Custom Golf Shafts
You’ve all heard the expression, “The shaft is the most important component of the club.” It certainly is crucial to your ability to hit quality drives, but the saying could benefit from a small modification. It would be more accurate to say, “A properly fitted shaft is the most important component of the club.” An ill-fitted shaft, with attributes not aligned with your specific swing characteristics, can cause numerous problems with ball contact, ball flight, trajectory and distance. Fortunately, the golf industry has come up with a solution to this problem: custom golf shafts.
What exactly are custom golf shafts?
In general terms, driver shafts can be divided into two categories. They are either “stock” shafts or they are “custom” shafts.
Stock golf shafts refer to the ones that come already pre-installed on the drivers that you buy in the store or online. Naturally, without knowledge of who will be purchasing their equipment and what their specific swing characteristics may be, driver manufacturers are forced to utilize stock shafts with features that will appeal to the widest variety of golfers possible. Years ago, this one-size-fits-all approach led many to the justifiable conclusion that stock shafts were therefore sub-standard in quality. And, oftentimes, that perception was valid. The stock shafts of yesteryear were manufactured in a cost-conscious manner that often led to inconsistencies in their performance. In the past 10 – 15 years, however, the quality of the design and manufacturing of these stock shafts has improved dramatically, and as a result, they now provide good performance for the majority of golfers.
Custom golf shafts, on the other hand, pertain to ones that can be purchased to replace the stock shaft as an upgrade. They feature a shaft manufacturer’s best technology, and employ the very latest in advanced materials and manufacturing processes. Because of these hallmarks, custom shafts are sometimes alternatively referred to as “premium” or “aftermarket” shafts. The upgrade from stock shaft to custom shaft usually occurs after a fitting session, during which a golfer’s specific swing attributes are examined in minute detail. Based upon the findings of this fitting session, a custom shaft is then recommended that more closely matches the player’s precise swing profile, allowing them to maximize their performance with the driver. It should be noted, due to the advanced high-tech manufacturing processes employed and the use of exotic materials in these custom shafts, that these premium products usually demand a premium price.
Should you consider upgrading to custom golf shafts?
Any golfer wondering whether a premium shaft will make a big difference in their driver performance, should definitely seek out the advice of a qualified club fitter. Better club fitters will have access to a sophisticated launch monitor, which is an electronic device they will use to analyze every aspect of your swing. They will be looking at multiple data points, all of which will inform their decision about whether or not you are a good candidate for a shaft upgrade and, if so, which specific custom shaft would provide the optimal improvement based on your unique swing motion.
To do this, the launch monitor will provide the fitter with information about many different factors: your swing speed, the speed of the ball off the club face, the face angle at impact, the launch angle of the ball, how much the ball spins during flight, how far the ball travels, etc. All of this launch monitor output is then used as input to the shaft selection process. Armed with this knowledge of your distinctive and detailed swing patterns, the fitter will determine the appropriate shaft to recommend.
But is a custom shaft worth the investment?
There is ample evidence that a shaft that is customized for a golfer’s specific swing profile, versus a stock shaft developed for the masses, can provide performance improvements. However, the question then becomes, “How much improvement will I see?” For many golfers, this is a serious and important question, due to the hefty price tag on these custom shafts, which can approach or even exceed the cost of the entire “off the rack” driver itself. Simply put, is the amount of improvement you will see worth the investment? For many, the answer will be an unqualified “yes.” For others, it may be a “no.”
Typically, the golfers that will derive the biggest gains from a premium shaft are those that fit a certain profile: those with medium to high swing speeds, those who tend to be more aggressive in their transition move from the top of the backswing to the start of the downswing, and those who have the ability to sense and feel the bending of the shaft during the swing. Players in this category can benefit significantly from an upgraded shaft, and are often the types of golfers who will justify the premium expense.
Conversely, golfers with the opposite profile are unlikely to see dramatic performance improvements by upgrading. These will be the golfers that have very slow swing speeds, who are less aggressive in transition, and who are unable to sense the different bending characteristics of various shafts. While they may see some improvement, it may not be substantial enough to warrant the added cost of a custom shaft. For them, the stock shaft that came with their driver will usually be sufficient.
Custom vs. Stock: Pros and Cons
As we discussed above, the advantages and disadvantages of each type of shaft will depend on the individual golfer.
Pros: The primary advantage of stock shafts is their cost…they are essentially free. That is to say, they come pre-installed on the driver that you buy. There is no additional cost for the shaft itself. Their quality has also improved greatly in the past 10 years and, for many golfers, will be a suitable shaft for their swing profile.
Cons: The obvious disadvantage of stock shafts is that they are NOT customized for a golfer’s unique swing characteristics. They were designed to work for the largest number of golfers as possible. Another disadvantage often cited is that stock shafts tend to feel a bit “softer,” or more “whippy,” when compared to premium shafts.
It should be noted, though, that for the golfer who is perfectly happy with the performance of their stock shaft, the “cons” cited above are usually not a factor. For example, if a golfer gets good results from their stock shaft, and is satisfied with how it feels, the perception of “softness” is irrelevant to him.
Custom Golf Shafts:
Pros: The primary advantage of custom shafts is that they give the golfer an engine that is fine tuned to the specific characteristics of their swing. These shafts are constructed using the latest in technology and materials, and will provide more consistent results when compared to their stock counterpart.
Cons: The premium shafts are fairly expensive and not everyone will be able to justify the cost.
Where can I buy custom golf shafts?
Premium golf shafts can be purchased through several different types of outlets. Frequently, the custom fitters who do the launch monitor analysis will maintain an inventory of different custom shafts that they can sell to you. These club fitters usually also do club repair services, which means that they can install the new shaft for you as well. Another source for customer shafts are the many on-line merchants and websites that specialize in golf equipment in general, or in golf shafts in particular. And lastly, a good source for an upgraded premium shaft is the place where you shop for and buy the driver itself. Almost all of the club manufacturers these days offer optional shaft upgrades when you purchase the club. When you are ready to buy your driver, check which shaft upgrades are available from that manufacturer, and place your order specifying which premium shaft you’d like instead of the standard stock shaft. It may take 2-3 weeks for this special order to arrive, but your patience will be rewarded with a superior upgraded shaft. Just be aware that there will usually be an upcharge on the cost of the driver based upon your shaft selection.
Professional golfers take club fitting very seriously. They spend a lot of time making sure that the equipment they are using is customized and fitted to their exact requirements and swing characteristics. This allows them to maximize their performance. Fortunately, this is not a service that is exclusive to the PGA Tour. With the growing popularity and use of launch monitors by local club fitters, shaft fitting is now available to all amateur golfers as well. Spend some time with a qualified fitter to determine if an upgrade to custom golf shafts is right for you.