Fitting clubs is getting smarter, easier
One of the (many) perks of this job is the opportunity to go for a club fitting often. I probably haven't been through as many fittings as a tour pro, but I've probably been through more fittings than any 10 average golfers combined.
One thing stands out every time: Why aren't more golfers getting this done and what are they waiting for?
Plenty of major manufacturers and retailers are making the idea of getting a fitting easier and more efficient. Several cases in point came to me in the last few days as I traveled to Boston to visit a [__Golf Town__](http://us.golftown.com/AboutUs_US2.aspx?lang=en) store and to New Jersey to watch [__Callaway gather more case studies for its "Real Results" campaign__](http://realresults.callawaygolf.com/).
First, in the greater Boston area, I spent some time going through a Golf Town store in Natick, Mass., and learning about Golf Town's partnership with Swing Labs, a clubfitting solution that could revolutionize how accessible, efficient and immediately useful fitting can be. How much has Swing Labs changed players' potential? According to Mark DiMare, Swing Labs co-founder, in the 25,000 fittings done by Swing Labs over the years, players have seen an average gain of 15 yards with the driver, 9 yards with the irons and a 40 percent reduction in shot dispersion.
What's amazing is how simply the Swing Labs system works at Golf Town, from a complete fitting with custom shafts to a direct comparison of all the settings on your adjustable driver to get you dialed in on just the right one.
Currently, the Swing Labs matrix accounts for a mind-boggling 827,000 possible combinations to match player to club, something even the most ambitious golf consumer in the world might be hard-pressed to sort through on his own. Even more importantly, Swing Labs DiMare says, "Our mission was to create a more scientific, objective way to recommend clubs." Swing Labs gets its performance modeling data for every new club by robot testing each club with noted golf testing and research company Golf Laboratories.
Golf Town is just the latest major golf retailer to embrace fitting. Golfsmith guarantees you a full refund for store credit if you get a fitting at one of their stores and don't like the results with your new club.Edwin Watts offers a Performance Fitting form that you can print out and take to one of its stores. PGA Tour Superstores offer the option of a quick fitting in 10 minutes.
And let's not forget our list of America's 100 Best Clubfitters, the best places to go for a fitting in the U.S.
Of course, while Demo Days have been and still are a part of the golf retail landscape, many manufacturers are using the modern technology of the launch monitor to make it plainly clear how much improvement average players can see. Bridgestone has put more than 150,000 golfers on launch monitors in its "Ball Fitting Challenge." Nike is conducting "Speed Trials" nationwide to show consumers how much distance they can gain with their new VRS driver, fairway wood and hybrid. (Their website touts 178,500 yards worth of combined improvement.) In Callaway's recently launched Real Results project, nearly three-fourths of the 700 players who've participated in the project have shown distance gains when comparing the new RAZR Fit driver to their current driver.
Making fitting easier and quicker is becoming more common. An eternity ago (or five years), TaylorMade took us to the techiest future of total swing/equipment analysis with__ its video game cool MAT-T system__. Ping's nFlight system graphically represents where a golfer's shot trajectory should be, confirming he has achieved the right iron or driver setup. And we've long praised how Mizuno's Performance Fitting System with its Shaft Optimizer makes shaft selection as simple as half a dozen swings.
Still, not enough players are taking advantage of the increasing cornucopia of options. If Bridgestone has ball fit 150,000 golfers, (the largest of these current programs), that's not as comprehensive as it sounds. In raw numbers, that's only one-tenth the subscribers to Golf Digest. That's one-hundredth the number of core golfers, according to the National Golf Foundation. The Golf Town folks admit that the numbers of golfers taking advantage of their new Swing Labs fitting experience is still quite small, less than one in five customers.
What is the hold-up? We've had a number of golfers express interest in participating in our clubfitting research project this summer with Club Champion. One of the requirements for participants is that they'd not gone through a fitting previously. Their explanations for not getting fit range can be alarming. One player told us he wanted to "to see whether a custom fit club is truth or fiction." Another blames himself: "I have often ignored the desire to get custom-fit for clubs, partially because I like the set of irons I use, partially out of the likely mistaken belief that it's the Indian and not the arrow." A third offers an explanation that serves only as an indictment: "I know I probably shouldn't be playing the irons I'm playing, but since that's all I've known for 35+ years, it looks and feels as familiar as the back of my hand and that 'feels right' to me."
I've long said this about clubfitting and the growing benefits of launch monitor technology, and I find it's increasingly true after my experiences in the last few days: Golf equipment is the only consumer good in the world today where there is a process and a device that make it abundantly clear whether you should buy something new or not. The numbers and a quality fitter make the case clearly and succinctly. There is no hiding from the numbers. It's either better than what you've got or it isn't. That's the beauty of something like Swing Labs My Club IQ, which will tell you in 15 minutes how much more might be out there for you. What's even more refreshing is that most quality fitters today are comfortable enough to say, "Nope, what you've got is just fine."
As for me, both fittings in the last few days said there were another five yards or more out there for me. The new clubs could produce better numbers. And that's compared to a driver that was custom fit to me less than a year ago.
Hmmm... What are consumers waiting for? Heck, what am I waiting for?
*--Mike StachuraFollow me on Twitter @MikeStachura