Many women golfers will start out using ladies’ clubs sold at major golf shops, but as they move up in skill level, begin to feel something lacking in those clubs, and will start to look for clubs designed for more advanced players. It can be difficult for women to find the kind of club they’re looking for among what’s available for women, though, and today, women golfers hoping to raise the level of their play usually end up selecting men’s clubs instead. This means dealing with longer, stiffer club shafts, which inevitably have to be shortened to tune them for women. That, in turn, changes both shaft stiffness and flex, making the club itself even more awkward to use. For women golfers struggling to understand what kind of club best suits them, and what kind of clubs they should be using, it comes down to finding the proper club shaft. To help answer that question, we spoke with the president of TRIPHAS, who was involved in the design of our shafts.
There are three types of points at which a shaft’s kickpoint will flex the most. With a softer tip and stiffer butt, the low kick type offers the largest angle resulting from the difference in gradient stiffness between the tip and the butt. The high kick type is found in shafts with little difference in stiffness between the tip and the butt, and where the gradient stiffness shows the least amount of change. The middle kick type falls somewhere in between.
Normally, a shaft’s gradient is controlled through the ratio between tip and butt stiffness. But in fact, this results in the problem of a change in the shaft’s flex value, or the frequency which indicates the shaft’s flexibility. Attempting to make any extreme changes in the ratio between tip and butt stiffness will cause changes in the low, middle, and high flex values, altering shaft stiffness, and resulting in a loss of overall balance. To alter the kickpoint without creating differences in stiffness, we have to think about not only the tip and butt, but the center as well. By creating a point in the center, the gradient in stiffness between the center and the butt can be used to separate low, middle, and high kickpoints. Since this involves changing only the center and the butt, no great change in stiffness results. Using a similar gradient from the center to the tip results in a slightly stiffer center, and a more flexible tip. In addition, looking only at the shaft from center to tip, the degree of tapering grows considerably larger, resulting in a low kickpoint when seen from the tip alone.
Amateur women golfers are likely to be more comfortable with a club that catches the ball easily, and since they tend to have less power than men, they can get more control using a club that returns properly, with a head that comes back smoothly.
Generally, it will be harder to catch the ball using a club with a high kickpoint. An overall high kickpoint will allow for a more flexible, comfortable through swing, but many people have the impression that because the head will not come back as smoothly, timing is more difficult.
What is needed in shafts for women then, is a good feeling to the club from center to butt, as well as a nice feel upon impact. It should also be designed to catch the ball on the head, or tip, return. In a sense, the feel and the head return are configured separately.
Normal low, middle, and high kickpoints each have their own characteristic feel, but the function of a shaft for women golfers needs to pay maximum attention to this "catch". To get catch on the ball, most golfers will try a low-kick shaft. But the butt of the typical low-kick shaft is generally too stiff, and while it may enable the golfer to better catch the ball, their timing will be off. Once the timing is off, this leads to a greater tendency to slice the ball.
From the viewpoint of ball catch, this accepted notion about low-kick shafts depends on the ability of the golfer to hit the ball cleanly. A shaft with a stiff butt will have much faster timing, which creates the problem of the head moving forward faster than expected, and failing to catch the ball as desired. Making the butt more flexible, however, results in a stiffer tip, worsening head return.
This is why it is necessary to approach this as two different issues, focusing on ball catch from the shaft center to the tip, and on feel and timing of the swing for the portion from the center to the butt.
Thinking about setting the fulcrum point of the shaft in this way, we recommended starting at the center, and changing the rigidity and feel of the “flex” at the butt end, without changing the characteristics of the tip. If you were to measure the figures at the center, you would likely find that most shafts are almost the same. This is why the flex value hardly changes, and neither does the feel of the shaft. However, when the golfer actually swings the club, this design enables them to feel the characteristics of each club through the differences in the butt end.
In shaft stiffness, the differences in tip and butt come out more as differences in flexibility rather than stiffness. It is especially important to clarify this difference when designing shafts for women golfers.
Basically, the most significant characteristic of women golfers is probably their relative lack of power. This is why it is important to emphasize a well-timed, light swing, rather than power, to catch the ball and ensure solid hitting.
Many people think that clubs for women golfers need only be lightweight, and this goes for women themselves as well as the men around them. But a lighter club also has a thinner shaft, one that is lighter in weight but with the same flex value, or stiffness, giving it a higher degree of elasticity. A higher degree of elasticity means a more springy club that will tend to feel bouncy, making it difficult to adjust to the faster timing. The golfer may want to use a slower swing, but if the shaft is designed to move quickly, the golfer will naturally feel as though she is swinging late.
If one were to make an extremely light, stiff shaft, it would have such strong spring to it that, without significant head speed, the golfer’s downswing would inevitably be late, resulting in a mis-timed swing. Unable to react completely to the strong spring, the golfer may actually come to fear the behavior of her club. If the golfer is able to adjust her swing and bring it back smoothly, she may succeed in catching the ball, otherwise she may simply find the over-reactive club difficult to use.
To create the right sense of flexibility requires a certain amount of weight. Since a sense of both weight and mass are felt in the hands, it is important to make use of that weight, and to feel it in the swing.
Some women golfers also have great head speed, but speed can vary widely, from 20m/s on the slow side, to as much as 40m/s for those on the fast end. This is why it is necessary to offer broad variation in stiffness and weight balance, in kick point location, and in the feel of the swing, to meet the needs of those with slower and faster swings.
The CP54 shaft for women from Saiprogolf, for example, weighs 54 grams, but in the future, it would be good to offer a broader range by varying the weight between low, medium, and high kickpoints.
In reality, work on development of shafts for women golfers is just beginning. That said, women golfers should try to select golf clubs with shafts that meet their individual swing characteristics, power, and physical attributes.
Optimal club selection can have a major effect on swing, distance, and score, and every golfer should experience these differences for herself.
Working with Mr. Akatsuka and other engineers, Saiprogolf will continue to pursue research and development in superior shaft design for women, through which we hope to meet the expectations of an even greater number of women golfers.