In recent years, titanium has caught the eye of golf club manufacturers and amazingly, fire investigators. Yes, titanium clubs have the potential to spark upon striking rocks, creating one of the world’s most unexpected fire hazards.
Although titanium drivers have been popular through the 2000s, manufacturers have increasingly been using titanium in wedge clubs as well, which are often used to hit balls out of rougher sections of the course. This has created an interesting problem. When titanium clubs strike rocks hidden in the foliage of the rough, they can create sparks which burn at extremely high temperature. These sparks have the potential to ignite foliage in hot, dry environments. A University of California Irvine study has confirmed the suspicions of California fire investigators that titanium clubs may be the cause of certain unexplained fires.
In the early days of golf, clubs were made of wood. Then in the second half of the twentieth century, club manufacturers introduced steel as the material of choice for golf club production. These clubs dominated the market for decades before metallurgical advancements offered new, high-tech alternatives. Perhaps most notable is the introduction of titanium’s dominance as a face for woods, the clubs used for long distance driving. Currently, titanium faced clubs have an overwhelming market share of premium woods. There are a number of properties which make titanium a choice material in club design.
The property of hardness is a measure of how resistant a material is to shape change from force, such as striking a golf ball. Hardness is an important consideration in golf because it contributes to club longevity and the feel of a swing. Cheaper club faces made of aluminium or relatively soft alloys of titanium or steel are likely to indent and become damaged when repeatedly swung with the force of elite golfers. Harder alloys are required to prevent damage to the clubs, especially the club face. Titanium in some forms has hardness competitive to steel, allowing titanium clubs the same longevity along with other beneficial properties.
The primary benefit of titanium in golf is its low density. Density describes how much mass a substance contains per unit of volume. Titanium has a rather low density, close to 60% that of steel. This makes it lighter per unit. The lighter weight gives manufacturers the freedom to increase the size of club faces without making compromises on weight and balance, while maintaining the longevity of the club. The lightness of the metal face also allows manufacturers to choose where they would like the weight of the club located.
In recent years, tungsten has been introduced to club design as a shock absorber and counterweight in club faces. Using small pockets of the higher density metal, weight can be added to specific areas of the club face to improve the balance and feel of its swing. For example, inserting a small pocket of tungsten low on the face of the club gives it a lower centre of gravity.
Tom Murray, MMTA Intern