Callaway Golf has unveiled a steady stream of innovative new clubs in recent years, but none of them was as important to the company as the new edition of the Big Bertha driver and its tuned-up companion, the Big Bertha Alpha.
How do I know this? Because the Big Bertha name matters more to Callaway than anything. The company wouldn't put that name on new products unless it had the highest of confidence – and hopes – in them.
The original Big Bertha driver, introduced in 1991, changed Callaway Golf's fortunes forever, catapulting it from the ranks of aspirational club companies into one of the world's biggest and most influential. That driver – made of stainless steel instead of persimmon wood and far larger than almost anything else on the market at the time – was one of a handful of metal woods that kicked off a revolution in club design and construction unlike anything that had preceded it.
Callaway followed that original Big Bertha with several brand extensions, including the Great Big Bertha and Biggest Big Bertha woods and even a couple of models of Big Bertha irons. And now, the Big Bertha brand is being resurrected in the form of these two new drivers.
The Big Bertha Alpha is the most ambitious club in company history. It is best suited for elite players with above-average swing speeds who prefer low-spinning drivers to produce flatter drives that typically result in more roll.
It's the first driver to let golfers independently adjust four significant performance characteristics to optimize trajectory, control and distance. These four variables are loft, lie, shot bias and, for the first time ever, center of gravity height.
Callaway calls the latter of these features Gravity Control Adjustability and, essentially, it lets golfers adjust spin independently of launch angle – an option never before offered.
To enable this adjustment, the Big Bertha Alpha comes with a Gravity Core, which fits in a carbon tube in the head that connects the crown and sole. It has a glass fiber-reinforced body that weighs in at 1.5 grams connected to a tungsten end weighing 10.5 grams.
Either end of the core can be inserted into the clubhead, allowing golfers to raise or lower the center of gravity and thereby alter their spin rate. When the tungsten end is closest to the sole, it lowers the center of gravity and reduces backspin; when the tungsten end is closest to the crown, it raises the center of gravity and increases spin.
Generally speaking, players with above-average head speeds or those trying to prevent excessive spin will benefit from the lower center of gravity, which a creates a flatter, more penetrating trajectory accompanied by more rollout, Callaway explains. Golfers looking for a more controlled and workable ball flight and less roll, they add, might be better served by using the higher center of gravity.
How much difference can the center of gravity placement make? Player testing has shown as much as a 600 rpm spin differential between the two settings without a change in loft, Callaway said.
The Big Bertha Alpha also enables golfers to adjust its center of gravity bias, which helps influence shot shape. The driver has screw ports in the heel and toe, and comes with four interchangeable weights of 1, 3, 5, and 7 grams that provide a lot of flexibility in controlling both shot shape and overall head weight. The 1g and 7g screws are installed as standard and deliver a D3 swingweight, but the swingweight can be adjusted from D0 to D5.
The new Big Bertha doesn't have the weight ports or the gravity core. But it is the first Callaway driver to feature Adjustable Perimeter Weighting – a sliding 8-gram weight that golfers can move along a five-inch track around the perimeter of the head to help optimize shot shape and trajectory. The placement of this weighting system also helps give the driver more stability through the swing.
The faces on both the Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha are built around Hyper Speed Face technology, which Callaway engineers use to determine how thick or thin to make the various parts of the face. It's based on their understanding of the probability of where players will make contact on the face and, Callaway says, results in an extremely lightweight face that helps deliver more ball speed where players need it most.
And speaking of lightweight, the new Big Berthas also contains the Forged Composite material found in other recent drivers. This high-strength, lightweight composite material enables Callaway to keep the total head weight under 200 grams even while including multiple forms of adjustability.
In addition, the Big Berthas' Advanced Adjustable Hosel helps golfers to independently adjust their loft and lie angle to help translate their added ball speed into more distance. Golfers can chose from four different lofts to optimize launch angle and backspin and two different lies, denoted by 'D' for Draw and 'N' for Neutral, to optimize the directional bias. This new hosel, the company says, is the only adjustable hosel that allows changes in loft and/or lie without having to rotate the shaft on its axis between settings.
The Big Bertha comes in lofts of 9, 10.5 and 13.5 degrees, and its stock shaft is the Mitsubishi Rayon Fubuki Z graphite shaft. It carries a suggested retail price of $399 and will be available at retail on Feb. 14, 2013.
The Big Bertha Alpha comes in lofts of and 10.5 degrees, and its stock shaft is the Mitsubishi Rayon Fubuki ZT graphite shaft. It carries a suggested retail price of $499 and will be available at retail on Feb. 14, 2013.
Here is a Callaway video previewing the new Big Bertha driver: