In 1993, Wynstone Country Club in Barrington, Ill., was the first U.S. golf course to ban metal spikes year-round and equip its golfers with plastic cleats. Since then roughly 400 clubs have followed suit, including such notables as Jack Nicklaus-owned Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.
``We call Wynstone the eighth wonder of the world,'' said Brian Golden, who heads sales and marketing for Softspikes Inc. ``Until you see it, you don't believe it. It's pretty amazing to go out and play a green at 5 o'clock and have the same surface as the first group in the morning.''
A flawless putting green is the most visible benefit, and spike marks can affect the way the ball rolls.
By now many golfers know the math: 24 spikes per golfer times 26 steps per green equals 624 spike marks. Multiply that by 18 greens, and if a course sees 200 rounds of golf a day - that's well over 2 million spike marks.
Plus, United States Golf Association rules state: ``If there's a spike mark in your line of putt, you cannot tap that down before you take your putt,'' said Kimberly Erusha, education director for USGA's Green Section in Far Hills, N.J.
Besides doing green-surface damage, metal spikes puncture the crown of the grass plant, killing it, said Faris McMullin, Softspikes' technical director. Plastic cleats may compact the soil a little but don't penetrate the turf.
Add in chewed-up clubhouse carpets, golf cart pedals and the rest, and the result can be damage of $30,000-$70,000 a year, said Mark Moore, co-owner of Gripper Golf Cleats.
So, will plastic cleats make metal spikes obsolete someday?
``That's hard to say,'' said Gary Fiola, product manager for Foot-Joy Inc. of Fairhaven, Mass. ``The vast majority of golfers prefer metal spikes.''
``In the PGA Tour, 99.9 percent are playing with spikes, and they influence the whole rest of the market,'' said Mikael Bluhme, head of marketing for shoemaker Etonic Inc. of Brockton, Mass.
No matter, metal spikes are not likely to step aside: Both Etonic and Foot-Joy are reducing the length of their metal spikes from 8 millimeters to 6mm, to diminish their impact on putting greens.
Fiola said, ``When all is said and done, it will be interesting, to say the very least, to see what the golf industry looks like in the next five years.''