You may recall that a few weeks ago I promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective) to discuss the remarkable advancements in fairway woods available this year. The new fairway woods (call them fairway metals if you wish—I won’t) are so truly “new” both in design and distance claims, I thought this would be easy to write, until I began wondering why fairway woods were suddenly stealing some of the driver distance marketing thunder. What’s so new in 2012? Well, I’d heard various theories as to why fairway woods got hot, but most of these theories were idiotic
So, I went to work researching the one rumor that had been given me by a reliable source as the reason fairway woods have taken such a big jump in distance this year: that the USGA restrictions on the permissible spring-like effect of a club face, or the Coefficient of Restitution (COR), do not apply to club heads under 410cc.
Despite the dubiousness of that proposition (i.e. they just figured this out?) I thought I should look into it--since I have billed myself as “The World’s Most Knowledgeable Person in the World.” I read a number of articles and blogs and became frustrated by the dearth of verifiable information out there. I also became irritated by the smugness of a few amateur physicists who seem to delight in the fact that they can make others feel stupid. But that’s a personal issue for me.
What you want to know is what I found out, so after hour upon hour of determined research, I glanced at my watch and realized… I’d only spent minute upon minute. Yeah, researching Coefficient of Restitution is boring. And I still hadn’t come any closer to finding an answer to why fairway tech is so hot this year. So, as is usually the case when I try to research something, as a last resort I turned to the source of information that I should’ve looked to first. In this case, that would be the USGA. Since there is, apparently, a “rule” limiting COR, I had the brilliant idea that I might find that rule in…THE USGA RULES OF GOLF. I tend to avoid reading the Rules of Golf not because of any aversion to rules, per se, but rather because I try to avoid reading anything that makes me embarrassed to be an American. The USGA Rules are so “lawyered up” as to be virtually indecipherable. I will share my opinion of the USGA some other day. For now, let me just say that I did manage to locate and read the rule.
Of course, the USGA doesn’t simply state the rule; they have to convert it to USGA-speak. Let me spare you the less than scintillating details. All club heads are subject to the COR limits which were established by the USGA way back in 1998, as measured by the Pendulum Test Protocol (do not try to read it—trust me), which now measures something called Characteristic Time (CT), more about which you neither want nor need to know. Suffice it to say that the maximum rebound effect for the face of a club, any club, is .830 COR, or 257 CT. So why, then are the new fairway woods so hot this year? Well, I can tell you it’s not just marketing hype.
What apparently happened is that engineers, being engineers, have been tinkering, and looking for ways in which to improve product—that is their job in the world of golf club design. Fairway woods have lagged behind in spring-like effect because of two factors, in my opinion. First, fairway woods are not as sexy as drivers. While we might boast that we’ve found a new fairway wood that really moves it out there, we do so only as an after thought. The second and probably more accurate reason is because of natural limitations imposed both by head composition and face size. Fairway woods are typically made from steel and the faces, being smaller, flex less. Consequently, fairway woods still have some room to grow in spring-like effect.
In 2012 designers have found ways to get closer to max COR without creating a fairway wood that costs as much as a driver. As a result, we have a host of new toys from which to choose. Club makers did this in a variety of ways, but the most significant developments involve thinner faces and the placement of slots or pockets in the club heads.
Nike started the trend toward incorporating “speed slots” behind the face of the fairway clubs a while back with the introduction in 2010 of a sole-positioned channel running parallel to the face. That channel, or slot, evidently allows more flex from the smaller faced clubs, thus increasing the COR to a number approaching USGA max of .830. Adams golf came out with its Speedline fairways late in 2011 and TaylorMade followed with its RockeBallz (RBZ) line earlier this year. In fact, TaylorMade announced in March that it was buying Adams Golf, so the technology developed between those two companies will now belong exclusively to TaylorMade. And while that is disappointing from the standpoint that it diminishes the likelihood of a nasty patent war (who doesn’t find those entertaining?), it did mean that TM could throw its not inconsiderable marketing might behind the new line of fairway woods. And that’s just what they’ve done.
TaylorMade tells us that “better players” gain 17 yards from their new RBZ fairway woods. That is an extreme distance gain for a fairway wood but one supported by my own experience when I tested a 14.5° RBZ Tour model 3 wood equipped with the stock Matrix® X-CON® 7 shaft. I will tell you that I hit the new RBZ almost as far as my driver. I won’t give you those distances for fear of humiliating you, thus causing you to quit the game and kind of defeating the purpose of this blog. But I can assure you the distance claim from TM is legitimate. That’s the good news.
The better news is that TM is not alone in developing new tech that improves the current crop of fairway woods. By moving weight around in thinner and lighter crowns, refining head aerodynamics, lowering center of gravity and developing ultra-thin faces, there’s some awesome new fairway club technology available from any number of manufacturers. Here are my favorites and a brief summary of the technology behind each.
- Speed pocket in the sole to boost ball speed across the face
- Low CG for high launch
- Both have VFT technology that increases the size of sweet spot
- RAZR Fit has adjustable face angles among neutral, open and closed
- Pro model has Variable Compression Channel to boost ball speed
- VR_S boasts ultra-thin and hot face via NexCOR technology
- Cobra claims its E9 Face technology enlarges sweet spot by 30%
- AMP model features 3 face-setting adjustability
- T-Rail has a tungsten rail sole and low CG for high launch
- Long Tom 2 has lightweight titanium face and body with 45” shaft
These are just some of the new fairway woods available at DGW. Check out all the new, super long technology available on our Fairway Woods pages today.