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Category Archives: Equipment

I’ve always had a kind of love/hate relationship with my driver and fairway woods.  I should say fairway wood, singular, because I don’t think I have ever carried more than one fairway wood, generally a spoon (ahh, the TaylorMade spoon, so great) or at most a 3-wood.  Historically my relationship with these creatures was only okay, sometimes dismal, rarely great, and even more rarely great with anything approaching consistency.

As I noted on the piece I did on the rest of my set, I have the exact same shaft and grip setup on ALL of my irons, including the gap wedge and including the sand wedge.  You will note that all of those shafts are STEEL shafts.

Once upon a time, people played with steel shafts in their woods, too.  Crazy, I know.  So you could have the exact same shaft through your WHOLE set.  Minds blown.  I have (still) the most beautiful Cleveland Classic persimmon (that’s a wood, kids, as in piece of dead tree) driver with a Dynamic Gold S400 steel shaft in it.  The head is about the size of my current 3-wood.  Gorgeous piece of golf furniture, that thing.  Nothing surpassed cracking a nice balata off the center of it.  But alas, along came the “metal wood” and graphite shafts.  The graphite wasn’t very good initially, and the metalwoods made a horrible ‘tink’ sound when you hit them (as opposed to the totally-satisfying ‘clank’ today’s Volkswagen-sized drivers make).  Along came Titanium shafts.  Which were awesome, actually.  Light, very low torque, but pricey.  Still, I loved the Ti.  Then graphite got better.  Slowly, then all of a sudden, no one played wooden clubs at all and they figured out how to make better titanium alloys and then figured out if you make the clubhead LARGER that would also make the sweetspot larger and then they figured bigger is always better and then the USGA said WHOA KIDS here’s where you’re gonna stop with this nonsense and wrote a bunch of rules about permissible volume of the clubheads or something and even more importantly there’s this thing called COR (coefficient of restitution) that we’re so awesome we can actually measure and here’s how much like a little trampoline you can actually legally have your club be.  Voila! and here we are today with these pumpkin-on-a-toothpick drivers that weigh 100 grams or something and graphite shafts in every possible transmogrification and Tour players who play 500-yard par fours driver-9-iron (though the 9-iron is generally from the rough).  Bomb-n-Gouge, Baby.  Thanks, technology.

During this time I had a number of more modern drivers after that delicious Cleveland persimmon, almost all of them purchased a generation or two old, and none of them all that tasty.  After I read the Wishon book, I bought a couple of his Graduated Roll drivers (GRT) from eBay (sorry, Tom) and had one of them shafted with a steel shaft (despite the rather strange look from my club guy) and the other with a 75-gram X-flex graphite shaft I’d had in another driver that I didn’t totally hate and hadn’t thrown in a lake yet.  The steel-shafted one was utterly unplayable – way too heavy.  The other one was reasonably playable, though sub-par and not in a good way.

What I always struggled with in the woods area was figuring out which of the 11,000,000 possible graphite shaft weight/flex/kickpoint/length/color configurations would match what I knew was the best setup in the rest of the set.  Should the graphite shaft in the driver be heavier? lighter? longer? shorter? stiffer? whippier? Forty-five inches? What? Easy there, Indiana Jones, put away the bullwhip. Soooo many stupid variables, and trial-and-error was exhausting and immensely frustrating (and not free $ either).

Eventually I had had enough struggling and found out that Titleist does fitting at their Test Facility in Acushnet, MA.  Since we spend a fair amount of time on Cape Cod every summer, it was an easy stop-over on my way down.  I booked an appointment for a Friday morning (they only did two per day, one morning and one afternoon when I did it) online.

The Test Facility is kind of hidden away in this residential area of Acushnet, and you’re driving through a couple curvy streets and wondering if you’re going the right way at all and whether your GPS is broken when you turn a corner and are met by a gate, a rather tall fence, and a guard tower (like in a prison movie).  Titleist does a lot of ball testing and other top secret work there, apparently, and take the security almost as seriously as the TSA, only effectively.  My name was on the list.

