The cost of golf clubs continues to rise steadily, and in some cases, exponentially. Improved, high-tech materials and computer-aided engineering have added not only to increased prices, but also to a plethora of choices, options, and customization decisions.
For average golfers, wading into the depths of this golf club market can be overwhelming. If the flood of choices doesn't take your breath away, the price tags will. What's a non-PGA pro to do to ensure that his or her investment in a new driver, putter, or set of irons will pay off in years of consistent, reliable performance?
The wise golfer, who really wants to ensure that the clubs he buys is appropriate for his swing will seek out a reputable, experienced club fitter.
These days, most club pros can do some level of fitting, but their analytical skills and choices of equipment companies are extremely variable, and often limited.
In contrast, Club Champion stands at the pinnacle of the club fitting business. Headquartered in Willowbrook, Ill., Club Champion has locations in most of the major markets across the U.S. Since going national about five years ago, Club Champion has grown from 2 to 22 centers, with about five new locations opening each year. And celebrity golf instructor David Leadbetter has signed on with Club Champion as their spokesperson.
"The basic premise," says Jay Hubbard, VP of Marketing, "is to provide tour-level club fitting for everyone, from Tour players to college players to weekend players. We don't have any OEM [original equipment manufacturer] fit carts. We can interchange any clubhead with any shaft in 20 seconds.
Club Champion boasts 35,000 head and shaft combinations. "This place is like a candy store for golfers," said Hubbard as he led me through the warehouse, build room, and, finally, into the multi-bay fitting room in the Willowbrook HQ. And my eyes got bigger and bigger as the rows and rows of clubheads and shafts stretched out before them. I heard myself saying, "Wow!" over and over again.
"We only hire experienced club fitters," says Hubbard. "And all hires come here to train with our own 200-page manual. Every club we build in-house go through three stages of quality control: the builder, the finisher, and the shipping department all do QC."
According to Hubbard, 95% of fittings are then built in-house to ensure quality, but each fitting session results in a detailed build sheet that a player could take to another club builder. Someplace else might not pure the shaft (i.e., determine where the optimal flex tolerances are and attach the head so that it aligns with the symmetry of the shaft) or control the swing weight like Club Champion does, however.
"Last Friday we built a record 500 clubs," says Hubbard. "But that number is not really far off the typical daily number."
Club Champion Master Fitter and Builder Kyle Morris ran me through a full driver-fitting session, which lasted about 90 minutes. After a warm-up with some irons in the wide-screen TrackMan-equipped indoor bay, we moved on to my driver. Players bring in their regular clubs and use their performance as a baseline. Then the fitter determines how to increase distance and accuracy in a very precise, stepwise, deductive progression.
A recent study published in Golf Digest found that eight out of nine golfers fitted by Club Champion gained on average 21 yards with their driver and 13 yards with their irons – and reduced their scores by an average of 6 strokes.
"I was a PGA teaching pro for many years," said Morris. "I could spend a couple hours with a student in a lesson, and they might actually get worse, because they needed time to change their swing. Here, after the same amount of time, I know I can help them immediately, without changing anything about their swing."
Sadly for me, the pressure of getting a fitted and the unfamiliar environs of the hitting bay combined to give me a horrible case of the driver yips. Morris fit me for the terrible smother-hook swing I couldn't get away from that day, but assured me of Club Champion's "Perfect Fit Guarantee": If you take the club out and play a couple times with it, and it doesn't perform properly, you can bring it back for a re-fitting.
"We want to get everything just right for every golfer," promised Hubbard. So I'll see whether the Callaway Epic driver, cut down to 43.25", that corrected my smother-hook in the hitting bay will also work when I get back to my normal swing on the course.
Rates for Club Champion fittings are not cheap, but the fitting combined with a set of clubs built in-house do not add up to much more than the typical street price for the same unfitted clubs elsewhere, thanks to Club Champion's volume. Moreover, you end up with a set of clubs that you can have full confidence in for years to come, so you can stay out of the annual riptide of new equipment releases.
A full bag fitting runs $350 and lasts about 3.5 hours. Driver or iron fittings are $150 (1.5 hrs), long game fittings (driver, fairway woods, hybrids) $200 (2.5 hrs), wedge fittings are $80 (1 hr), and putter fittings are $100 (1 hr). Basically, no matter which portions of your bag need a tune-up, there's a fitting for you, and more than enough options in clubs, from major names to boutique brands.
Club Champion will even adjust your current clubs if they end up being the best fit, or add some custom stamping to add a little pizzazz to your old (or new) sticks.
Club Champion's 98% customer satisfaction rate, from weekend hackers to tour pros, is a testament to their system, fitters, and club builders. If you want to treat yourself to a better golf game in 2017, this would be an excellent, and guaranteed, place to do it.
For more information, visit clubchampiongolf.com.