The Unseen Contributions of Acoustic Engineers
Innovation has become the forefront of golf equipment marketing in recent years. Every new driver and iron series touts a revolutionary engineering design. Improved aerodynamics, artificial intelligence (AI) engineered faces, and stabilized moment of inertia designs are just a few of the recent developments in golf club engineering. However, amongst all these advancements there is an underlying contribution that often goes unnoticed; the hard work of acoustic engineers.
Acoustic engineers are almost the epitome of “if you do your job well, it will go completely unnoticed”. However, that is not to say that acoustical engineering is meaningless. The important work of acoustic engineers is arguably one of the least acknowledged contributions to golf equipment in the entire industry.
To showcase the importance of acoustic engineering work, it may be more apt to highlight unsuccessful designs. The Nike SasQuatch driver was first released in 2005. Back then, Nike was attempting to repudiate a reputation of producing, so-called by Phil Mickelson, “inferior equipment”. The brand association with Tiger Woods was working to sway public opinion, but a strong contender in the woods department was needed as well. The SasQuatch driver fielded a sporty, yet simplistic design that characterized the Nike brand at the time. The driver was advertised by featuring a layered-titanium construction, which enabled thinner walls and a lighter weight compared to its contemporaries. By most performance metrics at the time, the driver was a strong contender and still maintains a loyal following in the used market today.
Nonetheless, when most golfers think of the Nike SasQuatch driver, especially the early models, their focus instantly drifts to the noise that the driver makes. To be fair, the Nike SasQuatch driver was not a poor performer at the time. However, any golf salesperson can attest that it was often a hard sell because of the high-pitched tin-like noise the driver made on impact. The driver was constructed without a focus on the acoustic properties. The result is the unfortunate reputation the driver accrued with its troublesome noise.
This past chronicle provides a reminder that superficial characteristics do indeed have a purpose on the golf course. Players want equipment that looks and sounds just as good as it performs. An unsightly club or an unpleasant sounding one can hamper confidence out on the course.
Golf equipment manufacturers today are very aware of these ideas. A mistake like the Nike SasQuatch is enough to humiliate any leading club manufacturer and could cost market share companies cannot afford to lose. In addition, the average consumer is expecting a product even more polished and well-engineered than the market demanded nearly two decades ago.
The solution for these companies is to employ engineers educated and experienced in acoustic properties. This is not an easy science. It requires complex vibrations and resonant frequency formulas. In addition, even with as many Computer Assisted Design (CAD) simulations and hand calculations, physical testing of prototypes is required to ensure acoustic properties.
This work becomes apparent in modern equipment generations. The TaylorMade SpeedFoam installed in the P790 irons has substantial acoustic benefits. Likewise, The new Ping i525 irons are injected with a polymer behind the face specifically to improve the sound. The new Taylormade Stealth Driver has a urethane cover over the carbon fiber face to enhance acoustic performance as well. Regardless of whether the work is evident, improving the sound of golf clubs is an important engineering step for modern equipment. Perhaps give a thought to the engineering team behind your next incredible-sounding drive off a tee.