Inside the gates lies one of the most immaculate little golf practice facilities I have ever seen North of Augusta, Georgia.  Range area, practice greens, bunkers.  Two very nice chaps took me over to a very long tee in one corner, where there was a white tent and all the gadgetry and test clubs (you could also hit from under the tent in case it rained).  The launch monitor was a white panel that sat on the ground behind me, perhaps the size of a 20″ monitor standing vertically.  I warmed up and hit maybe 30-40 drives with my own driver, they noted the stats, and then they started handing me drivers.  Hit five balls, change shafts, hit five balls, repeat.  Find a combination that seems to work and keep hitting until it seems consistent in a good way.  Finally we narrowed it down to a pair of combinations that seemed pretty solid, and I hit each a dozen plus times, back and forth, tweaking, and then it was like magic.  Pew. Pew.  Long, high, straight arcs out into the gray sky and floating down gently onto the perfect fairway.  Just a touch of fade at the top.  Change, just a touch of draw at the top of the arc.  Unbelievable.  I felt like Charlton Heston and I had just been given two stone tablets after wandering in the desert for 40 years, and I’m not even religious.  (We then repeated the process with the 3-wood.)

After all this, I learned two things: one, it turned out that I didn’t need anything too exotic in the shaft department; my current one was simply too heavy and a tad too stiff, so I went from a 75-gram X shaft to a 55-gram S-shaft that was tipped an inch or two (I forget which).

At the end of the fitting, they give you the specs on paper (and via email) and you toodle off and order it through any pro shop that has a Titleist account (this way they’re not taking sales from their pro network.)  I also got to see the Iron Byron robots in the ball testing area, which was cool.  The whole thing took maybe an hour and a half.

Note: I didn’t think about this before going, but quite naturally they are going to fit you for TITLEIST clubs only, though the specs would be somewhat transportable.  You can go to be fit for woods only, irons only, wedges only, or any combination of those you want.

So this is the current love of my life:


Titleist 909D 10.5* driver, standard lie, Aldila NV-55 S-shaft, tipped an inch (or two).  White/black  GolfPride grip with an extra wrap, just like all the other clubs in the bag. There are, occasionally, days when I am certain using this club is cheating and I hit 12 or more fairways. Other days I just have a strong suspicion it’s cheating. What I can say with a straight face, is I have never, ever had driving days like that with any other driver I have ever had, even way back when I was young, played every day, and it never rained.

The companion 3-wood:

3woodTitleist 909F 3-wood, 15*, standard lie, gray Diamana 75-FW S-shaft, tipped not quite enough, but close.  Same grips as others.  I say “tipped not quite enough” because it is [still!] slightly off and if I don’t actively remind myself to swing slightly easier I WILL spray the ball into an adjacent county.  Whether it’s the county to the left, or the county to right is a toss-up.

BONUS: As I ordered both clubs late in the season (September), and Titleist had a new driver model coming out, they held my driver order (which was for the old model) in error. After they realized this (I called), another fellow there at the Titleist called me and apologized and asked me if I would like a free dozen personalized balls of my choice? Yes, please. They – accidentally, I assume – sent me two dozen ProV1x’s. (shhhhhhh.) Now THAT’S customer service.

Second in the series on my current set, this time the wedges.

My current pitching wedge is the one (surprise) from my set of irons, the Mizuno MP-37s.  This lovely little shovel has 47 degrees loft, and you already know the other specs for the set.  Nothing too surprising or revelatory here, but I will note that 47 degrees is, historically speaking, relatively strong for a pitching wedge.  Having come from an old set of Hogan irons, where the Equalizer (a somewhat — sorry, Ben — cheesy appellation they put on their pitching wedge) had 50 degrees of loft, so this newer one is actually practically a 9-iron [sigh].

For too many years recently, I played with just two wedges in my bag, a pitching wedge and a sand wedge, usually a 56 degree. More recently I must have sobered up enough at some point to realize this left me with an enormous yawning gap between these two clubs (in this case 9 degrees), and this created a double No Man’s Land: one between those two clubs and one under a full normal sand wedge.  Hence the “gap” wedge to fill in the former. Curiously, in my earlier days I DID carry a 55-degree Wilson Staff wedge along with a 60-degree sand wedge, so my set made sense: 50-55-60. Not sure why that ever changed as much as it did. I blame parenthood. Moving on.

