Why Golf Has Changed
People have been golfing for more than 600 years. Golf used to be a sport that was played with leather bags stuffed with feathers, or a wooden ball carved to be round. These rudimentary balls were then struck with a wooden stick with some sort of club carved into the end. It is hard to imagine those players from centuries past knowing exactly where the ball was going to fly, and they probably didn’t fly very far. Needless to say, golf has come a long way.
Along the way, there have been some pretty remarkable improvements, even though many cannot compare to the modern equipment golfers know today. In the mid-1800s, golfers used the Gutty — a ball that was made with dried sap and could be formed into a perfectly round ball. Guttys didn’t fall apart or warp when played in the rain, and they could be more or less mass produced; whereas, a good craftsman might only be able to make five “feather” balls in a day.
Today, a golfer can walk into a store and choose from dozens of kinds of golf balls. If a golfer wants to shop online, he or she can literally find hundreds of options. Some golf balls are made specifically for senior citizens, some are made specifically for women, some balls are made to roll farther after they touch down, and others golf balls are made to check up better. The specificity and durability of modern golf balls would have been unthinkable for most golfers, even 50 years ago.
Just as golf balls have changed dramatically over the centuries, so have golf clubs. The shafts of golf clubs can be almost as individualized to a golfer as a golf ball. All golf clubs used to be made with hickory shafts, and the golf heads were also made from wood. Hickory was a strong wood, but its performance could not compare to shafts made today. In the 1920s, the policy-makers for golf allowed steel shafts to be used. Then, shafts became graphite, and the golf club became really specialized, and golf balls flew farther and more accurately when struck by a skilled golfer than they ever had before.
Shafts can help these golfers add consistency to the flight of the ball. Some golf shafts are for golfers who want to add distance to their golf shots. Some golfers have woods — not made from wood at all — that add distance, but irons are made to add accuracy to shots.
In 1990, the average drive on the PGA Tour was less than 265 yards. In 2015, the average distance was 290 yards. Many professional golfers now see that increase in distance, which a decade ago was most often seen from Tiger Woods. So many golfers hit balls farther, with Dustin Johnson leading the PGA with a 314-yard average in 2016, that the PGA Tour has made golf courses longer and more difficult.
One of the biggest changes golf has seen is the golf head. When Callaway Golf made the first Big Bertha driver, referred to as an “oversize” driver, it was 190cc, which was much larger than the average driver at the time. The maximum allowable driver today, per USGA rules, is 460cc. These bigger club heads allow the golfer to miss the “sweet spot” when they strike the ball, yet still drive the ball greater distances.
With the passage of time and the evolution of technology, the game of golf has changed, as have the golfers and their teams. Undoubtedly, technology will have a continuing impact on the sport as a whole as time goes on.
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