"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.
_Ê Practical Pointers
1. Putter Fix: Get your putter length, lie and shape looked at by a clubfitter. You may find your particular putting style works best with a different type of putter. 2. Stiffen Up: Hot Stix argues that stiffer shafts do way more good than harm. 3. Frequency Matching: Get your club shafts frequency matched so each club flexes exactly as it should. 4. Driver Shaft Upgrade: The launch monitor doesn't lie. Get your launch and spin rates optimized in a matter of minutes. 5. Damage Control: Visually inspect your clubheads and shafts for bends, breaks and rust. Make sure no heads are loose atop the shaft. 6. Groove Improve: A quick way to get some extra spin is to regroove your irons or wedges. A clubfitter can do it, or you can buy a groove tool and do it yourself. 7. Get New Grips: Ask your clubfitter not only what size grip works for you, but what weight as well. 8. Bounce Angles: See if your wedges have the right bounce for your game. You may find that a higher or lower bounce angle works better for you. 9. Have A Ball: It's a good thing to be selective when buying golf balls. Read the box and go with the model that's right for you, not necessarily the ball designed more for a Tour pro. 10. Watch Your Feet: Golf shoes have become very performance-oriented. Make sure you get some shoes that fit and provide good stability while swinging. Studies have shown some shoe models actually increase a golfer's distance.
_Ê "For mid-handicappers, we focus more on the putter and the short game, because that's where they're probably losing shots. You can help them with their woods and irons, but more often than not, it's the short game that's hurting them," said German. "We look at how the golfer sets up with a putter, how the ball rolls off the face, and judging by the tendencies in the putting stroke, we can adjust the putter to a position that the golfer is able to consistently reproduce. Every player is unique, and every player has a different set of parameters to improve upon."
"Of course, with high-handicappers, the main objective is forgiveness. We want to make the game as fun as possible for them, so we get them into the right length, the right lie angle, etc.," said Mase and German. "As a higher-handicapper or a new golfer, your swing is constantly changing, so the equipment has got to evolve with that change. Also, their equipment is the most inconsistent of the three because their feel isn't as fine-tuned as the better golfer. The room for error and improvement is greater here."
Does all this make you curious yet? We thought so._Ê Like many other clubfitting centers, Hot Stix employs dozens of professionals dedicated to making sure your equipment is optimally tuned for your ability. And in case you haven't noticed, there's no right or wrong place to start. All you have to do is assess your strengths and weaknesses, plan a visit and be ready to pay a few bucks to make sure your stuff is up to par. It's also a good idea to let your golf pro know that you're heading to a clubfitter to get your clubs checked out. He or she may have some insights on what might work well for you. After a visit with Hot Stix, we believe in clubfitting, and we've seen the effect of golf clubs that actually fit. That said, it's critical that golfers also realize that clubfitting usually doesn't produce overnight fixes. It only allows golfers to take full advantage of their potential. Raising your potential, however, is and always will be up to the Indian, not the arrow. Get fitted, then hit the practice tee!
For a chance to meet the folks at Hot Stix in person, log on to www.hotstixgolf.com. Also, if you have any clubfitting questions you'd like us to answer, drop us an e-mail to [email protected] with "Clubfitting" in the subject line. We'll see that we answer a few of your questions in an upcoming issue.