By Scott Kramer
The louder your driver rings at impact, the longer the ball travels...right? Not exactly. In fact, club designers can manipulate that impact sound to give you certain impressions. Golfers associate sound with feel, but it’s all subjective: What you think sounds powerful may not to someone else. And your perception of powerful can also change over time. Twenty years ago, your ears may have equated an on-the-screws drive with the “click” a balata ball made against the face of your persimmon driver. Since then, club manufacturers have toyed with hollow drivers—some of which generated impact sounds that were too loud—and those with filler inside that dampened the volume. These days, it’s all about using very specific materials, wall thicknesses and shaping to precisely dial in the appropriate decibel level.
“Sound and acoustic analysis are critical parts of driver design, ever since the early 2000s when clubs started getting larger and incorporating new materials,” says Evan Gibbs, Callaway’s research and development woods director. “There’s a connection between sound and feel. Our composite drivers used to make a thud and were criticized for not generating a metallic sound. Now it seems we’ve come full circle, where Tour pros prefer more of a thud than a loud ring. We’re trying to quiet down our drivers.”
Manufacturers break down the acoustic profile into frequency, amplitude or loudness, and the duration of the impact sound. “All these factors contribute to making a sound pleasing at impact,” says Gibbs, who strives for frequency above 3,000 hertz and closer to 4,000—and to dampen out quickly. That’s for Americans. Golfers in Japan tend to prefer a loud-ringing impact, he claims. “To them, it sounds more powerful,” says Gibbs.
Engineers at Cobra seek a frequency between 3,800 and 3,950 hertz. “We know what a head is tuned to and ask them how they like it, immediately after they hit it," says Jose Miraflor, vice president of marketing at Cobra Golf, who gets feedback straight from golfers. "Our King LTD driver a few years ago was one of the best-sounding drivers. We talked with Rickie Fowler about it, and he calls that impact sound a heavy hit. That is, you get solid feedback but not with lots of resonation.” Cobra’s King F9 driver this year rings in at 3,850 hertz.
Sound is only part of the equation of why you like a driver: While you may not buy one just because it sounds good, you probably won't go for one that sounds bad. “We know how important sound is to golfers,” says Stephanie Luttrell, director of metalwoods development for Titleist. “It’s always one of the immediate points of feedback we get on a new club—we won’t even build a prototype head if it doesn’t come close to meeting our sound target. We can have a great performing and great-looking product, but if we don’t complete the experience with a great sound and feel, the player is always going to feel like something’s missing.”
Experts suggest that when you’re testing out new drivers, use a fresh ball of the model you typically play. Range balls, especially as they age, will sound relatively quiet. That said, experts say if a driver already sounds good with range balls, it’s going to sound even better with soft tour balls.
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