There have been some rumblings on the internet and coming out of last week's PGA Merchandise Show about the specifics of our Hot List process. While manufacturers are informed directly of our process at the start of each Hot List season, here are some facts to set the record straight for those who need clarification (like one website that recently suggested clubs might only be hit by one or two players).
1. There are two stages in our evaluation. First, a list of nominations are solicited from all known manufacturers. We are evaluating products that will be a main part of a company's line for the following spring (in other words, discounted and close-out products are not considered). Products are evaluated across our four criteria in Stage 1 to receive a minimum rating to advance to the Final Stage. This includes play testing and generally occurs over several days in late September. This year there were 295 products originally considered for the Hot List. The number that advanced to the Final Stage, held at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, Ariz., in mid-October, was 188. They were divided in the following categories:
Drivers: 30Fairway woods: 20Hybrids: 24Game Improvement Irons: 18Players Irons: 16SGI Irons: 15Wedges: 16Blade Putters: 24Mallet Putters: 25
In the end, 94 products made the Hot List, or less than a third of those originally considered.
Our player panelists hit every club in every category with two exceptions: The players with the lowest handicaps (under 5) do not hit Super Game Improvement irons. The players with the highest handicaps do not hit Players Irons. Players evaluated all clubs on the range, but also took clubs out on the course every day during testing. Manufacturers were provided with each players' current club specs, and at a minimum, multiple lofts (drivers), multiple flexes and multiple lengths (putters) were provided in each category, although given our players preferences, some individual lofts or flexes may not need to be hit.
Generally speaking, players hit 8-15 shots on the range with each club, a few more shots with wedges and putters. The objective in each instance is to get a player's initial reaction to each club. Our belief is that truly exceptional clubs will reveal themselves within this number of hits. In total, each club is hit approximately 120-200 times.
Players are grouped in twos and a Golf Digest editor is assigned to each twosome and is with the same group throughout the day. The editor interviews each player after he or she hits each club. In addition to getting player scores on a 0 to 5 scale in several characteristics within the headings of Performance and Look/Sound/Feel, as well as a top 5 in each category, the editor gathers quotes from each player based on his or her experience with each club.
In the case of drivers, robot testing is conducted by Golf Laboratories, based in San Diego, Calif. All drivers are compared to a test model driver, and this driver is also used to calibrate the robot twice a day. Generally, 2-4 drivers are hit per day during the robot testing, and each driver is hit on five locations: the geometric center, 1/2-inch high and low, and 3/4-inch heel and toe.
The four Hot List judges utilize the players' relative scores in Performance and Look/Sound/Feel, as well as robot data and other personal experience to determine the scores for Performance and Look/Sound/Feel categories. All products are evaluated on a 100-point scale in each category.
Each product under consideration is evaluated by a panel of retailers who provide input that is used by the judges to determine the score in the Demand category. All products are evaluated on a 100-point scale.
Each product under consideration is evaluated by a panel of scientists who provide input that is used by the judges to determine the score in the Innovation category. Manufacturers provide confidential product research documents that are extensively reviewed by the panel of scientists. All products are evaluated on a 100-point scale.
In the end, the Hot List process is an intense evaluation that begins in July and ends in early December. Despite all the intricacy in our process, its motivation and its mission are quite simple: To discover truly exceptional products that can make a difference in golfers' games.