Road Trip !!!
San Diego '98
Copyright Dave Tutelman - August 30,
All rights reserved
Last week (8/8/98 - 8/15/98) my wife Honey and I went to southern California
to visit relatives. But I did manage to slip in a few golf-related
activities. And they made for a much more exciting vacation than I
was expecting. The golf highlights were:
- Eighteen holes at Torrey Pines.
- A tour of the Taylor Made facility, and a
visit with Dick Rugge.
- A tour of the Callaway facility, and a visit
with Dick Helmstetter and Alastair Cochran.
For years, I had corresponded with Dale Winstead, whom I knew from rec.sport.golf.
I had promised him I'd look him up when I got to San Diego, so I dropped
him some Email the week before vacation. Unfortunately, he was on
vacation that week, and didn't discover my Email till he returned the week
I was there -- and I was incommunicado from my own Email. Fortunately,
I had given him my sister's Email as a "reach" address; turns
out she works for the same company as Dale in the next building, so we had
no trouble contacting one another.
My schedule for the week was filling up fast, so Dale tried for some
tee times hoping for something we both could make. He came up with
Miramar (his home course) or a mid-afternoon tee time at Torrey Pines.
No contest! Given an opportunity to play San Diego's
most famous course, I wasn't going home without taking it. We were
very lucky to pick up -- on very short notice -- the last tee time of the
day with a chance to finish 18 holes.
Dale was the perfect host, meeting me at the appointed time with a second
set of clubs parked on a pull-cart for me. We got acquainted while
putting on the practice green for about 20 minutes, until the starter called
Torrey is a wonderful course for scenery. We played the North Course;
it's not as hard as the South, but more scenic (more holes along the ocean)
and more enjoyable for a mid-handicapper like me. Both courses are
used in the annual PGA event played there, but only the South on the weekend.
You're always concious of the Pacific Ocean just down the cliffs through
the ice plant and pines. You better be concious of it;
as Dale warned me, every green breaks that way. Forget where the ocean
is, and you're guaranteed to miss the putt. The signature sixth hole
is breathtaking. It's a par-3 from a seriously elevated tee, to a
narrow green with a bunker on the right, and nothing on the left but ice-plant-covered
canyon. There's a big tree to stop your ball from going over the cliffs
if you airmail the green. And beyond the tree is the Pacific, with
La Jolla in the left of this picture postcard.
And the kikuyu rough! When Gary McCord describes kikuyu grass as
"bermuda on steroids", you better believe it. Early in the
round, I tried to hit a ball that was "down" in the rough, with
a 5-iron; it felt like I hit it well, and the divot said I hit it well,
but it only went 6 feet. The next time I tried a 7-iron, with a similar
result. By the back nine, I realized that anything but an "up"
lie in this rough required a wedge. And it wasn't all that deep; it
must be murder when they let it grow for the pros. (The third time
I hit a shot less than ten yards, Dale consolingly explained, "Kikuyu."
I replied, "Kiku-yu, too!" No? Guess you hadda be
As the afternoon waned, the wildlife came out onto the course from the
canyons between the fairways and the ocean. Loads of jackrabbits cluttered
the teeing areas and the rough. With that many bunnies, there must
be some predators. Sure enough, we saw a coyote near the twelfth tee.
He watched us carefully from a distance of maybe twenty feet, but didn't
run away. Once he was convinced we were not going to bother him, he
turned his attention back to the long-eared snacks.
On the seventeenth tee, the highest point on the course, we watched a
red sun sinking to the Pacific, meeting its reflection at the horizon.
Beautiful as it was, I guess I was more distracted than inspired.
I made a triple-bogey mess of the hole, including drowning a ball in the
only water that's actually in play on the course. (While it's easy
to go over the cliffs on Torrey's ocean holes, there's enough slope and
vegetation that the ocean isn't really in play.) We played the eighteenth
in darkness, depending mostly on feel to determine the direction of the
ball. Even so, I recovered to par the par-five. A good way to
I did have a "clubmaker moment" in all this. The clubs
Dale brought for me were a set he made for himself several years ago, and
has since replaced. They were Golfsmith Square-Toe Blades on Dynamic
Stiffs. I found that, while I was hitting the short irons fine, I
was pull-hooking the middle and long irons. Consistently. Disastrously
(remember that kikuyu rough). On the fourth tee, Dale mentioned that
he had built them moment-of-inertia matched. I said, "Then I
know how to hit them," and proceeded to hit a long 3-iron with a bit
of fade. From then on, I was fine with the irons. The secret
was that I knew MOI-matched clubs need to be played from the same point
in the stance. I was hitting the PW and 9i fine from the middle of
my stance, so I started playing all the irons from there.
