Will You Get Adjusted?

 

In March of 2005, the landscape of the golf equipment industry made a notable shift.  It was at that time that the United States Golf Association, one of the leading bodies that sets the Rules of Golf (along with the R&A and the Royal Canadian Golf Association), indicated that they were considering a major amendment to the Rules with respect to club adjustability.

Until then the Rules of Golf outlined that woods and irons must not be designed to be adjustable, except for weight.  While that did not limit the creative imaginations that are employed by many golf manufacturers, it did set some definite boundaries in club design.  As of January 1st, 2008, this rule is no longer in effect and the result will be highly noticeable by golfers this season.  Few people have the answers about how this might change the game but there are certainly a lot of questions that have surfaced.

If you have not paid any attention to the rules of adjustable golf clubs up until now, it might just be time to drag out the new Rulebook and reference Appendix II, 1.b. Adjustability.

Prior to 2008, the Rule regarding club adjustability read like this:

Woods and irons must not be designed to be adjustable except for weight.  Putters may be designed to be adjustable for weight and some other forms of adjustability are also permitted.  All methods of adjustment permitted by the Rules require that:

 

i. The adjustment cannot be readily made;

ii: All adjustable parts are firmly fixed and there is no reasonable likelihood of them working loose during a round; and

iii:  All configurations of adjustment conform with the Rules.

 

The disqualification penalty for purposely changing the playing characteristics of a club during a stipulated round (Rule 4-2a) applies to all clubs including a putter.

 

The amended 2008 copy looks like this:

All clubs may incorporate mechanisms for weight adjustment.  Other forms of adjustability may also be permitted upon evaluation by the RCGA.

 

The following requirements apply to all permissible methods of adjustment:

i. The adjustment cannot be readily made;

ii. All adjustable parts are firmly fixed and there is no reasonable likelihood of them working loose during a round

iii. All configurations of adjustment conform with the Rules.

 

The disqualification penalty for purposely changing the playing characteristics of a club during a stipulated round (Rule 4-2a) applies to all clubs including a putter.

And before anyone gets excited about rounds of golf taking extra long due to golfers tinkering with clubs mid-round, be assured that golfers will still not be allowed to make adjustments during a stipulated round.

While all the respective governing bodies implement the Rules of Golf, the key player in the group is the United States Golf Association who has the wherewithal to do extensive equipment testing.  With the cooperation of the R&A and the RCGA, they take the lead and their driving force is Dick Rugge, the USGA Senior Technical Director, and a former golf club designer himself.

At the time of the proposed change Rugge said he believed it would benefit the game.  “After we informed club manufacturers that we were looking into relaxing this rule, some of them told us that allowing more club adjustment would allow them to create new types of golf clubs that could help average golfers.”  He continued, “The USGA believes that helping average golfers without taking away from the challenge of the game is a good thing for golf.”  “PGA Tour players have long had the opportunity to have their clubs adjusted or modified quickly and often.  This has allowed them to fit their clubs to their swings as they feel the need to do so.  By relaxing the rules to permit club adjustability, average golfers can enjoy similar fitting benefits.”

tm cgb r7 max
TaylorMade CGB R7 Max

At the recent PGA Merchandise Show (the annual showcase of new golf products), as part of a well attended Symposium on Club Adjustability, Rugge reiterated the emphasis for the new rule change.  “Part of our responsibility of seeing where we need to be vigilant and tighten down rules, or put caps in places, is that we also need to look at where we can relax rules.  We have relaxed rules before.  We have relaxed rules in putters in the past in terms of adjustable putters.  Adjustable putters have been allowed since 1992.  It became pretty obvious to us that, considering this, it is not so much about why we should allow adjustability, but why not? We see it as a benefit for golfers, no. 1 because it allows golfers the opportunity to obtain clubs that fit them better; that fit their swing better and maybe facilitates that a little more.  That is a good thing for golfers.  It creates opportunities for manufactures to come out with exciting products, new products and it allows retailers to once again touch their customers in good ways.  On the other side of that we don’t think there is much against it we think it is an all positive.  Hence we decided, after some serious consideration with our partners, the R&A…to open up the adjustability allowance for woods and irons much like we did for putters.”

Some critics and traditionalists think that Rugge was possibly trying to placate a sagging golf club manufacturing industry but he says that is not the case.  “The intention of this rule change is to bring additional benefits to golfers.  There was no intention of “appeasing” manufacturers in this ruling,” he stated when posed the question.

 

There have been few boundaries set on the new adjustability rules but immediately we are seeing manufacturers take on this wide-open landscape.  Previously, several had offered interchangeable shaft systems that were used only for fitting purposes (among them Henry-Griffitts, Versus Golf, and Nakashima) but now that those clubs are legal for play, many companies are quickly getting into the market segment.  Callaway Golf (I-MIX), TaylorMade Golf (r7 CGB Max Limited), and Nickent Golf (Evolver), for example, introduced new adjustable club systems at, or around the time of the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando this past January.  Most deal with the driver only for now, with the exception of Nickent Golf who has adjustable fairway woods and hybrids as well.

