After 35 years in this business, I've done more club fittings than I can count, and I've come to understand what makes for a positive fitting experience. And a fitter that knows their stuff is what clients value most.
Conversely, most negative comments I hear from golfers centre around being “sold to” or only having a few shots to hit into a net before being told what to buy. The general feeling is that they are being sold in-stock inventory, products from a website, or products with a higher profit margin for the retailer.
A Good Fitter
There are many factors that contribute to becoming a really good fitter, and an expert who can genuinely help you play better golf. A good fitter with match you with equipment that is right, not just for your game, but for your goals and personality, while highlighting your strengths and offsetting your weaknesses.
The most important element of making a good fitter is simple—experience. And in my experience, there are two types of fittings:
- Retail fittings
- Performance fittings
The first and most common approach is “retail fittings”, where the “custom fit” service is used mostly as a sales closing tool. I believe many retail fittings leave the customer feeling like they’ve been sold to. And the reality is, they have been.
Success in these retail fittings is usually measured in terms of club sales, margins, and commissions. This is completely understandable since they are in business after all, and product sales are their main income generator.
But, as a golfer looking for the best clubs to suit your game, is that the approach you want to take when making such a significant purchase?
The second type of approach, and certainly the less common one, is when the fitter is focused entirely on performance rather than a sale. When I say performance, I mean the results you, the golfer, will see on the course after the session and over the life of the clubs, not just in the fitting session itself.
The approach your fitter takes will have a big impact on how well the recommended clubs will match your needs, and will work for you both now and in the future.
There is a difference between “better” and “best” in terms of clubs that are matched to your game. For a fitting to give you the “best” results, first and foremost, the approach must be focused on performance rather than sales. The problem, though, is that it’s not actually very easy for a golfer to know up front which approach a fitter or facility takes.
So, what makes for a great fitter that will be worth your while, and how can you find one?
Here are some of the components involved with making a great fitter, along with the performance focused approach mentioned above.
Experience - the number of years fitting. A higher number and standard of players fitted contributes to a better understanding of the factors that will actually help the fitter put the right clubs together for a player, ones that will really have a positive impact on his or her game.
Knowledge - this is critical for performance. Understanding club design and the many features that should be considered when working with a player is a requirement. And it never ends. A good fitter is always learning, as new clubs, shafts, and grips come to market. That knowledge isn’t just learned when new clubs are launched, but built over time, with every fitting.
The marketing and endorsements by golf club brands can convince golfers that technology is the most important factor in selecting clubs. But the truth is, that's just one of many factors. An effective performance fitter will consider over 35 elements of club design during every fitting when tuning a spec to your requirements.
Also, remember that technique will always outweigh technology. Don’t ask a club to fix shots that your swing produces. It can help, but not cure. Retail fitting sessions are simply too short to cater to this, and typically cover only 5 simple elements. This is just enough to show some improved results, and to convince a golfer that the clubs are the best fit.
You can see why the retail fitting approach also sacrifices the knowledge base. Retail fittings rarely look deeper than is required to make the sale!
Build awareness - the most effective fitters can assemble clubs from scratch, to a high standard and tolerance. They will understand the implications of every component they recommend on the final spec, including how it looks, feels, balances, and of course, performs.
At the very least, an effective fitter will be what I call “build aware”, which means they understand, in-depth, how the final club will feel and play for the player.
The other element of build awareness, is that if a fitter isn’t building the clubs themselves, then they need to understand how the club brand builds their clubs. They also need to understand how the final spec will actually turn out, as it may be very different from the test club they were trying.
Teaching expertise - understanding where to draw the line between equipment and technique is one of the key elements to getting the best results.
Effective fitters specialize in many aspects of golf, but the teaching element is usually present in the best fitting experiences. This is because the fitter understands when the results of a shot are due to the club setup or the player’s swing.
Great long-term fitting results look beyond the session itself, to understanding the player's swing, and where a player is going.
Equipment used - This includes two elements:
- Equipment used to measure
- The test clubs
Fitters who get the best results will be checking and measuring clubs not just at the beginning, but throughout the entire fitting session. The principle is simple: to make good, well-founded decisions that will give a golfer better results. And to do this, the fitter must have a full understanding of every club he or she puts into a player's hands.
Every grip, shaft, and head impacts your experience. And unless the fitter fully understands the differences, they are not making informed decisions, but rather guessing.
Equipment Used to Measure
Most fitters use a launch monitor. The best available is the Trackman, which gives incredible, accurate data on your swing, technique, club dynamics, and ball flight. However, the data can be used and interpreted in many ways. The launch monitor itself does not tell the fitter what club to recommend. It simply presents data that then must be interpreted by the fitter, and that interpretation is heavily weighed by the fitter's approach.
The most effective fitters use the launch monitor data to explore, research, and understand the effects of changes made, while that data supports the advice given to you. It is all about getting results on the course that will last, and both cater to you now, and allow you to improve without restrictions going forward.
When a facility or fitter takes the retail approach, they typically do not have enough time to go beyond the basic 5 elements used to close the sale. In doing so, they miss the opportunity to learn more, and find even better results for you.
The Test Clubs
The second part of this section has to do with the actual test clubs themselves, which, as in all industries, are subject to production tolerances. The fitter who is driven by the performance approach will take the time to measure their test clubs (the principle of knowing exactly what it is in their client’s hands at any given time being critical to the outcome).
Now, given that the number of shaft and head combinations can number in the thousands, this is a serious commitment. Having been in the industry as long as I have, I’ve seen both sides of the fence, and I know how worthwhile this expertise is in terms of a fitter’s knowledge and ability to get the best results.
Passion, Desire, and Trust
Having read through the above, you may start to appreciate the effort that is required to go into the performance fitting approach, and why it’s not commonplace for most facilities to employ it. It requires a real passion for the subject, a desire to get the best results possible, and the trust that is earned and built with every golfer a fitter works with.