Club Specs Investigation: GT gets up and close with Hot Stix
“Welcome to Switzerland,” a man in a white lab coat says as we near a door marked “R & D: Employees Only.” Opposite this door, a guy is driving golf balls into a net about 10 feet in front of him. Off to his side, another man in a white lab coat is monitoring his progress on a computer screen, analyzing ball spin, launch angle and a variety of other numbers and graphs.
“We’re a nonbiased facility; we don’t care what you play with,” says John German, Supervisor of Fitter Operations for Hot Stix, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based golf lab that looks more like the set of a CSI show than your typical golf club repair shop. Packed within its 22,000-square-foot confines are six hitting bays, two putter-fitting stations, numerous flat-screen televisions all tuned to sports channels, computer monitors, red laser beams, artificial grass, cameras—basically, any high-tech gadget you can think of. Put it this way, even the golf balls get the royal treatment as they wait in a climate-controlled incubator (set at 25 degrees C/77 degrees F) to ensure optimal and equal conditions for product testing.
Since its doors opened some seven years ago, German estimates that 10,000 people have come to Hot Stix for help with their game. Located in a sandstone building in an otherwise normal corporate park adjacent to the Scottsdale airport, Hot Stix has quickly embraced and commercialized custom golf clubfitting. When customers first walk in past a small but well-equipped retail area, one can’t help but notice a long, waist-high wall of shelving stuffed with thousands of manila folders, each containing the specific swing DNA of every Hot Stix client.
German chose one at random and showed us papers with a highly detailed analysis of the client’s specs, including ball spin, lie, loft, swing speed, preferred clubs and many other personal specifications. These files are kept at arm’s length, just in case a golfer needs a club custom-fitted or wears out one of his current set. “The more frequently you use your equipment, the more likely it is to get out of line,” said German. This led us to ask, “Where should the average players start when it comes time to get his or her clubs worked on?”
“Most players assume that clubfitting is more suited for the better player,” said Dr. Tom Mase, Executive Vice President of R & D and Innovation. “Truth is, higher-handicappers are probably more likely to see greater, more measurable levels of improvements because there is so much room to improve. Therefore, we try not to lump every player in the same process when it comes to fitting. Every customer has an individual set of strengths and weaknesses, and every player needs a specially tuned set to take advantage of their swing’s potential.”
We quickly learned that to get fitted correctly, the process requires a comprehensive look at every component in the golf bag. This includes factoring in the golf ball, grip size/weight, shaft material, flex, weight, head size and so on. We also learned from the experts at Hot Stix that golfers often tend to neglect the importance of harmonizing a set of clubs so the length, flex, grip and weight are consistent. “For example, it’s not uncommon to see that golfers have a finely tuned set of irons with a pair of wedges that are nowhere near a proper fit,” said German. “We recommend golfers get every club in their bag analyzed and fitted so the golfer can take full advantage of their ability without having to adjust their swing for a particular club.”
With that in mind, we asked German if there were common themes they talked about with players of different skill levels. “Absolutely,” he said. “With low-handicappers, we’ll talk about ballflight and the workability of golf shots; also about how to shape golf shots. How he or she can better hit it low, high, whatever they need to do. We have the ability to alter a set of clubs in virtually every way conceivable to ensure a proper fit.