Today, we’re going to talk about an innovation that changed the way golfers swing the club: the steel shaft.
In the early days of golf (we’re talking the 17th and 18th centuries), golf clubs were made from whatever hardwood was available locally. Heads were made from tough woods and were connected to the shaft using a splint and then bound using leather straps.
In the mid-1800's, Robert Forgan, a Scottish club maker, introduced hickory imported from America to make shafts. Hickory was strong, durable and not too flexible or heavy, which made it the most popular wood for golf shafts. The hickory shafts required a slow, smooth swing to correctly time the hitting of the ball because the torque was so high.
Golfers and club designers experimented with steel shafts as early as the 1890s, however, solid steel shafts could not be made light enough and the technique to manufacture steel tubes was an extremely difficult process.
In 1915, Allan Lard received a patent on a perforated steel shaft that was made from a solid steel bar that was bored out and drilled with hundreds of small holes which helped enhance club head speed and reduce torque. This shaft was nicknamed the “Whistler”, because when swung, these holes caused a whistling sound. These shafts never caught on.
In the early 1920's, Apollo, a fishing rod manufacturer, designed the first real playable steel shaft featuring a closed tube. Around the same time, Bristol Steel, an American firm, developed a seamless tubular shaft which was a huge advancement and became the standard in steel shaft design.
In 1924, the USGA legalized steel shafts, and they were allowed in the U.S. Open in putters only. The winner, Cyril Walker, used one. The R&A finally legalized them in 1929 when the Prince of Wales used a set at St. Andrews.
In 1929, True Temper developed the first seamless tapered step-down shaft. This design helped create different shaft flexes for the golfers' individual needs. The True Temper Dynamic Gold has been the most successful steel shaft ever.
When Spalding introduced the Bobby Jones signature set of irons in 1930, the clubs featured steel shafts that were painted tan to give the impression of hickory to help win people over to the new technology. Billy Burke was the first to win a major tournament with steel shafted clubs when he won the US Open in 1931.
By the middle of the 1930's, golfers had finally accepted steel shafts over hickory. The obvious advantage of steel shafts was accuracy and durability. But they required a more precise and controlled body swing. The modern golf swing evolved as club head speed could now be maximized without requiring a slow swing and precise timing.
Credit: Brian Weis
Spalding Whistler Mashie Niblic
Credit: PBA Galleries