It should come as no surprise to anyone who is involved in the game of golf these days that the equipment market, especially at the top end of the bag, is a very competitive place. The technology battles that began when stainless steel and titanium started to displace wood for drivers and fairway clubs left some relatively big names by the wayside, and once-revered club manufacturers slipped into obscurity, their products relegated to the bargain bins, or even disappeared completely. PowerBilt is one of the names that golfers with a sense of history will recognize while perhaps not even realizing that it is still around.
With a history that dates back to a wood products company that opened in 1859, PowerBilt, which began producing golf clubs around 1916, and started using the PowerBilt name in 1934, is one of the longest-lived club manufacturers around. The technology rush of the last 20 to 25 years left them behind somewhat, but they are coming back into a more prominent position in the marketplace with a new technology that no other club manufacturer is using, and it is used to good effect in their latest driver, the Air Force One (AFO) DFX.
The big name companies at the top of the market are developing mechanically complex adjustability devices for their drivers and fairway clubs – adjustable hosels that allow loft and lie changes, and movable weights to tweak draw or fade bias – and complex (and expensive) materials technology to trim weight and enliven the action of the club face. PowerBilt has taken a different approach. The AFO driver keeps club head weight low by using thin-face titanium cup-face construction, and retains strength in that thin face by “bracing” it with a pressurized interior.
In the early days of the big-headed titanium drivers, the purists joked about them looking like balloons at the end of a stick. Those same jokesters might eat their words were they given the chance to try the AFO DFX, because the club is quite literally a titanium balloon, but its performance is no joke.
By pressurizing the interior of the club head to about 80 psig with inert, non-reactive nitrogen gas, the engineers at PowerBilt have eliminated the need for the metal thickness which conventional drivers use to control the stiffness of the club face. Eliminating weight means a lighter club head which is easier to swing faster – and with a club face which hits the limits of USGA-regulated COR (coefficient of restitution, AKA “springback”), that higher swing speed translates into higher ball speed and longer drives.
Of course length isn’t everything. As the famed golf instructor Harvey Penick famously said, “The woods are full of long drivers”, so distance without control is only half the equation. Another result of the combination of the uniformly thin club face and the stiffening effect of the nitrogen-pressurized interior is a more uniform level of response across the club face. Translation: mishits don’t hurt you as much.
I tested a PowerBilt AFO DFX Tour Driver with 10.5° loft and a stiff Graphite Design 60 shaft. Without the benefit of launch monitor data I am not able to give exact figures on the club’s performance, but based on feel and naked-eye observation I came away impressed by the performance of a driver which retails for $100 to $200 less than the top-of-market clubs.
After a little adjustment in my setup to compensate for the slightly greater draw bias the AFO DFX exhibits in comparison to my daily-use gamer, I found that I was socking range balls consistently straight, on a mid-height trajectory that produced not-too-much, not-too-little rollout. Like many recreational golfers consistency off the tee is not the strength of my game, but the drives I was getting off with the AFO DFX were repeatable and consistent, even though a visual inspection of the club face revealed that I wasn’t nailing them all right on the sweet spot – it just felt that way.
The integrity of the nitrogen-pressurized club head is guaranteed for five years, thanks to PowerBilt’s patented charging valve and internal sealing process, so the longevity of the club is not an issue from that standpoint. The one-of-a-kind construction of the AFO driver gives it length and consistency without the complexity that drives up price. With the performance to stand with the big boys, and a budget-friendly price point, the PowerBilt Air Force One DFX Tour, at $299.99, and the Air Force One DFX MOI, at $249.99, are drivers that are worth a look.