In 1995 Spalding Sporting Goods reorganized its golf club division by forming the Top-Flight golf company as its premium club brand. They dropped the Tour Edition moniker and focused on the expansion of their touring staff on the PGA, Senior PGA and LPGA tours.
Model: Tour Pro Offset
Material/Mfg: Investment Cast 304 Stainless Steel
Numerous iterations of the Top-Flite Tour irons existed when I joined Spalding in 1995. All of Spalding’s PGA Tour staff members were using some version of the design. I developed a more blade-like adaptation called the Tour Pro Offset based on a CNC milled cavity back blade that Payne Stewart was playing with. Spalding couldn’t get Payne into their cast irons until I finished the development of this model. However for his set we had to cut the hosels off and match the offset to his old Wilson Staff blades. This was the #1 iron played on the Senior PGA Tour from 1995-1999 due to a lot of custom grinding options we made available to card carrying tour players. The soft 304 stainless steel made this an easy club to transition to from a forged blade. Note the balance bar in the cavity’s center. It places a thick solid mass of soft steel directly behind the impact are of the face’s center. This was a design feature established early on and incorporated in all Top-Flite Tour irons and also the previous Tour Edition irons.
Model: Tour Ti Iron with Muscle Shafts
Material/Mfg: Investment Cast 17-4 Stainless Steel with 100% CP Titanium Face
The Tour Ti iron was another iteration of the popular Top-Flite Tour Oversize iron introduced a year earlier. I worked with Fenwick Golf to optimize the graphite Muscle shaft with each iron head through an engineering principle called Modality Synchronization. This was a scientific process that had yet to be successfully pursued by a major golf OEM. It focused on the shaft’s second, third and fourth frequency nodes by aligning their planes with the center of the face. Few clubs exist where these nodes all align. Lee Trevino took the very first set of prototype Muscle shafts and played with them the week after our initial testing to win the Legends of Golf event in 1996. He touted them in an interview with USA Today . . . eight months prior to us being ready to introduce them to the public.
Model: Intimidator 400 Woods
Material/Mfg: Investment Cast 6-4 Titanium
The Top-Flite Intimidator 400 woods derive their name from the .400” oversized tip configuration of the shaft. TaylorMade had been using the .400” tip with great success in their Bubble Shafts at the time and was paying Spalding a royalty for licensing the technology from them. It only seemed natural that we should be using our own technology on products with our name on them. The Intimidator 400 fairway woods were what made this product unique. The soles progressively grew a higher bounce angle as the loft increased throughout the set. You could hit these fairway woods out of bunkers, divots and the deep rough with ease. The sole’s bounce would ensure the leading edge hugged the turf during impact, minimizing both thin and fat shots. Typical wood soles have a convex shape with no bounce. Lee Trevino originally asked me to produce a prototype 5-wood model with bounce on the sole. I created a down and dirty version of the concept by applying automotive bondo to the sole of a 5-wood in order to create the high bounce angle (originally 12°). The model got shipped off to Lee at a Senior PGA Tour event in Palm Springs where he proceeded to shaft the head up and put on a small clinic to spectators on how to hit woods shots out of a bunker. How do I know this? It appeared on the front page of a Palm Springs newspaper’s sports section the following day. That model was never intended to be hit; only a shaping sample. Lee Trevino, the consummate promoter! Lee and I share both a utility and design patent for the Intimidator 400 woods.
Model: MicroGroove Putters
Material/Mfg: Invest Cast Aluminum Bronze
These bronze color putters were originally cast in stainless steel but the paint used to finish them did not hold up well with the first prototypes. Coast Cast Manufacturing in Southern California provided some prototype samples in aluminum bronze that looked rich and felt tremendously soft. I approved them for production before Coast Cast indicated they really didn’t want to do the castings in the aluminum bronze due to manufacturing challenges. Too late. They were committed to the program and we forged ahead with the gold colored putters. The faces of the MicroGroove putters may look familiar to all you Rife Putter fans out there. This is the project that brought Guerin Rife and me together back in the mid-1990’s. The putters were designed using Guerin’s grooved face technology under a licensing agreement and helped put him on the putter designing map. He fully designed the subsequent generation of MicroGroove putters which never got introduced to the market place. Next best thing when things don’t go right? Start your own putter company.
Model: Tour Women's Set
Material/Mfg: Stainless/Titanium Woods, 431 Stainless Steel Irons
This innovative women’s set took all of the design leads from our Spalding LPGA Advisory Committee led by Marlene Floyd. Unlike sets of the day the 3-iron was eliminated (and I strongly opposed the 4-iron also but lost that battle). I designed a Diamond Cut Sole sand wedge with an enormous undercut flange size by 1997 standards that many male golfers placed in their own sets. A high end chipper was part of the set configuration and Muscle graphite shafts were standard. All of the irons were finished in a champagne tone plating. The woods were all much higher lofts than found on women’s sets in the 1990’s and off-set hosels assisted with getting the ball airborne more easily than other OEM women’s sets. We got much push back from male golfers over the purple graphics because many found that they hit the Top-Flite Women’s woods farther and more consistently than any men’s models. However the color was ill received by the male golfing populace.
Model: Tour Wedges
Material: Investment Cast 304 Stainless Steel with Aluminum Oxide Face Coating
At the 1996 Player’s Championship Payne Stewart gave me an earful about Spalding’s past wedge designs. Even though he was on their staff he never played with any of the models feeling that their sole shapes and face profiles hadn’t been the best on the market. Payne challenged me to not reinvent the wheel when it came to the next generation of Top-Flite Tour wedges. This new wedge utilized a long tapered neck hosel that transitioned into a traditional tear drop face profile. I eliminated the trademark Diamond Cut Sole that had been a design standard for all of the Top-Flite irons at the time in lieu of a traditional flange shape (however we retained engravings of the Diamond Cut sole graphics). In addition to its square grooves I added a rough aluminum-oxide flame sprayed coating on the face to increase contact friction with the ball (higher spin). Strangely enough, even though the U.S. Golf Association allows 180 micro inches of surface roughness on an iron’s face most sand blasted surfaces measure fewer than 20 micro inches. The new Tour Wedge brought the score line area roughness up to the legal limit. Although cast from 304 stainless steel these wedges felt forged due to the dampening properties of the aluminum-oxide face. Payne informed me I did well by designing exactly what he asked for, but he never removed his Cleveland sand wedge from his bag.
Model: Top-Flite Intimidator Fairway Woods
Material: Investment Cast 17-4 Stainless Steel Body with Titanium Faces
One of my very first projects upon arrival at Spalding was to improve the sound and performance of their topless crown Magna driver and to develop a family of fairway woods to accompany their new Intimidator driver. I began the fairway wood project by queering the Top-Flite staff players on their ultimate fairway features. The general consensus was that there needed to be minimal turf resistance from the soleplate accompanied by more heel and toe relief than on other models on the market. There was a desire to see a progression in face profile depth as the lofts increased. I worked these featured into the Intimidator fairway woods which featured a heavy stainless steel body to deepen the center of gravity along with a light weight titanium face. As for the Magna driver project – let’s just say there are some mistakes that cannot be corrected.