It is generally agreed that the
shaft is the single most important part of the golf club. Shaft selection
involves many variables including material, length, torque, kickpoint (bendpoint)
and most importantly, flex. Having properly fitted shafts in your clubs
is probably the best thing you can do with regard to equipment for improving
Steel shafts are generally made
from carbon steel or stainless steel. For the most part, the manufacturing
processes between the two are similar. A steel strip is rolled into a tube
and is drawn over a mandrel until the diameter and wall thickness are reduced
to their exact specifications. At this point the step pattern is formed
on the shaft. Then the walls are made thinner at the grip and thicker at
the tip to give the shaft its flex characteristics. Then it is hardened,
tempered, straightened and stress relieved. The final step is to polish
and chrome plate the shaft. One of the best features of the steel shaft
is the ability to have the same feel throughout the entire set. This means
that the shaft stiffness of the 3 iron will feel the same as the 9 iron,
if they are properly assembled. Other features are its durability and price.
Steel is the preferred material for the majority of the players on the
US and European PGA Tours.
Graphite shafts are made from
a graphite tape or sheets. The material, which has an epoxy binder, is
wrapped around a steel mandrel. The wrapped shaft is then temperature cured
and the mandrel removed. The raw shaft is then sanded and cut to proper
length, at which point it receives a clear or colored paint coating. Its
most notable feature is its lightweight. It also helps dampen the vibration
caused by clubhead impact with the ground. A few of the drawbacks are the
feel of the shaft (some people complain that a stiff graphite shaft does
not feel like a stiff steel shaft); the stiffness may not be consistent
throughout a set, and its price tag. A newer manufacturing process called
“filament winding” can produce a set with greater consistency, but at a
higher price. Graphite has gained significant acceptance on the US LPGA
Tour and the US Senior PGA Tour.
I have very little information
regarding the titanium and aluminum shafts and their respective manufacturing
processes. There are not many titanium or aluminum shafts on the market
and to my knowledge, none are in use on any professional tour.
The stiffness, flex, or deflection
of a shaft defines the bending characteristics of the tube, when a load
is applied to the shaft. The most common shaft flexes are designated as
X (extra-stiff), S (stiff), R (regular), A (man's flexible), or L (ladies').
Typically, a faster swing speed will benefit from increased accuracy with
a stiffer shaft. A slower swing speed will benefit from increased distance
with a more flexible shaft. Flex is probably the single most important
factor in the feel of a shaft.
Some manufacturers rate the stiffness
of their shafts according to the Brunswick Slope. This measurement assigns
a stiffness rating to a shaft according its frequency or how fast it vibrates
and is also dependent on club length. This frequency is expressed in “cycles
per minute” or CPM. Below is a comparison of CPM, slope and standard flex
for a 38 inch club (typical men's 5 iron).
Generally torque is a rating applied
to a graphite shaft. It specifies the twisting characteristics of the shaft.
The normal torque rating of a steel shaft for woods is about 2.5 degrees
and 1.7 degrees for the irons. The general range of torque ratings found
on graphite shafts are from 3.5 to 5.5 degrees, although it is possible
to get shafts with lower or higher ratings. The higher the torque rating,
the more the shaft twists for a given twisting force. The torque rating
also seems to be tied to the stiffness of a shaft, the lower the torque
rating, the stiffer the shaft. There is no accepted industry standard for
The kickpoint (a.k.a. bendpoint
or flexpoint) defines where the shaft will bend. Kickpoint affects the
trajectory of the shot, the higher the kickpoint, the lower the trajectory.
(A high kickpoint is closer to the grip end of the shaft; a low kickpoint
is closer to the head end of the shaft.) The effect in trajectory is small
but measurable. For someone that generally hits the ball with a high shot
trajectory, a high kickpoint is desirable in a shaft. For someone with
a low shot trajectory, a low kickpoint helps get the ball airborne and
on a higher flight path. The kickpoint also affects the feel of the shaft.
A golfer who can feel the difference finds the high bend point makes the
shaft feel like “one piece”, while with the low bend point, the shaft feels
as though the tip whips the clubhead through the ball. There is no accepted
industry standard for measuring kickpoint.
A shaft is considered to have
a spine when its flex and torque characteristics vary with its orientation.
Since all shafts, regardless of material or manufacturing process, have
some variation, all shafts are considered to have spines. Until very recently,
the USGA rules for shafts specifically required shafts to have the same
characteristics, regardless of orientation. However, variations are an
inevitable outcome of the manufacturing processes and the USGA has finally
acknowledged this fact. New guidelines from the USGA allow clubmakers to
align shafts so that they are consistent from one club to the next within
There have been some studies that indicate
improved shot consistency when shafts are aligned throughout a set. Some
professional players have been aligning their shafts for many years and
it is now becoming more common in the mass market. For an additional fee,
some shaft vendors and manufacturers will now sell shafts with the spines
marked. There are also devices available to custom clubmakers which will
allow them to determine spine orientation.
Never base your shaft selection
on specifications, always try to demo the shafts you are considering. This
is because there are no industry standards for measuring flex, kickpoint
or torque. One company's low torque extra stiff shaft may be another company's
mid torque regular flex shaft. Choosing the material, flex, and kickpoint
of a shaft will depend entirely on what feels right when you swing the
club. Someone with a high swing speed may choose a steel shaft with a flex
rating of X and a low kickpoint, while someone with the same swing speed
may choose a graphite shaft with a flex rating of R and a high kickpoint.
The general consensus is see your local professional and ask what he/she
recommends. Make your decision from there.
This FAQ is Copyright 1999-2002 by Daniel J. Driscoll, all
rights reserved. Product and company names used in this document
may be trademarked or copyrighted by the respective owners. This
document may be replicated in whole or in part, without
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