1850s: GUTTA-PERCHA BALL
Made from the sap of a Malaysian rubber tree, the gutty replaced feathery balls—leather pouches stuffed with goose down. Old Tom Morris smacked gutties with glee, but his boss, Allan Robertson, the first full-time golf pro, called them "the filth" and paid caddies a penny apiece for gutties, which Robertson burned in his St. Andrews fireplace.
1926: STEEL SHAFTS
When the USGA okayed steel in '26, the old hickory shafts—and the handsy swing they required—were doomed. Bobby Jones said steel shafts made golf easier because they were "resistant to the twisting stresses" that made hickory sticks go snaky in midswing. Still, he endorsed Spalding's 1930 Bobby Jones Signature set, which had steel shafts painted brown to look like wood.
1932: SAND WEDGE
Before Gene Sarazen's brainstorm, golfers hit bunker shots with niblicks—forerunners of the nine-iron. They tried to pick the ball clean off the sand. Then the Squire took his secret weapon to the '32 British Open. Afraid the R&A might ban it, he hid the funny-looking wedge under his overcoat. Sarazen won the Open and The New York Times fretted that his new club made golf "too easy."
1979: METAL WOODS
A new club joined the Texas wedge and the Utah Jazz in the oxymoron pantheon: TaylorMade's steel-headed Pittsburgh Persimmon. Purists hated the sound it made at impact, but Jim Simons won the '82 Crosby with a Pittsburgh Persimmon and the revolution was on. Nine years later Callaway introduced an oversized metal driver, the 190-cubic-centimeter Big Bertha, which seemed huge then but was less than half the size of today's 460cc cudgels.
2010: V-GROOVES ON TOUR
The USGA's spin says that U-shaped grooves made golf too easy for pros. Greg Norman griped that U-groovy shots from the rough "come down like an old dog lying by the fireplace." Not anymore—with this year's USGA-mandated V-grooves, the same shots behave like bats out of hell. Finally a gear change makes the game harder. Next year ... niblicks?