SMT Golf's 455 Deep Bore Beta Titanium Driver -- Red with Envy

By Kevin J. Gaydosh, Images Courtesy of SMT Golf

 

OSWEGO, ILLINOIS -- How often it seems that watershed moments in history are traced back to scribbles on a napkin.  The Internet search engine, overnight package delivery service, the space shuttle, a fruit named garage-based computer start-up, as well as countless episodes of international espionage and romantic rendezvous all have such doodles to thank for their existence.  And now the driver of choice for a 15-handicapper.

 

For over a year now, I’ve been playing a driver that GolfTheMidAtlantic.com received for a product review—an SMT 455 Deep Bore Beta Titanium long driver.  It’s a club that has taken a major worry out of my game (the dreaded tee shot).  It has instilled me with the confidence to ascend the tee box with any number of onlookers to hit first without dread and without the safe knowledge of an assured “Mulligan” if necessary. 

 

And my game owes it all to the ubiquitous table napkin.

 

The Story.

In this case, the napkin doodler was an entrepreneur by the name of Mike Tait, a former golf pro who had been in the PGA program since 1978 and in the component business full-time since 1987.  Tait readily admits that he was originally in the "clone" components business, making a living distributing Chinese components to the U.S. clubmaking community.  But as the time of the clones waned, Tait decided to focus his talents on products he could stand behind unflinchingly. His own. 

 

“It seems that I was always at the mercy of someone else” Tait said.  “I spent a lot of time apologizing to my customers (for products),” he recalled. “About twelve years of watching (car) trunks open” as golfers returned the products for repair or replacement. 


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About this time, Tait was introduced to the world of Professional Long Drive by a longtime friend at the 2001 World Long Drive Finals in Mesquite, Nevada.  This friend, Jody Baucom, also happened to be the president of AccuFLEX Golf Shafts. 

 

(More on this company later.  And I am coming to the napkin part.)

 

An emerging market niche within the golf component industry were “Long Drivers,” who, because they can’t survive using “off the shelf” equipment, were becoming an emerging force in product development as their numbers grew. 

 

You see, Long Drivers are not mere mortals.  They put their equipment through abuse we garden variety golfers can’t comprehend.  Club-head speeds of 140 to 150 mph, shafts approaching 50 inches – Long Drive contestants simply crush golf balls, and invariably, they crush their clubs. Or cave in clubfaces.  Or snapped shafts.

 

Since he was introduced initially as a “component guy,” the big hitters at the Mesquite event began to vent about their plight.  

 

“They were complaining about equipment, how they couldn’t get consistent specs. They were exploding club heads or cracking clubs,” Tait explained.  “These are guys who carry more than two or three drivers in their bags. I knew that I could fix that.”

 


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The marketplace cried out for a component head that maintained consistent specifications, were resilient, and of course wouldn’t break.  But to start a company that made a product that would withstand the demands of the Long Drive Professionals?

 

“I figured if I could deliver the technology and the integrity that the hitters demanded, I could build a successful line of drivers.  I knew if I could make it right, it would work for everyone.”

 

“I went to work immediately,” Tait recalled.

 

Literally and figuratively.  In the evenings of the Mesquite Long Drive events, Tait talked with competitors, sketching out his ideas on restaurant napkins to show the hitters that he understood their needs.

 

“You hear about people drawing ideas on napkins.  Well, there I was.  In this restaurant, drawing on napkins,” Tait mused.  “And they were linen napkins.”

 

This time, Tait created original designs.  He tortured every head with “cannon testing” – pummeling each one with 100 balls going over 140 mph, simulating the swing speeds found in Long Drive competitions.  It took time, more than four months and seven designs, but Tait designed and built the first line of SMT component drivers – The Shinnecock.

 

Half the guys on the LDA tour tried it.  And hated it.  Leaked right. 


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Another version, this time only one in five slammed it. 

 

But the third design was the stuff of legend.  In 2002, the culmination of SMT’s first year of production resulted in two Re/MAX World Long Drive Champions (drives of 384 and 342 yards), one world record and a second place finish.

 

Success brought with it a new problem for Tait.  “Then I thought: ‘What do we do tomorrow?’”
 

The Equipment.

Now producing clubs for just about 5 years after the Long Drive debut, SMT, in industry terms, could almost be considered an instant success. 

 

Mike Tait has come a long way since trunks popped open daily in his parking lot; and he doesn’t have to apologize for somebody else’s products.  Tait’s use of the highest grade titanium and a rigorous testing process – the “superior metal technology” often attributed to the SMT name – has produced results. 

 

“Everywhere I go now, people know SMT,” Mike Tait says on his web site.  “They thank me for designing heads that deliver results. Everyday golfers are accomplishing the extraordinary.”

 


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A little over a year ago, Tait was getting 20-to-40 emails a week.  Now it’s usual to have 20 to 40 posts on his sponsored online forum alone. 

