Several weeks ago, we asked you to take a graphite shaft survey. We wanted to understand the kind of shafts you’re playing, where you got them and gauge your perceptions of the brands across the industry. We received more than 5,000 completed surveys (5,192, to be precise) and, today, we’re sharing the results.

To keep things concise, we’ve eliminated the demographic stuff (not much has changed since our ball survey) and focused on the questions we thought were most interesting.

Before we dig into it, congratulations to Kem S., who was selected to win one dozen MGS-logoed balls from Golfballs.com.

The Results

2020 Graphite Shaft Survey

I don’t know that we’ve ever asked about swing speed in a survey before so this one is just an FYI. We know golfers don’t hit the ball as far as they think they do so it’s reasonable to wonder if golfers don’t swing as fast as they think they do, either. Regardless, it appears swing speeds for the average MyGolfSpy reader skew faster than the golfing population as a whole. That’s not mind-blowing info or anything but it’s good to know.

As a golf equipment site, I would again expect that we skew away from the general population of golfers. That said, my hunch is 78.85 percent would be considered a big number by most equipment companies. Having no previous insight into this aspect of our readership, I would have guessed 60 percent – tops.

2020 Graphite Shaft Survey

This is the answer I like to see. Retail Fitting Boutique accounted for more than a third of the aftermarket shaft purchases (at least within the “check only one box” choice we gave you). This suggests you’re getting fitted for your (presumably) bigger-ticket golf shafts. The surprising one here is ebay (online auction). I expected that number to be higher, though I suspect if we had asked about how many shafts you purchase in a given year, the persistent tinkerers among us would show significantly higher purchase rates through forums and online auctions.

It’s always tough to gauge the accuracy of the responses to this question. How much are we being influenced by the tour without knowing it? In a fitting environment, it shouldn’t matter but I’d be willing to bet many gearheads could recite every shaft Tiger has ever played (and they’ve tried all of them).

I will continue to argue that tour use doesn’t carry the weight it used to but how many shafts are there in OEM catalogs or on fitters’ walls that aren’t used on tour? I’d wager the percentages are low and that’s without discussing how tour play influences what goes into a manufacturer’s stock and aftermarket lineups.

In the survey, these were two separate questions but we decided to get clever and combine them into a single response. Among our readers, fitting rates for both drivers and irons exceeds 50 percent. In general, that’s awesome. It’s the right thing to do.

It’s also not particularly surprising that iron fitting rates are a bit higher. While most golf shops offer what amounts to “grab and go” service for drivers, between dialing-in length and lie angles, sorting through a growing catalog of shafts and accounting for grip preferences, comparatively few iron sets are sold off the rack.

2020 Graphite Shaft Survey

The 20,000-foot view: The reasons golfers don’t get fitted for irons are mostly the same reasons why they don’t get fitted for drivers.

Cost will always be an issue but, in many cases, the fitting fee is included in the purchase. Lack of consistency and “not being good enough” are, I’d argue, two reasons why you should get fitted. A good fitting can deliver greater consistency and ultimately improve your game.

The next two are similar and while I struggle to find much credence for either, I am aware there remains a segment that views custom fitting as something akin to a cash grab veiled in witchcraft.

Allowances must be made for the reality that not all custom fitting is created equal and while there are some excellent fitters working out of big-box stores (where the overwhelming majority of golf gear is sold), realistically most can’t match the expertise (or the inventory) at a full-service fitter like Cool Clubs, True Spec or TXG. All of that brings me to a broader acknowledgment that not every golfer has a competent fitter nearby. Driving a couple of hours (or more) for a fitting may not be a realistic ask of many of you, so yeah…I get that part of it.

Among those of you who chose Other were plenty who take a DIY approach to fitting. I’ve been known to do that a time or two myself. Some of you mentioned having a prior bad fitting experience. Others talked about not having the time (or being lazy). Winning clubs or receiving them as a gift was another frequent response as was “I know my specs.”

For whatever it’s worth, I do a ton of DIY work and having tried as much gear as I have over the years, I have a damned good idea what works for me but that said, I never pass on an opportunity to get a second opinion.

