If I may paraphrase Mark Twain "Golf is a walk in the countryside ruined". Little did Mark Twain know that it might be his hearing which could be ruined by golf.
A study in the December 17, 2008 edition of the British Medical Journal found that modern thin-faced titanium golf clubs produce a noise loud enough to damage the sensitive hairs of the inner ear. The study focused on the case of a 55-year-old man who developed tinnitus and hearing loss in his right ear after playing golf three days a week for 18 months with a thin-faced titanium driver, the King Cobra LD. The doctors ruled out age-related hearing loss and proceeded to test his golf club along with other clubs.
Doctors gauged the sound produced by the patient's club, along with five other titanium clubs, and compared it with that of older-generation steel clubs. A measuring device was positioned 5.6 feet (1.7 m) away from a golf pro at an outdoor tee - approximating the distance between a ball and a golfer's closest ear. Doctors found that all six titanium clubs exceeded safe limits, some as high as 128 dB while only two of the six steel drivers posed a hazard. Anecdotally they concluded that golfing three times a week for 18 months caused the patient his hearing loss.
Personally I find the conclusions incredulous based on a sample size of ONE...."One swallow doesn't make a summer." Noise induced hearing loss is based on the intensity and duration of the noise usually over a long period of time. Admittedly high intensity "impulse noises" such as gunshots or explosions can cause permanent hearing loss....but can we equate the crack of a golf club to an explosion or a gun shot? I doubt it. The authors conclude that it is too soon to ban these titanium drivers. Based on a sample of ONE you bet it is too soon; and if we do then we should ban more dangerous sources of noise such as iPods at full power, power tools, guns, construction equipment, firecrackers, rock bands and screaming babies. Remember based on a sample of one nut case we all now have to take our shoes off as a security measure at the airport.
With excitement I went down to Golf Galaxy and asked to try the King Cobra Club that causes hearing loss. Chuckling, they pulled out this beautiful 460cc driver ---- my titanium Cobra is only a miserable 440cc and delivers that satisfying crack when you hit it well. What I soon learned on the enclosed simulation range is no matter what club I used...I achieved the same mediocre distance. I think what the British researchers forgot in their research is that the loudness of the sound is also based on your swing speed (listen to the crack of Tiger Wood's drive and compare to an average golfer). And if you have a swing speed like me I wouldn't worry --- go out and get yourself a titanium driver---the biggest you can get-- if you think it will give you more distance or confidence on the golf tee.
There are of course a few caveats:
- If you have hyperacusis (high sensitivity to noise) wear ear plugs when you tee off.
- Avoid extensive use of the clubs in an enclosed space such as that driving range in your basement.
I can't wait for the 600cc thin-faced titanium clubs --- maybe I will eventually get more distance off the tee. If you love golf like I do...the risk is worth it.