BOMB: For those of you who thought we may have just decided to stay at CordeValle Resort, well, we're not that lucky.
Not that the thought of spending more time in such an idyllic location wasn't tempting. But the reward for a two-week stay out west at the Hot List Summit isn't a vacation. It's the opportunity to have enough time to do a load of laundry, jump-start the battery on your car (yes, mine croaked after not being started for nearly two weeks) and head into the office where the five Hot List judges have been holed up since last Monday deliberating the merits of each product under consideration and assigning each a score in
each of the four categories. In short, with four criteria and more than 250 products to consider, that's more than 1,000 individual debates. By the way, pardsy, I just tallied up the number of cells used on your master Excel spreadsheet -- about 5,600 used. And that grid of data from the Robot Testing we had done? Another 1,200 data points.
So what made the list? You don't really think I'm going to tell you do you? You’ll have to wait for the February 2009 issue along with the rest of the 1.6 million subscribers of Golf Digest. But I can tell you we have spent much of the past year and almost all of the last month diligently researching any tidbit of information that would aid us in our deliberations. You see, the deal about the Hot List is that on the surface what we're trying to do (i.e., evaluate the golf equipment universe) is borderline impossible. And it would be just that if we went about it randomly, with no regard to a detailed process. But we have a process and we stick by that process. What you will see in the magazine and on our website is the result of that process. The mission is to make your search for new equipment simpler. You take it from there.
GOUGE: Yes, I am a little giddy about Excel spreadsheets when it comes to the Hot List. And no, we're probably not going to tell you today what's on the list. But here are some things to consider in anticipation of the list (take a deep breath, it's probably more than you want to know, but the I am the man of 6,000 spreadsheet cells):
1. The grading process: Changed from last year, the new system will respond somewhat to the wishes that we devote more of our evaluation to how the clubs work. 40 percent of a product's score will be in the criterion of Performance (what happens to the ball when you hit it) and 20 percent of the score will be set on the new criterion of Look/Sound/Feel (or the experience of holding and using the club and how closely it resonates with our interpretation of what a golf club should be). So that's 60 percent of the score devoted to the utility of the club. 30 percent is set aside for the criterion of Innovation, which is our evaluation of how the designers advanced the ball in terms of technology, fitting and/or materials, as well as how efficiently a company makes their technology understood. 10 percent, our smallest element, is set aside in Demand. Now, Demand traditionally gets a bad rap in our Hot List evaluations, but we feel it is a way of better understanding how more players feel about a product (sales and consumer satisfaction data are one indication for older products) and how much excitement there is surrounding a new product. That excitement factor has nothing to do with advertising, but rather it's a determination based on our extensive interviews and discussions with a team of veteran retailers. And again, it's only 10 percent. And small companies aren't unduly punished. They don't get a 1 out of 10, for example. In truth, if they have an office and a phone number and a website, they're starting out a lot closer to 5 than they are 1, and any other positives about a particular product, its internet buzz, its tour use, its designer or any other combination of factors, pushes it much closer (and beyond) a passing grade. In other news, we will continue the designations of Gold and Silver, and our grading system for the four Hot List criteria will move to a 5-star system, and away from the somewhat confusing Red/Orange/Yellow + and ++ format of years past.
2. About 1 in four of the products we considered for the Hot List actually made the final list. So if in the past you had a tendency to dismiss products that "only" earned a Silver designation, think again. The Hot List in total stands as the cream of the equipment crop.
3. If you think it's easy to pick our list, consider that among all that Excel spread sheet data is only the smallest of differences detected by the fine, exhaustive work done by the team at Golf Laboratories. By my calculations, the "best" drivers tended to lose about one-and-a-half percent of ballspeed for our four off-center hits (1/2 inch above the center of the face, 1/2 inch below the center of the face, 3/4 inch toward the heel and 3/4 inch toward the toe) and the "worst" drivers lost about two-and-a-half percent of ballspeed on those off-center hits. In real terms, that means the worst drivers on a very average 90 mile-per-hour swing were losing about 5 yards on a mis-hit, and the best were only losing about 3.5 yards on a mishit. Short answer for those not majoring in mechanical engineering or quantum physics: Drivers work, and if you haven't upgraded in a couple years, you're probably the same idiot driving the '84 Escort at 40 miles per hour in front of me this morning on the Merritt Parkway. Troll.
4. So if they're all so close in performance, how do you pick any clubs? Well, of course, it's a lot more than what happens with a robot because robots don't play golf. But our robot does give us some very useful baseline data to compare relative launch angles and spin rates, as we did with last year's Hot List. We really want to understand what players think about a particular design, and our belief is the better a design approaches the ideals of "revolutionary" and "flawlessly efficient," the better shot it has of earning our highest honors.
5. The only other revelation I'll pass on is the huge degree to which many of our players were surprised at some new equipment discovery, and not just the hot new products. Most notable is how some of our elite players with significant clubhead speed came to new understandings or theories about the role of the shaft. Specifically, many were reconsidering the flex of the shaft, going to an R when for years they played an S. But that's exactly what you should expect from the Hot List: The unexpected.