The original Steelhead was one of the best-received fairway woods we have ever tested. The Steelhead II was a more dynamic wood that was preferred by some for its longer, hotter trajectories. The second incarnation, however, was generally found to be less forgiving and friendly in its nature than was its lovable predecessor. Each wood had developed an appreciative following among the golfing public.
Version three is a completely new rendition of the Steelhead theme. Aspects of the Callaway VFT line of woods are present in the Steelhead III to such an extent that some consider this to be a steel VFT fairway wood rather than a new Steelhead. Version three has a new sole, a new shaft and a new look. The most surprising change has been the addition of an insert hosel sleeve – a rigid, ferrule-like device that marries the shaft to the interior of the crown. This sleeve improves the durability of the new, System III graphite shaft tip.
Initially, we thought that we had a real winner on our hands with this wood. The first tester to use the Steelhead III was normally a Callaway basher. In spite of control problems, he thought that the new Steelhead was an enjoyable and dynamic wood with a decidedly vibrant feel. We figured that our Callaway fans and Steelhead lovers would be wild for it. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Reactions were widely varied among subsequent testers concerning the likeability of this wood.
What surprised us most was the negativity of our devoted Steelhead I and II users. They did not like the new changes at all. They found the feel at impact too metallic for their tastes. They also had trouble controlling their shots. Both testers prefer hitting draws and found that the Steelhead III sent the ball much too far to the left. These two regulars were not kind in their denunciations of the “improved” rendition of their favorites. The mere presence of the hosel sleeve annoyed them immensely, as did the changes in the wood’s visual presentation. In short, they did not relate to this wood as a “Steelhead”. It was an alien, VFT-style creature that threatened the security of their happy, Steelhead homes. This misbegotten child was unceremoniously turned away at the doorstep.
Not all of our Callaway users foamed at the mouth with rabid rage, however. One greatly appreciated the Steelhead III. He typifies the optimal target demographic for these Callaway woods – an affluent, middle-aged, mid-handicapper whose general tendency is to hit a bit too high and right with his woods. He normally plays a Callaway Hawk Eye 3-wood and a Big Bertha Warbird 5-wood. He liked the zingy feel of the Steelhead III. It gave him nicely centered shots and good distances with easy consistency. He found it to be particularly superior to his Warbird in terms of online stability. He was the only one of our testers who considered adding the Steelhead III to his bag.
Habitual slicers should take note of the Steelhead III. It is designed to have a built-in draw bias – or for those that already hit draws, a hook bias. Some of our testers had serious trouble with the way this club set up at address. One kept insisting that the arrow on the crown was actually canted to the left. It turned out that it was – to the perpetual confusion of some. (see photo) One finally had to remind himself to completely realign his stance and aim twenty yards right of his intended target. Even then, he still sent many hits left of the pin. Our number one fader of the ball could not get the Steelhead to curve consistently right no matter what he did. Overall, roughly eighty-five percent of the balls hit with this wood ended up on the left half of our target range.
The left-side dispersion patterns aside, the Steelhead III showed good stability. The new System III graphite shaft has a thicker, .350 shaft tip. That, along with the insert, hosel sleeve improves upon the tendency of some, earlier Callaway woods to twist excessively on off-center impact. As one tester said, “This is a very consistent wood. I’m twenty yards left of the green every time.”
In spite of the emotional divergence of reactions to the Steelhead III, all testers did record common hitting experiences. Balls leave the face of this Steelhead hot and lively. The Steelhead III hits long, penetrating trajectories that lean left to some degree or another. The steel face creates a loud, metallic “crack” that was obvious to all. Feel at impact has a tingly, metallic vibrancy. Some liked the feel; some disliked it considerably. All testers did notice an improved forgiveablity of the new head design. The Steelhead III has a hitting area that is just marginally larger than that of the Steelhead II, but it seems substantially larger. It is easier to make solid contact with the newer version.
The sole design of the Steelhead III is new. It is gracefully sculpted and provides good versatility. This Steelhead has a relatively low center of gravity. It gets the ball up quickly and works well from a variety of lies. Average rough can be handled with competent ease, but heavy rough will reveal that this is not a trouble wood. Compared to those of some heavy-soled and lower profile woods, the ball flight of the Steelhead III is a little anemic from the thick stuff.
Off of a tee, its deeper, larger face makes the new three-version a more dynamic option than its two Steelhead predecessors. Few testers had any complaints about the trajectories of the Steelhead III. The ball leaves the face hot and flies strong for very good length. The ball penetrates, climbs and then drops nicely.
The Callaway Steelhead III has a hard, vibrant feel that appeals to some, and not to others. It launches the ball hot for good distances. It is a handsome, versatile wood that will provide undesirable results for some due to its tendency to hit consistently left.
A stiffer shaft flex will not reduce the leftwards leanings of the Steelhead III by a substantial amount. This wood is engineered to go left. The firm flex of our demo wood still went left for those accustomed to softer shafts. Since general mistake patterns to the right are the dominant problem of higher handicappers, this tendency will suit many mid- to high-handicap players. However, those who are already accurate with their fairway woods will want to look elsewhere. Those who tend to hook and/or pull their woods will want to run away in fear.