 

“I’m really proud when people send me emails.  I can’t believe people take the time to write,” he said.  “I’m happy that people are improving their games.”

 

But if success spoiled Rock Hunter, it hasn’t gone to Mike Tait’s head.  He impresses as a self-effacing kind of guy.  Tait is up at 7:15 every morning, and he personally responds to every email that comes into his SMT website.   In his workshop/office, the inventor and president of SMT Golf admits, “I fold (shipping) boxes.” 

 

Perhaps more importantly, as a small company with limited marketing resources, his innovation seems to have forged an army of loyalists who prowl Online for SMT kinship.  Affectionately referred to by one author as “golf techno freaks,” and by Tait as “component people” or “basement or garage guys” – these techie-golfers can be found prominently on the Golf Equipment Aficionado’s forum on which Tait himself is a daily poster as well as on the SMT partner forum.

 

Benefits of component golf clubs

For golfers like me who didn’t know, the major attraction to component golf clubs is actually more psychological than economic.  A guy really doesn’t need to build his own log home when he could get a standard home up in a considerable faster time and probably less money.  But then he couldn’t say that he had built it with his own hands. 

 

In terms of cost savings, back in the heady days of knock-offs or clones, cost savings were probably a major consideration.  In order to obtain the space-age technology, you had to have a NASA sized budget.  Heavy lifting when you’re an every-other-weekend duffer.  Then the advanced technology became mainstream and everybody had a Fred Flintstone mallet to swing with.

 


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More than curiosity, more than hobby (although many club makers start out there) and more than other forms of “kit” projects, today’s component clubmaking is more about control, and a golfer’s desire to take more control of his game.  Except for the pro-level, mega-nameplates, it’s not THAT much cheaper to build a component club than a major label.  SMT’s website (www.SMTGolf.com) touts “the advantage of constructing a club that works with your individual swing. Mixing and matching component parts creates the total compliment of clubs to support your game.” 

 

SMT promises “you can have it anyway you like it.” Personalization is the key.

 

Customers can purchase a SMT head by itself or choose a club head and pair it with a selected shaft from SMT’s partner, AccuFLEX.   The unassembled parts can be sent for your personal “some assembly required” enjoyment or to take to a friendly neighborhood club maker.  If you don’t know where you can get a proper club fitting, an experienced club maker or both, SMT can also recommend a SMT authorized “elite club fitter” close to your home.  

 

Finally, customers can simply select the various components and have SMT assemble and ship the finished club directly.   

 

SMT Golf does not ‘fit’ you for clubs and instead focuses on manufacturing. No matter what you select, the company strongly believes that there can be no substitute for club-fitting from a professional.  

 

Tait’s philosophy of investing in a good club fitting by a qualified professional verses picking up an off-the-wall store line: “Talk to someone who has had a club fitting.”

“Just do it right, it will never come back to bite you.”  But he cautioned, “Don’t spend more than you have to.”

 


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Since a component head alone can’t do everything, SMT recommends partner AccuFLEX shafts, the leader in the component shaft business. SMT pledges the performance of its heads atop an AccuFLEX shafts will be unrivaled.

 

SMT’s combination of materials and technology keeps the heads as close to the .830 COR as the golf rules allow while still delivering a head that keeps its resiliency.  MSRP depends on models and the shaft you select.  With the head + shaft + grip + $45-50 assembly fee, you could go as high as $450+ depending on the service.

 

In 2005, responding to customer demand, SMT introduced a new line of fairway woods and irons manufactured to the same quality levels as the drivers.  Tait contends that the fairways and irons are forgiving, allow for solid hitting even with a flawed swing (like mine).

 

Spin.  Centers of gravity.  Heel-to-toe length.  Heavier or lighter club.  More or less surface area.  Consistent weights and lofts give every golfer the distance and forgiveness they need to play better.  Selecting lofts and club angles that work with you, the technology provides the added “something” you are lacking on the golf course. 

 

The Question of Pro Tours.

Invariably, unbelieving skeptics will ask, “how good can it be if no professionals are using it?”  Tait understands such doubts are always hovering around SMT. 

 

To be sure, success among Long Drivers continues to grow, but hasn’t really crept into the major Tour’s mainstream.   Will any tour pros use SMT?  “Well, no.  I can’t afford them,” Tait says, pointing to the high cost of sponsoring a professional golfer.  (Check his bulletin board for a detailed explanation of the costs associated with such a transaction.)

 


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About the closest SMT has gotten was several years ago with former University of Houston golfer, Victor Schwamkrug, now a SMT golf staff professional.  In what may be a PGA Tour first, Schwamkrug partnered with SMT Golf and carried not one but two SMT drivers.  In 2002, he was the Nationwide Tour’s driving distance winner and at times led the 2003 season’s driving distance statistics.  Schwamkrug lead the Nationwide Tour with a 330.9 yard average in the 2004 season. 

