The Terrible Twos Syndrome of Golf Club Fitting: Part Sixteen

Here I shall begin describing some of the operation of a swingweight scale with respect to attempting to determine what the final swingweight values of golf clubs will be before their grips are actually installed.  This can be a very helpful exercise in the making and/or fitting of golf clubs.  Such results can be calculated more mathematically and without a specialized scale, but even mathematically the best that might be achieved may only be an approximation unless one knows for instance every designed specification of the grip.  This would include but not be limited to the precise distance from the very end of the butt end of the grip (which is visible) to where the butt end of the shaft of the club would end when the grip is installed, which is not readily visible on one-piece golf grips, can vary a fair amount from grip model to model, and would have to be successfully researched or one may have to attempt at least one of the following procedures.

One can sacrifice a grip(s), carefully cut it apart at the butt end and inspect it, and try to determine this dimension.  Yet it is still often not easy to determine this dimension in such a manner, as oftentimes grips can turn out to be crooked or inconsistent in various spots or ways for whatever reason(s), and one might get different measurements at one part of the grip than another and/or for different grip specimens even of the same model.  It is also possible to take length measurements on both the inside and outside of a whole, non-sacrificed grip and attempt to mathematically calculate this dimension.  But this can present different problems, like material being (unknowingly) present and protruding on the inside of the grip up at the grip cap.  This is frequently the case evidently due to one or more golf grip manufacturing processes and which can result in faulty measurements when trying to figure out a given golf grip model’s grip cap thickness.  One might attempt this on several same-model grips and take an average, but even this will not assure that a suitably accurate figure will be arrived at.  And this tediousness is in addition to having to mathematically calculate a golf club’s final swingweight value (a pretty tedious process in its own right) after its grip specifications are learned.

Even using a cheap, potentially more inaccurate swingweight scale to try to obtain some information regarding what a golf club’s final swingweight value will be before its grip is actually installed must be better than doing the above, and it usually is.  So if getting into the types of processes and calculations above does not appeal to you (for what essentially amounts to only a reasonable approximation anyhow as will be seen more as I continue), then make sure you have access to a golf club swingweight scale.  As this post sequence testing is predicated on using traditionally proven golf club swingweighting anyway, the remainder of this instruction basically assumes that you will be utilizing a swingweight scale.  I will further qualify here that I will principally be discussing golf grips that are of a one-piece slip-on type, which is far and away the most predominant type of grip used today.  Wrap-on grips made of leather or other material(s) introduce additional and/or different elements that can require added and/or altered steps in the process of trying to determine final golf club swingweight values before the grips are installed.

However, certain information associated with wrap-on golf grips can be very beneficial toward better understanding one-piece slip-on grips, golf club swingweighting, and more.  So mainly for background and reference because the commonplace practice of wrapping on golf grips predates modern golf grip construction, I will first briefly describe certain aspects of wrap-on grips.  Even here, however, what I will be describing can basically be considered a “more recent” era of wrap-on golf grips, using materials and procedures that are somewhat in between those of the earliest days of constructing golf grips and those of today.  A wrap-on golf grip generally first utilizes what is called an “underlisting” made of rubber-type material.  An underlisting is in most ways just like a slip-on golf grip and installed in the same way (to be discussed shortly), only it is thinner and designed to have something else wrapped over it.  Then a strip a leather or other material is usually spiral-wrapped over the underlisting starting up at the grip cap and working downward, where the grip is finished off at the bottom in various manners.

When done well this culminates in a secure wrap-on golf grip.  Any desired adjustment to grip sizing is usually done under the underlisting before installing it, ordinarily applying a layer(s) of build-up tape (often just plain masking tape) over the bare shaft to ultimately increase the final grip diameter.  This is followed by a layer of double-coated adhesive tape and using a solvent the underlisting is installed.  The same double-coated adhesive tape (but without solvent use) or a liquid adhesive is often used to attach the leather or other material to the underlisting securely.  Potentially important details are not related here as they go beyond the scope of what this background calls for.  There can be many, many variations in both materials and methods used in constructing wrap-on grips.

