News & Opinion

What’s it worth to add 14 yards to drives?

One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.

I had made a vow to stop chasing distance. My swing isn’t going to change. I’ve lost clubhead speed, and I’ve learned to accept what I have.

But when I was offered the chance to go through a driver fitting at Club Champion, I abandoned my vows because I just had to know: Can you get more distance with a proper club-fitting, even if you think you’ve maxed out?

Bruce Raffe was my fitter at the Charlotte, N.C., location of Club Champion. It’s an indoor studio, and Club Champion is an agnostic fitter, which means it has no allegiance to any particular club or shaft manufacturer. The studio features all of the major brands of clubheads along with a handful of boutique Japanese companies. Including woods and irons, each Club Champion location has 35,000 club and shaft combinations.

Raffe started me out with my gamer driver and recorded some data with a TrackMan launch monitor. One thing that was clear was the spin rate was too high. We tried a couple of different shafts with my driver head, without much improvement. But the third shaft we tried brought down the spin rate considerably and added almost 14 yards over the manufacturer’s stock shaft that is in my driver.

We tried four other shafts and a couple of different manufacturers’ driver heads, but none of the numbers improved. Besides, by this time, I was up to about 50 driver swings and we were reaching the point of diminishing returns.

The question becomes: Is 14 more yards worth a shaft or driver upgrade? If you can take those numbers from an indoor simulator with a launch monitor to outdoors at the golf course, then I’d suspect for most people the answer would be: yes.

Golf Digest put nine golfers through a complete fitting at Club Champion locations, and eight of them averaged a 21-yard gain with the driver and 13 yards with the irons.

The company advertises that it offers a “Tour level” fitting in its studios – all the way through a player’s bag. In addition to driver fittings, Club Champion fits for fairway woods and hybrids, iron sets, wedges and putters.

However, it’s not cheap. A full bag fitting is $350 and takes 3½ hours. Driver fittings and iron fittings are $150 each a la carte. Fairway clubs and putter fittings with SAM PuttLab are $100 each.

In addition, Club Champion sells the clubs that their fittings recommend and has a staff of master club builders to create the custom builds. And if you’re buying exotic shafts and clubheads, you could spend upwards of $3,000 – or more – for a full bag of clubs. If you buy at Club Champion, you can pick up your clubs within two weeks of placing the order.

It’s clear that Club Champion caters to the high end. “We’re the Lamborghini dealer,” Raffe said.

But you aren’t obligated to buy your clubs at Club Champion. You can take the specs and shop where you’d like. But Raffe says the best chance of building your clubs to the exact specs comes from the place where you got your fitting.

The value of custom fitting – for all levels of golfers – has increased as it has shown that a proper fit allows golfers to get the most out of their clubs. Along with Club Champion, Hot Stix and Cool Clubs, both based in the Phoenix suburbs, offer multiple locations around the country. Golftec emphasizes golf instruction but also offers custom fitting. And all of the major manufacturers have fitting carts used by local professionals and fitters.

Club Champion was established in 2010 in Chicago through a partnership with master club builder Nick Sherburne and Joe Lee, who is the company’s CEO. The company has 49 locations across the U.S. A company spokesman says that there will be nearly 60 Club Champion locations by the end of 2018.

“Other people sell golf clubs; we sell improvement,” Lee said. “We not only solve golfers’ equipment problems, but we show and explain why each particular piece of equipment [shaft, head and grip] works for their unique swing.”

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf