There is an old golf adage that has held true for decades, centuries even. That no matter how advanced the science becomes, no matter how high-tech the clubs are, how far the ball flies or how smooth the greens roll -- we all eventually and reluctantly cede that "you can't buy a better game." True improvement comes from learning a better swing, hours on the range, toiling on the practice green, etc. Ben Hogan once famously opined that the "secret to golf is in the dirt." Meaning, of course, go spend a lot of time on the practice tee if you want lower scores on the course.
But consider: What if, as we get more and more data savvy, as machines and computers capture information we could never have hoped to have considered even a few years ago, that coupling science with a trained golf mind could, in fact, result in a better game -- purchased as a gift?
Enter the folks at Hot Stix Golf. For more than a decade, Hot Stix, based out of Scottsdale, Ariz., but with 10 locations nationwide, has been at the forefront of golf clubfitting. But it's been in the last few years, as technology has evolved and can now generate mind-blowing details of a golf swing, has the advantages of getting fit properly become truly evident -- and for those playing at the highest levels, even necessary.
Many in the golf world, including myself, have wondered how much difference does it really make? I'd bet you that Phil Mickelson could take the clubs you have in your garage and break par (right or left handed.) I bet Dustin Johnson can hit your driver (any make or model) over 300 yards. I bet I can give most amateur golfers their pick of any clubs in any Tour player's bag and they won't break 90. So again, how much difference does club fitting make?
Well, Hot Stix says they can tell me. Numerically. Down to the decimal.
I recently visited a Hot Stix location at The Golf Club of Georgia in Alpharetta, Ga., admittedly arriving with a little cynicism and doubt. I have gone through club fittings before, some of the most high-tech in the world, and knew that my clubs were fit to me as well as (I thought) could be. My swing was my swing, my game was my game. And my scores -- were, well, my scores. I didn't see how, based on my limited time nowadays on the course, I was going to change any of those items.
Bill Johnstone, a longtime PGA Master Professional, one-time PGA Tour player and current Hot Stix clubfitter, greeted me at the Hot Stix location at The Golf Club of Georgia and gave me a quick primer on what was to come. I'm not sure what I thought this clubfitting would entail, but immediately knew this would be so much more than I had anticipated.
First, Johnstone had me fill out a three-page questionnaire about my golf game. What my strengths were, weaknesses, tendencies, goals, etc. It was detailed but not laborious. In fact, it was kind of fun. Things you may not think about regularly, if at all.
Meanwhile, he was going through my golf bag and getting specs (specifications) on every club using a special measuring device by his tent: length, lie, loft, shaft frequency, etc. That did seem laborious (to me) but he made it look like he was enjoying it.
Once completed, all the measurements were entered into a special program and I was asked to go hit golf balls (importantly, outside to see the flight of the ball) while a tracking computer captures data from each swing. My club measurements were then combined with numbers generated by my golf swing, to produce my golf game in a spreadsheet. This is pretty simple by golf-geek standards. Spin rates, launch angles, clubhead speed, ball speed, the whole nine yards. And the end result, my clubs are a very good match for my swing. (Hey, I already knew that -- right?) So why come to Hot Stix?
Now it gets really interesting. Enter Johnstone's vast and impressive golf knowledge. I could tell he was genuinely impressed (relatively) with my swing. Keep in mind, he had worked with an aspiring Tour professional earlier that day, so perspective is important here. But as a "just hanging on to my single digit handicap" player who plays less than a quarter of the number of rounds I used to play annually, he liked what he saw.
"You've got some great clubs and they fit you very well," he said as we went over the numbers on a small computer screen at his range station. "But I'd like to try a couple of things."
My 6-iron flight was consistent in distance and trajectory, and my misses were a bit thin and blocked to the right. It's the game I've had for years, one that has served me pretty well if I do say so myself.
"I'd like to see if we can increase your ball speed by using a lighter shaft and decrease your dispersion by having a more perimeter and bottom weighted club," he offered. He then built that club for me using a large array of clubheads and shafts (from a wide variety of manufacturers) that he had at his disposal right there at the tent.
Without going into details of brand names (and we used several different ones), we ultimately came up with a club that added an average of 13 yards to my 6-iron and that I hit more consistently straight with the same trajectory and flight pattern of my actual 6-iron.
"Your 6-iron is great," Johnstone stressed. "It is a great club and it fits you really well. This 6-iron," he said as he pointed to the newly built club in my hand, "is optimal for you."
It is important to note that distance, though ever popular, is not necessarily the main objective for clubfitting.
"The science of maximum distance is not necessarily the most important goal," says Johnstone. "Some players want better feel, heavier or lighter clubs for tempo or higher or lower ball flights or less left or right headed shots or more forgiving clubs or with heads offering more feedback ... whatever the player wants, we can find or build clubs that will fit the desires of the player."
And the process was similar for drivers, fairway woods and wedges. Putter fitting is also available.
The great part was, there was no hard sell for clubs. Hot Stix has no affiliation with a club company, their array of clubs covers all the major OEMs and they don't really care if you play TaylorMade, Nike, Titleist or Cleveland. There entire objective is to find what type of club the numbers say you should be hitting and then find the components to build that club for you.
This is not a quick process; you're going to spend the better part of three hours to get a complete fitting. But when you leave, you are going to have a more thorough understanding of your swing and the elements you'll need to maximize your golf for years to come.
A Hot Stix fitting is not inexpensive. A full bag assessment can cost up to $400 alone. But the information and knowledge you gain about your swing, your clubs and how to get the most out of golf for you is invaluable and will provide returns for the rest of your golf life.
The final takeaway from my visit was obvious. If the opportunity presents itself, a Hot Stix clubfitting would be a great opportunity for any golfer, as memorable as any round or club they may get at any time of year. But if not Hot Stix, get a club fitting/assessment somewhere. You deserve every chance for success each time you swing a golf club, and you should have confidence that what you are swinging is the best club for you -- every time.
All the data you'll get is impressive, but none of it matters unless you lower your scores. A good clubfitting like the ones done by Hot Stix will maximize your chances to shoot lower scores. And those are the numbers that truly matter.