The Sonartec SS-03’s with their shiny black heads, black shafts and black grips are handsome clubs. The heads have a traditional size and shape similar to the Titleist 975F. The face is slightly larger on the SS-03, however. The swingweights are in the standard D2 to D2.5 range, but they give the impression of being heavier than that. When the Sonartecs set up, they give a reassuring sense of confidence and authority.
We had heard many outside opinions about the Sonartec woods. They had almost all been consistently glowing in their appraisals. Not long after hitting with the Sonartecs, it became apparent to us that the actual testing of these woods was pretty much just a formality. Our testers were echoing every opinion we had heard. Our crew started out well with the Sonartecs and they continued hitting well throughout their entire sessions. When they would come back on another day, they would pick up right where they left off. The Sonartecs are very fine woods – dynamic, stable and highly enjoyable.
At impact, the sound from the SS-03’s is a deep, vibrant “pzing”. It is extremely pleasant. The feel at impact is also very satisfying. The ball launches from the face with a zesty punch to it. These woods have one of the finest feels we have ever encountered. In comparison, the Titleist 975F (with Grafalloy ProLite) is equally solid, but lacks the zippiness. It seems somewhat dull. Callaway Steelhead Plus and Steelhead III woods have a higher-pitched zing to them. They are also enjoyable to hit, but are more metallic feeling in direct comparison. The Cleveland Launcher woods are solid and punchy with a zip to them at impact. They lack the tingly sweetness of the Sonartec SS-03’s, however.
One of the reasons why the Sonartec woods are so popular with touring pros soon became evident to us. The harder you hit them, the happier they are. These woods respond beautifully to the particular swings that go into them, and they do so without any tendency to go to extremes. Hooks and slices have been very limited with these stable woods. Still, the SS-03’s can be worked with relative ease – high, low, left or right.
Our testers have all yielded slightly different flight patterns with the Sonartec woods. Three of our best woods players have hit low, hot screamers that climb on a moderate tour trajectory. Their shots have landed hot and rolled for exceptionally fine yardage. Shots have flown straight for the most part with fades and draws being subtle in their curvature. A fourth tester has hit boomingly high fades that penetrate for great distances in spite of their height. He has been able to routinely produce accurate 5-wood hits that land in the 240 to 250-yard range and roll to about 265 yards.
A fifth tester, one with moderate swing speeds, has seen much more gently arched trajectories with the SS-03’s. They have been straight, punchy and long, but have been noticeably less dynamic than those from our stronger hitters. He normally hits high, looping trajectories with fairway woods. The Sonartecs have been lower than normal for him, but have still flown relatively high. A sixth tester, a highly accurate senior with slow swing speeds, tended to hit the Sonartecs low, flat and left. Balls stayed in play, but the woods did not provide enough elevation to suit his needs. Sole-weighted woods serve his game better.
In general, these woods should only be considered by the above average half of the playing population. Two other testers, both young, strong high-handicappers, with enthusiastic, but ungainly swings, had very little luck with the Sonartecs. The SS-03’s head design is the largest and friendliest of the three Sonartec woods, but they are forgiving woods relative only to the smaller, performance woods such as the Sonartec SS-01, SS-02 and the traditional, “tour spoon” style woods offered by Titleist and other manufacturers. The SS-03 woods are forgiving for better players, but they will not provide inconsistent ball-strikers with too much in the way of game-improvement assistance. Players who need help getting the ball airborne will find more satisfactory results with sole-weighted woods.
The SS-03’s are stable woods that align naturally and neutrally at address. All testers have seen relatively good accuracy with the Sonartecs. The heads, however, are a little vague in shape, and some testers have aligned them more intuitively then others. A couple of testers could never quite achieve the consistency of accuracy that they have been able to find with other woods. They would prefer to see some sort of alignment indicator on the blank crown.
Almost every member of our crew preferred the stiffer of the two Penley flexes tested. While the differences were slight, they were definitely noticeable both in terms of feel and in the nature of the respective trajectories. At impact, the stiff-flex version has a touch more tingle and zip than the regular-flex version. Both are snappy, enjoyable woods to hit and both produce an admirably solid feel. However, the stiff flex was found to be more crisp and dynamic by all. This includes most of those accustomed to playing softer, regular flex woods. Trajectory-wise, the stiff version was preferred, as well. With the regular flex version, balls flew a bit softer. Their trajectories lacked some of the penetrating qualities of the stiff version. The “R” flex shaft has a lower, mid-kick point shaft. This makes its flight paths a bit higher and more arched.
