How Technology is Changing Golf Club Design
As a mechanical engineering student, I can attest that design and manufacturing are both constantly evolving and improving.
Technologies that seemed like distant possibilities a couple decades ago are now commonplace like machine learning and 3D printing. The golf industry is no exception to this trend.
In the last few decades we have seen the integration of composite materials like graphite, fiberglass, and carbon fiber into various golf equipment.
These new age materials provide equipment engineers and designers to manipulate the mass and characteristics of a golf club in ways that weren’t possible with a single material.
The price and availability of exotic materials like tungsten, titanium, and other metal alloys are also opening the doors for innovative and groundbreaking designs. It is useless to design a club with a materials cost so high that no one can actually afford it.
As industrialization, refinement, and other technological advances happen, the price of these materials decrease and make them viable options for golf club design.
Design in golf has transitioned far from its inception. At the beginning, golf equipment and clubs were almost more of an art form than a science.
Wooden clubs and hickory shafts were painstakingly handcrafted and assembled. Every club was as different and unique as the individual who crafted.
While there is beauty and art to that process, computer assisted design or CAD has allowed for much better design.
CAD software enables engineers to construct, modify, and artificially test various designs. Alongside rapid prototyping, this allows for much greater understanding and experimentation than was originally available.
These factors result in much better moments of inertias on modern golf clubs. Hence, the forgiveness of many modern clubs is drastically better than what was previously available before CAD software.
Callaway for example, has utilized machine learning or AI technology to help develop golf clubs. The Callaway Mavrik line was the first to feature such technology.
Here a computer can be given a set of parameters and independently solve for the best possible solution.
While this does not eliminate the need for quality human engineering teams, these processes can rapidly speed up the time and accuracy of typically time extensive design endeavors.
Since the development of metal clubs, most golf equipment has been limited by either forging or casting. Either way, every component must be able to be molded.
While casting and forging can be precise, it is not as precise as CNC milling. Milling used to be too cost prohibitive
and while 5+ axis mills are still excessively expensive. The price of these manufacturing tools have come down enough to be used by golf club designers
Golf putters were the first items to be CNC milled. Scotty Cameron, PING, Bettinardi, and other companies have putters available that are created by CNC milling a single block of metal.
These items have perfect grain structure and hence have very consistent feels. Today though, this amazing manufacturing technique is being utilized by Cobra to mill the face of their drivers.
This equates to unparalleled precision and accuracy when manufacturing face grain structure and measurements.
Overall, the multitude of advancements in technology have drastically changed the way and method that golf clubs are made. These advancements will not slow down either.
In the near future metal 3D printing will move beyond rapid prototyping and enable hollow designs never before feasible. Likewise, the precision and accuracy of manufacturing techniques will allow for even more complex and sophisticated CAD designs.
Every golf club on the shelf is more than just a piece of equipment. It is an example of modern engineering and a testament to the quality of engineers and manufacturers who produced it.