Editor’s Note: Alan “Doc” Hocknell is in charge of all Research and Development at Callaway Golf and was
forced kind enough to sit down and talk about Great Big Bertha’s creation. Alan’s also a very good player and often takes for granted of the fact that he has over 3,500 Twitter followers (Tweet more Doc!).
Callaway: Other than Great Big Bertha’s standout performance, what are you the most proud of about this club?
Alan: I’m most proud of how true we stayed to the original vision we had for this driver. Creating a metalwood requires the involvement of dozens of people. Not just Callaway engineers and designers. Developing technologies like OptiFit and Advanced Perimeter Weighting and features like a carbon-fiber crown requires the expertise of many outside vendors and suppliers. When you start, you have a vision of what the club could be, but as you proceed through the development process, from prototype to prototype, your original plans usually get diluted or compromised. When different parts of the design begin to intersect you find out from the experts you’re working with that if you want to do this, you can’t do that. That’s reality. But with Great Big Bertha, we were able to create the club we originally imagined with very little compromise. In fact, it turned out better in some ways than we imagined.
How was that possible?
Part of it came from how much we’ve learned and continue to learn about metalwood construction and dynamics. That leads to new thinking and smarter decisions. We pushed harder and were more persistent and sometimes refused to take NO for an answer. There was an attitude within the team that if this club was going to be called Great Big Bertha, that it had to be something really special to live up to the name. And we succeeded: The new GBB is the best embodiment of everything we’ve learned so far that makes a driver long, straight and easy to hit. Low weight, low CG (center of gravity), high MOI, draw-bias, adjustability, excellent aerodynamics, GBB excels in every one of these areas.
Did anything take you by surprise during the development?
“Aha” moments don’t happen during the development of a club as often as they used to because now we have so much analytical power that helps us accurately predict outcomes and behaviors. However, GBB proved that such moments are still possible. In particular, the head shape is really extraordinary. In the past we’ve had “spend weight” by building ribs and ridges into the head’s interior to control vibration to create good sound and feel. We didn’t have to do that with GBB because the shape of the head, and the carbon fiber crown inherently deliver great sound and feel. So we took the weight we would usually use to control vibration and scoured the head to save as much additional weight as possible, and used it to promote distance and accuracy.
How did you use all of that saved weight to promote more distance?
We located the CG in a particularly low-back position to promote high launch angle and low spin. We were able to devote a massive 10.5 grams to the sliding weight on the APW track, allowing the player to reduce sidespin by up to 400 rpm for straighter flight. And we were able to create a very strong draw-bias, to help players turn the ball over for a distance-enhancing draw. Altogether that can have a tremendous impact on how much distance you get, provided the club is fit properly to your swing.
When did you know that this driver was really special?
You realize you’re onto something special when you start hearing “wow” stories during the testing phase. In the case of Great Big Bertha, we got continuous reports that practically everybody who tested it was getting more ball speed, better launch conditions and tighter dispersion. That included TOUR pros and recreational players. And the reaction to the shape, sound and feel was equally great. When you hear that kind of feedback early and often, that’s when you know that this club has some magic to it.
What was your involvement with the original Great Big Bertha?
One of the first projects I worked on when I joined Callaway in the mid 1990s was the second generation of GBB. The original GBB, our first titanium driver, was a triumph in tooling techniques and titanium casting, allowing us to expand the size of the head. However, the second generation was a bigger breakthrough because that was when we started to make advancements on the inside of the head, giving us greater influence over CG location, draw-bias, sound and feel. It was also the first time we varied the face thickness to promote more ball speed on off-center hits. The second-gen GBB was the most sophisticated driver of its time and a real pioneer in terms of establishing areas that would be the focus of continued refinement and improvement for years to come.