By John Krzynowek
I’ve been custom fitted for clubs over 50 times, with many of those fittings specifically related to working on Golf Datatech’s custom fitting study, which has been published 8 times since 2001. Because I don’t believe I could accurately author a report on custom fitting without experiencing it for myself, every 3 years, or so, I set up appointments to visit several fitting options – including pro shops, off course specialty retailers, custom fitting specialists and sporting goods stores. Some sessions happened out on the range while others were inside in a net. Today, virtually all appointments feature high tech digital equipment, but in the “early days”, it was a much more Spartan appointment.
To maintain anonymity, I get a time slot just, like anyone seeking to improve their game (in 2021 I primarily use online booking portals), pay for it just like a regular golfer and never identify myself as anything other than a passionate, serious player interested in being fit. Sometimes it’s for a new driver, other times for new irons, and I’ve even done full bag fittings. This year, it was a new driver.
Full Bag Fittings are a Workout
Experience has taught me that full bag fittings (driver, fairways, hybrids, irons, wedges and putters in one session) are only for the very young and/or very fit. Spending 3-4 hours hitting shots with various heads and shafts can easily run to over a hundred full swings, and eventually all but the most fit players will see their swing speed slow and their mechanics suffer. For any golfer that wants to do a full bag fitting, I would suggest spreading that experience over multiple sessions if you can, your back and hands will thank you for it.
2021 Fitting Experience
While compiling and writing the new 2021 Custom Fitting Evolution in the United States report, I was fit 6 times: 3 times by custom fit/build operators, twice by custom fitting specialists/off course retailers that carried multiple brands, and once by a single brand operation. Five of the fittings took place indoors into a net, while one occurred outside at a range. All fitting sessions in 2021 were for a new driver, however in prior years I have been fit for irons, fairways, putters, wedges and golf balls.
For this discussion, I am not identifying any of the specific fitting locations visited, but overall it was a thorough exploration into the world of custom fitting.
Custom Fitting is Expensive vs. Buying Stock
Every fitting was booked and paid for just like an “average golfer” walking off the street. No fitter was made aware that I was from within the industry, though some fitters had obviously done their own online research. The costs for fitting ranged from $50 to $150 for a driver, and from 50-100 minutes in length. For many golfers, the $150 fee is enough to scare them off, but the growth within the custom fitting category indicates there is plenty of discretionary income available to buy premium priced clubs that have been fit specifically for one’s swing.
Caveat: Because the fitting process is unique and personal, it can vary widely from golfer to golfer and location to location, even within the same fitting operation/brand. Successful custom fitting requires the potential customer to hit several shots with a variety of club options, so being able to swing consistently is critical to reaching an optimal outcome. That said, the fitters I worked with and spoke to felt they could help the vast majority of golfers get the most out of their current swing/game if they would come in and get fitted, because they can digitally isolate their tendencies and suggest clubs to maximize performance and reduce negative outcomes.
Unfortunately, about a quarter of Serious Golfers don’t believe they’re good enough to be fitted, and never even consider a fitting to improve their play.
The Fitter is Your Guide
Not every fitting session begins in the same manner. As a golfer, my preference is to have my fitter try to understand the current state of my game: what are my tendencies, what am I trying to “fix”?
In my experiences, some fitters are far better at engaging with their clients than others. One operation stood above the rest this year when the fitter spent the first 10 minutes of the session taking my current specs and asking about my game, my experiences with my current equipment, and the all important, “what are you looking to get from a new driver?” He was knowledgeable, likeable, and appeared to really care about what he was doing.
On the flip side, one fitter didn’t even take the time to look at my current driver to get the specs, and rarely engaged in any conversation beyond suggesting a lesson might be preferred to a new driver. Not a great way to connect with your customer.
Every session had the same “warm up” time at the beginning, usually hitting as many balls as I wanted to loosen up and prepare for the driver. It’s obviously important to make enough swings to get loose, but too many swings during warm up will impact your ability later on during the session, when you may start to tire.
Data is King
Most fitters were using either a Trackman or a Foresight digital launch monitor/simulator for capturing swing/club/ball data. Each fitter, depending upon who they worked for, used their own unique software/analysis package to display the data that they felt was most compelling. And the simulators varied widely in complexity and resolution: some sharing far more data than anyone but a data geek could comprehend, but others providing simplistic representations of the results.
Every fitter provided me with a written analysis after the session was complete (usually emailed), including a comparison and a recommendation on the best possible product.
Baseline data for ball speed, spin, launch angle and carry distance were determined by hitting my current “gamer” driver. Every fitter identified the exact same issue to be fixed with my current driver (too much spin that was causing the ball to “balloon”, leaving it with a steep angle of descent and minimizing roll and total distance), so the goal of every fitting was to find a new driver head that would decrease spin and slightly increase launch angle.
