Retro-Fitting or Extreme Makeover?
By Pete Wofford
In the competitive world of building the best golf club, each crop of new drivers, irons, hybrids, wedges and putters comes with an alluring promise of longer drives, straighter shots and better feel.However, with that commitment to a new and improved game comes a hefty price tag, a small investment or a small loan. Fortunately each year the sticker shock wears off, leaving a “street” price slightly lower than the suggested retail.
So the hundred-dollar question facing many consumers looking to upgrade their game is: “Does the newest technology really make a difference, or would I be better off with a tweak of my current clubs?”
The buzzword in the golf industry is retro-fitting: using the newest computers and swing analyzers to evaluate yesterday’s golf clubs and being able to adjust the clubs performance to today’s standards. Or in television terms, an “extreme makeover.”
“Wow that’s a loaded question depending on who you ask and who will volunteer a variety of answers,” said David Glod, President of Tour Edge Golf. “Technology is exciting, makes the game easier and naturally I favor the newest line. But we also understand the consumer’s dilemma and like most manufacturers offer club alterations to our previous models and will check the grips, loft and lie angles and shaft frequency.”
Paul Trittler, director of instruction at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, believes the answer lies in one’s definition of “current” golf clubs. “Clearly the hybrid technology has been the most innovative and significant new product introduction since the metal wood ,” said Trittler, one of
On the retail side of the golf business, Leo Calabro, a PGA member and clubfitting specialist for the past two years at Pro Golf Discount in Tucson, observes that the trend of retro-fitting golf clubs is still something new. “To us it is an extension of customer service, where you bring in your old clubs and we will check the loft, lie, bounce and wear of the grips,” said Calabro. “More consumers are asking educated equipment questions. And because they made purchases within the last five years, their clubs are not that bad and may just need a simple adjustment. Then there are the manufacturers, they are doing a better job of offering warranty free check-ups.”
Calabro has also seen the other customer, the golfer who wants to upgrade to the latest and greatest regardless of cost. “Just had a gentleman trade in his old Ping’s for the new Rapture [by Ping Golf], from driver to irons, and he loves the new look,” added Calabro. “Price was not an issue; it was more about feel, fit and confidence from having the best.” And the price tag for the newest clubs? “Just over $2,700. We spent a significant amount of time going through the fitting process and with each swing I could see his excitement.”
As promising as some clubfitters and manufacturers claim their technology may be, there is the predominant buyer-beware mentality at the Biltmore Golf Center in Phoenix. “If you are playing with off-the-rack clubs, then I can guarantee that those clubs don’t fit your swing,” said Gary Courval, Biltmore Golf Center director of instruction, “and to retrofit those clubs, we would be better off starting over. But if you are on a budget then we can help from as simple as a $10 re-grip to a variety of shafts from $10 to $100 per club.”
Courval admits that the bells and whistles of new clubs are very appealing, and to some that may be the answer. “To me, if I am brutally honest with my student the answer could be your clubs are fine, or it could be we need to start over,” added Courval. “The student has to have a goal in mind, have a budget in mind and be willing to accept criticism.My goal is to build or retro-fit your clubs to your potential, asking you to play better with fitted equipment. If I am doing my job correctly then your visits here are merely annual re-gripping, loft and lie angle checks from wear and being neighborly—stopping by for a chat.”
Retro-fitting at Tempe-based Magique Golf is a big part of the company’s service, and the key is price doesn’t have to sting. “We believe in better fit, better price,” said Sean Sheppard, president of Magique Golf. “Most often customers will come in for a fitting session or an adjustment to their existing clubs and realize that for the same price as retro-fitting we can build them a new set exactly to their specifications.
Sheppard added that there are a couple of myths to clubfitting. “Some people believe it is too expensive, or that they are not good enough to benefit from clubfitting,” said Sheppard. “Clubfitting doesn’t have to be costly; it is really up to the golfer’s goals. Plus, if anything, it is the high handicap golfer that benefits the most from clubfitting. Finding the most flexible shaft that one can control can produce the greatest change in performance.”
Then there is Hot Stix, a Scottsdale-based company that is quickly establishing accounts throughout the United States. At Hot Stix, the name of the game is in the numbers—calculations that scientists have derived from years of research. To the consumer, the numbers show all, good and bad, and serve as a reference point to measure a successful club fit.
“To simply retrofit with a new grip or adding length to a shaft is more often than not a true measure of your capabilities as a golfer,” said John German, Supervisor of Fitting Operations. “Our goal at Hot Stix is to work with what you have and to derive the most economical custom club fit. It is a good news-bad news situation where honesty can be expensive.”
At Hot Stix, the rates for a clubfitting session range from $75 and 45-minutes with a putter to $150 and 90-minutes finding the right driver. During that session dozens of measurements are recorded, cataloged and compared to the existing potential of your clubs versus a new set, with no bias to one major manufacturer. “Basically, we have three clubfitting sessions—good, better and best,” added German. “A ‘good’ fit is using existing assembled clubs and altering loft, lie and bounce angles, shaft length and grip composition and size. A ‘better’ fit includes shaft composition, frequency and quality, as well as greater clubhead options. Then the ‘best’ fit is what it is, the best of everything, no price barrier.”
As much as retrofit golf clubs can save money, the word of caution is that not all of the shafts, grips, clubheads and designs are interchangeable. Sheppard added that the major manufacturers have proprietary designs, such as the diameter of the clubhead hosel, which makes re-shafting with another brand sometimes a gamble. “Think of it as the car industry where GM parts work on GM cars, mixing with another brand might work, but it is not ideal,” said Sheppard.
The reality is, to play better golf you have to think of your game as a three-legged step stool, where instruction, practice and properly-fitted equipment are interrelated. Back on the lesson tee at Grayhawk GC, Paul Trittler reflects on all the options for custom clubfitting and shrugs “…if you have a set of properly-fitted golf clubs from five years ago, [and you haven’t gone through] some drastic change to your swing, then those clubs are just as good,” added Trittler. “Clubfitting, retro-fitting call it what you may, it is good. The goal is to get a repeatable, consistent swing that makes the game easier.”
GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 Instructors. “And the word ‘current’ means within the last five years with cavity back design and game improvement weighting. If we see a student who has improperly fitted equipment, we will stop the lesson and offer recommendations to alter their clubs.”