Fully Equipped mailbag: Is there a difference between ‘stock’ and ‘aftermarket’ golf shafts?

March 20, 2020
aftermarket driver shaft

Welcome to another edition of the Fully Equipped mailbag, an interactive GOLF.com series in which our resident dimplehead (a.k.a., GOLF’s managing editor of equipment, Jonathan Wall) fields your hard-hitting gear questions.

I’ve been told the shaft in my current driver I bought at the store differs from something called an “aftermarket” version. Is that really the case? — Chase Taylor

It really depends on the driver you’re using at the moment. If you’ve never heard the term “stock” or “made for” before, it’s a term used to describe a shaft that has the same graphics as the “aftermarket” version you’d pay $300 for direct from the shaft manufacturer, but in this case, it comes as part of the package when you purchase a $550 driver.

While it may look the same, differences exist in a number of areas, particularly the materials department. In a recent episode of GOLF’s Fully Equipped podcast, LAGP’s chief product officer, John Oldenburg, offered to pull the curtain back on what differentiates a “made for” shaft from the “aftermarket” version you see on Tour each week in the hands of the best players in the world.

During the chat, Oldenburg noted the chief difference is the grade of materials being used. In the case of an aftermarket shaft, high-end carbon fibers — sometimes five or six different versions are used in a single shaft design — and blended with exotic materials such as Carbon, Boron and Zylon to lower the overall torque of the shaft. Accomplishing this makes the shaft more resistant to unwanted twisting during the swing, especially at impact. In other words: improved consistency.

Of course, adding these materials comes at a cost to the manufacturer and consumer.

“As you go up in grade of material, which is actually going up in stiffness and strength of the material, you essentially double the cost of the material for every step you take up,” Oldenburg said. “You can take four, five or six steps up the ladder, but the consumer can’t see it. We have to be able to explain it to the consumer, the type of material. Just calling it graphite kinda is an injustice to the product.”

Because these products are more expensive and the tolerances tighter, they are usually oriented in a way that benefits the overall design of the shaft. Known as “the layup,” materials are cut into patterns and positioned in such a manner along and around the tool to retain low torque. And reducing torque isn’t a cheap process.

So when it comes to shafts that are made for the big equipment brands by a shaft manufacturer, there’s a chance it could be a product that doesn’t have the same materials and tolerances as the aftermarket version. Unless you’re a really good player, you likely won’t notice a significant difference, but it’s possible you could see more twisting and potentially a higher launch and more spin.

“The most expensive thing to control on a golf club is torque, so when companies go and design these in-line products, that’s usually the first thing to go — the torque,” said Oldenburg. “The torque will normally go up one or two-plus degrees because you have to take that expensive material out.

“[The ‘made for shaft is] a different product. It has the same outer appearance — and, yeah, I’ll admit I played that game for a long time when I worked for Aldila. It’s a difficult game to play because golf shafts, just like anything else in golf, it’s a business. Businesses are there to make money, and you figure out ways to make money.”

It’s important to note some manufacturers have shifted away from “made for” shafts and started putting premium aftermarket versions in their newest products. Others offer the shafts with an upcharge. The difficulty is knowing whether the shaft in your driver is a premium aftermarket version or one that has identical graphics but happens to be made with lower cost materials.

“I don’t think anybody’s out there directly lying to the consumer, because they’re not out there saying, ‘Hey, this is the exact same thing,'” said Oldenburg. “But there is a little bit of kind of pulling the wool over the eyes of not coming right out and saying it’s different.”

“The best way to make a shaft, unfortunately, is the most expensive way to make a shaft. And that’s to do it in a lot of pieces. If you do a shaft in a lot of pieces, you can make it much more concentric and much more symmetrical. If you do it in a few very thick pieces, you end up with not so symmetric, not so consistent of a shaft. But making it fewer pieces, it just makes logical sense that it’s less expensive to do it that way.”

Bottom line, differences exist. It could be torque, slight changes in overall weight or how the shaft is designed to launch/spin. I think everyone can agree these are important aspects. If you are playing a “made for” shaft, it’s worth testing out the aftermarket version to see if noticeable variances exist.

Maybe you’re better off with your current build, but you’ll never know unless you do some digging. That’s assuming you can spot the difference between the two shafts.

To hear more gear insights from Jonathan Wall and True Spec’s Tim Briand, subscribe and listen each week to GOLF’s Fully Equipped podcast: iTunes | SoundCloud | Spotify | Stitcher