Thanks for a great day, Dale.
I had made plans to finally meet Dick Rugge, with whom I've corresponded
by Email for several years. Dick is the Director of R&D for Taylor
Made, and I visited him in his office at TM's factory in Carlsbad.
Dick is originally from the area where I live, and he learned to play golf
at a course where Honey and I frequently play. Before we settled down
to talking golf clubs, we had a good time reminiscing about Colonial Terrace
One interesting thing I learned was the backgrounds of the engineering
staff at Taylor Made. The high-end golf club industry took off just
about the same time that the defense and aerospace industries were being
downsized by government spending cuts. Southern California was particularly
hard hit. That put a lot of resumes into circulation for engineers
with backgrounds in space-age composites (e.g.- graphite/epoxy) and space-age
metals (e.g.- titanium). So the current makeup of a modern, high performance
golf club is as much a factor of political history as of technology.
In addition to the "rocket scientists", the other engineering
background Taylor Made employs is design engineering, including automotive
designers; how can Detroit compare with San Diego as a work location?
And Dick himself has a background in quality engineering and management.
We talked a little about the market trends in new clubs, which gave me
an opportunity to ask him how to pronounce "maraging" -- which
I've seen in print, but not heard spoken by anybody I trusted. He
explained that it's short for "martensite aging", a metallurgical
process for imparting great hardness and strength to steel. So it's
actually two words: "mar-aging", which is the key to pronouncing
it. BTW, he pointed out that the clubheads currently on the market
use a super-strong steel alloy, but not a martensite-aged steel; so while
the properties are similar to "mar-aged" steel, it really isn't.
Tour of R&D and prototyping lab
Taylor Made's R&D is a modern CAD/CAM setup. The engineering
stations have high-powered workstations with full CAD (Computer-Aided Design)
capability. I saw one designer working with "wire frame"
pictures on his screen, that could be converted to color "photos"
of the head at the touch of a button. While I'm in the computer field,
it has been a while since I looked at a professional CAD station.
I'm amazed at the speed and responsiveness of the current technology.
The CAD programs look like conventional design stations. But behind
the design is a full analysis of mass and strength properties. Tweak
the shape of the sole, and you'll not only change the look, but get a report
on the change of CG, moment of inertia, any strength implications, etc.
When a design in the computer is ready for prototyping, the file describing
it goes to the next room, the CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) lab.
The file can be used to control a CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled)
milling machine, to create a look-alike head. This is done in a softer
material than stainless steel or titanium; the head is for shape impressions
(yes, they do put a shaft on it and ask pros what they think), but not for
hitting golf balls.
But they do have a way to make a prototype head that will hit balls.
Remember that their clubs, like most these days, are cast using the "lost
wax" method. They can make a wax version of the computer file
using a CNC machine that deposits a three-dimensional wax figure.
They build up a wax positive, then use it as the input to a prototype foundry
to cast the head in steel or titanium.
They have a shaft prototyping lab as well, where they can make full-scale,
full-performance shafts. The Bubble Shaft is Taylor Made's own design,
and is built using their own process. The difference is in how the
graphite/epoxy mix is held in place during curing:
- In the conventional process, the epoxy-impregnated sheet is wrapped
around a mandrel, which is the "mold" for the inside diameter
of the shaft. Then heat-shrink tubing is placed over the assembly
and shrunk, so it presses the graphite/epoxy into place around the mandrel.
- In Taylor-Made's process, the mandrel is slipped into a flexible sheath
(no wisecracks, guys) before the graphite/epoxy is wrapped on it.
Then the combination is put into a precision internal mold, and the flexible
sheath is inflated to press it outward against the mold.