For instance, slip-on underlistings have not always been used to partially build up a club’s butt-end diameter (primarily for grip-sizing purposes) before the leather or other material strip is wrapped on.  And grip caps can be completely independent components that are secured by various means to the butt end of a golf club.  Often comprising rigid plastic, discrete grip caps usually make it much easier to determine what the grip cap thickness is compared to one-piece slip-on grips.  When discrete grip caps are designed to be secured to the insides of the shafts (which many are), one can also more readily see how well one squared off the butt ends of the shafts when trimming them to length.  In my case, my true results were usually visibly worse than I thought I did.  And because of the greater rigidity of these components, they will only fit into the shafts as far as the portion of each shaft that is of the longest length (assuming not perfectly square) and no further.  This is a little different scenario than when using one-piece slip-on golf grips made of more pliable rubber or similar compositional material(s), which can more easily conform to shaft-butt ends that are not square upon grip installation.  Each scenario has potential drawbacks associated with it, with the ultimate solution for both being to accomplish golf shaft trimming that is as square as possible at the shaft butt ends before grip installation.

There can also be additional details to attend to for wrap-on grips.  This can include needing to reduce the size (diameter) of the grip cap to blend it in with the size of the wrapped-on material or a visible (and felt) protrusion where the two elements meet may cause problems.  This can affect one’s ability to efficiently hold on to the club at a critical location as well as be uncomfortable.  My past experience with wrap-on grips was mostly related to my putters, although I do recall also experimenting just a bit with my full set of clubs at one time.  I genuinely liked the leather grips on my putters (the very same putter models), but various issues eventually persuaded me to move away from the grips.  The issues included greater inconsistencies in grip size and weight that may become more apparent as I proceed and the changing and/or discontinuing of the underlisting utilized for the putter model.  (I still use the same putters [adjusted to my personal specifications], just no longer with a wrap-on grip).  The underlisting was manufactured by Lamkin (the leather strip may or may not have been from the same company) and I went to the factory a couple of times to pick some up when the company was then located in Chicago, being awarded with at least a partial tour of the factory, which I will always be grateful for.

As can be readily seen, the process for installing wrap-on grips can be much more labor intensive than for slip-on grips, but for some people it may still be well worth the effort (if components for wrap-on grips are even still available today).  Similarly, it is typically also more difficult to predict beforehand what a golf club’s final swingweight value will be when installing wrap-on grips.  Still more elements that can come into play (even assuming that no additional grip-sizing buildup is done) are knowing how much of the leather or other material strip will be used when constructing the grip (not an issue with completely finished slip-on grips) plus knowing where that strip material will be located with respect to the butt end of the golf club.  The closer to the butt end (for example if the entire strip were used up over the top ten inches of the club), the more the swingweight value will be reduced (from the club’s ungripped value) as opposed to less swingweight reduction if the identical amount of material is spread further down the club (using up the entire strip but taking the top thirteen inches of the club to do so for example), logically resulting in less grip material being closer to the club’s butt end.

Such situations can occur for all kinds of different reasons, such as the exact diameter of the shaft and underlisting combination that is to be wrapped (underlistings can be made in different sizes just like “regular” golf grips), how tightly the wrap material is pulled when wrapping, and/or what wrapping style is used.  The specific design of a wrap strip might allow an option of either slightly more overlapping among successive (usually tapered) wrap edges, creating more of an overall smoother look and feel if desired, or slightly less to virtually no overlapping among successive wrap edges, creating a more grooved look and feel with noticeable indentations between successive wraps.  Knowing exactly where the material will be located with respect to the butt end of the club and how it will affect the club’s swingweight value is ordinarily much less of an issue for slip-on grips.  But it is not a totally absent issue (with more on this coming up), so this reference information can be quite valuable in such regard.  For additional reference, if all of the strip material were rolled up and placed right over the fulcrum location, then no swingweight reduction (or increase) would occur, and then the swingweight value would start to increase more and more as that same material were moved further down the shaft toward the clubhead.  I cannot predict now whether I will be relating any more about wrap-on golf grips later.

At any rate and getting back to more contemporary one-piece golf grips, one common way to try to determine what a golf club’s final swingweight value will be before a given golf grip is actually installed is to first place the ungripped golf club into a swingweight scale and then separately (and strategically) also place the golf grip on the scale.  The combination of these components (and their locations) on the scale will ideally provide an accurate reading of what the golf club’s final swingweight value will be when gripped.  While not the only reason, one major reason for trying to accurately determine a golf club’s final swingweight value before the grip is installed is for the purpose of golf club swingweighting adjustment.  An option like trimming the club’s shaft shorter in order to decrease the club’s swingweight value more (the very reason this topic is being discussed here and now with respect to the current post title sequence) must of course be performed before the actual grip is installed.