 

During the second round of the 2004 Shell Houston Open and while using a 7 Degree Spectrum SMT driver, Schwamkrug recorded a 429 yard drive on the Par-5, 12th hole.  The mammoth tee shot – by far the longest drive in SHO history and bested John Daly’s event record by about 20 yards – left him only 148 yards to the pin.  From there, Schwamkrug chipped to 10 feet and made a putt for eagle. Unfortunately, the hole was not one of those used as an official driving hole on the PGA Tour, which meant the drive didn’t count as the longest recorded in PGA records.

 

The review.

“SMT isn’t just for long drivers,” Mike Tait explains.  “These heads are designed to give the everyday golfer ammunition for their arsenal.”

 

At a certain point in life, a golfer realizes how he plays—lessons with the local pro, Golf Channel clinics and late-night infomercials notwithstanding.  Like a dieter who has tried every weight-loss plan around, the golfer knows his faults, his strengths, his “working-on-its” and his “given-ups.” 

 

The way I see it, component assembly is a way to build my very own Frankenstein monster—one that responds to only my voice, does what it’s told (most of the time), and gives its owner recurring opportunities to shout “It’s Alive!” as the tee shot screams down the fairway.  (So, if you hear that on the golf course, it’s probably me.)

 

The Basics

My club: 455 Deep Bore 10 degree (Beta titanium)


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Billed as “the most successful component club head of all time” and claims “two World Long Drive Championships (384 & 345 yards), the first-ever South African Long Drive Challenge, and spot in the Guinness Book of World Records (2003).”

Features:

  • Low center of gravity, slightly deeper than standard head design, gives club a solid feel.
  • The lack of score lines on the face is a design function, not fashion. SMT’s stated design goal is to make all heads play as close to the .830 USGA allowance; therefore the need for an extremely thin face.
  • SMT claims that to score the face in a traditional manner, it would “weaken the structure of the head and compromise structural integrity and our quality standards.”
  • The 455 is a forgiving club that delivers a slightly higher than standard trajectory.
  • How does it compare to a better known club?  (i.e. Jeff Rendall’s loaned Taylor Made R-7). 
    1. My experience was that I routinely hit the SMT about 20 yards longer and definitely straighter. 
    2. Had significantly more tee shots in fairway than with a normal, scored face driver
    3. The SMT 455 Deep Bore driver has been tested to compare against brands like Nike, KZG, and Taylor Made's R7 driver.
  • First use.  My first use was over water into head wind at Kiawah Island.  Opting not to lay up in the “safe” landing area, I cleared the water on my way to a successful par.  The SMT turned a hole that would have been a sure bogie or double into a chance to score, or in this case, saved par and avoided additional strokes.  I haven’t been afraid of a drive over water since.
  • Continued use.  Consistently provides sure distance and control for this “typical” weekend golfer.  Satisfaction and performance improves with consistent practice, play or lessons, whereas other clubs are subject to “trends.”
  • Likes: Pricing is encouraging for the personalization, which is very reasonable, if not substantially cheaper than most store-bought models of similar quality.  Keeps its face and striking surfaces cleaner than any other driver I’ve used.  Color is definitely distinctive.  Strike sound is unlike any other driver you’ll hear, as is the famous “no score lines” face.  Repeated offers to purchase out of my bag from intrigued foursome partners or passers-by.  What it does for my confidence and how it accommodates my skill level.
  • Dislikes: For many casual golfers, the arcane formulas of loft degrees, angles, weights, flexibility/stiffness and club length can be intimidating.  (This is why the professional club fitting is so crucial.)  Customer paying for return FedEx shipping for repair is a drawback, but warranty is lifetime. The web site could have a more novice friendly section to help explain or elucidate these elements in laymen’s terms.  Also, participation in chat rooms is very intimidating.

Details:

SMT Golf

14-C Stonehill Road

Oswego, Illinois 60543

(630) 554-7630

 

Website:  http://www.smtgolf.com/

 

SMT Customer Service Line: 888-693-4001 or 630-554-7630

 

Fun facts:

 

  • SMT Lifetime Glove -- The SMT Lifetime Warranty Golf Glove is an extremely high quality glove, made from 100% New Zealand possum leather. SMT Lifetime Warranty Golf Glove is available in men’s and ladies sizes, right and left hand and pairs.

 

  • A portion of the proceeds from the sales of all AccuFLEX ICON v.2 and ICON v.3 shafts  goes to benefit the Driving 4 Life Foundation in Memory of Bruce Edwards, Tom Watson’s life long caddy who lost his battle with ALS in 2004.
  • Most SMT loyalists know that “SMT” really stands for Sean Michael Tait, Mike Tait’s son. 

“Friends of SMT Golf” Discussion Boards are the forum for SMT’s audience to interact with each other by posting and reading messages and responding to polls on Prospero.



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E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor:
jrendall@golftheunitedstates.com