Every fitter brought in the heads they felt would work best to meet my needs, and a few asked if I had any particular brand in mind to try. Only 2 specifically asked if I had a price in mind, which I felt was odd, particularly when evaluating exotic shafts which can cost $700+ on their own.
In almost every case, (except for the fitter who worked for a single brand), I was presented with low spin versions of 4 of the best selling drivers in golf. When asked if I had interest in any other brand, I would always ask for one not on the regular “brand menu” of top drivers, so I could test other options. In fact, when I asked for one brand outside the top four from a national fitting group, the fitter actually had to take the shrink wrap off the head for the very first time, as he said “you can see how much I use this one”.
Typically, each fitter initially selected what they believed would be an appropriate shaft to fit my game for the head evaluation, and we worked on finding the best driver head to meet my primary objectives (lower spin, higher launch). I hit anywhere from 3-8 shots with each, and sometimes it was easy to eliminate a head because it didn’t perform for my swing, or perhaps didn’t “look” right. Others required multiple shots under the watchful eye of the fitter, as well as the launch monitor, which captured the data and provided shot patterns from every shot. Eventually patterns would develop, and the fitter would guide me thru the data and alternative product options to find the magic bullet.
For the best Fit Experience, Connect with the Fitter
Part of the “Art of Fitting” lies with the expertise of the fitter, along with their ability to communicate and connect, during the process. While the data clearly helps forge the path toward the ultimate driver for your game, the fitter has substantial discretion in keeping or eliminating specific shots during the process. If the golfer makes an obvious poor swing, it is eliminated from the data, and normally only the best 2-3 shots are utilized when developing the profile of the “best” heads to match the golfers swing.
Explaining what they’re doing and why is an important first step in establishing trust between the fitter and the customer. Constantly probing for feedback on feel and how the player’s swing feels, along with the digital data, helps flesh out the total experience.
Head first, Shaft Second
After completing the data collection and making a recommendation on the preferred head, each fitter would experiment with alternative shafts. Once again, depending upon the fitter, the shaft options ranged from “stock” models offered by the manufacturers for little to no upcharge, to high-end, high performance exotic shafts that could cost as much or more than a stock finished driver.
Typically, the fitter already had 3-5 shaft options in mind, based upon their own knowledge and experience, combined with the data they’d seen during the head fitting part of the exercise. In addition, because shafts tend to be more technical and don’t have the same level of brand recognition/awareness/knowledge as club brands, the fitter is clearly in charge of what happens next as shafts rotate in and out of the chosen head.
Eventually, after several shots with a wide range of shaft options, results typically boil down to one or two potential “best fit” options. At that point the customer has options to consider, perhaps hit a few more shots to determine if one feels better than the other, or if there are any unique swing characteristics that make one perform better.
Grips? What Grips?
After selecting the shaft to best match the head from earlier in the fitting process, grips may or may not be the next step. In my experience, grips get lost or downplayed during the fitting process, and in fact no fitter suggested I try alternate grips, rather most would show an array of different grips and ask me to pick what interested me. I never tried alternate grip designs, materials or sizes. Perhaps it was because “standard” grips/grip size works for me, but given all the various options that are available within the grip category, it seems to be a missed opportunity not to involve grip selection in the fitting process.
In the end, after all the fitting sessions were completed, no 2 driver recommendations were the same. In fact, each session ended with a different head selection, though Titleist drivers were the brand of choice twice, different heads were suggested (one a TSI 3, one a TSI 4). There was also a recommendation for a SIM2, a Ping G425 LST, a Callaway Epic Speed LS, and one suggested I might just want to keep my current driver because the differences between my “gamer” and the custom fit branded drivers were negligible and likely not worth the price differential. I truly admired and appreciated his honesty, he wasn’t there just to “sell me” on a new driver, regardless of the outcome.
Every fitter I worked with this year, took immense pride in what they were doing, and truly appeared to believe they were providing me with the best possible product options so I could make a decision which I would be happy with. Just like in the real world in every day life, you connect with some people better than others, and being fit is no exception to that rule. Some fitters could engage on a personal level better than others, but I never felt like I was being steered toward an inferior product or component, every fitter appeared to genuinely want me to leave that fitting satisfied with the outcome.
The costs of each of the “prescribed” drivers ranged from $550 to nearly $1,100, with the bulk of the differences in costs due to various exotic shaft selections and some additional features like Puring.
Depending upon what you want, and how much you want to spend, there are custom fit clubs available to fit your needs, and leave you a very satisfied golfer…at least for now. But at some point in the future, you’ll likely feel the need to get new clubs again, and if you’ve been custom fit for your most recent purchase, the odds are very good that you’ll be back for another fitting the next time.
Golf Datatech is the world’s leading independent market research company focused on golf, golf equipment, golf retail, and golf operations. In July of 2021 Golf Datatech released the 8th edition of the Custom Fitting Study, which is an in depth analysis of the custom fitting business in America. For information about the study please email: email@example.com.