For 19 years and counting, the Golf Digest Hot List has helped guide golfers around the world through their buying decisions as hundreds of new club models are released by manufacturers every spring. But how does the club-testing process work for this, the industry’s most highly anticipated product review? What does it take to be a Hot List tester? We sent a documentary crew to the 2022 Hot List testing summit to capture the people, the drama and the secret sauce that goes into golf’s ultimate assignment.
The Hot List testing kicks off for the 19th year in a row in Mesquite, Nev., and testers new and old brace themselves for four grueling days of hitting 500 balls a day. They do their jobs under the watchful eyes of chief Hot List judges Mike Stachura and Mike Johnson, the brains behind the franchise and the top equipment editors in golf. To fully understand the Hot List, you have to know the Mikes. “It’s like being around an old bickering couple sometimes,” says one of their coworkers.
What does it take to be a Hot List tester? Most of the 18 panelists in place at the 2022 testing summit have been there before, they don’t get paid, and they do everything they can to be invited back next year—even if it means swinging through physical agony. “It’s one of the craziest and most exciting things I do all year,” says PGA professional Jason Guss. “We take our jobs very seriously, but we’ve also made lifelong friends here.”
For new testers Griffin House and Drew Westphal, “Hell day”—the day they test drivers and wedges—brings everything they’d been told it would and more, both in terms of revelations and pain. There to help them get through the grind is Golf Galaxy master clubfitter Chris Marchini, who may look like he belongs in a Tom Cruise action flick but is one of the premiere fitters in the game and arguably the hardest-working man at the summit. “I’ve learned so much from Chris today that I didn’t know,” says House, a musician and scratch golfer. “He’s just the coolest.”
“It’s kind of like running a marathon. You’re just exhausted and beat up at the end, and you think, ‘I could never do that again,’ and then three months later you’re ready to run another one.” As the 19th Hot List summit winds down, the testers feel pride and relief, mixed with growing sadness about the pending trip home. But first, they need to finish the job and live up to the Mikes’ age-old Hot List summit mantra: “The last ball is as good as the first ball.” And no matter how tired and hurting, they always have time for a little extra golf once the last score has been delivered at the end of the day.