Fergus Bisset charts some of the biggest equipment advances and most iconic pieces of kit by the decade over the last century
100 Years Of Golf Gear Innovation
Over the last 100 years, designers and manufacturers have considered and implemented countless innovative ways to produce equipment that has delivered improved performance to golfers of all standards.
Here, we take a look at some of those innovations over the decades, from the 1920s to the 2010s.
1920s – Steel Shafts
Although the first steel shaft was designed by Scottish blacksmith Thomas Horsburgh in the 1890s, they didn’t begin to find favour until the 1920s. The steel shaft was made legal by the USGA in 1924 and by The R&A in 1929.
By 1929, True Temper had developed the first step shaft that tapered to fit into the clubhead. Early steel shafts were painted to look hickory to help golfers make the transition. Billy Burke was the first Major winner to use steel shafts in the 1931 US Open.
1930s – Gene Sarazen’s sand wedge
Sarazen didn’t actually invent the sand wedge, as popular belief would hold, but he did create something that was very much the precursor to the modern sand wedge we recognise today.
He came up with the idea while being taught to fly a plane by eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. Sarazen noted how the tail of the plane moved downwards on take-off and he began to experiment with adding weight to the sole of his niblick. He found it helped get the ball up and out of sand and he used it to great effect in winning the 1932 Open.
1940s – The Bulls Eye putter
This became one of the most recognisable putters of the 20th century and was used by a number of Major winners, including Bob Charles, Johnny Miller Tom Kite and Corey Pavin.
But the putter dates from the 1940s, when John Reuter, a teaching professional from Phoenix, Arizona, came up with the concept of designing a putter that “swung like the pendulum of a clock”. Reuter’s first models, the ‘Sweet Strokers’, were adapted and given a new name: ‘Bulls Eye’.
1950s – MacGregor Tourney irons
MacGregor was a dominant force for a period of the mid-20th century and its Tourney irons were used by a number of Major winners, including Jack Nicklaus.
The MacGregor Tourney MT was introduced in 1950, and this is what MacGregor president of the time, Henry Cowen, had to say about them:
“They are more compact, easier to use and are designed to help the average player. All possible weight has been placed where it will do most good – on the back of the blade, directly behind the hitting area.” It sounds like a description of a modern club.
1960s – Ping Anser putter
The idea for the Anser came to Karsten Solheim in a flash of inspiration. So sudden was the brainwave that he had to sketch the design on the dust jacket of a record. The name came from Karsten’s wife, Louise, who suggested it was the “Answer” to putting.
The ‘W’ was left out due to a lack of space, hence Anser. With perimeter weighting, a cavity back and a low centre of gravity, the putter set new standards in design. Ping continues to refine and innovate the Anser. Fred Couples, Seve Ballesteros and Mark O’Meara all tasted Major success using one.
1970s – Taylor Made ‘Pittsburgh Persimmon’ driver
Although manufacturers had experimented with metal heads in the past, the real breakthrough came in 1979. Club maker Gary Adams created a 12-degree cast stainless steel driver and called it Taylor Made, nicknamed Pittsburgh Persimmon.
Tour players quickly adopted the club and in 1981 Ron Streck was the first man to win with a Pittsburgh Persimmon in his bag. Metal drivers became increasingly popular from then on and would eventually replace wooden heads completely.
1980s – Ping Eye 2 irons
The first Ping Eye irons were introduced in 1978 – they featured an eye shape in the cavity to improve feel. Four years later, the Ping Eye 2 irons were brought to market, featuring significant improvements. Through the course of the 1980s, these clubs set the standard in the design of cavity back irons.
1990s – Callaway Great Big Bertha Driver
Titanium had been experimented with by other manufacturers, but it was Callaway that put the new material front and centre with its iconic Great Big Bertha driver. Allowing for an oversized head and a powerful face, the material changed the driver landscape considerably.
Thanks to titanium, the driver has gone from being the hardest club in the bag to hit to one of the easiest.
2000s – Titleist Pro V1 golf ball
In the mid-1990s, Titleist led the way in providing performance balls with its Professional and Tour Balata wound models. But it was always innovating, and towards the millennium it had experimented with a number of prototype multi-component balls. By early 2000, the experts at Titleist had singled out one of those prototypes and earmarked it as having particular potential.
It had a solid core, a surlyn casing and a urethane cover featuring a 392-dimple icosahedral pattern.
In testing, the feedback from the pros was outstanding and they wanted to put it in play as soon as possible. Titleist needed to give the ball a name to get it on to the USGA’s conforming balls list. It quickly came up with Pro V1 – Pro being professional, V being the urethane veneer and 1 because it was the first.
It was a temporary name, or so they thought…
When the guys at Titleist told the pros, they liked it and it stuck. The Pro V1 is the single most successful piece of golf equipment in the history of the game.
2010s – Distance measuring devices (DMDs)
Although DMDs were around before 2010, the last decade was the one in which they became ubiquitous. By the end of 2019, almost every golfer had some sort of DMD, whether a GPS unit or a laser rangefinder. Rangefinders work simply by pointing at a target, bouncing a laser off it and noting the yardage. GPS units can be handheld, attached to a bag or worn as a watch.
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