To fill this pivotal gap, I chose the Snake Eyes 52 degree (same specs as other irons).

Now, this is the Original Snake Eyes, the amazingly solid wedge the company was founded on. As you can clearly tell from the phenomenal photograph, it has a reasonably narrow sole, not a lot of bounce, and is in general a functional example of modern art and purity.  While my current one is getting a little smooth in the grooves, I haven’t replaced it yet or purchased a backup from eBay.  My pathetically spartan playing schedule should keep this in my bag another decade or so at my present pace.

Next, the sand wedge, that most versatile of clubs.  Thank you, Mr. Sarazen, you wacky plus-fours-wearing genius/magician, may you rest in peace.

Gene Sarazen at Winchester (MA) CC. 1930's

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

For this probably-most-used of the iron weaponry, I have gone through a significant trial-by-error/experimentation/”science” process over the years.  My favorites were the original Cobra Phil Rodgers ones (dating myself here).  I think I wore out the grooves on three of those in high school and college, one chrome and two Rusty’s.  What a glorious weapon it was: sharp leading edge, just the right amount of bounce.  Sigh.  Of course, the fact that I used to hit 100 sand shots a day, plus hours of weekly short game practice (some involving wagering with other course rat friends of mine) had nothing to do with my being completely besotted with this club, or anything to do with why the bottom three grooves were gone.  Nope.  Nothing at all.

From the marvelous Mr. Rodger’s design, I was adrift for many years.  I spent quite a few years in a stable relationship with a Cleveland 56 (the 588, I believe, I’ll have to look in the storage bag).  Things were good, great at times, but never amazing.  More Clevelands, something in BeCu (MacGregor?), a few others I can’t remember, a lot of time playing with different shafts and grips and even grinding (read: ruining) one or more along the way until my gear-head pal in Michigan (Hi Slight Draw!) told me about Snake Eyes wedges, and I bought a handful of those.  Up until recently, I carried the 52 and either a 56 or a 60-degree.

The current love of my life is a Vokey Wedgeworks TVD-M 56 (same length/shaft/grip specs as other irons).

It is simply the best all-around wedge I have ever played, great from pretty much any kind of lie: soft, hard, long grass, short grass, open faced, flop, flip, punch, chip, you name it.  Some sort of wizardry in the sole design, I don’t know what it is, but it never ceases to amaze me how solid and versatile this club is.  The grooves, after many years of use, are STILL so sharp my ball look like it needs a haircut after.  When my 52 is ready for retirement, this little guy is gonna get a companion.

Final note on wedges.  While I will cover this in a future post on custom fitting, in my experience having the same shaft in ALL your irons is worth every penny.  That means either custom-ordering your sand/gap wedges with the right shaft in them or taking them somewhere and having the shaft replaced to match (or you could, of course, do it yourself.  It’s not that difficult.)  What you do not want to do (or go ahead, I’m not your Mom) is grab a new wedge out of Bob’s Barrel O’Wedges and just think it will work fine with whatever shaft happens to be in there (unless, of course, it coincidentally already IS the same shaft as the rest of your set, duh).  Every iron in my set has the same shaft and grip, and I feel like it has changed my game significantly, especially with the wedges and on partial shots.

Finally, the putter.  My current putter is a Never Compromise (the black/gray/black) GM2, the one that looks like a Ping Anser.  Easily the most “technological” putter I own (and one of two not-inexpensive ones.)

Putter_backBecause I am a golfing nomad and play at so many different courses, I have the one with the adjustable weights.  Extremely helpful.Putter_bottom

I go to the practice green before the round and assess the speed of the greens and then adjust the weight of the putter if necessary: more weight for slower greens, less for faster.  This model is adjustable from 330 to 360 grams.  I find it makes a surprisingly big difference. No adjusting once on the course, of course.

