May 13, 2015

Copy That

You'd be surprised what 3-D printers can produce

Cast? Forged? How about printed?

Cast? Forged? How about printed?

Buying a set of golf clubs in the future could be as easy as sitting down at your computer and printing them out. OK, that might be a bit of hyperbole, but the putterhead you're looking at here was made by Ping on a 3-D printer. No joke. Once considered a kind of futuristic fantasy—like cars that fly—the possibilities of 3-D printing are becoming more real.

How does it work? Users create a design on their computer, plug in a printer cartridge containing liquid plastic or another suitable material and wait a few hours as the design is replicated.

Right now this process is best suited for making small plastic items, which can be created with an entry-level printer costing $500. By comparison, a top-of-the-line industrial 3-D printer can carry a price tag of over $1 million. Just don't expect to build your next set of wedges this way. The technology to produce full-swing clubs that live up to the peformance of the real thing doesn't exist yet.

That's why 3-D printed clubs aren't on the market, although Ping says it will soon launch a VIP experience in which players can customize and print 3-D putters. The cost would run about $10,000 a club.

"The process is challenging us as designers to create [clubs] that can help improve performance," says Marty Jertson, director of product development for Ping. "This has allowed us to create alignment lines, weighting and geometry that you can't make with any other manufacturing technology."

Ping isn't the only golf company experimenting with 3-D printing, a method used early on by most club designers to make resin models. Most driver clubheads owe their designs to this printing process. Outside of clubmaking, Rival and Revel sells a 3-D printed divot tool ($9).