In the ever-evolving golf-equipment industry, no two clubs have been more influential than the Ping Eye2 iron, introduced in 1982, and the Callaway Big Bertha driver, dating from 1991. Each club represented a giant leap, altering the equipment landscape in a way that still affects golfers today. Their contributions:
Investment-cast cavity back: The first to truly popularize both the manufacturing method and the head shape/design at the pro level—still state of the art.
Progressive offset: Even if they don’t agree completely with the theory, every iron designer of the past 20 years has consulted Karsten Solheim’s patent on progressive offset—the Rosetta Stone of modern iron design.
Custom fitting: The colored-dot lie-angle system came years before fitting and launch monitors were de rigueur. (OK, so they gave a bit back by offering just one shaft option.)
Square grooves: The first to popularize the bigger-volume grooves. Not only did the USGA institute new guidelines, they are still chapped about the issue, 20 years later.
Non-traditional shape: The first iron accepted by good players that didn’t “look like an iron,” truly opening minds to the concept that looks were secondary to performance.
Staying power: Twenty-five years and several hundred million dollars of R&D by the entire industry later, Eye2s are still in play on the PGA Tour. Amazing.
Callaway Big Bertha
Bigger is better: In the early ’90s, driver-head sizes were just peaking over 200cc. Along came Bertha, and drivers are now maxing out at 460cc (thanks to physics and the USGA, not necessarily in that order).
Shape change: The transition from traditional pear-shaped drivers to rounder head designs, which maximize the effects of efficient weight distribution, began with Bertha.
Trickle-up influence: Bertha was the first club designed for average players then souped up for the tour. “Easy to hit” was never a requirement for a tour club until BB.
Titanium: Big Bertha begat Great Big Bertha, and the titanium explosion was off and running. Not the first club to use titanium, but the one that made it a household name.
Industry changing: Bertha transformed Callaway from a specialty-club company to the industry leader and spurred interest from Wall Street, starting the equipment gold rush of the ’90s. The original Bertha is long gone, but the bloodline is still strong.
Bertha and her children definitely had the bigger impact on the business of golf, but as a gearhead, I have to go with the Eye2, in terms of pure design. It remains such an unparalleled classic. With Bertha, you have to look at the entire family (Great Big Bertha, etc.); in the case of the Eye2, all the design influences were rolled into one club.