Never Compromise, like far too many of the manufacturers whose gear I respect, has gone through multiple owners, each gradually less interested in anything other than churning out as many sticks as quickly as they can for as much money as they can, has now landed in the Srixon family (along with Cleveland Golf. Sigh.) and makes some of the least aesthetically-pleasing putting creations I have yet seen. The “Dinero Series”? Really?  (Sorry.  I did promise to be positive on here.)

There are about a dozen putters in my storage bag, mostly older non-milled, non-grooved, wing-free, under $250 type stuff.  I have one Scotty Cameron (Newport Beach, Studio Stainless) I got for a present which, like the original Ping Anser (brass), is so light its awesomeness is only really appreciated on super-fast greens.  There are several Pings: Anser, Anser 2 (stainless), B60, and a Pal. An Acushnet Bullseye Pro, Wilson 8813 & 8802, and the trusty Zebra mallet in the original gray with white stripes (and the little black & white sock cover).  All these older models are simple, are amazing putters, and have been through the rotation at one time or another for extended duty. A few have been ground (and are now dandy canes), some have been reshafted (crazy difficult with a Ping), most have been regripped or at least covered with multiple layers of white athletic tape ala Scott Verplank.  (I thought that was genius, back in the day.  Grip slippery? Peel off a layer.  Or, hey, add another one. Boom. Done.)

Exit Poll: Why can’t I still buy the classic Anser 2 in stainless steel without grooves or colors or other sorts of tomfoolery?  WHY PING?  WHY?  That was an amazing putter, just ask Greg Norman.  Why does every putter today have to be “milled” of some insane alloy developed by a joint venture between NASA, Boeing, the Ukrainian Technical Institute, and a hobbyist engineer named Irving from Pasadena?  Or be some unnatural color(s) or shaped like a bizarre spaceship or prehistoric insect?   Or, if it’s NOT a combination of those things, it still MUST cost a minimum of $200, and preferably $350.  WHY?   Rhetorical question, children.  Because people who have too much money are willing to spend $350 on a putter.  And there are apparently a LOT of these people.  I am not one of them.  Perhaps you’re one of them.  It’s a semi-free country, go right ahead.   Free market, I get it.  But does that mean these creations have to be the ONLY choice I have?  Can’t Ping dash off a few of the classics each year?  Please?

Next up in this series: Marmaduke and The Truant.  (The next post chronologically will more likely venture off into the rough on a different topic, though.)

This is the first in a series based on the clubs I currently play, beginning with the irons.

I have hit many, many different types and brands of irons over the years. I prefer blades for many reasons. The purity of the feedback.  The ability to work the ball.  The simple, functional, and (generally) aesthetically pleasing design.  Mainly it’s the indescribably satisfying feeling when you hit one well.

The look of most cavity-back irons, and most non-blade irons, does not appeal to me.  The fat top lines.  The offset.  The curiously similar feeling with each shot, no matter where on the clubface contact was made.  The more difficult and less predictable workability.  Let me be clear: this is my personal preference and I am not criticizing these clubs as choices; play whatever you like that makes you happy.

When I decided the time had come for a new set, I looked at all the then-current blade offerings. One sad part of this overly-lengthy tale is that Hogan no longer made a nice, compact player’s blade (and then promptly went away altogether in 2008, although the name will be revived in 2015! )  So I looked at Mizuno and Cleveland and Wilson and Titleist and KZG and everyone else who still made something in the blade category. I ended up choosing the Mizuno MP-37 because I had played a couple rounds with some MP-33’s years ago and found them very solid (but out of production), and because the Titleist blades for that particular year I didn’t find aesthetically pleasing. (I did almost order the KZG ZO blades, which are so puritanically beautiful, but that’s a story for my post on club-fitting, so stay tuned.) I ordered the Mizunos to my specs through a local pro.

The Mizuno MP-37 blades, 2-iron through wedge, are in my bag today. I would link you to them on the Mizuno site, but sadly they don’t make them any more. Not too sadly, however, as the MP-4 in the current lineup is gorgeous. For the MP-37, you’ll have to make do with the glorious photo, above, of my eight iron.

