Rules changes are never easy matters for golf equipment manufacturers, and the decision a couple of years ago by the USGA and R&A to limit groove volume and the sharpness of the edges in wedges was no exception. Clubmakers had to scramble to roll out models that would conform to the new “Condition of Competition” requirements. And that created some problems.
“Our number-one priority at the time was to protect our players,” says Steve Pelisek, general manager for Titleist golf clubs. “We had to ensure that 100 percent of the Vokey wedges used in competition would comply with the new regulations. So, we were not able to pursue as aggressively as we might have wanted the outer ‘line in the sand’ the ruling bodies had established.”
In other words, Titleist took a conservative approach the first time it made Vokey wedges under the C-C limits. Better to be safe than sorry.
Now that it has had more time to figure out ways to work within those regulatory parameters, however, Titleist officials say they have been able to take things right up to the limits with its wedges. And the new Vokey Design SM4s are the result of those efforts.
What Titleist did, Pelisek says, was invest heavily in machinery and scoreline measurement technology for ultra-precise face and groove cutting as well as an inspection process to ensure conformance. Through that process, each groove is evaluated using computer-guided plotting technology in which a sensored stylus is piloted to trace the groove contours.
Three-dimensional coordinates are recorded, and the data is then translated into measurements of the groove’s total volume and edge radii as well as surface roughness, so each wedge can be manufactured at the conforming limit.
“We can now push the envelope on performance, giving players the highest possible spin and trajectory control without any risk of non-compliance,” says Dan Stone, vice-president of research and development for Titleist golf clubs.
Made of soft 8620-carbon steel and a heat-treated face, the Vokey Design SM4 wedges are available in 21 loft and bounce combinations and five different sole grinds. Each features 17 individually cut grooves, up from 14 in previous iterations. According to Vokey, that gives the clubs a more tightly packed groove configuration for better spin and trajectory control.
“Those additional scorelines give us more teeth on the ball, but they do not impart so much spin that you lose versatility and shot control when accessing a middle-to-back pin,” he says. “I honestly think this pattern strikes a perfect balance.”
It also helps knowing just how precisely each one is grooved.