Though it has been out of production for years, the original Callaway Great Big Bertha remains a very popular driver. Any number of players still swear by it. Two of our regular testers continue to play the original GBB regardless of the fact that they constantly have access to dozens of newer drivers. Callaway has released a number of new drivers since the first GBB, but none have registered with the public the way the earlier model did. With the GBB II, Callaway attempted to rekindle a bit of the patented GBB magic.
The original GBB is not a particularly long-hitting driver, nor is it a particularly accurate one – especially when it is coupled to the stock Callaway shafts. What the original GBB has that makes it so appealing is a hard to define quality of likeability. Indeed, in the minds of many players who still play the original GBB, “likeable” is not a word with enough emotional potency. In their minds, “loveable” is much more applicable.
Few golf clubs in history have inspired such devotion. With a head that is small and shallow by today’s standards the original GBB is not a particularly forgiving driver – not technically speaking, at least. What makes the original GBB so friendly is its ability to inspire ease and confidence, and in some players, a slow, smooth tempo. GBB users may see longer, more accurate drives on their best efforts with other one-woods, but their overall effectiveness almost always declines without the soothing participation of their old Callaway buddy.
So if it remains so popular why does Callaway just not re-release the original GBB? Because with all of the above-mentioned plaudits aside, the original GBB is not a particularly good driver by today’s standards. The 265cc head seems very small in comparison to current jumbos and the trajectories it produces are too high and looping for most long-hitting players. Nor is the roll it generates very substantial. Additionally, the original GBB is a sweet driver, but it is not a very stable one. With the stock Callaway shafts (overly mushy in the minds of many), accuracy can deteriorate precipitously when the driver is unloaded with too much force. We use the GBB every so often in comparisons at our range. It does well until the distance shoot-outs begin. When the stress of competition revs up, the original GBB quickly starts to fall behind. It is just too loose, loopy and short-hitting to handle competition from most present day drivers. For these reasons, Callaway decided to incorporate their technological advancements of recent years into two, newer GBB versions that combine the peak performance characteristics of modern drivers with the pleasing visceral aspects of the original.
Did Callaway succeed in this endeavor? Yeah, they did – kinda. The GBB II is a good, solid performer that is considerably more dynamic and stable than its namesake. It is a consistently strong performer, but in the minds of most, not an exceptional one. So far, we have seen little of the love in the eyes of its users that the original inspired. We have hit the GBB II in a number of versions with quite a few different testers. Most have seen good, strong results, but almost all have ended up attaining better results with other drivers. The standard response has generally been, “Yeah, works fine. Feels pretty good. Nice flat trajectories. Lots of roll. Good distances. Not bad at all.” Some testers did not like the GBB II, but for at least half of the testers the GBB II was a driver that they would play on the course without any serious misgivings – not an inspirational driver, but a consistently long and trustworthy one.
The deep-faced GBB II is a noticeably more dynamic driver than its GBB predecessor. Trajectories are much lower, spin rates are reduced, roll is greater, stability is noticeably improved, feel is brighter, attitude is more assertive, and distances are considerably longer. These gains in performance did not do the trick for our two GBB users, however. Not obsessed with distance, these two middle-agers look for safe, easy drives down the middle, and they don’t want to put too much effort into the process. One hits too low with his 11-degree GBB to begin with. He did not want a new version that hit even lower. The other works hard at keeping his swing as slow and fluid as he possibly can and the new GBB II has a more aggressive attitude to it that lacks the mellow smoothness of the gentle original. Its feel is more firm at impact. Both GBB users prefer the quiet, little “tunk” sound of the original at impact. They also preferred the soft, muted appearance of the smaller original as opposed to the rather bulbous appearance of the newer, darker version. Also missing from the newer version is the Warbird Sole. The original GBB could be hit from the fairway with good results. In the lofted models, it made a very serviceable two-wood. The GBB II is a deep-faced one-wood with a higher COG. Few will want to try this one off of the deck unless the ball was sitting up nice and high.
