Why Do Some Golfers Add Lead Tape to Clubs, and What Is the Effect?

Plus, is adding lead tape legal under the rules? Is it safe to handle?

roll of lead tape
Courtesy of Amazon.com

One of my earliest encounters with golf technology - beyond just owning and using standard golf clubs - was the time a childhood friend added strips of lead tape to his driver. I didn't understand what the purpose was, technically speaking, but I knew my friend was chasing after the right heft, the right feel.

Lead is a very heavy metal, and when made into a tape (sometimes called "lead foil" or "lead foil tape") it can be affixed to a golf clubhead, adding weight.

But what's the point of adding lead tape to golf clubs? To find out why clubfitters and some golfers use lead tape, we asked golf equipment guru Tom Wishon, owner of Tom Wishon Golf Technology.

"There are two reasons golfers add lead tape to their clubheads," Wishon said. "One reason is a good one, and works; the other reason is a myth and does not work."

Lead Tape to Change the CG Position Does Not Work

We'll start with the myth about lead tape, quoting Wishon:

"Adding lead tape in an effort to change the center of gravity of the head (to make the ball fly higher, lower, more to the right or left) simply will not work. The CG has to be moved at least a quarter-inch for the golfer to notice a flight change in the ball with the same clubhead. To move the CG by a quarter-inch requires no less than the addition of 10 4-inch-long strips of half-inch wide lead tape, all placed in the same area of the head toward which the CG movement is desired."

Lead Tape to Change the Swingweight Does Work

But there is another reason for using lead tape on a golf club, and this one is legit: changing the swingweight. Adding lead tape will increase the swingweight of a golf club, increasing the feel of more weight or "heft" during the swing.

"For that purpose, one 4-inch-long strip of half-inch wide lead tape will increase the swingweight of any club by one point, as in from D0 to D1," Wishon explained.

"Most golfers will detect a difference in the headweight feel of a club when the swingweight is increased by two or three swingweight points, but only the most sensitive feel players will ever note the difference of one swingweight point."

So when does it make sense to experiment with adding lead tape to a golf clubhead?

"If you sense that you can't feel the presence of the clubhead in the swing, if you feel that you fight being 'too quick' with your swing, of if you are experiencing a fairly high incidence of shots hit off the heel of the face, adding lead tape to increase the swingweight very well could help improve the problem," Wishon said.

If you don't want to experiment with lead tape on your own, visit a clubfitter.

Is Lead Tape Allowed Under the Rules?

Golfers cannot alter the playing characteristics of a club during a round, and even outside of a round doing so risks rendering a club non-conforming. So are golfers who add lead tape to one or more of their clubheads running afoul of the Rules of Golf?

The governing bodies specifically allow the use of lead tape that is attached prior to the beginning of a round in Decision 4-1/4. Meanwhile, Decision 4-2/0.5 addresses what happens if lead tape becomes detached during the course of play:

"Q. With regard to Decision 4-1/4, may a player remove, add or alter lead tape during a round?

"A. No. However, lead tape that becomes detached from the club in the normal course of play may be placed back onto the club in the same location. If the lead tape will not remain on the club in the same location, new tape may be used. Every effort should be made to restore the club, as nearly as possible, to its previous condition. Alternatively, the club may be used in its damaged state (without the lead tape) for the remainder of the round (Rule 4-3a).

"If the tape is altered or damaged other than in the normal course of play, the club may not be used for the remainder of the round, under penalty of disqualification (see Rules 4-2a and 4-3)."

Is Lead Tape Safe?

Before you tear into a new roll of lead tape, be sure to read the packaging or any included instructions, and look for any statements about precautions for its use.

Remember: The metal lead is a neurotoxin. Lead poisoning is a real and very harmful thing. But before you freak out, consider that the website tennis.com (tennis players sometimes use lead tape on their racquets) looked into the question of lead tape safety and concluded "that the chances of getting lead poisoning from lead tape are slim to none."

Still, the experts tennis.com gear editor Bill Gray consulted for that piece did urge those working with lead tape to pull it off and cut it away from one's face; not to store it in one's bag or where it might come in contact with one's towel; to consider wearing latex gloves when working with it; and, by all means, keep it away from children.

And again, be sure to read and follow any recommendations offered by the manufacturer.