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Hope for the skullers, chili-dippers and sidewinders: Big Bertha irons

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,

Sometimes, I kind of feel sorry for those lab rats trying to design golf clubs for bad golfers. I picture them hunched over forged titanium, sparks flying, trying to duplicate in their minds the incredibly bad swings of awful golfers. Maybe they study videotapes of Charles Barkley.

What can I do to force these guys to hit good shots? How can I invent a golf club that will defy the laws of physics and make a bad swing result in a good golf shot?

Well, I guess there are worse jobs. In any case, there's an unlimited and eager market for them.

Golf is a game played mostly by sub-par practitioners always on the lookout for equipment that will make up for their ineptness, including me, of course. The most club-makers can do is make a club more forgiving than Mother Teresa.

To date, the most successful result, as far as irons, which is what we are concerned with here today, seem to be Callaway's Big Bertha irons. They are designed to be the ultimate in forgiveness, "fun" for the average player and designed to get the ball in the air easier.

There are legions of grateful golfers. Go to most any golf club review Web site and see them practically crying and thanking the golf gods for such a club.


"I'm finally, after 30 years of playing golf, hitting my irons straight and long."

"These clubs are the best ever. Period."

Of course, you will also find the occasional naysayer.

"Over-rated. Can't work the ball, or shape shots. If you're a low-handicap, these clubs aren't for you."

And that seems to be the consensus: Beginners and high-handicappers love the Big Bertha irons and low-handicappers, and wannabe low-handicappers, turn their noses up at such "game-improvement" clubs because they don't allow for advanced shot-making.

Even then, there are those Big Bertha advocates who say you can indeed shape shots with these clubs after some practice.

I tried the latest generation, which is the same as past generations with the exception of a little spruced-up appearance, on the practice range several times and on three, long, golf trips over a period of months. Count me among those crying and thanking the golf gods. I like the feel, the look and the results. My irons go longer and straighter than any of the other irons I have used previously.

I can now feel reasonably confident that if I hit a decent drive - even on a long par 4 - I will be either on the green or close and putting for par and even birdie. I'd never come close to a hole-in-one, but in the last three weeks, I've come close twice. And, in certain circumstances, I can shape shots, though not as easily as with some previous irons.

Why are these clubs so forgiving? Well, if you must know the technology, here it is, according to Callaway:

• Extreme notch weighting. This moves the weight toward the heel and toe for increased forgiveness. It also gives you less distance loss on off-center hits, and isn't that what it's all about?

• Wide, constant-width sole. This decreases digging on fat shots and helps the irons move through the turf. I can even hit these clubs off hard, flat fairways better.

• VFT (variable face thickness) technology optimizes face thickness for a low center of gravity. This is where Callaway differs from other manufacturers, many of whom belief VFT can produce good results in drivers and fairway woods, but not irons.

• The 360-degree variable undercut channel maximizes perimeter weighting, resulting in fewer mis-hits.

• S2H2 (Short Straight Hollow Hosel) technology redistributes weight from the hosel toward the perimeter of the clubhead, enhancing forgiveness.

• Constant loft-spacing through the short irons and wedges, which is supposed to eliminate the gap often found between pitching wedge and sand wedge.

Now, at this point, I must offer a few qualifications. I still use my Adams Idea 3- and 4-iron hybrids, mostly because I have developed a great deal of familiarity and confidence with them. I use the Big Bertha pitching wedge, but I also use a 60-degree wedge in a lot of situations, such as hitting over a bunker to the pin where there isn't much green to work with. I use a sand wedge that nobody's ever heard of and which always attracts strange looks, a Lovett wedge.

So, I'm not hitting Big Bertha every club, every time. But, from the 5-iron through the pitching wedge, I'm the Sergio Garcia of North Central Florida.

The drawback? The price, of course. The Callaway suggested retail price for a set of Big Bertha irons is $1,000 for graphite shafts and $760 for steel, though they can be bought much cheaper.

If you're one of those snotty low-handicappers, Callaway also makes Big Bertha fusion, X-Tour, X-18 and X-18 Pro Series irons.

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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