Big buzz for adjustable clubs

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

ORLANDO -- It's miles of aisles at the massive PGA Merchandise Show, where all that is new and wonderful in golf is introduced.

Sore feet and an aching back are the price you pay for participating in this annual three-day marathon that took place last week, but the greatest occupational hazard for somebody who has been hoofing it between booths for years can be cynicism.

In the past, show veterans have been introduced to titanium, oversized clubheads, hot clubfaces, low centre of gravity and the moment of inertia as main stories in the quest to find the ultimate weapon to lower scores and handicaps.

Just as you get your head around those ideas, a new technology is introduced as the latest and greatest. This year, the buzz is all about adjustable clubs.

The United States Golf Association, which rules on equipment matters in North America, has allowed for more forms of club adjustability as long as any modification to a club does not occur during a round. The golf industry has quickly jumped on the bandwagon, which is just starting to roll.

Callaway, for example, has introduced I-Mix Technology, which allows players to customize their driver through the use of interchangeable heads and shafts.

If, for example, it's a windy day, a golfer now will be able to change to a lower-lofted head to minimize the effects of the gusts, or if it's a cold day, the user can change to a shaft better-suited to the weather.

"It's absolutely technology. It's not marketing," said Scott Reid, managing director for Callaway Golf Canada. "It's designed to enhance a person's game.

"You have the option to have a different shaft or a different head or different (centre of gravity) bias in the head, a soft shaft, a stiff shaft depending on playing conditions, tight courses, wide courses," he said.

Last week, TaylorMade introduced its r7 CGB Max Limited driver that incorporates three changeable shafts and nine changeable weights in the head to customize that product to specific individual needs. By the time next year's Orlando show rolls around, more such products are expected to be on display.

"I think all major (golf club companies) will have something," Reid said. "The question is who will have the best one?"

That's actually just one of the questions surrounding the introduction of adjustable clubs, which was the topic of discussion during a symposium at last week's Orlando show. The fact is that the golf industry doesn't know what to make of adjustable clubs right now and the 2008 season will tell the story.

Clubs already were becoming more adjustable after the introduction in recent years of moveable weight technology, which allows players to move weight around in the clubhead to promote specific shot shapes such as draws or fades.

It's believed, however, that many golfers didn't tinker with the clubs after setting up their desired weighting, so will the same hold true now that adjustability has gone to a new level?

"I would say that the company that made the adjustable weights made it probably a little too labour intensive," Reid said.

However, Dick Rugge, senior technical director for the USGA, pointed out at the symposium that the association didn't want it too easy to adjust the clubs for fear that players could potentially tinker with them during a round, leading to an unfair advantage.

So, what's the profile of somebody who buys into the new generation of adjustable clubs? "I believe it will be the better players out of the gate, or the tinkerers," said Reid, adding that there could be a trickle-down effect when other golfers see the lower handicappers adjusting their clubs.

The questions don't end there. What about price with all of those components and a possible recession ahead in the United States and a slower economy forecasted for Canada? Even in the good times, affordability has been a big issue in golf.

What about proper club fitting, a practice that manufacturers and golf professionals have been promoting for years? Will golfers be concerned with the proper loft and shaft for their games anymore when they will be considering several different options with adjustable clubs, which could conceivably be bought online?

As more companies get into the adjustable clubs, will there be a universal connection between heads and shafts? The questions go on and on and Reid admits that the introduction of the adjustable clubs is an experiment that his company will be watching closely in 2008.

"We see it as a test," Reid said. "We're enlisting the opinions of our retailers. When it comes out, we'll be monitoring it closely."


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