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Fitting Frenzy

<< Back to Robb Report, Robb Report July 2014

As golf equipment has improved, so has the art of club fitting, which now offers countless configurations and options to help get the most from your swing.

Somewhere around the 100th ball, it clicked. I could not miss. Every shot flew exactly where I was aiming—high if I wanted high, right to left if that was the intention. Then Allen Gobeski started playing games.

“Hit this one,” he would say, handing me a different club. Without looking to see what make and model it was, I would swing. The ball might not go as high as I wanted it to or turn the way it should turn. “Okay,” he would say, “now this one.”

It went on like that for a few hours on a warm winter afternoon at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Gobeski—a master fitter for the Scottsdale company Cool Clubs—and I were the only ones on the driving range. Just a golfer, a club fitter, and a trailer full of clubheads and shafts, connectable in thousands of combinations. After about three hours, it felt like I had hit every possible permutation.

My session at the range was the second half of a full-day program with Cool Clubs, a golf-club-fitting company located just a few minutes from Grayhawk. I had started at the Cool Clubs office, which also serves as a showroom, testing-and-fitting lab, and assembly plant. At the facility, Gobeski, a former teaching pro, calibrated and recorded every component of my swing and putting stroke. My existing clubs were measured, my putting motion captured in high-speed digital images, and data points from my hundreds of swings fed into a computer. Gobeski also took notes and made comments on my far-from-perfect swing and its wide range of results. At the conclusion of the two-part session, Gobeski would tell me if my current clubs were helping or hurting my game—and, of course, advise me on which clubs and shafts I should consider replacing them with.

Golf equipment has never been better. Materials, aerodynamics, computer-aided design, high-tech manufacturing, and other advances have seen to that. The technology packed into heads and shafts means it is possible to create clubs that help golfers good and bad get the most out of their swings—but only if those components are accurately matched to the golfer doing the swinging.

“Golfers come in all shapes, sizes, and swing skills, which means they need different club lengths, weights, lofts, and lie angles,” explains Tom Wishon, an independent club designer and fitter for nearly 40 years. “There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all golf clubs.”

Club fitting is certainly not new. Bobby Jones, the amateur nonpareil and winner of the 1930 Grand Slam, complained that his mashie niblick (roughly equivalent to a 7-iron today) did not feel like the other clubs in his set. When measured, the club proved to be out of step with the set’s symmetrical progression of weight and shaft flex/deflection. Such synchronization—ensuring that the clubs match not only the golfer but also one another—is one of the fundamentals of fitting.

Custom clubs, however, are not just for elite golfers like Jones. In fact, the benefits of club fitting might be felt more by average players. “I have years of statistics showing that golfers who shoot between the low 80s and high 90s benefit the most from playing with correctly fit clubs,” Wishon says. According to Gobeski, proper fitting is worth about a quarter of a shot per round to a PGA Tour pro. For average golfers? “A few shots a round, at least.”

Once upon a time, fitting was little more than making clubs longer for taller golfers, making grips thicker for those with big hands, and offering rudimentary choices in shaft stiffness. Those factors remain core to the process but are now complemented by a range of weights, angles, and other variables. “If a club is too long, too light, or too heavy, you will not consistently deliver the clubhead square at impact,” Wishon says. “So not only won’t you play better immediately, you won’t improve if you take lessons. And if the lie angle is wrong, the heel or toe will be up, leading to a push or pull even if you make a perfect swing.”

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Weight is crucial to fitting. A lighter club can be swung faster, generating more speed for more power at impact. When I was fitted last year at one of TaylorMade’s Performance Labs, the primary suggestion was replacing the standard 130-gram steel shafts with ones that weighed 95 grams. My swing speed subsequently increased nearly 5 mph, adding 7 to 10 yards to an average iron shot.

Lie angle—the angle of the shaft relative to the clubhead—influences where the club points at impact and what direction the ball flies. Clever fitting of lie angle can help golfers who want to fix their game with equipment rather than instruction, though it also can lead to bad habits.

Just as there are wide differences in skill among golfers, fittings are only as good as the fitter. “A good fitter will ask questions such as, do you play in windy conditions?” says Gobeski. “Do you play firm, fast greens? Whether you play in Seattle or Houston, 300 rounds a year, or you don’t travel much. These variables affect equipment design differently.”

