“What’s in a name?” The famous line from Romeo & Juliet asks us. Well, for Callaway Golf, the answer is quite a bit. “Big Bertha” became a household name in the golf world for numerous reasons and was a massive success both on the course and at the bank for company.
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In 1991 Ely Callaway changed the game forever thanks to the fortuitous events that always seem to occur when genius and ingenuity collide. With the help of GE aerospace engineers, master tool maker Glen Schmidt and former pool cue maker Richard C. Helstetter, they created the legendary Big Bertha driver.
“Bertha” was unlike anything before her. Despite rampant rumors about the names origin, Big Bertha comes from the German Howitzer of the same name.
“Instead of just calling it `The Cannon,’” Callaway said. “I remembered from my reference books on World War I artillery this giant cannon on a railroad car called Big Bertha. And I said, ‘We’re going to call it Big Bertha.”
It was the first club made entirely of stainless steel. Designers eliminated the neck of the club by extending the shaft through the club head. By doing this, it created more effective mass, creating more energy at impact. By putting more weight around the perimeter of the club face, it created a more controllable club head and a more forgiving club face.
Callaway said in an interview, “The attitude before Big Bertha was that, for most golfers in the world, the driver was the most feared, least-liked club in the bag. Now it’s the most popular. Everybody loves it.
Her coming into creation required a few pieces to fall into place. By 1988, Ely Reeves Callaway, Jr. had acquired all of fledging golf company “Hickory Stick, USA” and renamed it “Callaway Golf.” Richard C. Helstetter, who had previously made pool cues, became the chief club designer at the company and played an integral part in the creation of Bertha. With Boeing and GE so closely located, Callaway was able to hire aerospace engineers to assist in the development of the technology, yet another first in the golf industry.
By today’s standards, the original “Big Bertha” driver released in 1991 would be tiny, with a club head size of only 190cc. The legal limit for club head size now is 460cc. Without a doubt, the creation of Big Bertha was one of the most important changes made in golf club technology in the past century.
Her legacy continued through the 90’s, with clubs like the “Great Big Bertha” and “Biggest Big Bertha” and then again in 2003 and 2004 with “Great Big Bertha II” and “Big Bertha 454” respectively. Callaway has also lent the name to two sets of irons. Since then, the name has lain dormant while the brand leaned on the Diablo and FT series.
Now, a decade later, Big Bertha is back with a vengeance. Two models of the new Bertha will be available in 2014 and seek to change the driver game once again. Along with technology similar to TaylorMade’s SLDR feature, the Big Bertha will also include a “Gravity Core,” which allows players “to adjust golf ball spin rate independent of launch angle.”
Legends may never die, but clearly they can be reborn.
(Below: This is the cover of the original Big Bertha launch kit from January, 1991. Contents included a hard copy of the press release, four color slides for product shots, Ely Callaway’s personal business card and more.)
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