One of our semi-regulars, a strong-hitting PGA pro, switched to the GBB II Pro from the Callaway VFT Pro. We expected some sincere praise from him on this driver’s behalf, but were surprised to find very little of it. He didn’t express any great fondness for the new driver over his old VFT; he just switched because it was longer. His response was in contradiction to the rest of our crew. They greatly preferred the GBB II’s over the erratic VFT’s in every aspect of performance.
There are two USGA-conforming GBB II drivers – the GBB II Titanium and the GBB II Titanium Pro Series. The regular GBB II has a bit of progressive draw bias incorporated into it – partly from weight distribution and partly from a slightly closed face in the two, most lofted models. In side by side hitting with the Titleist 983K and the TaylorMade R-580, the leftwards inclinations of the GBB II seem quite subdued. The GBB II can be hooked severely, but it is not as hook prone as the 983K or R-580. Nor is it as hook prone as the Callaway VFT. The subtle leftward bias of the GBB II suited our faders quite nicely. It generated strong, boring trajectories with understated left to right movement. Fades were controlled, but not eliminated. The GBB II Pro Series models have been designed for players who want no assistance when it comes to working the ball. The Pro Series GBB II has neutral weighting and a one-degree open face. The Pro Series drivers are less prone to hooking, but may tend to slice more often for some players. Fades were more pronounced with the Pro, but still maintained their vigor. Few ballooned or died off short right.
In terms of distance, the GBB II has shown itself to be a solid performer for all. Overall distances have been quite good for a 45” driver – not exceptional, but quite good. The mega-blasts were rare, but the average distances were consistently fine. In head to head sessions, every tester has seen longer, best hit distances from other drivers, but – and this is an important “but” – every tester saw longer hits from different drivers. The average results of the GBB II were uniformly good. It was always a contender and was not consistently overwhelmed by any single driver. The individual drivers that beat GBB II in the hands of one tester generally lost to it in the hands of the next. In other words, sometimes it lost to the TaylorMade R-580; sometimes it won. Sometimes it lost to the Titleist 983K, Snake Eyes Fire Forged 360, NEXT Magnetix 360, Dynacraft DFS II or Adams Redline – and sometimes it beat them. The driver that it did whoop every time out was the TaylorMade R-500.
The GBB II’s have an unusual swingweighting variable. The softer flexes (A, R & F) have a D2 swingweight while the Strong (S) flex drivers have a D4 swingweight. This will suit some, but not all players. In theory, stronger players can handle higher swingweights better than weaker players can, but in reality, many weaker players tend to decelerate through impact. The added oomph of a higher swingweight can give them a nice, little boost. Also, some stronger players who accelerate briskly through impact to a high follow-thru position may prefer the lighter swingweight. In any regard, potential users will find that the variable of two swingweight points will make a noticeable difference in their drives. Whether that difference is a positive or a negative will vary from player to player. This should be borne in mind when selecting between Firm and Strong flexes. Those selecting the stock Callaway System 60 shafts should also bear in mind that these shafts are a bit more firm than the mushy shafts found on the original GBB’s. The new shafts will play a little softer than similarly labeled flexes from other manufacturers, but the difference is less pronounced than it once was.
Summary: The Callaway GGB II will not replace the original GBB in the minds of most Callaway devotees. It is a more assertively dynamic driver that hits lower, longer drives than the original. It is also a more stable driver. It is not, however, as sweet and loveable as the original. Apparently, Callaway knows this. In early 2004, yet another Big Bertha driver will be released. It will be called the Big Bertha Titanium (just in case you weren’t confused enough to begin with).
The GBB II hits low and creates a lot of roll. Trajectory height will vary with shaft and flex selection, but as a general rule, players should factor in that the GGB II will hit a degree to a degree and a half lower than its actual loft designation. The deep-faced 380cc head seems decently compact when compared to many jumbos. It is a very forgiving head that provides consistently good results on most mishits. Though not particularly memorable, feel is quite decent. Many custom shaft offerings are available. Low-cappers and those who unload forcibly will probably want to try something other than the stock shafts.