2005: For Your Game - Options abound in search for perfect fit

Most golfers know about the importance of fitting. Properly fit golf clubs can help a golfer hit the ball straighter, higher and even longer.

However, golfers don’t necessarily know where to go for a professional fitting. Here is a rundown of some available options:

Most major golf companies can recommend certified clubfitters for their clubs. Ping has about 3,000 certified clubfitters. Titleist has more than 2,500. All manufacturers maintain up-to-date lists of certified fitters.

Finding a qualified fitter can be the initial step in answering two questions: One, are a golfer’s current clubs a good fit? Two, how would the specs change for new clubs?

Ping was a pioneer in fitting. More than 30 years ago, Ping introduced color coding for lie angle. (Black is standard, for example, while orange is 2 degrees flat and green is 2 degrees upright.)

Today Ping has color coding on its irons, wedges, fairway woods and putters. But this is not Ping’s biggest contribution to fitting in 2005.

Almost 12,000 golfers will go through individual fitting sessions this year at Ping headquarters in Phoenix. The sessions are free. No appointments are taken. Hours for these walk-in fittings are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We will give them the proper specs and ask them to visit one of our fitting cart accounts (retailers),” said Scott Summers, supervisor of Ping’s clubfitting program.

Titleist offers the most comprehensive fitting experience in golf. It also is the most costly.

For a package that starts at $10,000, golfers can attend the Titleist Performance Institute in Oceanside, Calif.

“We feel it is the ultimate golf learning experience in the game today,” said Chris McGinley, vice president of marketing for Titleist golf clubs.

Included in the package are things like 3-D body and swing analysis, complete physical evaluation and custom exercise and flexibility program, psychological evaluation, nutritional plan, FootJoy shoe analysis and custom shoe fitting, ball testing and recommendations, driver testing by Titleist tour fitter Steve Mata, iron testing by tour club builder Larry Bobka, wedge fitting by Bob Vokey, putter fitting by Scotty Cameron, a full set of clubs built in one day and three nights at the Four Seasons Aviara Resort.

TaylorMade’s MATT system (Motion Analysis Technology by TaylorMade) provides state-of-the-art analysis of how a golfer’s body moves during the golf swing. To be measured, golfers must wear sensors on their clothing.

The results are dramatic. MATT provides 3-D swing representations from many different angles, including directly above and underneath the golfer.

Hundreds of touring pros have been analyzed by this system, and amateurs can compare their swings directly with those of the pros.

MATT analysis currently is available at only a few locations, including the PGA Learning Center in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, Ga., Academy of Golf at Jones Creek in Augusta, Ga., and Golfdom, an off-course retailer in King of Prussia, Pa.

Others, including one at Four Seasons Aviara in Carlsbad, Calif., are planned.

While Titleist and TaylorMade do not offer fitting at their headquarters, Callaway does. For a cost of $50 (refunded with club purchase), an appointment with a Callaway fitter in Carlsbad, Calif., is available.

These diagnostic sessions, conducted with state-of-the-art measuring devices, are designed to help golfers of all skill levels. It often is the slow-swing-speed golfer who benefits the most, because modern technology has enabled Callaway and other manufacturers to produce lighter, more responsive clubs.

In addition, Callaway has Performance Centers for complete fittings in Las Vegas (Callaway Golf Center and St. Andrews Golf/Forum Shops); Indian Wells, Calif. (Golf Resort at Indian Wells); King of Prussia, Pa. (Golfdom); and Neshanic Station, N.J. (Callaway Golf Performance Center).

It isn’t only the big companies that concentrate on fitting. Henry-Griffitts in Hayden, Idaho, sells only custom clubs. The company has been doing it this way for more than 20 years, using Henry-Griffitts fitters located around the country.

Adams Golf maintains a fitting center at Hank Haney’s Golf Ranch in McKinney, Texas, and visiting this shrine is a memorable experience. Among other innovations, Haney turned horse stalls into hitting bays and a hay loft into a video center. The facility also includes a nine-hole Pete Dye golf course.

Adams maintains a Launch Lab at its headquarters in Plano, Texas, and is aggressively expanding its custom program.

KZ Golf in North Hollywood, Calif., recently opened a fitting center at its plant and hired Mike Amira as its director of fitting.

KZG uses fitting software that was developed by Gene Parente of Golf Labs. The company has something of a cult following because of its large selection of forged irons – two blade models and four cavity-back models.

All major manufacturers have a schedule of demo days at various courses around the United States. The advantage here is that golfers can try an assortment of clubs with different heads, different shafts and different lengths.

Many off-course retailers employ golf professionals as fitters. What’s more, they often have sophisticated launch monitors to measure player performance.

The most intriguing relationship in off-course golf retailing has developed between the Golfsmith chain and Hot Stix Technologies of Scottsdale, Ariz.

At least 24 Golfsmith stores are expected to be up and running with Hot Stix software by the end of 2005. Hot Stix has tested every driver from every manufacturer, and the information has been entered into a database. This testing includes every shaft and every loft offered with each model, using swing speed increments of 10 mph.

To find the proper driver, a consumer hits balls with a test club. Using diagnostic readings provided by the test club, the Hot Stix software will recommend two or three different options for a driver and shaft.

By January 2006, Hot Stix plans to have drivers, irons, fairway woods, hybrids, wedges and golf balls in its database. A golfer will hit balls with the test club, and the software will pinpoint the best choices in each category.

Max Out Golf, founded by former U.S. Amateur champion Mitch Voges, has its main store in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and an outdoor lab and fitting center at Southern California PGA Golf Club in Beaumont, Calif.

Max Out, known for its extensive bend profiling of shafts, soon will expand into other markets, according to Voges.

“We offer what I call a holistic approach,” Voges said. “We focus on your talent, your technique and the technology that we can bring to bear. We make golf clubs for people who are really serious about their games and about playing well.”

Custom clubmakers who belong to organizations such as the Professional Clubmakers’ Society are a plentiful source for custom clubs.

Tom Cook Sr., who owns Pat Ryan Golf in Minneapolis, Minn., was the PCS Clubmaker of the Year in 2002.

“We want golfers to understand why they will play better if they are fitted correctly,” said Cook, who asks his customers to fill out a three-page questionnaire. “We spend a lot of time figuring out if they have adapted their swings to compensate for the clubs they are using.”

Several golf club companies have vans that travel the country. Ping’s van, featured in an advertising campaign, is perhaps the most prominent. All of them are staffed by fitting experts.

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