When it comes to buying new clubs, be an ignorant genius
Illustration by John Ritter
Welcome to the 2021 Golf Digest Hot List. We’ve been testing and ranking the universe of golf clubs for 18 years, but this is our first wholly dedicated issue—nothing but equipment from cover to cover! Is it audacious to suggest this might one day become a collector’s item?
Probably depends on the collector.
Seriously, this is a big deal for us. The analysis and photography presented here are at a scale never previously attempted in golf. You might find yourself overwhelmed. In fact, it’s almost a certainty. Understanding the subtle differences among clubs in a world in which everything new is basically really good—more fastidiously designed and built better than almost any club was five years ago—takes serious concentration. Even though the heaviest lifting has already been done by our Hot List Judges—Senior Editor of Equipment Mike Stachura, Equipment Editor E. Michael Johnson and Staff Writer Joel Beall—finding the perfect new club or clubs for your game hinges on exacting reading comprehension.
My advice: Give yourself over to The Mikes and Joel as if you are an ignorant genius. Pretend you know absolutely nothing about golf equipment but have a sponge for a brain that can absorb any idea that is clearly articulated. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is being able to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Well, reading about lowered spin and deepened center of gravity and discretionary tolerances, it’s been my experience that I need to hold three or even four ideas at the same time when I tackle the Hot List.
Go slowly, stay patient, and I promise at the end of each section you’ll emerge with a short list of clubs you will want to try when you visit a clubfitter. This is the ideal use of the Hot List.
RELATED: Our first-ever special Hot List equipment issue—featuring comprehensive reviews of the 137 best new golf clubs on the market—is now available. For our exhaustive guide that includes photos and analysis, click here.
Of course, maybe you already know your basic specs and are just looking for guidance on what to order online or buy off the rack. We don’t condone that behavior, sort of in the same way my dentist doesn’t ever condone flossing less than twice a day. Trust me, I get it. As a father of four young kids, a golf day is a golf day is a golf day, and I’m not inclined to waste one on anything other than playing. Yet the price tags on most of these clubs remind me of a lecture I’ve probably given my kids on the value of thinking through big purchases.
Isn’t it fun to think about something frivolous like buying new golf clubs after the year we’ve had? Before the pandemic struck, the most pressing issue in golf was the distance debate. Was the onslaught of Bryson DeChambeau and other driver-wedge tacticians threatening the future of the game? Did golf need two sets of equipment rules, despite how that might sever the weekend player’s emotional connection with the pro game, and, verily, history?!
Golf’s distance debate is another one for F. Scott Fitzgerald. After a virus ravaged our bodies and spirits en masse around the globe, arguments either side of how far a golf ball goes now feel rather quaint, innocent even. All I know for certain is, I’m pumped for the 2021 season because (a) it’s been a long winter and (b) there are more guys than ever—especially teenagers—who can bomb it by me, and I’m not going to sit idly by while that happens.
There are extra yards to be found in our special Hot List edition, and I’m going to get me some. Are you?