My set of MP-37’s is slightly customized based on a fitting I had done through a Wishon club fitter I found on his website after reading his book The Search for the Perfect Golf Club.

My specs are pretty close to standard: 0.25″ long, standard loft & lie, one wrap oversized grip. Shafts are True Temper’s awesome Dynamic Gold Sensicore, X100 flex. Grips are Golf Pride New Decade Multicompound White, mounted label down.

Why did I pick the Mizuno MP-37? We’ll get to that, but first some history.

Since I was a lad, I have played Hogan irons. The first golf book I read, and one of the only instructional books I have read, was Ben Hogan’s Power Golf, recommended by my father. With that, I became a huge Hogan fan.

My first full, real set was a new set of Hogan Radials I paid for with my own money. (What I was thinking, looking back, I have no idea. So ugly. Google it if you want to see the horror show.) I traded those in after a few years on a used set of 1978 Hogan Medallions, which had clearly been used by a pretty good player as the sweet spots were little convex circles. I happily played with those for a few years, until a friend of mine sold me a set of Hogan Apex PCs out of the trunk of his car, brand new. I played with those through college, despite the fact that the sweet spots on them was a fraction the size of the Medallions. After college, once I had a real job, I discovered this phenomenal place called The GolfWorks, which did iron rechroming. I used a hole punch, a hammer, and a roll of electrical tape on my garage floor to remove the pins, pulled the heads, and sent them off the The GolfWorks to be rechromed. One of the little bronze Hogan head inserts was missing from the back of one of the clubs, and they even found a replacement for that (like I said, they’re amazing), and when the clubs returned they were pristine. I had the local chaps pop some Apex 5 shafts in, throw on some grips, and off I went with a brand-new set of nearly-20-year-old irons (at the time.)

I played with those up until I read Tom Wishon’s book.  I have always been a club tinkerer, re-gripping clubs in different sizes, grinding things (a disaster, mainly), switching shafts, and playing (again, badly) with lead tape.  I loved the detail and logic of his book so much – finally I got answers and science!  – that I then promptly scampered out and got fitted properly by a local fitting ninja I found via the Wishon website. I’ll be doing a post on my experience with clubfittings and why I found it so very very helpful.

In terms shaft selection, for the Mizunos I chose the Dynamic Gold Sensicore for the vibration reduction, in X100 flex. I love them and they work for me. If I were a Tour Pro, I could spend days on the range with a launch monitor and four guys with pocket protectors and clipboards and racks of clubs while one of my minions placed each ball for me just so and hit dozens of different shafts and figure out the absolute optimal choice. Sadly, I am not a Tour Pro.

I switched to extra-stiff shafts (first the Apex 5 and now the X100) to hit the ball straighter, even though it does cost me some distance versus a more flexible shaft like an S300. I will happily sacrifice distance for accuracy in irons. I hit a normal 7-iron 165 yards, which is plenty far enough.  Hitting my irons farther just leaves me with a bigger and bigger “no-man’s” land into the green where I have to hit partial shots. I don’t like partial shots.  I don’t need or want to hit a pitching wedge 150 yards like I used to.  (Stay tuned for a piece I have in the queue on loft inflation in irons.  Very edgy, controversial stuff to come here on CG.)

I chose the white Golf Pride grips, they’re standard .600 round, but I did have them mounted label down just to minimize that particular distraction. If you’ve ever played with a crooked label grip, you know what I mean. I used to do my own regripping, so I may be overly familiar with this flaw.

In the end, one of the best parts of getting the new clubs was when I brought them to the Dominican Republic for a tournament I had been invited to play in. This was in March, so it was the first time I had hit a ball in six months, and the first time I had hit any of the new clubs. My playing partner met me on the range before the first round, and I proceeded to take all the plastic wrap off each individual club.  It was like opening nine awesome birthday presents.  His commentary was highly entertaining (as it generally is). I have been playing them ever since.

Up next in this Series: Wedges.  Or maybe woods.

Photo source: Custom Grinds