If you haven't noticed, custom clubfitting has become more ubiquitous than craft breweries. As more equipment companies offer drivers with dozens of settings and bouquets of custom shafts, the golf consumer is at once tempted and swept away by a cornucopia of confusing choices. As Jason Fryia, owner of six Golf Exchange stores in Ohio and Kentucky, explains, "I don't think golf equipment is a self-shoppable product." Fortunately, every golf shop, from the 50,000-square-foot megastores to the corner shops one-fiftieth the size, is increasingly equipped with expert fitters divining the right heads, lofts and lengths with a wisdom that encompasses club technology, instruction ideas and even good, old-fashioned people skills. In our fourth listing of America's 100 Best Clubfitters, we highlight the top facilities in the country that expertly bridge this marriage of art and science, and we offer some of their wisdom to prepare you to embrace the benefits of clubfitting.
• How to prepare for a clubfitting.
Randall Doucette, a master clubfitter for the Marriott Golf Academy in Orlando, says to approach a clubfitting with an open mind. If you have a swing coach, Doucette says to get a tune-up before going for a fitting. "Come to the fitting with notes on what you're working on and where you want to get to," he says. You also should come to the fitting with your current clubs. This gives you and your fitter a baseline for comparing other clubs. Also, Doucette says every good fitting requires patience: "There's no need for anxiety and nervous tension. We're here to make you better."—Keely Levins
• Why getting fit once is not enough.
One myth about clubfitting is that it's like buying a tailored suit: Get fit once, and use those specs for life. But that thinking is off base, according to Dan Sueltz of D'Lance Golf Performance Center in Englewood, Colo. Sueltz says avid golfers should be fit every two years. "A lot of things can change in that time," Sueltz says. "You might experience changes in strength, flexibility, reflexes or have an injury. Your swing might become steeper or shallower, etc." People also need to realize different manufacturers might have a different specification for length or lie angle. So the fitting you get for one brand might not apply to another one. —E. Michael Johnson
• Finding the right driver isn't only about swing speed.
Swing speed can be a starting point, but the best fitters want to see how you're hitting the ball. If impacts are scattered across the face, for example, you can bet a large, highly stable driver is best for you, even if you swing it faster than Bubba Watson in a bad mood. The right driver is also about how the weight is balanced within the head. Knowing how drivers differ or how that weight can be tweaked can improve how far you hit the ball and how well you square the clubface. Says Woody Lashen of Pete's Golf in Mineola, N.Y.: "Finding a driver with the correct center of gravity for the player, whether it's forward, back or toward the heel, can change the person's game. For example, a relatively straight hitter who is spinning the ball too much, even if he doesn't swing very fast, can gain tremendous distance with a driver that will spin the ball less." —Mike Stachura
• The putter is the easiest club to get fit for.
Your putting stroke is generally your most repeatable, so that makes it the easiest to analyze, and sometimes the recommended changes (length, lie angle, grip) don't require a putter change. Even if you want something new, resist the urge to test a bunch of putt-ers off the rack. "You might make a few good putts with this putter, but that doesn't mean you're lined up with it or that it has the right weighting for you," says Don Coyle of Country Acres Custom Golf in Mount Vernon, Ill. Coyle recommends that you focus not only on the head shape, but the hosel position, weight distribution and alignment lines. "That's the stuff that can really make a difference," he says. —Brittany Romano
• Wedges are the most overlooked club in fitting.
"I fit people all the time who have non-standard length and lie angles in their irons but buy wedges off the rack," says Scott Felix of Felix ClubWorks at Spring Creek Ranch in Collierville, Tenn. "That makes no sense." Aside from length and lie angle, Felix says nine out of 10 golfers don't use enough bounce. (That's the angle formed by the sole, the leading edge and the ground.) He also likes the control provided by heavier shafts. "You want to reduce the role of the hands on these shots. It's like a counterbalanced putter: The more weight, the less chance a golfer can fudge it up." Then, there's distance gapping—making sure each wedge covers a certain distance without overlaps. Felix thinks 5 degrees between clubs works better than 4, citing a need for more loft around the green." —E. Michael Johnson
• Don't forget about grips.
The grip might be the last thing on your list when you go through a clubfitting, but it can yield big benefits. Nick Sherburne, a master fitter at Club Champion, a nationwide chain, says a grip's size and texture affect the way your hands release the club at impact and the shape and trajectory of your shots. "Tour players agonize over grips because they understand that is what connects you to the club," he says. "Finding that proper size will help promote the proper release at impact, leading to crisper, cleaner shots." —Mike Stachura
• Should I get my swing fixed before I get fit for clubs?
Top clubfitters believe instruction is a vital component of the fitting process. "We typically work backward from impact to address to understand how the head and shaft need to perform for players to get the most out of their swing and equipment," says Gregg Rogers, founder of Gregg Rogers' Golf Performance Centers in Bellevue, Wash. His point is that finding more distance or improving accuracy can't be limited to new clubs. As for what comes first, Rogers, a 20-year PGA member, believes your clubs should take precedence. "Getting the proper fit in the player's hands gives a better opportunity to develop the impact fundamentals from the beginning," he says. —Mike Stachura
WHERE TO GO TO GET FIT
We highlight fitters in two lists this year. America's 100 Best, the elite fitting facilities in the country, are cited here based on a poll of our course-rating panelists and industry sources, as well as our internal reviews of nomination forms. Click here for the 100 Best and our list of nearly 600 additional Golf Digest Certified fitters, locations that offer the tools, such as a launch monitor, to conduct a proper fitting. The two lists were culled from an examination of more than 1,200 facilities.
HOW TO AVOID A BAD CLUBFITTING
The only thing worse than playing with clubs off the rack is playing with clubs that weren't properly fit. Wade Heintzelman of Golf Care Center in Bethesda, Md., shares his warning signs you're not getting a proper fitting:
1.) The fitter doesn't explain the process. You need to know why you were fit the way you were.
2.) The fitter doesn't ask about your game or clubs. How can you track improvement without a baseline measurement?
3.) The fitter doesn't use the latest tools. Launch monitors, video tracking and fitting systems have come a long way. Feel is important, but a technical analysis is critical.
4.) The fitter has few choices. You need what's best for your game, not what's best for your fitter's wallet.