Callaway had a hit on the their hands in the Big Bertha Steelheads. But Callaway was quick to introduce their replacements. The primary focus of this renovation was a thing called Variable Face Thickness Technology ( its a hot design item these days). This design approach creates different areas of thickness across the face of the golf club. The center, sweet spot is slightly thicker and exhibits a subtle trampoline effect. This conspires with the other elements of the head to help rebound the ball off of the face at greater velocity.
Generally, it works. So much so that the USGA felt compelled to create limitations upon the amount of rebound that was to be permissible in such heads. The Callaway ERC driver is receiving a lot of attention in Japan and Europe, but has been deemed “nonconforming” in the USA.
The differences created by the Variable Thickness Face Technology in the new Steelhead Plus were apparent to us immediately. With the original Steelhead, the user had a great deal of confidence that most all swings would deliver some sort of acceptable shot. The head felt good at impact no matter where you hit it. Not so with the Plus. The Plus feels great if you hit the center of the face, but a less than satisfactory if you are off-center a bit. The ball flies extremely well when struck cleanly; much less so when hit off-center. As one tester said, “All of my shots were useable and sweet-feeling with the original, but the Plus makes me feel as though I have to work at hitting the ball. The original was a no-brainer – just pick it up and hit it.”
Changes other than the face thicknesses have been made to the Plus as well. The color is now a dark, blue-black. The head shape and sole have undergone subtle changes. The shaft is a half-flex softer on the newer woods. The swingweight is slightly heavier and the stepping on the M-10 steel shaft starts 5″ farther up the shaft raising the bend point for a slightly lower trajectory.
It only takes a couple of hits moving between the two versions to notice the changes. The Plus is a more aggressive looking and feeling club. The impact sensation is more metallic – less sweet feeling in general, but more explosive when struck squarely.
So far, the Steelhead Plus’s outdistance their predecessors, but consistency is lacking. The Original Steelhead 5-wood flew like a 5. The new one goes like a 4-wood – and, for some, a hot one at that. The trajectory is lower – more penetrating. The Plus seems less like an approach club and more like a long fairway wood. Not everyone will prefer this. Extra distance is important in 1 and 2-woods, much less so in shorter woods. The ability to hold a green and easy accuracy are the paramount considerations with them.
The Steelhead Plus 5-wood has gained in popularity with our testers after a rough start. Expectations were high and most hitters displayed a tendency to overhit the new version. The original had an admirable ability to relax the golfer. The new one does not. Hitters have had to resist aggressive inclinations engendered by the Plus and learn to hit it with the same smoothness so easily inspired by the original. Once they did, most found that they preferred the newer club. The feeling at impact was a bit more electric and the sound had a more pronounced zing to it.
The five wood feels great when hit well and it has produced some giant hits for our regular testers, but again, this club should really be compared to 4-woods. It does not possess the easy, floating trajectory of many 5-woods and does not produce the same soft landings. One tester, 16-year old Josh, has hit it so long – up to 255 yards on occasion – that he has decided to use it in lieu of his driver. The problem here is, What’s the point of a 5-wood that doesn’t hit like a 5-wood?
Another tester, Denny, has hit the new Steelhead Plus better than any fairway wood he has ever hit – and he is very decent woods player. With this wood he just plain slams them long, high and straight every time. All agree – its the best we’ve ever seen him hit a wood.
Problems with overall consistency have been relatively minor with the 5-wood. That has not been the case with the 3+. Successful shots have displayed good distances and trajectories, but for the most part, hitters have been plagued by noticeable inconsistency with the new Plus 3+. Our original Steelhead 2-wood displayed easier handling characteristics and better length off of the tee. Players have had to work hard at hitting the 3+ smoothly.
In head to head comparisons with a competitive wood of similar nature, the new Ping i3 3-wood, Snake Eyes CMF and Cleveland Quadpro, the Steelhead Plus is coming in a distant fourth in consistency, in feel and in likeability. So far, the Ping is the clearly favored 3-wood. Another rival, the Orlimar Plus’s do not have the zest and pizzazz of the Steelhead Plus’s, but have shown a much more reliable record for accuracy and consistency.
The first Steelheads from Callaway were a very big hit among our testers. Four of them wanted to claim the woods for their own bags. For this reason we were surprised that Callaway had released a newer version so soon after the release of the originals. Why mess with such a good thing?
All in all, we’d say that the new Steelhead is better than the first version, but not quite as comforting and as likeable as the original.