The standard Sonartec shaft is a fine 69-gram (in R-flex) graphite from Penley. It is mid-torque shaft that has been pre-spined for consistency. Other, premium shaft options are available from Graphite Design, Fujikura and UST. While none of our crew had the urge to reshaft, the heavier Vista Pro 90 in X-flex from Fujikura has been a popular option for particularly hard hitters throughout the country. For the vast majority of players, the stable Penley should be more than adequate.
Our testers have all seen consistently excellent length from the Sonartecs. For some, these 3-woods have produced distances close to those of a driver, and with better control and stability. Additionally, the added 3-wood loft has helped counteract the negative sidespin of slices and hooks. A good proportion of the length of these hot 3-woods has come from roll, however. So, under certain circumstances, the distance advantage can be diminished.
In direct comparison, we have hit strong Titleist 975F and Callaway Steelhead Plus 3-woods in stiff flexes. Both of these comparison woods are capable of fine yardages, but both have come up a few yards shy of the Sonartec. Each has hit slightly higher and softer trajectories even though their stated lofts were nominally lower. Both are stable, predictable woods, but again, each has come up a bit shy of the Sonartecs in terms of consistency.
Why do the Sonartec woods work so well? To use an analogy that we have used in other articles: Hammer A is a good hammer. Hammer B is a bad hammer. Mass directly behind the impact point drives a golf ball forward just as it drives a large nail into a board. Mass above the impact point tends to knock a ball down; mass below the impact point tends to add lift to the ball.
The reason why the sole design of the Sonartecs (called a Driving Cavity) is so effective is that the roof of the empty groove in the sole provides a rail of mass directly online with the optimal impact area of the face. It adds an appreciable amount of punch to the forward motion of the ball. This basic design concept has been used by other manufacturers in the past, but none have used it as effectively as Sonartec. The empty slot in the center of the sole also creates a low, heel/toe weighting pattern that adds stability through impact and forgiveness to off-center mishits. In the other versions of the Sonartec woods, the SS-01 and SS-02, the heads are smaller and the faces are shallower. Consequently, the effect of the power channel is further accentuated.
Results with the SS-03 woods have been absolutely first-rate from the tee and from clean fairway lies. From thick lies and partially buried lies, results have been less exceptional. The Sonartecs have a moderate “V” shape to their soles. They can extract a ball well from a grassy lie when struck properly, but other woods can do that job better. Sole-weighted woods can pop the ball up more easily. Those testers who like to cut shots from the rough for added loft, were not thrilled with the Sonartecs’ performance out of the heavy stuff.
The Sonartecs handle rough adequately well, but only with strong, good swings. Rough is not their natural element. In direct comparisons against no-hosel woods such as those from Callaway and Butler, the Sonartecs proved to be noticeably less consistent out of the thick grasses. The SS-03’s can slice through grass well, but with slower swing speeds it is possible to stub the Sonartecs to an extent that swing velocity is crucially effected. Thin hits can launch overly low and die prematurely.
Other than the fact that the Sonartec SS-03’s are just average from thicker lies, we have found these woods to be as fine as any we have ever tried. They are classy, sharp looking woods that deliver beautiful, penetrating trajectories. They hit quite well into the wind. Their stability is noteworthy. Feel is absolutely first-rate – arguably, the best there is. No one has tagged one of these woods without commenting on the terrific feel. The Sonartecs amply reward their users.
In general, the Sonartecs will appeal more to low-handicappers than to high. The better the swing, the happier these woods are. The Sonartecs work best when a bit of a divot is taken. Sweepers may tend to hit them too thin. Two testers hit the Sonartecs beautifully at the range. They were truly enthralled, but were later surprised to find less satisfying results on the course where their swings tended to be more tentative. Our most consistent woods players held true on-course and off, however.
Players who are unsure of their flex choice should lean to the stiff flex. It hits a more penetrating trajectory and is even more vibrant than the regular flex version. The stiff remains quite stable for very high swing speeds if tempos are smooth. Big hitters with hard unloading patterns should go with an XS option.