Iron Byron: Repeat after me


Byron Nelson is largely credited with being the “Father of the Modern Golf Swing.” No less an authority than Jack Nicklaus considers him the straightest driver of the golf ball that he’s ever seen.

Ask folks at Glen Garden Golf & Country Club – the Fort Worth-based course on which Nelson honed his craft – and they’ll maintain that he could hit a few dozen balls from a shag bag, only to leave them lying in a dense pile 200 yards away.

No compliment, however, is as weighty as the fact that when a robotic machine was built to demonstrate the most efficient, repeatable golf swing, it was named for Nelson.

Sobel: Nelson: Golf's gentleman

Photos: Hogan | Nelson | Snead

Iron ByronIt’s no coincidence that the Iron Byron honored its namesake. When golf manufacturer True Temper first commissioned engineer George Manning to commence working on the project in 1963, he examined high-speed photography of top professional and amateur golfers in his testing facility, measuring their swings against one another.

What Manning concluded by the time it was fully developed three years later was that only one swing perpetrated the same exact numbers every single time.

The owner of that swing was none other than Nelson.

“We were looking to have a very efficient swing – and what I mean by efficient is a minimum amount of energy for a maximum distance hit,” Manning explained years ago. “What we discovered when we went through the pictures is that Byron Nelson had an extremely repeatable and extremely efficient swing. That’s what we wanted in the machine, so we designed the machine to copy that swing.”

For years, the original Iron Byron was employed by U.S. Golf Association officials to test various properties of different clubs and balls, ensuring that each conformed to industry standards. According to an older online definition of the machine, “Iron Byron's swing is so consistent that the USGA claims it must replace the center line of the test fairway every two years because of the turf damage caused by golf balls landing in the same spot over and over and over again, between 1,000 and 2,000 times per day during the summer months.”

The uses for Iron Byron range beyond testing, though.

Paul Wilson, an instructor based at Las Vegas-area Bear’s Best, has been using the machine as a teaching tool ever since the idea struck him as a eureka moment in 1999.

“I was making people copy the swings of pros, but I should have had them copy the machine,” he explained. “The three elements of the machine are directly related to the three elements of the swing – direction, spin and contact.”

And it all goes back to Nelson, of course. Perhaps the all-time master at those elements of the golf swing, he not only understood each of them, but executed them to near-perfection.

Nelson once said, “Swing the club as though you were driving 60 miles an hour on the highway. Not too fast, but not deathly slow. Once in a while, if the risk isn’t great, you can push your swing to 70, but never go faster than that.”

Man imitating machine – until a machine was produced to imitate the man. Call it the sincerest form of flattery. Iron Byron was built to replicate the most efficient, repeatable swing that existed. It couldn’t have had a more appropriate namesake.