Bighead drivers take more abuse than any other club in a golfer’s bag: their faces hit the ball, putting it through about 30,000 G. That’s enough force to erase even the fanciest carbon fiber, a material that has become the darling of club makers over the past two decades due to its strength and lightness. Self-destructing faces in testing were enough to send manufacturers back to titanium designs, which have been the norm since the early 90s. With its new Stealth driver, TaylorMade, the company that first ditched heads classic woods for steel heads in 1979, cracked the formula to create a lightweight carbon face durable enough to withstand thousands of hits while delivering more ball speed and longer drives.
Titanium has long been a staple for very good reasons. It offers one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios of any metal on the planet, meaning companies can make huge 460cc riders that bump up to the maximum PGA size without adding weight that slows down a swing. Metals are ductile and flexible, allowing them to rebound after deforming on impact.
The appeal of carbon fiber is that it’s even lighter than titanium, but it brings its own complications. It is made of carbon strands woven into a fabric-like sheet. By laying pads on top of each other in different orientations and bonding them with resin or another polymer, manufacturers can create a substance about five times stronger than steel and twice as stiff. The most common problems come from imperfections and air pockets in the diapers. When Taylor Made began researching the possibility of a carbon face in 2000, designers discovered that scanners used to find flaws could only detect coin-sized voids. In order to harden the club, they needed to find bubbles measuring just a fraction of a millimeter, so they turned to machines usually reserved for making microchips where the tolerances are absurdly tight.
Once it had the wherewithal to find the potential trouble spots, Taylor Made still needed to fine-tune the formula for its manufacturing process. The elements on the top and the soul of the club are based on up to nine layers of carbon fiber. The 4mm thick face of the Stealth takes 60 sheets of much thinner material with additional resin to fill in the space that might otherwise turn into air bubbles. As a result, the company claims its face offers the same durability golfers expect from a titanium version, while offering a weight reduction of over 40%.
The clubmaker did not eliminate all titanium from the Stealth rider, however. The internal frame of the head still uses metal for its structure. It also gives the driver the satisfying sound golfers need when hitting the ball: Taylor Made has tweaked the internal armatures to sound satisfying. snapping similar to what you’ll get from an all-metal head, instead of a mute snapping you might expect from carbon.