My body is not made for off-the-rack anything. The last time I shopped for dress shirts, the salesman at Nordstrom muttered something about a thick neck (which is a term my wife also uses occasionally) before sending me to the tailor for some custom threads. Much the same happened when I started shopping for new golf clubs. Having seen my swing, my golf pro gently suggested a custom fitting.
He was right, of course. Off-the-rack clubs are fine, but they are made to work with the statistically average human body — which is nothing like mine. So my quest for perfect golf clubs began.
My first stop was GolfTEC, a new facility located at the Westchester Golf Range on Dobbs Ferry Road in White Plains, where I underwent a 45-minute session conducted by a PGA teaching professional. I hit the driver and 6 iron that I had in my bag into a net and tried a few GolfTEC demo clubs. At the end of the session, GolfTEC provided me with a computer printout that recommended that I go with a square-headed driver. Square-headed? Oh well, I thought, maybe a square-headed driver would match my thick neck. GolfTEC charges $50 for a fitting for a particular club category (drivers, woods, irons, etc.) and $250 for a complete fitting. While the test involved hitting balls into a net, you could also hit some balls on the range to see your true ball flight.
Next was Hot Stix Golf at The Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook. Hot Stix does custom club work for Hale Irwin, Jonathan Kaye, Jeff Quinney, Tim Herron, and other PGA Tour standouts. While it may be located in a mobile trailer at the Doral, Hot Stix had lots of gadgets and gizmos that they used during a three-hour session reviewing my entire set of clubs and watching me swing potential new sticks.
The endless session exhausted me, but I had lots of fun learning about the club-fitting process. My existing clubs were measured, weighed, tested for shaft flex, and analyzed for lofts, which showed that they are inconsistent in flex and length from club to club and are probably a contributor to inconsistent shots on my part. Whew — finally a scientific explanation for all those bogeys! One of Hot Stix’s recommendations was that I replace my current shafts with new consistent-flex shafts at a cost of $50 to $125 per club — or spend even more to buy a new set — then upgrade their shafts. And I thought the A.I.G. bailout was expensive! Hot Stix charges $475 for a complete analysis that includes a ball and putter fitting.
On to The Complete Golfer in White Plains. Owner John Ioris and his staff of professional fitters performed an analysis similar to that of Hot Stix. Andrew Stroukoff spent well over four hours working to better understand my clubs, my game, and how he could help improve my consistency. While the technology used by all the fitters is similar, The Complete Golfer did a great job explaining the process in layman’s terms. One unique test included my hitting a club, Stroukoff looking at the computer data, then taking the club apart on the spot and screwing in another shaft. This went on for about 90 minutes until he concluded that I should probably spend $400 on a new driver and another $350 to provide that driver with the McDaddy Mitsubishi shaft. Interesting idea — costly, but interesting. The bundled price for the entire fitting program at The Complete Golfer is $250.
The local guru of custom-fitting, third-generation club maker Rick DeMane was my fourth stop. Like some mad scientist of golf, DeMane runs a laboratory of golf-swing physics hidden behind his house on a quiet residential street in Greenwich, Connecticut. DeMane uses similar technology as the other fitters but studs his examinations with numerous lessons from the history of the game while he’s digitally measuring your swing. He’s a big believer in tempering the technology with in-field testing, too, so he stocks a huge assortment of demo clubs.
He lent me a set of irons, a few hybrids, and two drivers to take with me to play a few practice rounds. The clubs that DeMane suggested were not necessarily different from what the others suggested, but the ability to play all those rounds with the assortment of clubs was a huge benefit. I had those clubs for two weeks and was really able to get a feel for whether the technology would work for me from playing four rounds with those demo clubs. DeMane charges a flat fee of $150 per hour for his services.
By the end of my quest, I’d been shot with lasers, scanned with radar, hot-wired to a computer, and photographed like a porn star at an audition. I’d spent more than 12 hours hitting balls and played a half-dozen rounds with so many different clubs I’d lost track of which ones went with which set, much less which ones I hit best. Worst of all, I asked four people the same question — what are the best clubs for me? — and got four different answers. I had a bad case of information overload.
In order to process all that information, I went to Rob Labritz, director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills. Labritz helped me integrate all that information into a set of club specifications that would both improve my game (I hope) and fit my budget. As I described my experiences to him, he said, “You need to hit balls on the range or on the course to see the actual ball flight.” Labritz also stressed that “a proper club fitting must include a detailed analysis of what array of fourteen clubs should be in your bag. Without that information, a fitting is incomplete.”
I felt much better after talking with Labritz. If you take your golf game seriously, as I do, selecting clubs is an important decision. You may spend a significant amount of money on them, too, so it makes sense to start with a custom-fitting analysis. It’s also a good idea to play a round or two with the clubs before you pull the trigger on your credit card.
Dan Berger is a golf writer who lives in Rye Brook. His quest had a happy ending: his wife is pleased with his tailored shirts and he’s playing better with his new custom-fit clubs.