someone, “Hey, can you grab me my 35-degree iron?” As for wanting to know the loft, again, while manufacturers aren’t stamping them on the club they’re not hiding them from you, either.

Pretty much every manufacturer lists the lofts of their irons on its website. While making you work for it, a couple of clicks can get you the information you want if you’re willing to dig a little for it. One other thing: It’s also true that given the wide varieties of constructions, materials and CGs in irons today, lofts are kind of irrelevant. What matters is the ball flight you’re seeing (on a range or a launch monitor). As Claude Harmon (the original) used to say, “the golf ball doesn’t lie.”

How does a driver fail one of these CT tests accidentally on tour when the majority of the pros practice with TrackMan on every shot? 

It is very, very likely that the difference between just barely conforming for CT and just barely nonconforming could not be detected on any launch monitor. Certainly not with a human golfer’s swing. The difference between a driver that is slightly below the conforming limit on the CT test (239 microseconds) and just over the limit of the tolerance zone (257 microseconds) might be a couple of yards. Maybe.

But the facts are that there are virtually no drivers being used by tour players that would have ever been under the CT limit to start. What we’ve been told by manufacturers many times over the years is that everybody is designing and manufacturing drivers within and to the edges of the CT test’s tolerance zone. That would mean that should a driver’s face start to creep toward a nonconforming level of flexibility through some kind of micro-fissures or metal fatigue based on repeated strikes at high speeds in the center of the face, that improved benefit of a more flexible face will be staggeringly less than a couple of yards. More like inches.

And even then, there is some evidence that while that “improvement” might happen in as few as a couple thousand hits, it also might be very short-lived before that face, instead of becoming more flexible, just becomes dead or even caves in. That said, one result of the PGA Tour’s efforts to test more drivers on a random basis is to get players to test their drivers with manufacturers more often.

Also, another intended result is perhaps to get manufacturers to play a little safer with regard to the rules. Of course, you could ask why a player/manufacturer would be playing with that kind of fire, but that's another issue, which only makes sense if you’re trying to convince a tour player this new driver is really hotter than his old driver.

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