The sultans of swing

The sultans of swing
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First Published: Fri, Jan 15 2010. 09 26 PM IST

 Iron man: Callaway president George Fellows.
Iron man: Callaway president George Fellows.
Updated: Fri, Jan 15 2010. 09 26 PM IST
The Callaway Golf Company has over 3,000 patents worldwide for its golfing equipment. A quick look at their catalogue reveals golf clubs that sound like experimental fighter jets—the “X-22”, the “FT i-brid”, among others—each of them boasting numerous scientific breakthroughs in design and engineering.
Callaway has just launched a wholly-owned Indian subsidiary, and signed golfer Jeev Milkha Singh as its brand ambassador. President and CEO George Fellows spoke to Lounge about golfers in India, Callaway’s connection to jet planes and the problem with designing golf balls.
Edited excerpts:
Iron man: Callaway president George Fellows.
How has golfing changed in India?
The Indian golfing market has been expanding dramatically in the last few years. We think it’s at an inflection point, where something that’s already a very aggressive growth might turn exponential. There are approximately 500,000 golfers in India today, and they consider about 150,000 to be avid golfers, meaning they play regularly around the year. But there are certain things happening here that we think will seriously accelerate this.
What are those changes?
The infrastructure: Just four-five years ago, there were 80 courses throughout India, and now there are 250, with many being built. So the accessibility of the game has really increased. The economic development here is making more people fall, so to speak, into the category of those who can consider golf a leisure activity. The recent vote of the International Olympic Committee to include golf in the Olympics has increased the profile of the sport for the youth who want to get involved with the game, and it’ll heighten interest in the game.
What sort of technology goes into creating a Callaway golf product?
When Callaway started 27 years ago, golfing was a quiet, placid industry. Our founder believed that bringing tech and innovation would essentially change the character of the game. We therefore had a philosophy that allowed us to be the largest spender of research and development money. We have a development cycle that takes up to three years, so right now, while we’re talking, engineers will be working on 2012-13 products.
We’ve brought a lot of technology into golfing in the time that we’ve been around—like the Big Bertha line of golf clubs and the whole metal versus wood debate (when they were originally launched in 1991, their stainless steel design was considered a significant departure from the mostly wooden clubs of the time), we introduced fusion technology that puts multiple materials into the club head in order to distribute weight more evenly. Then there were the aerodynamic hex designs on the golf ball, which actually come from people who had worked in the aerospace industry.
So what branches of science are involved in the making of golf equipment?
We have metallurgists, physicists, mechanical engineers and aerodynamics experts working through our process. We have developed some proprietary software that allows us to predict outcomes and test variables before we have an actual physical prototype. We also work with universities, and we share technological inputs with, say, the aerospace industry, or racing cars—anything that can gain from the work on aerodynamics and materials that we’ve done.
What’s the most exciting technology you’ve seen come out of Callaway’s research?
The chemistry of a golf ball centre. It’s very complex—most of us see it as just a piece of rubber covered by some polyurethane or plastic, but in reality—the compressibility of a golf ball determines the amount of spin, distance, the control you’re able to exercise—it’s a very complex chemistry and physics problem. You add in the complexity of the covering—how thin it is, how soft it is, and how able it is to transfer the power of a swing into the inner core, which in turn determines how it reacts to the collision, if you will. These are remarkably complicated interactions requiring some very sophisticated analysis in order to make improvements. I came from outside the industry and I was astounded at the amount of science that goes into each and every one of these things.
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First Published: Fri, Jan 15 2010. 09 26 PM IST