Callaway brought out their Opti-fit adjustable fitting system in 2006 but their new I-Mix System of drivers is designed for everyday use by the golfer.  The system provides head options in the FT-I and FT-5 families with a wide assortment of shafts.  Asked about the ruling and the opportunities it creates Jeff Colton, Senior Vice President of Research & Development, Callaway Golf was enthusiastic in his support. “We think it is a tremendous benefit to a certain set of golfers who are very familiar with experimenting with their equipment. Now instead of just a fitting device we now have a commercial opportunity”, remarked Colton.  “It gives the golfer an opportunity to optimize their golf equipment every time they head out on to the golf course. Whether it is has been raining and the course is wet, so you want to go up in loft or if you’re not feeling up to par that morning and you want to put in a little lighter shaft or (one with) a softer flex. Basically the driver is no longer a static piece of equipment and you can optimize it for whatever conditions you may be facing.”

Optimizing and a “particular market” are two key subjects in the adjustable club discussion.

First off, optimization has been a popular word in golf club circles, one that first surfaced with the advent of club fitting and subsequently, with the accepted use of launch monitors in the fitting process.  The new systems primarily address the club head and the shaft and provide innumerable options, but are that enough to provide a proper fit?  Golfers will have to be careful when they consider these systems if they are expecting a perfect match for their swing right out of the box, warn critics.

Ed Mitchell, world famous as the man behind Mitchell Golf, a company that builds tools for, and educates club builders says that consumers should be considering many more factors than just the combinations these new systems provide.  Mitchell has concerns about golfers thinking they can just fit themselves and then head to the store to buy a head and a couple shafts in a box.  “As we know, the professional is the backbone of the industry at the store front, whether at retail or the golf shop counter.  I think it is important that the fitting aspect of it is not lost. The words have been used that the consumer can get the ‘tour van experience’ by making use of these new systems but I think it is important for people to realize that the tour pros still get the professional help from the tour reps and the technicians that are out there.  It takes a professional to make sure that the fit is correct.”

Jeff Colton of Callaway agrees with Mitchell on that point.  “These systems are complex.  They might be a little intimidating to the average golfer.  Certainly leveraging the expertise of a fitting professional or a trained retail associate will be critical for the sustained success of systems like this.  We provide directional information.  It is not prescriptive.  Trial is still the best way to evaluate what a certain golf club configuration does for an individual.”

Nickent Evolver Driver
Nickent Evolver Driver

While a wide variety of club combinations are offered in these new shaft/head systems, making it easier to find the right club for you, noted club designer Tom Wishon makes a strong point that they still may not provide as exact fit as a golfer will need to get maximum performance from their clubs.  “If you are going to pick an interchangeable system you must pick one that incorporates changes in the interchangeability for length of the driver, enough loft angles, face angles to address the accuracy needs of the player, length and total weight and swing weight,” he warns.  Wishon’s position is a valid one and to a man, most manufacturers still emphasize that golfers will still need the help of a professional fitter to guide them through the maze of options.

Dissenting is some ways, Wishon’s comments lead us to look at the other side of the coin.  Not everyone is getting on the adjustable club head/shaft train.  One notable absence is from a leader in club fitting, Ping Golf, who have a new adjustable club fitting system but are not proponents of having those clubs in use during regular play…yet.  John K. Solheim, Vice President of Engineering for PING says they see the benefits of adjustability but just are not prepared to commit to it at a retail level right now.  “In the fitting process it is fantastic, it means we can have a cart with fewer heads and fewer shafts but can provide more fitting options.  That makes it easier for the smaller retailer to now provide fitting options.  We will leave our adjustable system in that area for now, retail is not immediately in our plans.”

With such a broad new frontier there are bound to be many concerns as adjustable technology moves ahead.  Questions have risen about many aspects including: standardization of the club head/shaft coupling between companies (all currently proprietary), tip size standards, how warranties on components will be dealt with, the future of epoxy club/shaft bonds, liability if a club head separates if a user does an improper installation (manufacturers say they have over-built the bond to eliminate failure on their end), and the possibility of counterfeit components and/or couplings appearing in the marketplace.  Nobody can deny that there are a lot of issues that are yet to be played out.

Taking another direction with the topic, currently most of the adjustability talk is surrounding systems that allow a golfer to quickly combine a head and shaft combination but that is just a narrow perspective of what this rules change offers.

