There are, in golf, a number of myths to which we all subscribe - you can improve your game by reading magazines and watching videos, for example, or that we'd all be significantly better players if we routinely knocked it around the manicured, top-class courses that the pros play week in and week out.
Another myth concerns equipment. Because Tiger, or Ernie, or Phil or any of the other great names play a certain brand of club then those clubs must, by definition, be better than those of their counterparts. But the reality is that in many cases component parts are assembled in the same far eastern factories and then shipped to the US, UK or wherever, to be sold. Yes, big companies spend a lot of money on research and development but yes, they also spend a huge amount on paying big names to play their equipment, and then advertising and promoting that fact to us, the consumer.
Which is why we visited a small outfit called Kane Golf, on the outskirts of Glasgow. The owner, Danny Kane, has operated from an industrial estate there for three years but been involved in golf for seven. He produces his own ranges of woods and irons, specialist wedges and putters and, if there's a bit of kit you want that he doesn't design and make, he usually knows somebody who does, so he can get that too.
He has strong opinions about golf equipment and says, for example: 'The best grip in the world in my opinion, the Golf Pride Whisper, has been changed three times in the last three years so it can be difficult to keep up but I believe strongly in putting the best possible components in my clubs, and the grip's the only part with which you have contact, so it's vitally important - and often overlooked.'
He added: 'In addition to its quality, the size of grip you have is very important. I could change the grip and a driver you couldn't hit becomes your best friend. It's important because you should grip with your left hand and guide with your right [right-handed players, of course] but your left hand should be applied with no more than 30% of maximum power. If the grip on your club is too thin, it immediately makes you grip more tightly, and one of the ways of knowing you're doing this is that you have sore forearms by the end of a round. If the grip's too fat your hands can't work properly, especially as they rotate and release through the hitting area.'
Danny Kane seems to know his stuff so we asked for a basic primer on recent changes in equipment.
'If you go back 10 years,' he says, 'that's about when almost all iron heads were made from 17.4 ph (precipitation hardened) steel or 431 stainless steel. No-one's produced a better material for iron clubheads since then, and they remain industry standards. If you hit 100 shots with each at the driving range you wouldn't notice a difference but go onto the course and hit two 7-irons into a green and you'd immediately know - 431 will stop the ball and 17.4 ph will run on.
'But with woods the advances in the last 3-4 years have been phenomenal; in test bays players are bursting the nets now with how far and how powerfully they can hit the ball.'
So is this solely to do with the introduction of titanium, we asked, and Danny had some interesting observations.
'A few years ago now Callaway picked titanium as an interesting sounding name and started producing titanium drivers but they painted them with paint that was laced with ceramic, which is itself a very hard substance. But when people used them they discovered that as the paint wore off, they could hit the ball further and that, in my opinion, is why titanium started to become used as a material for clubheads.
Titanium is actually quite soft, it's not as hard as steel. Some of the alloys are a wee bit harder but not much. You can carry on making clubheads harder and harder but that doesn't mean you'll hit the ball further. Essentially the manufacturers asked themselves, why hit a ball with a cricket bat when you could hit it with a tennis racquet and make it go considerably further. So instead of making clubfaces harder they went for a tennis racquet approach, where you'd get spring and bounce from the clubface.
'However, that has created new problems. Do you think you can slice a ball around a fielder using a cricket bat? No, but you can slice a ball around or away from an opponent using a tennis racquet. That's the problem with titanium; it bends the ball.
'Ceramic is harder than steels and there's no doubt that using it will let you hit the ball further but titanium has now overtaken it by 20-30 yards, but of course, with spin. Incidentally, I wouldn't play with a ceramic clubhead in winter because you get less carry in the air but a heck of a lot more run on the ball, it runs like a scalded cat, so it's a great summer material.
'A characteristic of titanium is a big carry through the air and quick stop; steel will fly less far but roll further; ceramic will roll further still, so is an excellent summer club.'
He also thinks that increased specialisation in design is changing the way we think about, and buy, golf equipment.