The advantages of the Taylor Made process are (1) a higher pressure can
be obtained than from heat-shrink tubing, so a more uniform, predictable
layup can be achieved, and (2) the precision mold is on the outside of the
shaft (where you want it) so the outside dimensions and finish are controlled,
not the inside.
Tour of assembly facility
The only components Taylor Made makes on premises are the prototypes.
The production components are subcontracted out, but to their design and
specs -- and, in the case of shafts -- their process. But they do
assemble the components into finished clubs at the plant.
It isn't the classical assembly-line setup. Each model has a short
assembly line, and all the short lines operate in parallel. Even though
it isn't one big assembly line, they do things quite differently from what
we know as custom clubmakers. For instance:
- The grip goes on the shaft before the head; more on that later.
- Several stations (gripping, epoxying the head) have lasers projecting
a red line on the club. This is used to align a "target point"
on the grip, so the finished club comes out with the grip, the shaft logo,
and the clubface all in the desired alignment.
- They pour epoxy into the hosel to assemble it, rather than smearing
it sparingly on the shaft. But there is method to their madness.
Before assembly, the shaft is plugged flush with the tip. Then a
pre-measured dose of epoxy and shafting beads is machine-injected into
the hosel. Then the shaft is jammed into the hosel, displacing the
epoxy mixture up around the shaft. It displaces because the tip is
plugged, so there's noplace else for it to go. The dose is just the
right size so it fills the ferrule coning, but doesn't leak out between
hosel and ferrule.
- As soon as the shaft is inserted into the hosel, it is put in a stand,
the shaft/grip combination is laser-aligned to the head, and the part of
the stand that wraps around the hosel heats it to 230*F. In two minutes
of accelerated curing, the club is ready to hit balls. While they
do use a specially formulated epoxy for optimal cure at two minutes, Dick
tells me that every epoxy will cure both stronger
and faster at elevated temperatures. In the case of the epoxy they
use, it would cure in 24 hours at room temperature (just like the Golfsmith
stuff); but the final shear strength would be much less than half the strength
that the accelerated-cure stuff has after two minutes.
- To my surprise, the last step is done exactly the same as we do.
The ferrule is taken down to meet the hosel by hand on a belt sander.
For all the discussions we indulge in about better ways to do this, Taylor
Made hasn't found one.
Near the assembly line is the "PGA Shop", where they do special
assembly or modifications for the clubs for the touring pros they sponsor.
Now here's the sort of stuff we'd be used to seeing: bending machines, grinders
for altering toplines and soles, bins of grips of most of the usual models
(yes, they had the corded green victories I prefer), etc. The clubs
in progress were on a rack, and the nameplate had a card in it marked "Lee
Janzen". Honey asked, "When they're done, you'll mail it
to him?" We were told, "When they're done, we'll deliver
it to him!"
Callaway has a standard tour of the plant, open to the general public.
Let me recommend it; I learned more than I expected to on the tour, and
came away with more respect for Callaway's quality control than I had when
I arrived. Besides that, it was real fun for an amateur clubmaker
to see how the big guys do it.
The tour started in the incoming inspection department. Callaway
buys all its parts; they too are an assembly company, not a foundry or a
shaft maker. They use over half a dozen foundries and another half
dozen shaft manufacturers as suppliers, who build components to Callaway's
specs. The shaft makers include several of "the usual suspects".
Incoming parts are inspected on a number of parameters. Weight,
for instance, is fully checked for all components. (I noticed that
the Great Big Bertha heads, being inspected when our group passed, weighed
in the 187-190 gram range; that's 10 grams lighter than we component clubmakers
would see on a driver head.) Other parameters are measured either
fully or on a sampled inspection basis. For instance, flex is checked
by statistical sampling, not full inspection.
They accelerate the curing process of the epoxy. Instead of a 24-hour
room-temperature cure, they give it one hour at 180*F. They have a
room-sized "oven", where they place an hour's worth of assembled
clubs on wheeled curing racks. At the end of an hour, they wheel out
the racks of cured clubs and wheel in a new set of racks. (I didn't
see The Changing Of The Racks, so I'm not sure how it works. I suspect
it's largely automatic. Certainly you couldn't send people in to do
it manually unless you cooled the whole room, which would be a big waste
of energy. Or maybe people with full thermal suits and masks...)
