Golf Has No Monopoly on a Trend Toward Forgiving Equipment

Golf isn’t the only sport whose equipment has gone (or is going) through a trend of making it more forgiving. When applying for Lag’s class, I mentioned that I quickly gravitated toward traditional blade irons, even though I’m fairly new to the game. He asked me to post here my insights as why I did so.

For many years I’ve been playing a game called three-cushion billiards. For those who may not be familiar with the game, it’s played on a pocketless table which is slightly bigger than a pool table, and with three balls which are slightly bigger and heavier than pool balls. The object is to have your cue ball carom off of one of the other two balls and into the third. But before you complete the “carom,” or “billiard” as it’s also called, your cue ball must also hit at least three cushions, hence the name. As a side note, in the Foreword the Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons,” Sidney L. James writes, “…a veritable Willie Hoppe for accuracy on the greens.” Willie Hoppe was a billiard player, not a pool player, and held the World Three-Cushion Billiard Title for many years. He retired still as a champion in 1952.

Billiard players, much more than pool players–due to the much greater skill required to play the game–focus on equipment which yields as much feel as possible. For example, billiard shafts are conical from tip to joint, whereas pool shafts are cylindrical for the first 8 to 12 inches from the tip. The conical shape, while a little harder to slip through the fingers, provides for a much more solid contact. Joints on billiard cues are designed to lose as little feel as possible between the shaft and butt, whereas on pool cues they’re designed to look pretty and to be fast to screw and unscrew. You get the point.

The latest fad in pool–but not billiard–cue design is to make the shaft more forgiving. The motivation has to do with something called deflection. When a cue ball is struck left or right of center, two things happen. First side spin, called english, is put on the cue ball. Secondly, the cue ball takes off on a line slightly deflected from the target line. To experienced players, this deflection is intuitively accounted for through years of playing. You don’t think about it; you aren’t even aware that you’re accounting for it. Of course this is only true when you intentionally hit the ball off center to impart english. But what happens when you want to hit the cue ball on its vertical axis and accidently hit it slightly left or right of center? Well, the cue ball doesn’t go where you intended it to go. It deflects right or left.

A company called Predator has come along to create a shaft which produces low deflection for off center hits. To do this, they drill a hole from the tip of their shafts about four inches down. This hollow space towards the tip end of the shaft makes the shaft “tip light.” Now, when a cue ball is struck off center, the shaft deflects instead of the ball. Younger pool players (especially 9-ball players) love this. They can be less precise where they hit, and the cue ball still goes straight. However, there are at least two things that are paid for to gain this forgiveness. One is control and the other is feel. Using these shafts, it’s impossible to tell how much english is imparted on the cue ball when you want to hit it off center. Now most 9-ball pool players rarely hit with much english, and when they do, they don’t care about being too precise. However for a billiard player, knowing exactly how much english is imparted is absolutely vital.

As to feel, when using these hollow tip shafts, you lose the connection of feeling the tip hit the ball. Most pool players don’t care. They only know one stroke anyway, the short punch stroke, where you just kind of jab at the cue ball. Billiards players talk more about messaging the ball, stroking through the ball, and they need to learn dozens of different strokes. Feeling the tip on the ball is their life blood. Feeling this, and being able to really control the cue ball, is to me a great deal of what makes billiards fun and worth playing. This is also why I just knew I had to get blades.

Great post hanisch…traditional blades are generally regarded as an outmoded and inferior golf club hence the low price they attract on ebay ( unless I happen to be bidding for them). Yet, it is evident to the most basic analysis that they would provide the greatest feel, feedback and control. Sure, they may not 'forgive an OTT move as well, but equally in my humble experience, a bad shot is usually a bad shot whichever club you used to create it…I have some experience in this matter.

I have even recently been considering that the newer clubs actively prevents one from ever becoming a fine ball striker, not so much because they are ‘forgiving’ but because their very design may actively inhibit and discourage the swing that Lag teaches, the flat, shallow entry that we have seen so many of the greats perform.

I kind of like the new stuff. I cut my teeth on some Hogan blades- granted nothing feels finer! However, for some of us seasoned citizens age says “wait a minute dude not so fast.” Anyway…the range I manage gets in older, sometimes classic clubs, iron sets, woods that people just give us that we…are you ready? promise not to cringe? put into the range rack since they take more abuse. At least the irons do. When we reopen I’ll go thru our inventory of old, er “classic” stuff and see if there is anything that forum users might be interested. I’ll have to double check but I think maybe some of the older persimmons we bought for $1.00 a piece. We go through those older wood clubs breaking at about 2-3 clubs per day.

Will keep you guys posted RR

RR make sure you lock the range up well at night before me and some of the hardliners launch a liberation mission for those poor babies under the cover of darkness :wink: Only kidding :smiley: Would love to know what sort of things through away as junk!

Cheers, Arnie

Well we throw them away in that we let anyone use them but we do not actually throw anything away- we keep them in storage for future use/abuse. Have alot of stuff in our storage barn that I will go through and report back in April when the snow melts. Not sure exactly what’s there 'cuz I really don’t pay much attention to them—no time to during the season but I will check for you guys and will be on alert throughout the season. All kinds of people wanting to give us their old iron sets from every OEM you can think of 'cuz they just a new set of Adams or something.

I was at my local range this summer and while I was walking back to my car I walked by this late 50s, early 60s year old guy, dressed in jeans and a sweaty old dirty tee shirt. He had one club with him he was hitting. I slowed down as I walked behind him and there was something about his stance and posture that said “I need to see this guy hit it”. Pure…(self made swing) I noticed he was hitting an older Hogan blade. I said, “hey, your hitting an old hogan, huh”. He said he’s been driving a taxi for 18 straight hours and couldn’t wait to get out here and hit some shots. He was hitting a Hogan Medallion 3 iron. “what do you want to see?” he says, you want to see a slight fade, little right to left?, you tell me… I sat there and watched him work the ball each way for a few shots. I was impressed. I love seeing stuff like that. If you can work a ball on command with a good blade, it doesn’t get better. I love golf…

I get the feeling you’re not alone around these parts… great post

Arnie and all
Let me tell you a true story of how I started golf. In november 2005 just after a few weeks that some smart ass sales person was able to sell me a driver a 7 iron and a putter saying that was all I needed to begin golfing. I used to live in Flushing NY. So the next day I went to the little Pitch and Put course at the USTA complex. The guy told me to get out of there(literally) as the longest hole there is 80 yards and here I was with a driver. My ego bruised I went to a Sports Authority and bought a PW. The very first green I stood on made me jsut think I belonged here.
A few weeks later I was actually walking home after taking the bus from JFK (frm Toronto) with a bag in my hand. People in NY leave there unwanted stuff outside a little further from Trash just in case any one needs them. So here was this old bag full of some spalding blades and 4 persimmons in decent shape. It was quite a juggle to carry that golf bag along with my other bag for close to mile (and It was cold and I was dead tired but posessed).
I took those clubs to the nearby range and played them but obviously was utterly reprimanded by onlookers that those blades were not for me. So I bought myself new clubs and gave those to a passing by homeless person.
To this day I wish I had not.

Forgiving clubs are like paparazzi. Everyone blames them for everything they do, but realistically they just fill a strong demand, regardless of what negatives it brings. That demand might be slightly inflated by some outside forces (ie advertising you want what they can give), but if it’s really nothing like what people want, the people will pretty quickly vote with their wallets.