When golf was played centuries ago, a ball that went 100 yd (91.4 m) after being struck with a golf club was considered a formidable shot. Nowadays, the various technological refinements have made shots of 300 yd (274 m) and more routine for the accomplished golfer.
One of the main reasons for this astonishing increase in distance is the construction of the shaft of the golf club. For most of the twentieth century, shafts were made of steel, which contains iron, chromium, carbon, and sometimes other elements. In the 1980s, club manufacturers introduced shafts made of graphite—a form of crystallized carbon.
The different construction of graphite and steel confers different properties to the shafts made of these materials. Both graphite and steel shafts are strong, and so will stand up to the rigors of the club face hitting a golf ball at high speed (professional golfers can generate a club head speed in excess of 100 mi/161 km per hour). But a graphite shaft is lighter than a steel shaft. This weight difference can translate into an additional 2 to 4 mi (3.2 to 6.4 km) per hour of club head speed with the graphite shaft, which, in turn, means the ball will fly 6-12 yd (5.5-10.9 m) further than if struck with a steel-shafted club.
Another advantage of a graphite shaft that produces a longer shot has to do with a property called torque, which is a force that tends to cause rotation. In this case, the rotational force is imparted on the club head that is positioned at the end of the shaft. As the club is swung backward and then forward in the golf swing, the club head will tend to rotate. Thus, as the club head makes contact with the golf ball, the head may not be pointing straight down the target line, but instead might be angled slightly off-target. The result, even with the finely crafted golf swing of a professional golfer, could be a golf ball destined for the woods. A graphite shaft is more resistant to torque, so the club face will stay truer to the target line, if the golf swing is executed properly.
Graphite allows a golf shaft to have the ideal blend of strength and lightness. This produces a quicker golf swing, with more energy to propel the golf ball, along with the strength to resist the swing forces that would otherwise misdirect the club head. The result is longer and straighter shots.