'I think there are a bunch of fairway woods that are great from grass but aren't very good from off a tee and vice versa,' he says. 'I recommend that golfers pick a tee shot 3-wood and a fairway 5-wood or vice versa and a number of my customers now have a couple of 3-woods and a couple of 5-woods and will put them in their bag according to the course they'll play that day - the length of the par threes and so on.
'I tried using titanium on fairway woods but don't think it's the right material.
Generally, I would recommend titanium driver, super steel fairway woods and 17.4 ph or 431 steel irons, unless you alternately hook and slice, in which case go for a ceramic driver.'
Currently in Danny's range is his Easy driver, which ScottishGolf has had the opportunity to test, and we're impressed. We should emphasise that we've only tested it at a driving range and over one round - the weather in Scotland has been too inhospitable to get out on the course much recently - but it seems at least the equal of some of the biggest names in equipment manufacture.
It's an easy-to-hit club designed for those who slice the ball which, let's face it, with a driver in their hands is 90% of golfers. Danny Kane explained: 'The Easy Driver is 5 grams heavier so that the shaft can be cut 1" shorter, at 44". In addition, the clubhead is offset, and the clubface is 20 degrees closed. On top of that, there's two-tone paintwork on the top of the clubhead, which is an aid to setting it up square to the ball.'
It's certainly easy to set up square and the duo-tone paintwork is a remarkably simple alignment aid. ScottishGolf hasn't been having too many problems slicing and the first few shots with this went left, probably because we were swinging too hard (an old fault when testing equipment). But when we slowed down and swung with a bit more control the results were extremely pleasing and easy to replicate. In short, this driver performed as well as a couple of the latest offerings from some of the big name companies but more tests will follow. Oh, and it costs £99.
But how, we asked, will resale value be affected when it comes to trading in a name that no-one has heard of?
'A problem for big manufacturers is that they have to constantly update and "improve" their clubs, so they're always promoting the latest addition to the range and if you want one of their drivers, that's the one you have to buy,' Danny Kane said. 'In consequence, you can often pick up last year's model, or even one produced earlier the same year, at bargain prices.'
Add on to that the fact that you will probably have paid twice or three times the amount in the first place and subsequently face huge depreciation, the trade-in issue doesn't seem so important.
In addition to the Easy driver, Kane Golf produces the Terminator, for big-hitting, lower handicap players and a 330cc spring effect driver which is described as 'an excellent club for the player who hits the ball straight.'
The company also has irons, the turbo steel is most popular; slightly offset, 17.4 ph steel. It comes with steel shafts at £169 for a full set or £249 with graphite shafts.
'At the moment,' says Danny, 'I'm also doing it at £279 with a Nippon NS pro shaft that I think, until recently, was the best steel shaft in the world. It's 95 grams (as opposed to 120-130 grams) and is shock-absorbing. Mind you, I've now got a new shaft coming in that I think is better.
'I also do a Rayble, 431 stainless steel clubhead, with a slightly smaller head, for someone who hits the ball just a bit more crisply. I'm also getting another iron in, the DFII Super Hawk.
'I would expect to sell a minimum 500 sets of irons a year; about the same number of titanium woods; maybe 200 3-woods and perhaps 300-400 individual fairway woods.'
The Kane Golf philosophy is a simple one - we'll give you whatever sort of clubs you need, custom-fit, and if you're not happy we'll give you a full refund. How many manufacturers do you know who will make the same claim?
'My number one priority is to get the very best equipment,' says Danny Kane. 'Number two is to make it as affordable as possible to the man in the street. But an almost greater consideration is that I do not want to sell anyone a golf club that's no good to them - quality and custom-fitting take care of that but, if the customer's unhappy with what they've bought, they bring it back and I give them a refund.
'I've been asked, how can you make clubs that are as good or better as the major manufacturers, at less than half the price?'
The answer's simple. Kane Golf is not paying a fortune to big name stars to play its clubs; nor is it breaking the bank on marketing, advertising and promotion.
It might just catch on.
Telephone: 0141 810 2922/3
Address: Unit 13, 30 Dalziel Road, Hillington Industrial Estate, Glasgow G52 4NN .
|| 3 - FEBRUARY 2003