Tuning a golf club's signature "thwack" sound costs millions

  • Posted by james rivard
  • June 19, 2017 4:26:50 AM PDT

In 2007, Nike introduced a driver called the Sumo. It was immediately identifiable because of its square head shape as well as the signature sound it made when impacting the ball. The noise in question was a loud “clank” that many players found annoying. “The Sumo had a very strong frequency content around 2,000-3,000 hertz,” says Daniel A. Russell, a professor of acoustics at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Engineering. “That’s right where the human ear is most responsive to sound.”


From a performance standpoint, a square driver actually had some tangible advantages. Moving weight to the corners of the clubhead reduced the amount of twisting that happens when the ball doesn’t hit the sweet spot on the face. Less rotation around the center of gravity meant straighter shots, even on less-than-ideal swings. But, looking back on reviews, it’s clear that the sound (and to a lesser extent, the aesthetics) was a dealbreaker for many players.


In an effort to avoid future cacophony, Nike went to Russell in 2015, hoping to leverage his then 16-year history studying acoustics in sporting equipment, including everything from baseball bats to tennis rackets. The company would ultimately get out of the golf manufacturing game altogether in 2016, but Russell has continued to delve into the world of golf club sound.




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