Aerodynamic Golf Clubs
Aerodynamic considerations in golf ball design are nothing new, but the other golfing implement, the club, has resisted aerodynamic optimization until now. A new generation of golf drivers is now sporting streamlined, aerodynamic profiles in order to improve driving distances due to reduced club-head drag.
It's now accepted and proven that dimples on a golf ball help reduce its drag and extend its flight time. However, it's not so cut-and-dried in the case of streamlining a golf driver to reduce drag and increase its club-head speed.
The distance traveled by a golf ball is proportional to the speed squared of the club-head as it hits the golf ball - at least in a universe governed by Newton's Laws of Motion and gravity. So you would guess that anything that increases the club-head speed would be good squared, but distance isn't the only factor at play in golf. The yin to distance's yang is accuracy.
Streamlining a club-head invariably means making it more like an airfoil profile, at which point it is likely to generate lift unless the airfoil is symmetric and perfectly aligned (zero angle of attack) with the oncoming airflow. Given that a golf swing is just that, a swing, there is every chance that a lift force acting on the club-head will affect its trajectory - likely making the club feel twitchy and potentially making it less accurate. With practice maybe the twitchiness can be overcome.
I would wager that no-one has offered an airfoil profile for a club shaft because of this lift effect, even though the reduction in drag would be significant - an equivalent airfoil profile would generate 20 times less drag than a circular profile. However, it would be nearly impossible to keep the club shaft at the ideal angle to the oncoming airflow during a swing, and therefore the shaft would produce a force that would likely make it tricky to even hit the golf ball, let alone hit it straight.
So if dimples are good enough for golf balls how come they aren't used on aerodynamic golf clubs? It's because, unlike a ball, the club-head can be streamlined to minimize pressure drag and avoid the inevitable separation that follows a ball or cylinder. Further, given the relatively low speed (in aerodynamic terms) of the airflow past a golf club it can exploit the low drag characteristics of laminar flow to minimize viscous drag (also known as skin friction). There's a catch though - if you decide to take aerodynamic clubs for a spin, peak performance (drag reduction) requires that they be clean and nick free.
Who would have thought so much technology could be brought to bear on such a relatively straight forward game? The latest aerodynamic golf clubs were developed using wind tunnels and Computational Fluid Dynamics, just as with the development of Formula 1 racecars. Computer-Aided Engineering tools have opened a new frontier for sports equipment optimization. It gives new meaning to winning at all costs, unless of course you are using our cost-effective Caedium tools :-)