Along with the continuing refinement of golf balls, the development and popularity of hybrid golf clubs is probably the equipment story of the last 12 months or so. From being occasionally spotted in the bags of eccentric golfers who march to nobody's tune but their own, hybrids are now everywhere it seems - and almost all who try them are quickly singing their praises. We test two of the many available - the Callaway Big Bertha Heavenwood and the Masters T210.
The reason hybrids have become so popular is not difficult to see; they combine the larger, more forgiving clubhead of a fairway wood (albeit a little reduced in size) with the shaft length of an iron. So for many golfers the only difficulty they face is trying to work out exactly what club they are hitting, and when it would be appropriate to hit it. And although the clubs in the Masters and Callaway ranges offer a variety of loft options (three for the Masters, five for the Callaway), that's not necessarily too much help, because club design characteristics have changed so much over the last couple of decades.
For example, a few years ago the 'standard' agreed for the loft of a 6-iron was 30 degrees, and pretty much any set of clubs you bought would meet that standard. Then manufacturers, because of improved peripheral weighting, lower kick-point shafts and so on, realised they could produce a 6-iron at 26 degrees (a 5-iron loft) that would still get the ball in the air and produce a 6-iron ball flight, but travel the distance of a 5-iron. We golfers are nothing if not impressionable, and when we discovered that we could suddenly hit the ball at least one club further than we had previously, became hugely impressed by our own prowess and bought these clubs by the bucketful.
The problem is that as a result the loft figure stamped on the clubhead has become an almost worthless piece of information and the only way to know which hybrid/s you want and need is to get out and test them.
The Masters T210 comes in 21, 19 and 17 degrees with a Rapport Oracle shaft - we tested the 21 degree model and for me, a relatively slow-swinging 11 handicapper, it equates to something between a 3 and 4-iron. Both this and the Callaway have a long-nosed 'spoon' look to them and a clubface that is not too deep. It is about half an inch longer in the shaft than the Callaway, which would partly explain the extra distance it gives.
The looks are fairly nondescript and it feels balanced and easy to swing, with good results from fairway and semi-rough. From the tee it is necessary to tee the ball only fractionally above the ground - as if you were using an iron - otherwise it's easy to swing underneath the ball and pop it almost straight up, with little distance. But the absolutely best thing about this Masters T210 is the price - an astonishing £29.99. It is a good club by any standards but at this price it's almost a steal.
The Callaway Heavenwood comes in 26, 23, 20, 17 and 14 degree lofts and we tested the 23 degree model - largely because this most closely mimics the original Callaway 7-wood, which has been a trusted friend for many years. Often described as the 'gentleman's persuader' the 7-wood won a legion of fans with its seemingly limitless capacity to get the ball airborne from virtually any lie, anywhere on the course. It also came in handy for those days when you just can't get a 4 or 5-iron to do what you want.
The new generation Heavenwood is not a disappointment. It looks good, with the familiar gunmetal grey head, now supported by an attractive deep, rich, red shaft. It feels extraordinarily well-balanced, stable and easy to swing and the most noticeable element of its performance, we found, is its ability to hit the ball in a straight line. In comparison to the original 7-wood, the clubhead is longer, thinner and not so deep and this produces two benefits. First, off-centre hits are more likely to still travel relatively straight with little loss of distance. Second, this club is much less likely to slide underneath the ball, particularly when it's sitting in the rough.
We suspect it will quickly become like its predecessor - the sort of weapon you grab as 'Mr Reliable' when you absolutely have to make good contact, wherever your ball might be.
The Callaway Heavenwood costs £119 in steel; £129 in graphite.
|| 31 - JANUARY 2005