'Mickey Mouse? It left me feeling more than a little goofy'

January 23, 2004

The THES sent reporter Tony Tysome to Birmingham University to judge whether he thought the applied golf management degree was a Mickey Mouse course. This is how he found it.

The materials science lecture on the golfing degree got off to a promising start. I warmed to lecturer Martin Strangwood as he confessed: "I'm a passionate non-golfer."

I was with him there. My only experience of the sport was a half-drunken attempt to play on a floodlit toad-laden course in Florida. I never hit a birdie, but my companions assured me I managed a toad-in-one.

Perhaps Dr Strangwood would provide insights into the science behind the game that would inspire me to return to the fairways.

My heart sank when he said we were going to learn all about the "gear effect" in golf. It sounded like I had stumbled into an automotive engineering class.

Then Dr Strangwood explained that the gear effect is what makes some clubs more forgiving for golfing novices like me when we slice our shots. Hit the ball on the "sweet spot" and it will follow the intended path. Mi**** it, and the gear effect causes the ball to spin, bringing it back towards the direction that it was supposed to go in.

I was beginning to think this was easy, and perhaps this really was a Mickey Mouse degree. But I was soon to discover there was so much more to learn about the gear effect.

For starters, when the club strikes the ball at 193kmph, it exerts a force of about 5,500 newtons, or half a tonne to you and me. The stresses involved are so high that the ball and the face of the club distort. That increases the contact area and friction between the two.

Dr Strangwood marched us on to the inescapable conclusion: "The ball, because of the shape of the (club) face, wants to move vertically. So we get a tangential force that is proportional to the friction coefficient."

A despairing groan from the student behind told me I was not the only one with a materials science handicap of 40.

But Dr Strangwood had built up a momentum that outstripped his class's friction coefficient. He went on: "The reason the moment of inertia has an effect is because it is increased by putting more weight around the periphery of the head."

By the end of the lecture, I was well and truly stuck in a mental bunker.

If this was Mickey Mouse, it had left me feeling more than a little goofy.

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