The pioneer in fitting was Ping, which in the early 1970s created a system of color-coded lie angles based on static measurements such as a golfer’s height and the distance from fingertip to floor. Ping’s success helped convince golfers and other manufacturers that fitting mattered.

Today, many club pros do fittings, usually of the two or three brands in their shops. Most manufacturers, meanwhile, have fitting carts at golf clubs and other locations that offer a selection of shafts and clubheads—a turn of the screw, and the golfer can try the same club with a lighter shaft, flatter lie angle, or thinner grip. A few even have dedicated fitting centers, such as the TaylorMade Performance Labs and the Callaway Performance Centers, which are powered by proprietary software, ball-flight analyzers, and other equipment. Costs for any of the manufacturers’ fitting programs (see the “Getting Fit” sidebar at right) are minimal and are usually waived when new clubs are ordered.

In addition to the manufacturers’ programs, independent fitters like Cool Clubs have opened their doors, offering a mix of high-tech and on-the-range analysis with the advantage of not being beholden to any one company. Cool Clubs has heads from Ping, TaylorMade, Nike, Mizuno, Cleveland, Callaway, Titleist, Tour Edge, and others, as well as shafts from about 10 companies, and analyzes golfers with its own software to suggest the most effective makeup from more than 12,000 possibilities.

My hands a little raw and my back more than a little stiff, I returned to the Cool Clubs showroom with Gobeski. After a few minutes inputting data, he showed me the recommendations on a large screen.

My current irons and driver were good, Gobeski said, but my 3-wood and hybrid were out of sync with the rest of the set in weight and flex, and they were too close to each other in yardage. If I wanted new clubs, he offered several options: two or three he called good—the best heads on stock shafts—two others better and best, the main variable being the shafts, which could cost up to $550 apiece. In most cases, Cool Clubs had the components on hand and could build any set in a few days; if something had to be ordered, it might take a week—a short time to wait, it seemed, for a perfect fit. 

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Golf Experts Agree: Getting fitted for golf clubs—even just the basics such as grip size, shaft flex, and lie—will help your game. Fitting is easier than ever, with most club pros doing it for the brands they sell (using company-specific fitting carts and demo days), while several manufacturers and independent companies offer more advanced options.

Callaway Golf: In addition to having trained fitting professionals at nearly 2,000 clubs and stores, Callaway operates 26 Callaway Performance Centers and 13 Fitting Studios across the United States. Pricing depends on the location. (A driver-to-putter fitting is $150 at the Performance Center at Callaway’s offices in Carlsbad, Calif.) If a purchase is made after the fitting, the customer receives a $100 gift card.

Cobra: The company has more than 200 fitters at clubs and shops around the country, plus a fitting center at its headquarters in Carlsbad, and another in Manorville, N.Y. A full fitting is $300.

Cool Clubs: The independent Scottsdale-based company offers unbiasedfittings—recommending the best combinations of clubs and shafts from all the major (and some smaller) brands—at 14 locations worldwide, including two in Japan and one in Australia. A full-set fitting costs $525 ($675 for the Tour Fitting in Scottsdale, where participants spend time at the outdoor range at Grayhawk Golf Club). The price includes frequency and weight matching of shafts for consistency.

Ping: Every Ping club is custom built to specs determined at a fitting done by one of the 2,500 company-trained fitters around the country. Ping does not charge for fitting, but some individual fitters might.

TaylorMade: Hundreds of authorized dealers throughout the States can fit you for TaylorMade clubs. The company also operates 20 full-service TaylorMade Performance Labs, including two upscale TaylorMade Kingdoms—where several PGA Tour pros have been fitted for clubs—in Carlsbad and at Reynolds Plantation in Georgia. Fittings at the Performance Labs are generally between $200 and $500, depending on location, time, and recommendations.

Titleist: Along with thousands of fitters nationwide, Titleist has Tour Fitting centers in Oceanside, Calif., and Acushnet, Mass., where a full fitting is $500. The company also operates regional fitting centers in Fort Worth, Texas; Ypsilanti, Mich.; Saint Simons Island, Ga.; and Scarborough, N.Y.; plus three Performance Club Fitting vans that provide high-level analysis.