Golf Digest Hot List Summit 2016 blog: Academic debate

November 03, 2015

This week is Golf Digest's annual Hot List Summit, a congregation of scholars, scientists, retailers and testers searching for the same goal: What clubs belong in your bag? Assistant editor Joel Beall will be your Hot List Summit correspondent.

Between sitting next to a 12-year-old who spoke four languages and studied Chaos Theory on the plane out, and engaging with the professors and scientists for this year's Academic Panel, I have come to this irrefutable fact: I am not smart.

And I'm not saying that in a facetious tone. The Golf Digest jury is comprised of department heads, innovators, leaders of their respective fields. One of our panelists won the Aerospace Engineer of the Year award. Me? I was runner-up at my pub's weekly trivia night.

If the past five months have been a bachelor's degree in the study of the equipment industry, the past two days have served as a master's course. The team assembled for the scholastic portion of our Hot List report primarily work in universities across the continent, and thank God for that, as they were able to simplify some of the concepts and theorems at play so a dumb-dumb like me could understand.

Of course, some of the vernacular, as well as approaches and studies, still flew over my head. In one of my notes, I highlighted: "Reminder for Future Joel: Don't let your children be the failure that you are as a person."

Yet, as a player, I was struck by the level of dialogue and debate on some of the scientific matters. I always believed the science behind equipment was conclusive and definitive. It's anything but.

For example, we present our Academic Panel with 20 or so questions regarding the hot topics of the industry. The first -- first -- issue presented, on the topic of a driver's center of gravity on the neutral axis, took...drum roll please...two and a half hours to come to a response.

Grooves on wedges and iron-face flexibility received similar discourse. Without giving much away, these were not open-and-shut conversations.

And why is that? Not that club makers, as well as the scientists reviewing their claims, have their heads in the sand about this process. Rather, there are multiple routes to achieve a certain goal. What road was traveled, as well as how and why, are the propositions laying before this committee.

I was also amazed by the lack of black-and-white conclusions. On multiple occasions, the answer seemed to be draped in, "With this data and construction, to the best of our knowledge, we..." cadence. Sure, there were instances where a definitive reply was reached. But, on the whole, not the case.

Which, to me, is a good thing. Club makers are trying their damnedest to make the best product possible to help your game. That different avenues exist to accomplish this benchmark means innovation and creativity will flourish.

Moreover, what makes the Academic Panel's work enlightening is that they are more than a team of scientists trying to validate or disprove a company's claims. Like us, they are golfers. There is a curiosity, not just in the academic sense, but in a "Will this stick help me keep it in the fairway?" wonder.

Ultimately, as a golfer, that's all I ask: That the people creating and critiquing these golf instruments share my passion for the game.

Even if I don't have a clue about how these results were achieved.