There's an interesting step toward the end of the assembly; they adjust
the swingweight remarkably precisely. The heads are made with a hole
in the sole. At the swingweighting station, the club is put in a "cradle"
which is a computer-input swingweight scale. The computer measures
the actual swingweight, and computes how much epoxy in the clubhead would
bring the swingweight to the target for that model club. It injects
that amount of epoxy into the hole. The the club is then oriented
so the epoxy gravitates to the heel while it cures. I asked our guide
how accurately the process swingweights the clubs; she said to within a
half a gram. I suspect she meant a half swingweight point, which is
plenty of precision even for a good custom clubmaker. Half a gram
would be a quarter of a swingweight point, overkill IMHO.
Callaway's design requires more manufacturing steps than most clubs.
The through-bore plug and the epoxy-swingweighting require an extra cure
step and an extra trip to the "grinding room", where the plugs
are cut flush with the sole.
You can order clubs to your own specs at no extra price. But there
must be an extra cost for Callaway, because it's handled on a separate,
much-lower-volume assembly line in their "special order" assembly
I saw the new Steelhead club. It's obviously Callaway's answer
to low-profile fairway woods, as you already know if you've seen the commercials.
The premise is that low-CG is good, but low profile isn't. The new clubs
promise a lower CG with a full-height face. The principle is a very
light crown and extra steel in the soleplate. I agree completely with
the design intent, but was skeptical about how well the club meets that
intent. I have since seen their numbers, and am impressed. For
instance, comparing the 13* strong-3 clubs, the Steelhead's CG is 14% (0.1")
lower than the Orlimar, while the face is 20% deeper. Just from the
numbers, the Steelhead would appear to be a better club from the tee and
the rough, and certainly no worse from the fairway. Assuming the numbers
really are representative of the clubs in question, they are probably pushing
the envelope moving mass around while preserving strength. Some interesting
things to watch over the coming year:
- Repair rates: did they leave enough safety margin? If you remember,
the early Big Berthas snapped graphite shafts. In addition to pioneering
the larger head, that model eventually pioneered the reinforced shaft tip.
Now we'll see how well reinforced the face, crown, and walls are, and still
allow that much steel to be moved to the sole.
- Clones: can't you just see the "Stealheads"? These
are likely to be, more than usual, a look-alike that can't deliver performance.
I suspect moving that much metal around will require more than the usual
dimensional control in casting, and clone foundries are more interested
in looks than specs.
While on the tour, I came to a possible speculative conclusion:
Callaway puts more control into heft feel than flex feel (complete incoming
weighing of shafts and heads, and a post-assembly swingweight trim, vs a
sampled inspection of flex). Do they believe that heft feel is more
important? It would appear so.
Since returning, I got some data confirming this speculation. Bob
Schreiner measured two sets of Big Bertha irons, an X-12 and a Tungsten-Titanium,
and sent me the swingweights and frequencies. The data shows that:
- Except for one tungsten-titanium, all the swingweights are in a 1-point
band. That's plus/minus a half swingweight point. Very good,
tight tolerances; I'm pleased when my sets come out that well matched.
By the way, the one iron outside the band is only a half point off.
- The frequencies of the X-12 are also remarkably tight (especially for
graphite shafts). All but one were within 3cpm of a best-fit Brunswick
slope; the one outlier was 6cpm off. Except for the outlier, that
would be good even for steel shafts. The Tungsten-Titaniums weren't quite
as good, with three of the clubs being 4cpm off, but nothing worse.
So the sampled inspection does let a few get through, but it's better than
anything I've seen in other OEM graphite-shafted clubs, and almost as good
as most companies' steel shafts. But it's clear that the sampled
inspection does let a few wild ones get through.
BTW, the swingweights were D-0. The best-fit Brunswick slope for
the data was a 4.0 for an "R" flex set, and 4.8 for a "Firm".
After the tour, I met Sam Nicolas (I believe he's the manager of R&D)
at the Test Center. He took Honey and me to a conference room, where
we were joined by:
- Dick Helmstetter, designer of the Big Bertha clubs. His title
is Senior Executive VP and Chief of New Products; you've seen him in Callaway's
ads on TV and in magazines.
