Forgiveness In Golf Clubs: What It Means

And Do 'Forgiving' Golf Clubs Really Help as Manufacturers Claim?

Caddie for golfer Roope Kakko prays during the Madeira Islands Open tournament.
No, not that kind of 'forgiveness'. Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

In golf, "forgiveness" refers to construction and design elements in golf clubs that lessen the effects of bad swings and poor contact with the ball. A golf club that has lots of these features is said to offer a lot of forgiveness.

The related term "forgiving" is the same thing, but in the form of an adjective: "That's a very forgiving golf club" means the club's design elements are intended to minimize the effects of poor swings and poor contact. Why "forgiveness"? Because these designs elements forgive the golfer for some of his mistakes.

The higher a golfer's handicap, the more forgiveness he or she wants in golf clubs. Even the best golfers, though, might choose to play clubs that incorporate more forgiving design elements.

Golf clubs built with a lot of forgiveness are called "game improvement clubs," or, if they are extremely forgiving, "super-game improvements clubs."

When 'Forgiveness' Began Being Designed Into Golf Clubs

Back in olden times (the 1960s and earlier) irons (we'll stick with irons in our examples) were all muscleback blades with thin and small clubfaces and mass concentrated behind the center of the face. Hit the ball off-center with one of these irons and you'd feel it in your hands (ouch!) and see the results in a very poor golf shot (major loss of distance).

The concept of "forgiveness" in golf clubs entered the sport when Karsten Solheim, Ping's founder, began marketing perimeter-weighted irons. Solheim made his first putters in the late 1950s and in 1967 entered the golf business full-time. His greatest innovation was realizing that golf clubs could be easier to hit, if only they were designed to be so.

The Design Elements That Make a Club 'Forgiving'

Those early Solheim clubs moved mass to the perimeter of the iron head, rather than clumping it behind the center of the face or evenly spread across the face. This "perimeter weighting" had the effect of lessening the bad results from off-center strikes by improving a technical feature in golf clubs called "moment of inertia" (MOI). More perimeter weighting means a higher MOI, and a higher MOI means less loss of distance on mishits. That's good, because the higher one's golf score, the more mishits you're going to have.

Other design elements that clubs with lots of forgiveness may offer are larger clubheads and clubfaces, cavity backs, thicker toplines and wider soles, more weight lower and deeper in the clubhead, offset, and (in woods) slightly closed faces. High MOI and low center of gravity are what game-improvement clubs target, with forgiveness the goal.

'Forgiveness' Helps, But Doesn't Cure a Bad Swing

Does forgiveness make bad shots go away? No. Improving your swing, making better contact with the ball, is the only way to make bad shots rare. But forgiveness can make that slice a little less severe; it can make a shot struck off-center travel almost as far as one with perfect contact; it can help get a ball a little higher in the air.

Forgiveness in clubs helps the golfer by making his bad shots less bad.