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|As chief club designer for Nicklaus Golf, Clay Long works closely with Jack Nicklaus in producing high-performance equipment for the rest of us. (Courtesy of Nicklaus Golf)|
Clay Long, chief golf club designer for Nicklaus Golf, holds an honor few club engineers have. He has a place in pop culture, specifically in the lyrics of the 1998 hit song "One Week" by Barenaked Ladies:
"... Gonna get a set of better clubs,
Gonna find the kind with tiny nubs just so my
Irons aren't always flying off the back-swing ..."
You see, Long invented those "tiny nubs," which first appeared on the hosels of Peerless irons in the mid-90s. Cobra independently liked the idea and licensed it, producing a line of irons with the "nubs" to which the Canadian pop icons referred. In 1997, Long became head of R&D for Cobra, and in 2000, Long acquired the patent rights to his invention.
"The nub increases inertia," explains Long, now. "In those days, though, inertia wasn't a well-known word to consumers." And despite some popular buzz, the Cobra irons with the nubs were discontinued.
Today, however, "moment of inertia," or MOI, is one of the hottest buzzwords for club designers and weekend golfers alike. And the nubs are back with a vengeance in the new Nicklaus Golf line of Polarity irons.
"The idea was to build a high-MOI iron without lengthening the blade," says Long. "The question is how to keep an iron from being slice-biased with such a long blade. Counterbalancing seemed to be a natural way to increase MOI. And, well, that nub works."
Boy, does it. According to Long's computer models, the new Polarity irons have the highest MOI of any iron on the market. And the center of gravity (CG) is directly in the center of the clubhead.
"The CG," explains Long, "needs to be equidistant from the shaft axis."
This overarching design philosophy is behind all of Nicklaus Golf's new models, which are giving the larger club manufacturers a run for their technology money.
The company's Dual Point Driver, introduced last year, was the first on the market to precisely center the CG directly behind the thinnest point on the face — i.e., the sweetspot.
The 2008 incarnation of the Dual Point, the Dual Point Fastback, features the same painstaking engineering, but it looks bigger and meaner than the original version. And odder, too.
"The head is designed around the CG at the perfect position from the shaft axis," says Long. "Then we put the center of the face on that position and designed the clubhead around it."
The result is a sort of asymmetrical wedge-shaped clubhead, which kind of swoops back toward the shaft. Some traditionalists might find the appearance off-putting. According to Long, "Jack's a bit like that, but he doesn't need a limit-dimension [460cc] driver."
For the rest of us, who don't hold 18 major titles, the design maximizes performance.
"There wasn't enough discretionary weight left over to make a symmetrical head," Long concedes, "so we had to shift the weight to the left to keep the CG in the center. We went with the design that played the best. We'd rather gamble on style than performance."
Speaking of style - and performance - the newly introduced adjustable-shaft technology seems to fit into both categories.
"We're taking a slow look at that," says Long. "We're not sure how long that will last."
Nicklaus' main concern is from the retail perspective: How can pro shops, or even box stores, keep dozens of different shafts in stock for each clubhead? And how can they afford to keep clubfitters on staff who are qualified to match shafts to golfers?
Long is pessimistic on the trend, or fad, as the case may be. "I don't think it's got a lot of legs. By and large, at retail, simple works best."
This almost sounds like a Golden Rule from the man who designs clubs for the Golden Bear: Make the most sophisticated design appear to the consumer to be as simple as possible.
And if you're lucky, your clubs will be immortalized in a song.
May 15, 2008
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.
Throughout his career, author Bob Thomas has taken a unique angle on golf writing. More recently, he has applied this approach to the business behind golf writing, forming a company to publish and sell his titles, including his new book, "Why Bobby Jones Quit."
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