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Gear // Graphite iron shafts are ready for their close-up (golfweek.usatoday.com)

Gear // Graphite iron shafts are ready for their close-up

I grew up playing the game of golf. After 30-plus years, I switched from steel iron shafts to graphite. Maybe I wasn’t the classic candidate for graphite: Early 40s, single-digit handicap, mid-90s mph swing speed with 6-iron (driver swing speed north of 100 mph). But my hands, wrists and lower back needed a break, and I liked the idea of graphite reducing the shock felt at impact. Graphite iron shafts, at the time, had the stigma of being for senior golfers with slow swing speeds in desperate need of distance. In addition, the shafts cost more than steel and naysayers felt the carbon fiber poles produced less consistent results.

Some of the criticisms might’ve been true in the past. But, in 2021, the shafts are a viable option for all player types, regardless of age or ability. Graphite might not overtake steel anytime soon in the Irons fiefdom. After all, steel’s been king since it replaced hickory nearly 100 years ago. But you’re doing a disservice if you don’t consider graphite for your next set of irons. Here’s why.

To start, price shouldn’t be a deterrent anymore. Nowadays, aftermarket graphite is competitively priced to steel. Consumers can expect to pay an extra $150-$200 for a set of graphite-shafted irons (7 clubs). Granted, it’s not an insignificant amount but one that isn’t a dealbreaker for many golfers.

Graphite iron shafts are more consistent, too. Smarter designs and better materials have driven performance improvements in feel, distance control and dispersion. Fujikura, for example, collects tons of data at various swing speeds. The company has a high-speed 3D motion capture camera system, called Enso®, that reveals how shafts bend, deflect and twist prior to impact. Enso® enables its R&D team to take advantage of intellectual property (IP). The formula? Pair the IP with strong, light materials boasting “maximum carbon-fiber content.”

Of course, feel is uber-critical in irons. Years ago, the makers of graphite shafts would have to wrap material over and over in the same section (usually, toward the tip) to get the shaft comparable to steel in terms of swingweight and length. Just one problem: Heavier graphite shafts often felt “boardy,” or harsh, at impact. Five years ago, Fujikura began using High Density Composite Core (HDCC), a 7-gram composite insert in the tip section of Pro and Vista Pro iron shafts. With HDCC, Fujikura no longer has to wrap additional layers in the tip to get to swingweights. Their shafts are plenty stiff with better feel, in part, due to the larger inner diameter.

There’s more. Through materials and manufacturing processes, graphite companies can create numerous shaft profiles to suit specific players’ needs. For instance, Fujikura can increase stiffness in different sections of the shaft without adding weight. That means a stiff, lightweight (65-gram) shaft is possible. In general, the same cannot be said for steel. In order to manufacture a stiffer shaft, it’ll have to get heavier as well.

Fujikura’s robust lineup of iron shafts includes a vast array of weights, flexes, shot profiles and prices, making it easy to fit a variety of golfers. Weights range from 40 to 115 grams, in Ladies flex to Extra-Stiff. “That’s huge for good fitters,” says Nick Sherburne, founder of Club Champion Golf, the industry’s largest high-end custom fitter with 85 locations nationwide. “Weight is so important to a good fit and having those offerings set them apart. Some brands only offer certain weights in certain flexes.” Sherburne adds, “Fujikura has a nice mix of lighter-weight shafts that produce a higher ball flight and other models that deliver lower flight. And, likewise, they have heavier shafts that contribute to higher trajectory and ones for a low-piercing flight.”

Product design flexibility. High-end materials. Shock-absorption qualities. Competitive pricing. It all adds up to products worth testing when it’s time to upgrade your iron game.

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