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Why Do Big Manufacturers Use Variable Lengths?

When you think about it, having each club in your bag seems to make no sense at all. i mean, it can be hard enough to hit your favorite club so why would you want to change from one shot to another?

If you ask, you will be told a couple of different stories. Firstly, you might hear that ‘it has always been done like that’ The second reason often given is that these variable lengths are necessary in order to have proper distance gaps between clubs.

Both of these reasons seem to make sense. unfortunately, they are both completely wrong! Let’s have a look and see why this is.

It is certainly true that clubs have been made with varying lengths for most of the last century and certainly since the second world war. Each iron usually differs from the next by half an inch and about 7g in weight. It will usually also differ in lie (the angle between shaft and ground) by a degree or so as well as having slightly different bounce and offset specs.

But this hasn’t always been the case. Back in the day when clubs were made with hickory shafts, they were almost always made with the same length shafts by master club builders. These experts would hand select pieces of hickory after working with the golfer to see what might work best for him. The process was closer to art than anything else, with each club being hand ground to exacting detail.

When steel shafts first appeared between the wars, they changed things completely. Suddenly, shafts could be mass-produced. The need for a visit (or several) to a clubmaker became an expensive hindrance to mass-production.

The result was the ugly compromise that we see today. Designers figured that it made more sense to take a scatter gun approach. By having irons that varied in length and lie, there was likely to be one that fitted, more or less, every golfer! And you thought it was science:)

Which brings us on to reason number two. This is the pseudo-scientific explanation. I have had this told to me countless times by people, although to be fair to them, most are simply repeating what they have heard.

If you really want to get the lowdown on why this is complete rubbish, you can sign up for me free seven-day course, How to Change Your Game with Single Length Technology.

The fact is that almost all the distance that you get comes from the loft of the club. There are studies showing this time and again. Club length actually makes very little difference at all. Any difference it might make is usually lost through trying to get decent contact whilst changing the length if the club in your hand from one shot to the next.

This is where single length irons really make sense. How much easier do you think that it is to hit the ball consistently when you are swinging the same club every time? Even if you did lose a couple of yards (and you won’t) I would happily trade this for knowing exactly how far I would hit the ball every time. In fact, most people find that they gain a little distance when switching to single length for this very reason. solid contact promotes a better, stronger swing and a lot of confidence behind the ball which leads to solid striking.

But lets get back to the argument that varying the pecs of a club from one to the other is somehow necessary. As someone who has used single length sets for several years now, I was a little concerned about this t the start. I imagined a pitching wedge and a six iron both flying the same distance. Thankfully (and unsurprisingly) this just wasn’t the case. In fact, I would say that gaps in single length sets tend to be very consistent.

so just what are all these varying specs for?

Actually, the answer is pretty simple; They came around as a result of the move from single length hickory sets to multiple length steel. Given that clubs were no longer going to be made specifically for the owner, the companies wanted to find a way to at least try to have similar feel throughout the set. As an extra half inch was added or taken away, the club suddenly felt lighter or heavier. The solution was to change the head weight be about 7 grams, which had the result of keeping the swingweight (or feel) of the club about the same.

As you can see it had quite literally NOTHING to do with ball flight, gapping or anything else. It was a short cut to mass producing without “wasting” time on fitting.

Because these varying length clubs were more difficult to hit for the average golfer, the manufacturers started building in more offset into the longer clubs to help square up the face at impact. In the same way, they played with more bounce in the shorter clubs to try to compensate for the lack of crisp ball-striking that was disappearing with the hickories.

All these ‘game improvement features’ were simply attempts to make the best of the situation. Now I certainly don’t think that all club technology is useless, far from it. However, now you know a little more than the average golfer about why a lot of these features came about, it should be easy to see just why single length irons really do make so much sense.