The Making of Grips

Grips are often overlooked by golfers as just a bit of rubber to hang on to, yet they are the only part of the club that we are connected to allowing us any control. I would guess that 75% of the people who read this article are doing so with grips, which are more than four years old and well past their best. Having to hold tighter on a grip means adding tension where we do not want it - in our fingers and forearms.

On a recent visit to Arizona, we were invited to visit the Star Grip factory in Chandler. There is much more to grips than meets the eye, especially at the top end of the range and as a business too there are some interesting parallels to world manufacturing issues.

Globalisation is as common in the golf world as in any other industry. Heads, shafts and grips are made for golf companies around the world in China these days. The designs and manufacturing processes imported mostly from the USA, date back to the 50's and 60's. Star Grip is the last exception to the rule keeping hold of their own manufacturing processes. They are the last American grip manufacturer physically producing grips in the USA. They use proprietary equipment, rubber compounds, molds and manufacturing systems that allow the production of grips of super high quality and performance.

Instead of using gimmicks, flashy colours and paint schemes, cost prohibitive advertising and player endorsements to lure customers, Star Grip adopted the long-term approach of the Japanese business model: high quality, dependability, durability, performance and value at a fair price. They back their quality claim with a guarantee that Star Grips will never get hard or slick, crack, split unravel or absorb moisture. It is indeed the only company in the world to offer such a guarantee.

Most of us take a grip for granted yet it is the golfer's only connection to the club. Close examination of the technical details demonstrates how grips can dramatically effect the performance of any club. A look into the process of making a grip and the new technology developed by Star Grip will show how they set a new standard of quality and performance in the grip industry.

Star Grips are made from a premium quality industrial grade EPDM elastomer (Fig 1 - Raw Material). This type of material, because of its superior physical properties and durability, is used extensively in the manufacture of automobiles and aerospace products. It is the material of choice for Star Grips for the same reasons and because of its outstanding resistance to ozone, UV, salt, and moisture. These are the elements that attack other grips and get them hard and slick in a very short period of time. Star Grip has developed a proprietary elastomer formula that is 2 to 3 times more expensive than other grips but is required for the premium quality the company guarantees.

In the early 1990's the company began manufacturing grips for other grip companies such as Royal Grip and Griptec. It was immediately apparent that the conventional method of manufacturing, still in use today in China, resulted in large weight variations and an out of round condition. Weight variation in the grip effects the swing weight and feel of the club and using a grip that is out of round creates the same condition as having a bent shaft. Rather than duplicate the same mistake, Star Grip decided to develop a completely new process that would improve quality and productivity at the same time. The company's management had previous experience with the design and manufacturing of rubber injection molding machines (Fig 2) which proved invaluable.

Special machines were required and 300 tonne, two-stage injection machines were designed and built. This allowed the use of seamless vertical position injection molds (Fig 3). This type of mold allows a grip to be produced that has "perfect centre construction" and eliminates the out of round condition that is present in all other golf grips. This type of molding also allows exact repeatability of weight tolerances of /- 0.5 grams as compared to accepted industry standards of /- 4.0 grams. Finally, the defect lines that run the length of other grips and require that the protective skin of the grip be ground off is non-existent on Star Grip. As a result, the life of the grip is dramatically extended and the possibility of moisture absorption is eliminated.

The company has a manufacturing capacity of 12,000 grips per day and offer 8 different models. The designs include the wrap style grips in Mens, Ladies, Juniors and Midsize. A smooth wrap, or Smoothee, that has a softer compound and feel, look and even smell of leather. The Sidewinder (Fig 4), named after the local Mojave Desert snake, is a non-wrap style grip that offers more texture and bite for customers that like a rougher feeling grip. The latest introduction is the Tour Series Oversize. This grip features very little taper that produces a "larger bottom hand". It has the look and feel of the popular 2 piece overwrap grips however Star's proprietary elastomer and manufacturing process provides dramatic improvement in wet weather play and of course, durability. Star Grips, the new Tour Series (Fig 5) will never split, crack unravel, absorb moisture or get hard or slick. It will last for several years - not several months.

We enjoyed out morning at the factory and now play with their grips, which replaced a long term love of soft cords as this grip compound really does what the factory claims. For those of you who have not recently had a new set of grips, do yourself a favour and seek out something to replace those slippery old grips you have on your clubs.

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