Bomb & GougeOctober 20, 2010

Hot List Summit Day 4: The putter puzzle

LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. -- The subject was putters, a category unlike any other, as a panel of retailers explained on Wednesday at the annual Golf Digest Hot List Summit at the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa here.

The retailers concluded two days of meetings with the Hot List judges, who rely on them to help gauge potential demand for products in the marketplace, and putters present different challenges, among them the vast array of brands. The putter category, though still difficult, is the easiest category in which to gain a foothold for an interesting smaller or newer brand.

This is a byproduct of the fact that retailers are more likely to take a chance on an off-brand in the putter category than other categories, the panelists agreed, particularly if the putter comes in under $100 retail.

Then there's the fitting aspect, or lack of one. Club fitting might continue to expand, but putter fittings are substantially less important to consumers, who generally rely on how one looks and feels to them.

"Jim Furyk didn't do much to emphasize putter fittings," one retailer, Leigh Bader, said kiddingly, but making the point. Bader is the co-owner of Joe & Leigh's Discount Golf Pro Shop in South Easton, Mass., the store that sold Furyk the used putter he used to win the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup. Furyk simply walked into the story, saw the putter in a used club barrel, liked its look and purchased it.

The last chapter of the Hot List Summit, meanwhile, commences on Thursday, the first of three days of club testing on the range at the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa. The categories of clubs to be tested include drivers, fairway woods, hybrids, players' irons, game-improvement irons, super game-improvement irons, wedges and putters. The skills of the testers range from low handicappers (including teaching professionals) to mid-handicappers to high handicappers.

It is a grueling three-day exercise that is not recommended for those with low thresholds of pain. When one has to test upwards of 20 drivers, then move to another stage and test a like number of fairway woods, and continue this process over the better part of eight hours a day for three days, well, only gamers need apply.

-- John Strege