If you’re new to golf and not sure you'll keep playing, my advice is to not buy any equipment at all. However if you think you'll be playing for at least the next five years, I think custom-fitted clubs are the way to go:
- Clubs you see on the rack at a golf store might have been built in Detroit, China, or anywhere else, but definitely not by people who know how you are built, or even what your goals are—this lack of fitting will keep you from reaching your potential.
- If you play with poorly fitted clubs (like pretty much everyone who buys off the rack, or has pre-owned clubs), you have to take a bad swing to hit the ball well. The poor fit will force you to make house-of-cards type compensations to get decent shots. On the other hand, "custom-fitting" means that the way you’re built, the way you stand to the ball, and all other factors like injuries or inflexibility are taken care of by building the club to fit you. This helps ensure that you hit your best shots when you use your best technique.
- I have students who tell me they’ll get properly fitted clubs "when they deserve them." The problem with that approach is they buy such poorly fitting clubs at the start that they end up fighting them on every swing. And that keeps my students from ever getting good enough to "deserve" better clubs. Because they didn't get the correct fit at the beginning, they eventually give up golf entirely in the end.
- When you see the best players in the world playing clubs from the major manufacturers, tell yourself that, because their livelihood depends on it, they didn't just go to the store and buy them off the rack like the average Joe does. They went through a completely different process—one that goes through the same custom fitting steps I'll outline below. And this same process is available to you if you make this purchase carefully.
- Even custom-fitted clubs of the highest quality can be reasonably priced. And the best ones come with great customer support, a life-time guarantee, and free loft and lie adjustments.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
- Shaft length: Nowadays most consumers are aware that the length of the shaft is an important factor, but it’s more complicated than just adjusting for your height. It also depends on the length of your torso, your inseam measurement, and your sleeve length—even whether or not you have a back injury comes into play.
- Grip size: If the grip is too large for your hands, you’ll tend to lose the ball to the right (right-handers); if it is too small, the ball will want to go to the left.
- Shaft material: Graphite or Steel? Graphite is lighter, and appropriate if you have a weaker upper body and need more clubhead speed, or if you have joint injuries that need to be cushioned during impact. However these lighter weighted shafts can cause someone who should be using steel shafts to swing way too fast—and I haven’t met anyone yet who plays better when they swing too fast!
- Shaft flex: How much the shaft flexes also plays a role in where the ball goes—a shaft that is too soft and you’ll start hooking; too stiff and it’ll go to the right. And in general terms, if the shaft is too whippy it will also add to an overall lack of control.
- Flex point: Where the shaft flexes will have an effect on the trajectory of the shot. A high flex point, near the grip, will launch the ball lower. If the shaft has a low flex point down near the clubhead, the ball will go higher.
- Swing weight: This measures how heavy the head is relative to the grip end of the club. While there is a fairly standard range of proper swing weights, all of us are built differently, are different ages, and have different levels of upper body strength. The bottom line is that you don’t want to feel like you’re swinging a bowling ball at the end of the shaft. And you don’t want to lose the feel of the clubhead entirely, like you’re swinging a pencil.
- Dead weight: In the hands of an expert fitter, many of the decisions made above will lead to the proper overall weight of the club for you and the way you’re built.
- Head design: Cavity back/Perimeter weighted heads are more forgiving—by moving the weight out to the edges of the head, off-center hits tend to go straighter and higher. Blades on the other hand, are not as forgiving, but supply valuable feedback for a lower handicap golfer. The blade design lets them know more precisely where on the clubface they’re hitting the ball, and it also let’s them work the ball—curving it on purpose—much more easily.
- Other factors: your clubhead speed, tempo, club path, face angle tendencies, clubhead impact pattern, current ability level, golf related goals, frequency of play and practice, lesson plans, and your current physical condition—all of these add to the fitting process.
Getting all of these characteristics matched up to your specs is part science, part art, and it’s rare to find someone who gets it right. In my experience, you’ll find very few of these factors even discussed when you talk to the salespeople at your local golf store.
HOW TO BUY
Having read this far, my hope is that you see there is virtually no way to get what you need by buying clubs off a rack at the store. You need to find an expert, someone who has years of experience working with all kinds of different body types, skill levels, and goals.
If you live in the Seattle area, I can help guide you to some great resources.
There is no cost and no obligation for this service.
Contact me to learn more, or to set up an appointment.