The technology is amazing but not everybody will be convinced at the viability of the “adjustable club” market, until that is, they start to consider the other possibilities.  While many people are debating the high costs of the head/shaft systems (in the $500-$1000 range for a multiple head/shaft combo)and what many perceive as a product only targeted at a slim portion of the market, mostly avid players and early adopters of technology, others are thinking about adjustability at a different level.

Dick Rugge mentioned the opportunities that the rule would create for golfers and a prime example is the effect on junior golfers.  In 2005 OnTrack Sports debuted their Accu-Length adjustable golf clubs for youngsters.  A patented spacer system allows a set of clubs to be refitted when a young golfer grows. Each time a spacer is added, other important shaft qualities such as torque, flex and weight are all increased in proper proportion.   Now those kids can play their Accu-length clubs in sanctioned golf events year after year while saving their parents a lot of expense.

Rick Rutter is the President of On Track Sports and they have believed is adjustability even before the new ruling simply for the purpose of benefiting the junior golfer.  “Our vision at Accu-Length was to help grow the game of golf by allowing more kids to hit a quality golf club, by making it economically feasible for them to be properly sized for a longer period of time.  Our youth players just go back to the place they bought the set, and the adjustments are made for them for free.  We believe that positive things happen when we put youth golfers in contact with the industry professionals.  Logically, the sport cannot grow until the youth numbers grow.”

Whether the advent of adjustable golf club systems becomes a success will, in the end, be up to the consumer.  Several retailers we spoke with right after the introductions of the club head/shaft systems were intrigued by the possibilities but most are taking a wait and see attitude.  Most say that if the technology becomes more common and the price for the consumer drops they would expect to see more interest.  Others have vocally stated that it could be an inventory nightmare with so many proprietary shafts and heads required to be in stock.  How that all plays out is yet to be seen.

When you consider the big picture, a whole new world of golf equipment may develop very quickly.  There is already talk of clubs with adjustable lies, lofts, bounce and even interchangeable grip/handle combinations.  One shaft manufacturer quietly mentioned to Flagstick that there is possibility of a shaft that could be adjustable for flight characteristics.  As the imagination of the golf industry runs wild, it is interesting to note that even the people that set the rules are unsure of what may develop.

Asked whether just about any type of adjustability will be considered under the new rule, even the USGA’s Dick Rugge was not certain where things are heading.  “I would say we are not sure about that.  We purposely did not put limits at this point because if we did we would have more than likely put them on tighter than they needed to be….Out of this might evolve some guidelines, some limits, that we will put in place in the future but we really don’t have a vision of where those lines will be at this point.  Like we always do, we will evaluate new product on a case by basis.”

The Retail Line-Up

 

Callaway I-Mix

Industry giant Callaway jumps into the adjustable club fray with the I-MIX system.  Golfers can choose either the FT-I or FT-5 club heads and match them with a selection of popular and premium shafts to create the best club for them.  “More than 1,600 shaft-head combinations will give golfers the flexibility to quickly customize their driver to meet the varying challenges each individual round of golf presents,” the company states.   In addition to the club head and shaft options, I-MIX Technology includes Callaway Golf’s Opti-Fit(R) Weighting System, which lets golfers choose a Draw or Neutral center of gravity (CG) position to help counteract their most common swing flaws for longer and straighter drives.  www.mycallaway.ca

Nickent Golf Evolver

The 4DX Evolver IST (Interchangeable Shaft Technology) system from Nickent provides options in the driver, fairway wood, and hybrid clubs.  The standard retail package with will a driver head and two proprietary UST graphite shafts (one low launch, one high launch) in a box with the wrench you use for insert and removing the shaft.  Single shaft packages will also be sold with a wide line of shafts from major original equipment manufacturers available.  Driver loft options include 8, 9, 10.5, and 12 degree models.  www.nickentgolf.com

OnTrack AccuLength

The company offers four individual series of clubs, based on a child’s height, with a patented spacer system technology allowing the clubs to expand as the child grows for up to five years.  Parents save money, while children have adult quality clubs that can be continuously custom fit for the optimal golf experience.  For a reasonable price kids can have a great set that they will not outgrow in just a year.  Models are available for boys and girls.  www.acculength.com

TaylorMade r7 CGB Max Limited

Already heavily into club adjustability with the arrival of the original r7 Quad driver in 2004, TaylorMade takes it to another level with the introduction of the r7 CMG Max Limited. With nine changeable weights and three changeable shafts included, the r7 CGB MAX Limited offers a huge range of launch conditions.  The r7 CGB MAX Limited kit comes in a kit that includes a newly-developed titanium club head with three movable weight ports; three shafts, with distinctly different launch properties; two shaft-securing bolts; one 40 inch-pound torque wrench; nine movable weights and one headcover. The nine included weights allow for 357 CG locations. When you multiply that by three shafts, the result is an astonishing 1,071 possible sets of launch conditions.  www.taylormadegolf.com