After years of pushing finesse equipment like 7-woods, lob wedges, rescue clubs, and soft "control" balls, the golf industry has made headway in its new Holy Grail: distance. After Tiger Wood's fabulous season with new balls, the percentage of PGA Tour players using nonwound balls rose from 20 percent to nearly 80 percent. The TaylorMade 300 series driver also became the most popular driver on the Tour in just one season. Now the same technological advances that help the world's best players win tournaments are letting country club players and recrea- tional golfers find distance off the tee and shorter approach shots into the green, leading to shorter putts and lower scores. And whether you play twice a year in corporate outings or compete against Tiger Woods, lower scores are what golf is all about.
Callaway set a new standard for long drives when it introduced its ERC II last year. These clubs make balls go farther because of "rebound," a trampoline-like effect produced when the thin face of the driver flexes at impact. Unfortunately, the rebound of the ERC II exceeds the limits set by the USGA, golf's governing body in the U.S., so such clubs are forbidden for both professional and country club tournaments, and for calculating handicap. All that didn't stop amateurs from flocking quickly to the ERC II for its promise of greater distance, though Rankmark, the leading tester of golf equipment in real-world situations, has found that typical golfers (10-20 handicap) do not swing fast enough to get the distance advantage.