Just how much will the latest golf equipment improve your performance? What are the latest trends? Can equipment evolve much more than it already has? Read on to see what golf experts say on the latest trends, how they improve your game, and the influence they have on the future of one of the oldest sports in the world.

Improving Your Game

Frank Thomas spent 26 years as the technical director for the U.S. Golf Association (USGA), testing and ruling on virtually every club and ball that emerged in the sport within the past three decades. Today he spends his time helping golfers improve their skills and understand how their equipment can best serve them. He speaks to groups on an international level and runs Franklygolf.com, a Web site where golfers can find current equipment information. 

“We’ve reached an optimum point where equipment fits the human body,” Thomas says. “Science entered the game 25 years ago, and with today’s computer technology and innovative materials, designers have been able to create highly efficient and customized equipment.” 

“But it’s not improving as significantly right now; we’ve reached a point where improvement has almost peaked out,” Thomas says.      

Thomas reports that the golf ball has improved steadily for the past 100 years, increasing resiliency and aerodynamics. “We really can’t improve much more on the ball,” he says. “In the future, you will see more customization for swing velocities and different skill levels.” 

According to Thomas, clubs have changed but their overall improvement has not shifted greatly. Today’s clubs are lighter; their shape and center of gravity have evolved causing clubs to be far more forgiving and allowing golfers to drive the ball much farther and straighter than ever before.

What Makes the Most of a Golf Game?

What has been the greatest improvement? “Distance, distance, distance,” says Brent Kelley, editor of About.com’s Golf Web site.

“Today's technologies in both clubs and balls have added a lot of distance to the game,” Kelley says. “In 1980, the PGA Tour's leader in average driving distance was averaging 274.3 yards off the tee. That would rank No. 201 on the 2006 PGA Tour. In 1990, the leading driving average was 279.6 yards. That would rank No. 180 in 2006.”

Thomas reports that from 1995 to 2005 pro golfers were able to increase their drive by 25 to 30 yards, whereas the average golfer only gained about 10 yards. “The average golfer has not benefited as much,” he says. 

With distance as the focus, “there is much less emphasis on ‘working the ball,’” Kelley says, which means accuracy has not improved on pace with distance. 

“For the pro, the new technology has changed the way most of them approach tournament golf. In the ‘old days,’ pros placed a higher value on accuracy than on distance… Today, distance is probably as important --- maybe even more important, at least off the tee --- than accuracy on the PGA Tour, as far as driving is concerned,” Kelley explains.

Because of the increase in distance, golf course designers have been dramatically lengthening courses, and even existing courses have been retrofitting to accommodate the new expectations. Most courses are now designed at 7,000 yards or more, which has become the new standard. Along with the increase in distance, the increase in offline shots is up, which has also prompted designers to increase space between holes for safety precautions. 

“Distance has been very difficult on the average golfer’s ego,” Thomas says. “They think they should be playing distance like the pros, and in fact, many golfers are not enjoying the game as much as they used to. We’ve seen a decline in number of rounds played for the past six years.”

Finding the Right Equipment

Both Kelley and Thomas agree that the right equipment can definitely help a golfer’s game. But Kelley reminds golfers that the impact in strokes saved really depends on finding the right equipment and the golfer's willingness to practice.

“Equipment is great, but the real key to improving your scores is learning the right way to swing, and practicing. That means taking lessons and hitting the driving range and practice green,” Kelley says.

Thomas believes the future golfers will see changes in how sets of clubs are marketed and sold. “You’ll see hybrid clubs — combos of club and wood — which are very forgiving, taking the place of long irons. Designers are now considering how to best develop a set of clubs.” 

Kelley predicts that the next big thing that's going to change the market will be the introduction of square-headed drivers. Instead of the customary half-moon shape, the square-headed drivers square off the rear curvature to produce a boxy look. 

“The first square-headed driver from a major manufacturer to hit the market is the Nike Sasquatch Sumo2,” Kelley reports. “Callaway is believed to be making a square-headed version of its Fusion driver. Expect most of the other major manufacturers to follow suit.”

Kelley explains that the square-headed shape allows club designers to add more mass to the rear of the clubhead, which pushes the center of gravity away from the clubface and increases the club's moment of inertia (MOI). MOI is key. The higher a club's MOI, the more "forgiving" it is. “That means that a golfer's mis-hits won't be quite as bad as they would have been with a lower-MOI club.”

“Make sure you're buying a set of clubs that is appropriate for your skill level,” Kelley advises. He recommends finding a golf shop that can assist you in determining your game style and skills.

“Once you've decided on an appropriate set, the second important thing to do is to be custom fit for that set. Get a clubfitting!” Kelley says. Many golfers make the mistake of buying off-the-rack clubs which are manufactured to a standard size and do not take into account individual variations in height, weight, or swing styles. 

“A golfer can have the perfect set of clubs, but if they don't fit his body or his swing, they won't be helping they way they should,” Kelley says.

Wade Hanson, of Woodbury, Minnesota, has been a long-time student of golf and an avid golfer. The former real estate executive now runs his own Web site and hits the green every chance he gets. 

“Things have drastically changed,” Hanson says. “The custom fit has really improved. You want your equipment to feel comfortable.”

“It’s a mindset, really. New equipment increases your confidence. We all buy that new club each year certain it will improve our game… and every year it does,” Hanson says with a grin.