- Alastair Cochran, author of "The Search for the Perfect Swing",
technical advisor to the R&A. His book was my primer on golf
club engineering when I started out, and there's still nothing around that's
nearly as good. He was apparently visiting California, and I just
lucked into the thrill of meeting him.
- Jeff Colton, Technical Advisor to Chief of New Products.
We talked for about an hour about the "hot topics" in club
technology. Among the topics we hit:
- The "springy clubface" controversy. This was -- obviously
-- the biggest discussion because it's the current hottest topic.
Some of the things I carried away:
- The energy-loss split between ball and clubhead is upwards of 95%-5%.
That's close to the assumptions in my "hardness" article.
- There is a 2-3% increase in initial ball velocity for some "modern"
clubs, compared with a perfectly rigid clubhead. (I extrapolated
this to a 5% distance increase;. Alastair thought it wasn't that much,
so I went back and calculated it -- using, of course, the equations in
Appendix I of his book. He was right; it was more like 4%.)
- "Physics sets the limit." This seems to have become
the club industry's mantra. They tend to ridicule the notion that
there will be big distance gains in the future from clubhead technology.
Yes, physics does set a limit; but I think it's incumbent on everyone to
make clear what that limit is. I'll do that calculation; the limit
set by physics (as opposed to current technology) can't be all that hard
to calculate. And if the limit is much beyond what we have already,
I think legislation is called for.
- Surveys of golfers (including an R&A survey cited by Alastair)
say that the game's constituency wants to have a single rule. So
a "baseball solution" (remember that professional baseball players
play with wooden bats, and everyone else aluminum) is not an acceptable
solution for golf clubs.
- We've all been making a lot of fun of Top-Flite's concept of a ball
that "matches" a club. But if the face flexes, it begins
to make some sense. You want the ball's vibrational frequency to
match the clubface's. (No, not the CPM of the whole club, but the
vibration of the clubface in the clubhead.) You want both to be rebounding
at the same time, not one rebounding while the other is absorbing.
So the idea of "impedance matching" a clubhead to a ball isn't
all that wild any more.
- Golf club technology seems to be outstripping the ability of the patent
office to police it. Dick cited a 1991 Japanese patent (issued in
the USA in 1997) that clearly has no merit. Not only is the analysis
flawed, but there were clubheads in the 1980s and earlier that "violated"
the patent. Even so, there are already some companies paying big
bucks in royalties. (What makes me think that Callaway would rather
fight than pay? :-)
- Measurement is becoming one of the big things in advancing the art
of club design. Callaway can now measure duration of impact to less
than a microsecond, closer than anybody else. (They had some unusual
and impressive-looking instruments that they hurried me past as we walked
to the conference room.) And of course, the coming battle over springy
faces will turn in large part on the precision of the test to measure the
effect of the clubface on ball velocity -- both the actual precision and
the precision that is generally believed by the public and the clubmakers.
At the end of an hour, Dick said that he had work yet to be done today,
and excused himself. On our way out, we saw him hitting balls at the
range. (Range? No, sorry, that's the Test Center. How
about a job where the system test lab is a driving range?) And I walked
away with a signed copy of my favorite book on golf science. Thanks
for inviting me, Sam; I'm still pinching myself.
How about comparing the way Callaway and Taylor Made build their clubs:
- Functional vs product organization: Callaway uses a functionally-oriented
"assembly line". Except for special orders, they have just
two lines (one for irons and one for metalwoods). Taylor Made has
a bunch of very small "lines", one per model, with no more than
one "functional" person per "line". A couple
of reasons for the difference:
- Callaway makes a lot more clubs per day.
- Callaway has more steps in the process. The through-bore and
the swingweight adjustment require an additional trip to the grinding room
and an additional cure step.
- Accelerated curing: Both elevate temperature for accelerated
curing. Taylor Made uses more elevation and faster cure (230*F @
2 minutes, vs 180*F @ 60 minutes).
- Head suppliers: Both use outside foundries, but primarily
or exclusively domestic US companies. Taylor Made's foundries are
a subset of Callaway's.