This is one of the more interesting questions for me and it’s not entirely because of the answers themselves. Given their prevalence in mainstream driver lineups, it’s not surprising that Fujikura, Mitsubishi and Project X top the list with similar percentages. In a typical year, the majority of stock offerings are reasonably evenly spread across the three – though anecdotally (and without counting), my guess is Project X has become increasingly more common.

While Aldila is beginning to find its way back into stock lineups (Rogue White in Mavrik Sub Zero, for example), the brand isn’t as prevalent as it once was.

Graphite Design is notable because it’s not a brand you find among the stock offerings. The business is almost entirely driven by upgrades and the aftermarket.

What I find most interesting are the responses listed under Other. There were some smaller brands listed (Paderson, Veylix and House of Forged). PING’s Alta lineup received several mentions, as did Miyazaki. Matrix is still kicking around, too. There was also a tremendous number of specific models (Tensei, EvenFlow, Kuro Kage, HZRDUS), which could suggest that while some golfers know what shaft they play, they don’t necessarily know the brand that made it.

2020 Graphite Shaft Survey

It’s no real surprise that the most popular brands are the most common in club lineups, on tour and basically everywhere. “Circle of life” type stuff. True Temper and KBS each account for 20 percent of what’s in your bags while Nippon and True Temper sister brand, Project X, aren’t far apart in the 13-percent range.

This result was to be expected. The names most everyone knows (and the brands every club manufacturer uses) are at the top. UST (Recoil) and Aerotech (Steel Fiber) smooth the transition to the other graphite brands.  We don’t need the steel versus graphite question to get a sense of the disparity in play between the two materials used in iron shafts today.

I’m a firm believer in the idea of “never saying never.” I can’t be alone in that so so perhaps there’s some wiggle room from the 32.53 percent who said they wouldn’t consider switching to graphite in their irons. I believe graphite shafts are the future of iron shafts (and I’m probably not the first to say it). Maybe that’s the case. Maybe it isn’t. But it’s worth pointing out that you’re not seeing graphite shaft brands jumping into the steel category but there’s some evidence (KBS, Nippon) that traditionally steel brands are trying to cross into the graphite space. It makes one wonder if there might just be something to it.

Fundamentally, I view the responses to this question as an education problem. There’s definitely some overlap in the answer choices we gave you but a good bit of the “why” behind a lack of interest in graphite suggests that graphite shaft producers haven’t done the best job of delivering the messaging.

Yes, it’s true there are fewer options. That’s true for both club manufacturer lineups as well as the aftermarket and especially true when you move into 120+ gram offerings where you can quite legitimately count the current offerings on a single hand. Accra had something, UST has the Recoil Proto (I miss the standard 125), and not long ago Mitsubishi launched a 125-gram version of the MMT.

For the most part, however, options top out at 115 grams or so and that’s an issue for those of us who’ve played tour-weight stuff forever. I suspect that’s the reason behind the idea that graphite won’t help faster swingers. It’s too light and, likely, won’t hold up to faster, more aggressive swings. Rhetorical question: Why wouldn’t a lighter-weight graphite shaft hold up to a faster swinger when graphite wood shafts in the 60-gram range are holding up just fine under the stress of PGA TOUR swing speeds?

The feel argument…If you’ve played steel forever and most, if not all, of what you’ve tried in the graphite space is the ultra-lightweight and stock-grade stuff, I suppose that’s a reasonable concern.

With a more focused message that conveys the benefits of graphite and, yeah, a wider range of offerings, too, there’s an opportunity to grow the graphite iron shaft market, though it will likely take some tour play before a significant percentage of the “steel and only steel” crowd is willing to take a look.

The One-Word Survey (Shaft Edition)

Included in the survey was a section of questions modeled after our One Word Brand Survey. The concept is simple, we give you a single word, you tell us which brand you most associate with it. If no particular brand comes to mind, you can choose none – and very often you do.

Here’s a selection of those questions.

It was a last-minute decision to publish this chart. Given our education-focused Shaft University series, it’s reasonable to think our readers are more familiar with recent Fujikura efforts in the educational space. Outside the confines of Shaft University, Fujikura and True Temper (which included Project X) have done an excellent job producing content to help golfers understand the features and benefits of their products as well as broader shaft-related topics.