In taking one step at a time here, first I will explain about just placing an ungripped golf club into a swingweight scale.  I have seen several different sources through the years stating that since some length is added to an ungripped golf club when a grip is installed by virtue of the grip having some thickness to its end grip cap (this part is certainly true), that this effect should be manually adjusted for when placing an ungripped golf club into a swingweight scale.  This adjustment is to be attempted by intentionally leaving a gap of about one-eighth of an inch (a common grip cap thickness) between the butt end of the ungripped club and the backstop of the swingweight scale (the stop that a gripped golf club would normally rest against when placed in the scale) when the ungripped club is placed in the scale.  Sadly, this one of the sorriest recommendations of technique for club making/fitting that has ever been given.  This technique should never be practiced and any ungripped golf club used for reference purposes in any such matters should always be placed in the scale with its butt end resting all the way against the scale’s backstop.

Scientifically, the first thing needed is a consistently accurate swingweight reading of the ungripped club.  This is true regardless of whether the combination of the ungripped golf club, grip, and scale design (which can dictate where the golf grip is to be placed on the scale) provides an accurate final golf club swingweight reading or not.  (If not, additional work and/or study will be needed to make such a determination.  And as will be detailed directly below, leaving a gap in between the butt end of the ungripped club and the scale backstop can in fact make for still more additional work and/or study).  The most surely accurate and consistent swingweight measurement of an ungripped golf club will always be obtained when the ungripped club is placed in the scale resting all the way against the scale’s backstop, a backstop designed to help assure precise and consistent measurements when using the scale.  It is scientific senselessness to proceed in a manner that can open a door to inaccuracies and inconsistencies in repeated swingweight measurements of the same ungripped golf club, but this is the door that is opened by intentionally placing the butt end of an ungripped club away from the backstop of a swingweight scale.

If that alone does not convince you, consider the following.  Not all golf grips have grip caps that are one-eighth of an inch thick.  (To the best of my knowledge there is no rule governing this dimension in the Rules of Golf).  Some grip models vary notably from this figure and it is commonly an unknown and a guess when choosing the amount of gap to leave.  And whatever the figure chosen, it is often quite arduous to measure such a figure accurately and consistently under the conditions of swingweight scale usage (unless one wants to make a discrete shim to help under such conditions).  And then is the issue of an ungripped golf club often sliding around in a lengthwise direction (thereby changing its effective length and swingweight value) to an unknown degree when the butt of the club is essentially placed in “nowhere land” in a swingweight scale and not routinely checked that it is resting against the scale’s backstop.  This club sliding in the scale (which can happen to some degree to any golf club) is generally more pronounced with ungripped clubs because bare golf shafts are inherently slipperier and therefore more prone to this kind of movement in the normal course of scale operation while measuring swingweight (referencing principally traditional mechanical swingweight scales here).  And then some golf club swingweight scales, depending on their particular designs, may not easily lend themselves to placing an ungripped golf club (or even a gripped club) in them with a gap left as discussed here.  The number of reasons why this should never be done is abundant.

From an engineering perspective, the same final golf club swingweight reading can be produced regardless of whether one places an ungripped golf club in a swingweight scale all the way against the scale’s backstop or intentionally leaves a gap between the club and the backstop.  In either case, a location on the scale can be determined whereby when the discrete golf grip is independently placed on the scale at that location (at the same time as the ungripped club), the identical reading can be obtained for what the final swingweight value of the golf club will be when gripped.  However, the “strategic” location to place the golf grip on the scale would be different in each case.  When a gap is left between the ungripped golf club and the scale’s backstop (which would result in a higher reading of roughly one swingweight point for a one-eighth of an inch gap than if the same club were placed directly against the backstop), the engineering solution for providing an accurate final golf club swingweight reading would require the discrete golf grip to be placed on the scale more in the direction of the club’s grip end.  And the same final swingweight reading can be obtained if the same ungripped golf club were placed in the scale all the way to the scale’s backstop and the same grip were placed on the scale a little more in the direction of the clubhead.

If a swingweight scale designer(s) presumes a particular grip design having a grip cap thickness of one-eighth of an inch will commonly be used, then this presumed condition can be designed into the scale.  Accordingly, any ungripped club whose butt end is placed irrefutably against the scale’s backstop and a researched, strategic location (and means) to simultaneously place any grip of the particular design on the scale can produce a correct final golf club swingweight reading under the presumed condition without the need for producing a gap between the ungripped club’s butt end and the scale’s backstop.