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Tee Time: Customize Your Golf Game

By Matt Hombach

There's nothing quite as exciting as purchasing a new house. Researching the market, then looking high and low to find the perfect home in the perfect location before taking the plunge. Even after the deal is done and they are all moved in, almost all homeowners spend several years and thousands upon thousands of dollars to customize their new dwelling to their personal specifications.

As commonplace as customization is for homeowners, it is a rare occurrence for the recreational golfer. Golfers think nothing of spending four figures on a new set of irons, then just buy standard clubs off the rack and figure "they'll just get used to them."

Golf industry experts estimate that only about 10 percent of amateur golfers get new clubs fit properly to their specifications.

What makes this phenomenon even more mystifying is that in most cases, getting fitted for new clubs adds nothing to the purchase price. Most golf shops and on-course pro shops will offer club fitting at no charge so long as the golfer purchases the new clubs through their operation.

The clubs that are produced by name-brand manufacturers and are stocked in golf shops everywhere are designed to specifications that will give them the best chance to fit the most number of people. The problem is that golfers vary so much in body size, strength and ability level that most stock clubs are nowhere near the specs they should be to fit an individual golfer properly.

Chris Hanson, a PGA professional and head pro at Greystone Golf Course, has been fitting clubs for more than 12 years and is a certified Titleist club fitter. According to Hanson, the custom fitting process doesn't take too long and should produce some great results for golfers considering new clubs.

"The average fitting takes anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes," said Hanson, "I'll start the session out by having the golfer warm up and hit some shots with their existing set of clubs. This gives me an idea of their skill level and what kind of swing they have." Hanson then has his subjects hit some balls with a special tape over the clubface and on a device called a lie board.

"The ball marks on the tape tell me where the ball is making contact with the clubface and if they are hitting the ball off center on the toe or the heel at all," added Hanson. "The club marks that are left on the lie board quickly show me if the lie angle of the current clubs are too upright or too flat."

After the initial phase of the fitting process, Hanson will consult with his client on the specific model of irons they should purchase based on their swing and how well they play. Once the correct model of club is selected, the golfer will hit several shots with a sample six iron from the set that should come pretty close to matching their specifications.

Additional measurements are taken and observations made that indicate what type of shaft and what degree of stiffness the shafts in the custom set of clubs should have. The golfer's hands are even measured to ensure the correct thickness of grip is built into the new set.

After all the data is collected, the pro will take some time to evaluate everything and make a final recommendation on the type and specifications of the new clubs before placing an order with the manufacturer.

"After going through the fitting process with a customer, we often recommend golfers change up the set composition for their new irons and forgo ordering a standard three and four iron and replace them with matching hybrid clubs instead," said Courtney Brett, an experienced club fitter and assistant golf professional at Gunpowder Falls Golf Course in Kingsville. "This allows the golfer the best chance of experiencing improvement in their ball striking, while still giving them a full matching set of the same brand and type of clubs."

"Once you get your new set, I would advise hitting some balls and playing a few rounds with them to get some feedback," said Hanson. "Most golfers will see an immediate improvement and be pleased with the results. If you aren't hitting the ball as well as expected, there's a good chance the culprit is some bad habits that carried over from playing with your old set of irons that weren't custom fit."

According to Hanson, golfers are forced to make adjustments in their swing to compensate for ill-fitting clubs. These swing faults can be relatively easy to fix with a brief lesson or two that should get things on track.

"The whole idea of custom-fitted clubs is to help you hit the ball on the sweet spot of the clubface and just let the clubs do the work," added Brett. "All golfers when armed with fitted clubs give themselves the best chance of hitting the ball much straighter and maximizing their distance potential."

Matt Hombach works for Nevins & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm that handles several clients in the golfing industry.

Issue 1.4: May 18, 2006