LITCHFIELD PARK, Ariz. -- Like a good ball club, each year the Hot List Player Panel is a group of core veterans infused with a few eager rookies. Their season may only last four days, but with all the golf balls hit it feels much longer. Time on the sun-baked range can lull, and the sixth station of game-improvement irons can start to feel not totally unlike the race for the AL West in early August.
This year five new swings have been added to the squad, the winners from our online contest, and like every season, these greenhorns must be initiated at the welcoming dinner. Judge E. Michael Johnson, filling in as interim manager for Judge Michael Stachura (currently on the 15 day disabled list), clinked his glass and went through what they needed to know. I paraphrase:
Rule One: Pace Yourself.
You may be jacked up to try all these new golf toys, but don't rifle through two buckets in ten minutes and expect to make it to the end of the day, let alone Sunday. Unless you're Vijay Singh, you've never experienced an eight-hour range session in your life. Blisters will be treated but pulled muscles will receive no sympathy. Stretch, take water breaks, apply sunscreen, and make sure you bring the same mental and physical energy to every single club you evaluate.
Rule Two: This is Not a Vacation.
Yes, we flew you in and are putting you up at the lovely Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa. We hope that you are comfortable and enjoy your meals, but you are here to work. This is the biggest editorial project Golf Digest undertakes each year, and the course of the entire golf industry rests in large part in your hands.
Rule Three: Prepare to be Surprised.
The slightest hint of brand bias will not be tolerated. Be ready to be underwhelmed by a club from a popular manufacturer and likewise, be ready to fall in love with a club whose name you've never heard of.
Rule Four: These Clubs are Confidential.
The majority of the clubs you will hit will not be publicly available until 2011. In several cases, they are prototypes rushed here direct from a foundry in China. The makers of these clubs go to great cost to time the launches of their product cycles, and any leak of what's to come undermines not only their business, but their trust established with Golf Digest. Any written or photographic dissemination of what you see, via a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or other, is strictly prohibited. For this reason you all must sign NDA's (non-disclosure agreements).
And with that Skipper Johnson raised his glass, again thanked the player panelists for coming, and kindly asked everyone to please eat. For dessert there was a choice of warm black cherry compote and ice cream, or raspberry truffles with honey sesame crusts. It was just the first of many difficult decisions facing the players. In the next four days they will give over a 1,000 numerical grades to the best golf clubs on the planet.
-- Max Adler