But if your club fails, will the company replace it for free? That depends.
Say your driver shaft breaks during a round. Assuming you don't want to pay to have it re-shafted, your options are to try returning it to the store for exchange or repair, or sending it back to the manufacturer.
If you take it back to the store, bring your receipt. You'll have to abide by the store's returns policy, which often means a clerk must rule out that your club is neither a clone nor a counterfeit. Then, while you're still there, the store should contact the manufacturer. Depending on the situation and the store, you'll either be handed an instant replacement, have to wait until the store receives a replacement, wait for the manufacturer to repair and return your original club, or wait for the store to repair your club (in which case you'll probably have to pay for the new shaft). If that sounds like a lot of aggravation, blame the store, not the manufacturer.
Why all this attention? Because the club market is highly competitive, and companies want to keep you as a loyal customer. "If a golfer spends good money on our clubs, I don't want him worrying about it breaking later only to find out that we don't care," says Greg Hopkins, president and COO of Cleveland Golf. "We stand behind our products."
However, several companies claim they're being forced to limit their generosity. They blame the growing number of golfers trying to take advantage of the unwritten code, looking for free upgrades from clubs or shafts no longer in stock, or returning clubs they've abused.
Them's the Breaks
A poll of equipment companies reveals that one of every four returned clubs was broken due to abuse. They weren't properly cared for, they cracked "accidentally" (see sidebar), or they were the victim of a fit of rage. All violate most warranties, and prompt a company response based on a golfer's statements. So don't lie: Savvy retailers and manufacturers need just one quick look to know how a club was treated.
For example, a steel shaft snapped in the middle was likely not broken during a swing. "That raises eyebrows," says Dawn Nacey, credit and returns manager at Tour Edge, which this year added "foul play" to its list of exclusions from its lifetime warranty. "Most steel-shafted clubs will break at the hosel or grip," Nacey says. "If the break is in the middle, we know it probably was cracked over a knee."
Companies also know that a colored metalwood clubhead marred with shiny metallic pits has been rattling around in the bag without a head cover, banging up against the irons. Green scratches on the soleplate can only be made from artificial turf at driving ranges; several companies have made these a warranty violation because range mats don't "give" at impact, causing ultralight shafts to break.
"Most golf pros can tell whether a club was broken out of anger or poor craftsmanship," says Scott Chaffin, director of golf at Mile Square GC in Fountain Valley, California. Yet Chaffin says he's had several golfers "bring in a club that still has bark on the shaft and claim that they didn't hit it against a tree."
Returns (most of which are broken clubs) have become such a big issue that several major manufacturers keep close tabs on the returners. Callaway uses its computers to track repeat returns and look for trends. Every Ping club has a serial number etched into the hosel or sole plate, which allows its computer to detect recurring violators. Many companies devote entire departments to scrutinizing returned clubs in an effort to determine how they broke and detect any defects, particularly in new product lines, and to prevent future ones.
Drivers make up 90 percent of all returns, as they have the largest clubheads and the longest shafts, and are swung the hardest. "More people get angry with drivers than with any club," says Chuck Renner, Ping's director of customer relations. "Look at any tee box and you'll see" where drivers were slammed down.
Occasionally, the face of a driver caves in, usually from hitting a rock. But drivers most often snap at the shaft near the hosel. Tremendous "load" pressure builds on both ends of the shaft during the swing, so if the ball makes contact anywhere but in the middle of the face, the resulting clubhead twisting can be the last straw.
"Shafts typically fail because someone hits it on the hosel or in the high heel," insists Frank Garrett, director of research and development at Wilson. "We often see ball [dimple] prints on the ferrule of broken drivers."
Steel shafts are 10 to 20 times less likely to break than similarly weighted graphite shafts. "Steel is very damage-tolerant," says Scott Hennessy, president of True Temper, which makes steel and graphite shafts. "The only way to damage a steel shaft is to dent it, and you'll be able to see that. But with graphite, you can damage the fibers inside without being able to see it. Then you get a domino effect, and it eventually snaps."
Still, graphite shafts are much stronger than they used to be. "In the last five years, they've become much more durable and breakage resistant, due to improvement in the materials, designs, and consistent manufacturing," says Hennessy. "But as long as golfers aren't perfect, no shaft will ever be break-proof."