Lead Tape Golf Club Customization: What Is It and Does It Apply to Modern Golf Clubs?
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Modern golf clubs are a technical tour-de-force.
Hundreds of hours go into their designs, exotic materials are used and extensive testing by machine and tour professionals mean the product we see on the shelves or online are better than ever.
Modern golf clubs – especially the driver and fairway woods offer extensive adjustment options dialing the club into a player’s requirements.
But it hasn’t always been like this.
Up until the mid-80s, golfers still had clubs in their bags that essentially had been handmade.
But how would a golfer using persimmon woods and blade irons make changes to their clubs and if so, how would they go about doing it?
The answer to these questions was lead tape.
Lead tape golf clubs were very common in the bags of golfers who wanted their clubs more suited to their individual preferences.
So if we are talking about lead tape golf clubs belonging to a previous generation is there any place for lead tape in the modern game?
To answer that question, we’ll walk you through the following:
- The construction of older-generation golf clubs
- Why was lead tape added?
- What effects could be made by lead tape golf club tuning?
- How the modern golf clubs differ from their older counterparts
- Is lead tape golf club customisation a thing of the past?
The biggest developments in golf clubs have taken place within the last 50 years of the game.
That seems like a long time but when you consider how many centuries golf has been played you can argue that we are still in the infancy of how technology can advance golf clubs.
Without going into the history of golf clubs it’s important to understand one key element that linked older generations of golf clubs.
They were all handmade.
Handmade clubs were beautiful things to look at but as you can imagine with little technology involved in making these clubs they weren’t the most forgiving things to use.
Another issue was that in being handmade, the tolerances of the finished products could vary from club to club.
Certainly, in the professional ranks at the start of each year, pros could receive as many as 10 sets of irons from their sponsor or supplier and they would go through each set handpicking each iron to come up with their primary set and backups.
The same issue cropped up with drivers and fairway woods.
Being hand-built meant marginal differences in the end product.
Find a driver that felt right and you could play that club for years.
Players developed a great sense of how a club felt which was backed up by analyzing the ball flight to assess how their clubs were performing.
If the player felt minor tweaks needed to be made, that’s when the lead tape came into use.
Why was lead tape added?
Lead tape golf club customization on the surface appeared to be a straightforward process and was applied to add weight or help with shot shaping.
For starters, lead tape was, and still is, readily available to purchase and comes in rolls similar to what you see of sellotape.
There was no harm in handling lead tape and the only equipment needed was a pair of scissors.
This gave a level of flexibility and ease of use since the tape could be cut at varying lengths depending on the desired goal and where it was to be placed.
Changes to the golf club could be made quickly and tape could be positioned on any part of the head.
Lead tape could also be applied to other areas of the club to create differing effects.
As an example, Jack Nicklaus would have lead tape added under the grip section of the shaft to make the head feel lighter which would help him generate more club head speed.
What effects could be made by lead tape golf club tuning?
In the main, lead tape served two main purposes when applied to golf clubs:
- Shot shaping
- Adding weight
Regardless of whether it is an old persimmon driver or a modern carbon composite 460cc masterpiece golfers of every generation have struggled with a slice off the tee.
With the persimmon driver as an example, lead tape could be strategically placed in the heel area of the head to straighten the ball flight out.
The idea was that with the added mass of the lead tape, the heel of the driver would be heavier than the toe allowing the toe to close quicker through impact.
The opposite would be the case if the golfer struggled with hooks off the tee – apply lead tape in the toe area of the club to allow the heel to move faster meaning the face would be squared up at impact.
If the ball flight was potentially too low, lead tape could be applied to the back of the head moving the club’s center of gravity further back in the head and promoting a higher trajectory.
The opposite was true if the player was seeking a lower ball flight, lead tape placed on the sole close to the face would help push the center of gravity up reducing spin on the ball at impact.
Golfers sometimes want to have the club feel a specific way in their swing.
The weight ports on the R7 weren’t just about creating a desired shot shape.
The heaviest weights could be placed in the ports positioned at the back of the club to create a higher ball flight.
Alternatively, place the heaviest weights in the toe and heel ports to lower the ball flight.
When launched, the R7 was hailed as a technical masterpiece and indeed it achieved its first professional win within the first week of it being made available to tour professionals – Scott Drummond prevailing at the Volvo PGA Championship.
From there the concept has evolved with the development of mechanisms like sliding weight ports and internal strategic weighting seen on many a modern driver.
In 2023, the language is based around moving the centre of gravity to suit a player’s strike pattern as seen on the Titleist TSR 3.
Titleist state that by matching the moveable weight port at the back of the head to the strike location the player will still be able to maximize the ball speed off the club face even if it is not a center strike.
Looking at iron design we can see similar ideas coming to the fore.
Irons that feature internal cavities that are filled with special foams or materials such as tungsten distribute the weight where it’s needed the most to help players on off-center strikes.
Whilst there is no argument that modern clubs make the game far easier to play compared to their counterparts discussed earlier some basic concepts remain the same.
How you strategically position weight in a golf club head can alter shot shape and trajectory.
One difference however is that where lead tape golf customization methods would have deliberately made a club feel heavier this is no longer seen as a benefit to the majority of golfers.
For players with slower swing speeds design favours clubs to be lighter to help maximise club head speed.
Is lead tape golf club customisation a thing of the past?
With modern drivers and fairway woods offering many adjustable options that can alter the head’s center of gravity is there still a place for something as old-fashioned as lead tape golf club customization?
The answer is actually yes, lead tape golf clubs are still very much in use.
Whilst we don’t see lead tape used in drivers so much for all the reasons discussed, players still use lead tape strategically on fairway woods, hybrids, irons and wedges.
To conclude, lead tape golf club tuning was used extensively in older generations of golf clubs.
These older woods and irons were handmade which whilst still made to a very high standard didn’t always result in consistencies from club to club.
The application of lead tape could alter the overall swing weight of the club or help promote a certain shot shape.
Modern materials and design technology gave manufacturers a better understanding of how placing the centre of gravity in their clubs could influence the ball flight.
Drivers like the Titleist TSR 3 promote moveable weight to maintain ball speed if the player has a consistent pattern of hitting more in the heel or toe of the club.
Lead tape is used on a smaller scale but still has a place.
It’s applied to clubs to allow the player to achieve a certain feeling within the club that suits their preference.
This personal preference and feel links modern golfers to previous generations of golfers and is something that technology won’t ever replace.
With the older clubs, there wasn’t the choice of different shaft weights and materials so if a player liked the look of the club but felt it was on the lighter side they could add lead tape.
The effect of adding the lead tape would bring the overall swing weight up and the player could apply just the right amount of tape to create the correct balance of the club.
How the modern golf clubs differ from their older counterparts
Since the introduction of metal woods, cavity-backed irons and graphite shafts in the 70s the design of golf clubs has changed drastically.
We can see the development of a club that placed technology ahead of the need to use lead tape when TaylorMade introduced the R7 driver which was launched in 2004.
The R7 range was revolutionary because it featured four weight ports on the sole of the club – two at the back with one port in the toe section and another in the heel section.
Different weighted screws could be placed in any combination moving the mass of the head and altering the shape of shots golfers hit.
The concept was incredibly simple but identical to how lead tape would be applied.
If you’re a golfer who constantly slices the ball, set the heaviest weights in the heel ports allowing the toe to close quicker thus achieving straighter ball flights.