We live in an age where more and more industries are being regulated in the best interests of the consumer. Product information must be understandable and factual. However it appears that the golf equipment industry has managed to avoid much of this legislation in relation to product labelling, and continues to sell golf clubs with questionable specifications. Surely it is about time this issue was resolved so that the golfing public can feel confident in the specifications of the golf equipment they are buying. Let’s take loft and lie measurements as a prime example of this ongoing problem.
In a previous article I highlighted the issue of inaccurate lofts on drivers and offered some suggestions as to what the consumer has a right to expect. However in that post I omitted one of the key factors contributing to erroneous loft and lie measurements in the golf industry as it required a more detailed explanation. This article is therefore by necessity a little more lengthy and technical than usual, but hopefully still easily understood.
When questioned about loft or lie issues, the OEM’s will invariably claim they use more sophisticated measuring equipment …. implying they are able to measure loft and lie angles more accurately than we can. Their method of measurement may also vary from ours. Unfortunately, with no industry reference standard for calibrating loft and lie equipment, we are not in a position to determine who is right and who is wrong and the true static loft and lie value always remains in doubt. So the key contributory factor to be discussed here is the obvious lack of appropriate standards in the golf industry.
Currently the only standards in the golf equipment industry are those imposed by the R&A and the USGA in relation to equipment conformability including COR/CT testing and measurement of grooves. Since loft and lie do not really impact on golf club conformability, we are free to measure them by our own methods on our own equipment. Problem is that, without proper internal and external quality control, most measured values remain questionable.
The need for quality control (QC)
Whether loft or lie is being measured on sophisticated digital equipment or on more affordable analogue analysers, accuracy and precision (reproducibility) figures must be known and proper internal QC must be in place if results are to be relied upon. This will be news to most users of loft and lie machines as it is rarely if ever mentioned in the equipment manuals, nor taught in PGA or clubmaking training courses. Few operators come from scientific, engineering or mathematical backgrounds so the vast majority of users just assume that the loft and lie figures shown on their instrument are correct and then act on these measurements totally unaware of their limitations.
My background is in medical laboratory science and if biomedical scientists randomly introduced and operated laboratory equipment in a similar fashion, patients would be mis-diagnosed, hospitals would be sued, staff would be fired and equipment manufacturers would go out of business. Medical laboratory staff will never consider purchasing a new analyser which does not come complete with calibration instructions and published performance stats for accuracy and precision. Prior to purchase, the analyser is then fully evaluated by the laboratory staff to ensure the manufacturer’s claims are justified. Once purchased, the instrument will only be used for patient testing after a standard operating procedure (SOP) and internal quality control programme are in place and staff have been properly trained. In addition to this, each laboratory is regulated by a professional body which provides compulsory external QC programmes for each laboratory. This is required for professional accreditation and ensures that results from all participating laboratories are comparable. The golf industry would do well to introduce similar professional standards for the benefit of its paying customers.
How does this lack of standardisation affect the unsuspecting golfing public?
1. When you buy golf clubs you cannot rely on the loft and lie specs even if the clubs have supposedly been built to your fitting requirements by the major OEMs.
2. Standard loft and lie tolerances on new clubs are at best +/- 1 deg. so your club specs may not match those quoted in the company literature or on their websites and this can have a significant effect on shot performance.
3. Same thing applies when your clubs are adjusted for loft and lie by your local pro or clubmaker.
4. Comparing loft and lie results between OEMs, pro shops or fitting centres is virtually pointless as there are no industry standards or external QC programmes in place to make this possible.
5. At present if you want your loft and lies measured with any degree of reliability, then you must take them to a reputable centre which knows the accuracy and precision of its equipment and carries out daily internal QC.
Recommended internal QC for loft and lie measurement
Golf Instruments Digital Loft-Lie Gauge (shown above) is a top quality instrument with a price tag to match. It comes with its own machined reference standards for loft (0 deg.) and lie (60 deg.) so the instrument digital gauges can be calibrated for optimal accuracy. We use this instrument to measure the exact loft and lie of our own internal calibration club. By taking multiple measurements of this club we can verify the instrument’s precision of +/- 0.1 deg. This same club is used to calibrate the digital gauges on our Mitchell loft and lie machine (used for loft and lie adjustments). Multiple measurements of our internal calibration club have shown the precision of this instrument to be +/- 0.2 deg. Our reference club is then checked periodically throughout each working day to make sure that this level of accuracy and precision is being maintained. This is what we consider to be best practice internal QC which ensures our day to day results are consistent and reliable. However to standardise our measurements with those of other centres would require a national reference standard and an external QC programme, neither of which exist at present.
The need for an industry standard
There is a real need for a national/international loft and lie standard which can be used to calibrate measuring devices in participating centres. It could take the form of a reference iron and driver with specified values for loft and lie, determined extremely accurately by an independent authority. What better independent authority than golf’s ruling bodies, the R&A and USGA. I am not in favour of the PGA taking on this role as the temptation would then be to only offer this service to PGA members rather than the golf industry as a whole.
The lack of standards in the golf equipment industry is causing confusion and misleading customers. I have used loft and lie as an example here but the lack of standards and QC applies to most other club specifications such as shaft flex, shaft torque, swingweight, etc. Right now there is more reliable product information on a 60p can of Heinz baked beans than there is on a £300 golf club and nobody within the golf industry is doing anything about it. Since it is unlikely that the golf equipment industry will ever introduce self-regulation, perhaps only the R&A and USGA have the influence and means to resolve the problem. Let’s hope so or golf club specifications could remain a contentious issue forever.