What Is Coefficient of Restitution (COR) in Golf Clubs?

Corey Pavin hits an iron shot during the Buick Championship tournament.
Michael Cohen/Getty Images

"COR" is an acronym for "Coefficient of Restitution." It's a term from the world of science and physics, but one that many golfers know because it is also used in conjunction with golf clubs. "Coefficient of restitution" is a term describing the energy transference between two objects. The coefficient of restitution of Object A is a measurement of Object A's ability to transfer energy to Object B when A and B collide.

In a golf context, Object A in that scenario is the golf club, and Object B is the thing the golf club is striking—the golf ball. Here's how COR matters in a golf club: If, say, a fairway wood or iron has a very high COR, then there is less energy loss at impact with the golf ball compared to a fairway wood or iron with a lower COR. All other things being equal, a higher COR measurement in a golf club equates to more distance.

Technical Specs

Tom Wishon, golf club designer and founder of Tom Wishon Golf Technology, gives a more technical definition of COR this way:

"Coefficient of restitution is a measurement of the energy loss or retention when two objects collide. The COR measurement is always expressed as a number between 0.000 (meaning all energy is lost in the collision) and 1.000 (which means a perfect, elastic collision in which all energy is transferred from one object to the other)."

Some examples of a zero-energy transfer and a perfect energy transfer will help us grasp the concept. Here's Wishon:

"An example of a COR of 0.000 would be one piece of very sticky chewing gum colliding with another similar piece. In such a collision, the two pieces of gum would stick together and not move forward, thus indicating that all of the energy of the impact was absorbed and lost. The closest example in the sports world to a COR of 1.000 would be in pool or billiards, when the cue ball collides squarely with a target ball of the same size and weight (mass). When the cue ball hits the target ball, the cue ball stops dead and the target ball takes off at almost the same, exact speed that the cue ball had when it made contact with the target ball. This indicates that virtually all of the energy of the cue ball was transferred to the target ball to propel it onward."

A "perfectly elastic collision"—a COR of 1.000—is impossible in a golf club-golf ball collision. Therefore, no golf club can ever have a 1.000 COR. Why?

It's because the clubface and the golf ball are made from completely different materials, and have two totally different weights or masses. Those factors mean there will always be some energy loss at the moment of impact in golf.

But manufacturers can work with their designs and materials to make the energy transfer more efficient and, therefore, help golfers gain more distance on our shots.

Regulation of Coefficient of Restitution in Golf Clubs

The USGA and R&A regulate COR in golf clubs to prevent manufacturers from making golf clubs that totally overwhelm golf courses with distance. The current COR limit in golf clubs is 0.830. Any club with a COR measuring higher than .830 is ruled non-conforming.

The terms "coefficient of restitution" and "COR" came into the mainstream golf lexicon as ultra-thin-faced drivers began to proliferate in the early 2000s. An effect of the thin faces is known as the "spring-like effect" or "trampoline effect": The face of the driver depresses as the ball is struck, then rebounds, providing a little extra oomph to the shot.

A driver that exhibits this property will have a very high COR.

However, the governing bodies no longer use COR to regulate drivers—they instead use something called "characteristic time" or "CT." COR and CT measurements do track one another, however. This fact, combined with the fact that manufacturers all build drivers to max out the permitted amount of COR, has caused the term to lose some of its relevance.

But fairway woods, hybrids, and irons are still regulated using COR measurements.

Distance Differences In Clubs of Different CORs

What kind of differences in distance performance will two golf clubs of differing CORs exhibit? We turn once again to Wishon for the answer:

"To give a frame of reference for performance, with a driver the difference in carry distance between a head with a COR of 0.820 and another head with a COR of 0.830 would be 4.2 yards for a swing speed of 100 mph. It is true that as swing speed increases, the distance difference is greater. And likewise, as swing speed decreases the distance difference for each increment of the COR measurement is less. This is one of the reasons why the USGA rule which limits the COR of a clubhead has the effect of penalizing the slower swing speed golfer much more than the high swing speed player."