That being said, the category remains ripe with secrets and misinformation. That’s not great for consumers, but the reality is that leaving some details out of the conversation is necessary to maintain business as usual.

I should also mention that larger brands garner the lion’s share of the responses for these type of questions. This hold true for nearly every survey we’ve ever done.

2020 Graphite Shaft Survey

We effectively have three brands that are dominant in the OEM shaft space (Fujikura, Mitusbishi and Project X) against smaller, mostly aftermarket options. As a small company trying to do something fundamentally different, TPT is a curiosity. It hit some bumps in the road but the fact that it’s viewed as more innovative than more established brands like UST and Oban could suggest that golfers see something unique in the offering.

Market leaders are typically leaders for a reason so, again, it’s not the least bit surprising to see the biggest names leading the pack. The drop off in Project X’s percentage of the responses is a little surprising but given that the company hasn’t been in the graphite space for nearly as long as the others, it could also simply be a matter of familiarity coupled with some influence from the next question.

2020 Graphite Shaft Survey

Again, we see four clear leaders and the actual numbers from the tour tell us that in any given week any of them could be at the top of the table. It’s just a guess but the Tensei series remains popular on tour and given that Tiger has used both Diamana and Tensei series shafts recently, it’s possible he’s swaying perceptions. At a minimum, it’s likely the shafts being used by a few players are driving perception.

Hype is a double-edged sword. It carries an inherently negative connotation and yet, if you haven’t generated some amount of hype, there’s a good chance nobody knows your name.

Project X basically doubling up Graphite Design and Fujikura is tough to wrap my head around. Perhaps some of it can be traced to its line of Handcrafted shafts which indisputably led some to believe Project X was doing something everyone other than TPT does (rolling shafts by hand) was somehow unique – even exotic. And yeah, we beat them up a bit over the T800 stock offering in the Callaway Epic driver.

That said, I’d also argue there’s a correlation between hype and exposure. In my opinion, Project X leverages social media better than any of its competitors in the shaft space and arguably does it better than may of the club companies.

I’d certainly like to understand why you selected the brand you did so feel free to use the comment section below to explain.

Again, this is about what you’d expect with the same brands popping up again and again. What I think is notable is Accra which even in single-digit numbers, has over-performed relative to its size across this survey. Accra isn’t as well known as most of the other brands included in this survey. That’s likely because you won’t find it in OEM lineups but it’s trusted by fitters and has built a small but loyal following among golfers in the know.

With None leading the way, it’s reasonable to say no shaft manufacturer has positioned itself as the undisputed leader in fitting. That’s reasonable, given that while most companies offer some sort of education platform for its fitters, ultimately the quality of the fit depends on the fitter more than it does the product. Every manufacturer on this list is capable of producing a shaft that will deliver performance for the golfer.

Do the results suggest an opportunity for a brand to step up and stake a claim as the leader in fitting technology?

2020 Graphite Shaft Survey

We know there’s a huge void in shaft education so we wanted to better understand how you’d like us to fill it.

We’ve tackled a bit of the design piece and have some other things in the works in that area but it’s not even a little surprising to have you confirm that there’s a lot of interest in OEM versus aftermarket shafts. Frankly, it’s a particularly challenging area to cover because shaft companies aren’t’ particularly interested in going down this road.

Whatever the full truth of the matter is, there’s no comfortable answer.

Are the high-volume OEM-grade shafts made with lesser materials and to lower tolerances? Are they watered down to cut costs?

Is it possible that aftermarket shafts aren’t that much different than the made for OEM offerings? Are exotic materials and tales of unique and elaborate constructions being used to artificially increase margins?

The Takeaway

Reading through your answers the thing that stands out is how much opportunity remains for shaft brands to inform and educate golfers. Mythology, misinformation, and ultimately confusion remain part of the shaft experience from the consumer perspective, and for lack of a more elegant term, that blows.

The category is always going to occupy a niche corner of the golf world, but for brands willing to step up and claim a leadership role in providing golfers with real information, I believe there’s an opportunity to separate from the pack.