One of the great mysteries of golf is why a perfectly sane person who happens to be three inches taller, 30 pounds heavier, and eight years older than the average American golfer will pay $800 for a set of clubs off the rack. That same person wouldn’t even think of buying a $400 suit without at least having the pants hemmed, yet they expect to hit a golf ball like Rory McIlroy with clubs made for Joe Average.
With today’s technology and plenty of experienced, trained experts at hand, there’s no reason to not buy a golf club with the same attention to size and fit as you would a pair of shoes. You can get some advice at leading golf retailers, but I went a step further and went through the fitting process with three Westchester specialists, each using different technology, to see what I could do with my equipment to improve my game. The results were remarkable.
» First up: DD Custom Golf, Elmsford
Fairview Golf Center, Elmsford
Distance? You want distance? I spent a couple of hours on the fitting tee with Steve Kurnit at DD Custom Golf and saw some numbers that made my jaw drop. How about another 20 yards on my drives and 10 more yards with my irons? Those numbers aren’t to be sneezed at.
Kurnit started with a complete analysis of the clubs in my bag today. FYI, my driver is about five years old — and I was fitted for it at the time by a good, experienced fitter. My irons have been around for three years and were fitted to me by the company rep, so these weren’t off-the-rack junk either. I’ve also not been unhappy with the results I was getting — at least until Kurnit took me to the top of the mountain and showed me the kind of distance I could be getting.
My current driver distance is about average for a slightly-better-than-mediocre player: according to the monitor, I carry it 226 yards and it runs out to a total distance of 254 yards. On this day, at least, I also hit it only about a yard off line. Then Kurnit started tinkering (mostly switching shafts) until he put a club in my hands that carried 243 yards and produced total distance of 273 yards — with just a slight increase in distance off the center line. Maybe it’s not tour length, but it’s longer than I ever expected to hit a golf ball. He produced similar results with my irons, taking my six iron from 185 yards to 195 yards — all without tinkering with my swing!
Think about these numbers for a minute. If I’m playing a 450-yard par four now, it takes a 250-yard tee shot followed by a hybrid or even a fairway wood to reach the green in regulation. If I arm myself with clubs made to Kurnit’s specs, I’ll be hitting a seven-or eight-iron into that green. Gee, you think my scores might go down?
Kurnit estimates he’s done 1,500 fittings since he started in the business 25 years ago. He set up shop in partnership with Fairview last year. He not only has all the tools to measure your swing there, but a workshop on the premises to tweak your sticks on the spot, too. The shop is only a few steps away from the privately curtained hitting bay he uses to check your swing. And measurements aren’t done with range balls, either, but with brand new Titleists.
Kurnit uses a Foresight Sports GC2 flight monitor to check swing speed, ball speed, launch angle, shaft angle at impact, back spin, side spin, percent off line, carry, roll, and peak height. Since you are hitting on a full range, you can see what all those numbers really add up to.
A full 14-club fitting can take three to five hours in total (not all at once!) and runs $275. Each driver, fairway wood, and hybrid is individually measured, as are all the irons and even your putter. Irons or woods only are $150. A great way to try out the service is with a one-club “quick fit” for $75. Take your driver — and see what the right club will mean to you.
By the way, “DD” doesn’t stand for Dave Donelson. It means Dynamic Diagnostic.
» Next up: GolfTEC, White Plains
Certified personal coach Tom Sialiano believes every player, regardless of ability, will shoot lower scores with clubs that fit their body and swing. “Many people think only a low handicapper needs custom clubs, but high handicappers will benefit even more,” he says. GolfTEC’s measurements are made indoors using a vector monitor with two cameras to capture the launch angle, ball speed, club speed, side spin, and back spin, which then is used to compute distance, direction, and the angle of descent.
I spent a couple of hours with Sialiano, hitting balls, checking the results, and generally enjoying a detailed look at my game and what it could be. The numbers were comparable to the other fittings, but some of the interpretations were a little different. Based upon my clubhead speed of 86.2 mph, I could get more distance if I improved the backspin produced by my driver. Results were similar for my irons.
Once the base measurements are taken using your current clubs, GolfTEC feeds the information into a massive database from Swing Labs, where it is filtered through more than a thousand clubs to find the ideal match. Based on what you need to improve, recommendations will come back for several possible solutions.
Sialiano put the three top recommendations for a new driver in my hands and had me hit several balls with each in front of the monitor. “We’re using the technology to hone in on the right clubs for you,” he said. Interestingly, this approach produced just marginal improvement in driver performance for me, but a 10 percent gain in my irons. GolfTEC also offers a putter fitting, which uses some really spooky machinery to give you a picture of what happens when you wield the flat stick. I wish I’d had time during my session to get the lowdown on why I can’t seem to get my average below 34 putts per round.
Either an iron or a driver fitting is $129 ($99 day-of). Allow at least an hour for each.
» Next up: Hot Stix Golf, Rye Brook
Doral Arrowwood, Rye Brook
My third stop was at Hot Stix, which uses radar-based Trackman launch monitors to gauge performance on the range at the Doral Arrowwood Golf Course. The biggest single advantage of the technology is that it actually measures the distance traveled by your shots rather than computing them from the data gathered by other methods.
Certified fitter Peter Schiller started by gathering some information about my game. He not only measured my current clubs, but also the distance from my fingertips to the ground with my arms hanging by my side (to determine optimum shaft length) as well as the size of my hand (to choose the proper grip size.) Then he had me hit a few six irons in front of the monitor.
“The number one thing we need to identify is club head speed,” he explained. “That tells me which shaft fits you and, ideally, exactly how stiff those shafts need to be to activate properly at your swing speed.” I swung my six iron around 77 mph, which — like eight out of 10 golfers — put me somewhere between a regular and stiff flex for most clubs, although, as Schiller points out, “regular flex and stiff flex are kind of general terms. Every manufacturer has their own definition.”
Next he looked at the angle of attack, which measures in degrees how you deliver the club to the ball at impact. I hit about four degrees down on the ball, which is good, Schiller said, because you want to hit your irons with a descending blow. That also told him to look for a club with a mid- to low-center of gravity.
I was delighted to hear that my angle of launch and spin was “about perfect.” But Schiller also said “perfect” depends on where you play most of your golf. In Florida, where wind is a factor, a lower ball flight might serve you better. “In Westchester, where the ground can be damp a lot of the season and there are a lot of trees to carry, you’ll want to hit the ball higher.”
When it comes to deciding whether to change your clubs, Schiller says, “There are desperate needs and there are ‘wants.’ ” My irons aren’t killing me, he said, but we tried out a few different shafts just to see. It turned out that I could pick up some serious yardage — up to 18 more yards — with different equipment. He also checked the lie angle of my clubs and recommended I hit irons slightly more upright than standard.
My current driver tested well, with the ratio of ball speed to clubhead speed averaging 1.49. The maximum allowed by the USGA is 1.5, so he didn’t think I’d benefit much from a new driver. I’m sure my wife would be glad to hear that, although I still wasn’t sure.
Fittings at Hot Stix start at $100 for a driver and $200 for a complete workup on your irons. If you want to forego evaluation of your current clubs, prices are lower.
By the time all was said and done, I felt I had a much better understanding of my golf swing and what it could produce with my current clubs. I also had a serious hankering for more. More distance, more accuracy, more smackdowns of my buddies on the golf course. After I finished my fitting sessions, I replaced my irons and had the new ones tweaked to the specs recommended by the fitters. I also kept my current driver but put in a new, slightly stiffer shaft. I’ve only used the new clubs for a few rounds so far, but I can say with assurance that technology is a wonderful thing.