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Many of the golf equipment features we take for granted today were groundbreaking and ahead of their time when they first came out. We take driver technology as a standard feature these days that it is easy to forget where they came from and how dramatically they have changed over the years. Given the huge amount of money and energy put into research and development in recent years, the technology is developing exponentially. In this best drivers ever review we’ll take a closer look at the drivers that changed the way we play golf.
Like classic cars that will forever retain their legendary status and iconic appeal, so too are there golf drivers that stand out in the history of driver development.
Given the massive advancements in materials, technology and adjustability, one might not want to try them out for an afternoon of golf as you might enjoy a Sunday drive in a classic car. They do, however, provide a fascinating insight into the evolution of driver design and technology over the years.
There have been so many fascinating drivers over the years that stood out so it was difficult to narrow it down to the truly memorable ones. We looked at the real game changers in terms of innovation or those that had a massive impact on future designs or introduced radical changes to the technology.
We also looked at drivers that people talked excitedly about, often for years to come and many of which, people still talk about to this day. Many have become popular collectors’ items that are regularly traded online.
A Brief History of the Driver
While we do not want to bore you with a history lesson, it is interesting to understand the development of the driver to understand how some of these clubs came to make the list. It is very hard to compare the modern driver to the early legends; they have come a long way. The rate of development and innovation is increasing and technology is improving every year.
Early drivers were made with ash or hazel shafts and the heads of harder wood such as holly, beech, or apple, all, understandably, European woods. When golf made its way to America in the early 1800s, the first big developments began.
American hickory was found to be far more suitable for shafts as it was more uniform and stronger. Persimmon soon became the choice for the head.
Very soon, developments were made with steel and other metals before the advent of graphite shafts and titanium heads. Now, a wide range of very sophisticated materials are used to create durable, high-performing, and ultra-lightweight clubs.
Best Drivers in History Review
In no particular order, these are the drivers we believe to have, in one way or another, been the best drivers ever.
Spanning many years from 1910 right up to 1970, the PowerBilt Citation series was extremely popular, mostly due to its consistent accuracy and impressive distance. It was enjoyed by all, from beginners and eager armatures to the top golfers of the time.
It is one of those drivers that many an older golfer still discuss fondly over a few drinks after a round of golf, presumably played with one of the latest, hi-tech drivers.
Although PowerBilt still produce great clubs to this day, none have come close to the iconic following that the Citation inspired.
One of the first major turning points in driver design was when relatively new club designer Gary Adams created the first metal wood in the late 1970s. His cast stainless steel driver with a 12-degree loft soon became known as the “Pittsburgh Persimmon,” and set new standards in driver material and design.
It was a true game changer and hugely influential on other manufacturers. He called the driver Taylormade and started the TaylorMade company. He was able to get a few pros to use the driver.
Although already becoming very popular, it was after Ron Streck became the first pro to win a major with this new driver in Houston in 1981 that the driver became a household name. This instantly changed the future of driver development as well as increasing the expectations of pro golfers around the world.
PING Karsten Laminated Woods
While persimmon wood drivers were made famous by PowerBilt, other companies such as Ping improved on the concept even further by using a thick lacquer to laminate the drivers. Prior to this, the standard persimmon had a tendency to crack with time and use.
The lacquer-laminate used on early Karsten drivers increased durability and raised the bar for other driver companies to improve on this. It was one of the many breakthrough innovations that drove the improvement in driver design and technology.
Ben Hogan Apex Driver
The Ben Hogan Company was initially famous for their highly forgiving and extremely popular irons that were used by many PGA golfers.
As far back as 1957, they introduced the speed slot design in their drivers, a technology that is still in use to this day.
The Ben Hogan Apex persimmon did not disappoint and more than lived up to the famous name attached to the driver. It went on to become one of the top-selling drivers ever. The company now falls under Cleveland Golf.
No discussion of iconic drivers would be complete without mention of the legendary Callaway Big Bertha. Callaway created an absolute icon with the Big Bertha range so than even non golfers are instantly aware of the name. It was way more than clever marketing on Callaway’s part, it truly was, and still is, a superb driver.
It first appeared on the scene in 1991 and was, at that time, the biggest driver on the market. By today’s standards, those early Big Bertha’s with a 190cc clubhead, would look small by comparison, but at the time it created a new trend when people noticed the incredible distance golfers were achieving with this new driver. It paved the way for manufacturers to develop drivers with larger heads.
It was another driver favoured by beginners and top golfers alike and quickly became an extremely popular driver, a must-have for many aspiring golfers to this day.
Titleist decided to follow the trend of producing bigger heads and when they released the 270cc head 975D in 1996 it was an instant hit. It went on to become a big seller and further inspired other manufacturers.
Winning two majors soon after launch further enhanced its status. There has even been a trend among certain players going retro and going back to this driver, despite the technology and modern advantages of current drivers.
Following early success with their PING eye 2 and the PING Tisi, they went on to develop one of the first true game improvement drivers that had been designed to dramatically improve forgiveness, the PING G10 driver. This had great appeal to golfers and lead to enormous success for the G-Series clubs.
Released in 2004, the TaylorMade R7 Quad driver boasted adjustable clubhead weights, a first on any driver. Although commonplace on most modern drivers, this was cutting edge technology at the time.
Soon, other manufacturers would follow suit and before long, most drivers features this very practical and handy technology.
Although primarily an iron manufacturer, Mizuno’s claim to fame was the use of the first Fast Track technology. This consisted of movable weights on the sole of the club. This massive innovation set new standards for other manufacturers and this technology has made a huge impact on modern driver design.
A rather unusual innovation was used by PowerBilt when the injected nitrogen gas into the club head of the Air Force One DFX was introduced. This unorthodox technique tried by the company in 2014 resulted in one of the year's top drivers and indeed of all time.
The Ping G30 achieved instant iconic status when Bubba Watson won the 2014 masters. It was also the first time “turbulators” were used to improve aerodynamics, increasing swing speed and improving distance.
Already highly successful in the driver market, there was a lot of hype in the build-up to the launch of the 913D3 in 2014. With impeccable accuracy, distance and consistency, the driver lived up to all the anticipation.
The Fly-Z achieved its all-time-classic status trough amazing build and design. As the innovators of the adjustable perimeter weight combined the adjustable hosel, this soon become a most sought after driver and proved to be a great success.
Moving towards the more modern, current drivers, the TaylorMade M1 stands out as one of the top drivers of all time. The design and technology of this driver is second to none and it is one of the most advanced clubs ever produced.
They have employed a number of modern technologies that gel perfectly together. The carbon fiber crown is lightweight and allows for movable weights to perfect the center of gravity to suit your swing while front weights will enhance your launch angle and help you control your draw or fade.
With the range of adjustments available, you are given a choice of 270 options with the dual track system as well as a choice of 12 lofts. A far cry from the earlier drivers we discussed above.
Furthering the success of their 9 series drivers, the 917 is another stand out driver with multiple adjustability mechanisms. This allows you to dial in and get the ultimate results from your particular swing style and speed.
It is highly forgiving and makes use of their enhanced Active Recoil Channel for greater ball speed and the SureFit CG is also a great advantage for all players.
The Final Word
The modern golfer has much to be thankful to these brave, early innovators who developed many of the technologies still in use today. The concepts and principles created by these visionaries are only getting better year by year.
They have radically improved driver performance making the game that much more enjoyable and assisting golfers across the board to hit with more confidence, achieving greater speed and distance with more accuracy. It will be interesting to see what future innovations and technologies lie ahead.