PGA.com's T.J. Auclair recently took a trip to "Manchester Lane," in Acushnet, Mass., better known as the "Titleist Test Facility." While there, Auclair went through a club-fitting with PGA Professional Karen Gray, Titleist Supervisor of Player Research. Titleist Player Research Representatives Alex Stimpson and Bubba Kroeger were there to assist Gray. Following the club fitting, Auclair went through a golf-ball fitting with Gray and Titleist Golf Ball Fitting Manager Mike Gibson. This is the first installment of the three-part series on the complete fitting experience.
PGA.com's club fitting series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Club fitting Q&A | Photo Gallery
ACUSHNET, Mass. -- One of the easiest ways to improve your game and lower your scores is to play the proper clubs.
You need the right tools for the job, right? Seems easy, doesn’t it?
With that in mind, I decided it was time to go through the club fitting process myself and paid a visit to “Manchester Lane,” the Titleist Test Facility in Acushnet, Mass.
THE TITLEIST TEST FACILITY
If you’re a golf-equipment junkie, surely you’ve heard of Manchester Lane. The funny thing about it is that when you turn down Manchester Lane, you’re actually in a little residential community. Small houses line the street and you think you’ve taken a wrong turn.
Just when it looks as though you’ve hit a dead-end, bam! There it is – a large, plush driving range in the middle of the woods.
And, if you’ve been to as many muni driving ranges as I have this really sticks out -- mini Titleist golf bags containing brand new Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls. These certainly aren’t the rocks I’m used to hitting at a range.
There’s a large warehouse-looking building that’s nestled between the driving range and a parking lot. This warehouse serves as offices for the club fitters.
A number of golf carts sit to the side of the warehouse. They’re there for the club fitters to shuttle customers from the driving range to the short-game facility about 200 yards back into the woods.
The short-game facility isn’t visible from the driving range. It’s hidden in the woods. But once you get there, it’s just as impressive as the driving range. The short-game facility is just 100 yards long, but features a massive green and several bunkers. It’s built to help find the proper grind, or bounce, for your wedges, as well as the ball you should be playing.
ABOUT THE CLUB-FITTER, PGA PROFESSIONAL KAREN GRAY
On this particular day, PGA Professional Karen Gray, who will be conducting the fitting, greets me.
Gray has been a PGA Professional for 20 years and is an accomplished player. She was a two-time NCAA All American at Florida Atlantic University, played in the 1986 U.S. Amateur (Pasatiempo in California) and also teed it up in two U.S. Women's Opens (1991 at Colonial CC and 1993 at Crooked Stick). Gray also played on the Futures Tour and had a win on the Gold Coast Tour Mini tour.
Before joining the Titleist team in the late 1990s, Gray was the women's golf coach and Assistant Director of the PGM program at Methodist University in North Carolina, where her team won the 1996 NCAA Division II & III title.
There’s a funny story about how Gray came to be an expert club-fitter, though at the time, it wasn’t all that funny to her.
In her junior year of college, Gray had worn out the grooves on her irons. Naturally, she went ahead and did what most people in her predicament might think to do first – order a new set of clubs.
However, Gray did that without consulting her golf professional back in Pelham, N.Y.
“I had no idea then about length, lie, shaft weight and flex and I just ordered up a standard men's set of irons with steel, regular flex shafts,” she said.
What happened next was a nightmare come true for someone who takes his or her golf game seriously. Gray proceeded to hit some of the worst shots of her life with the shiny new clubs and lost all confidence. She thought it was her. As she would learn from her golf professional a few months later during Easter break back home, the problem was actually the clubs.
“I kept asking him to look at my swing, but before he did, he said, ‘Let me see your bag. What irons are these?’ I told him and he asked me, ‘Did you know that I ordered you 1/2" short on your irons, 2-flat and a lightweight steel shaft? Your clubs are too long, too upright and the shafts are too heavy. You need to re-shaft these and we have to bend them.’"
Once the tweaks were made, Gray’s game was back on track.
“I learned a valuable lesson about golf and that what's in my bag are my tools, my way to score and in order to play my best, I need to make sure my equipment is fit to my game,” she said. “Confidence in your equipment will help you score better and keep you swinging well.”
WHAT’S ALL THAT STUFF AND WHAT DOES IT DO?
On the practice tee, several things stand out.
First, there are the loads of carts holding every Titleist iron, driver, wedge, fairway wood, hybrid and shaft you could possibly imagine. It’s as if you’ve died and gone to golf-equipment heaven.
Next, you notice a small metal box – Trackman – located directly behind the area you’re going to hit from.
Trackman is essentially a golf radar used for swing and ball flight analysis. It’s become an invaluable tool for PGA Professionals during a club fitting.
Though Gray says “face tape” is still used – literally a piece of white tape applied to the clubface that imprints an impression of the golf ball to show you we’re you’re hitting it on the clubface (near the toe, near the hosel, or on the sweetspot) – Trackman does a lot more to pinpoint just how efficiently the player is hitting the ball on the clubface. Trackman measures a number of variables by focusing on ball speed, which tells experts like Gray how efficiently the ball is hit in relation to the center of gravity of a club.
For example, Gray said, it’s possible for a shorter club to hit the ball with more ball speed and go farther and more consistent in direction because the player is hitting the ball more in the center of the face, the player is more efficient and the player gets more out of their club with consistent ball speed and trajectory.
“As we fit a player, we may shorten or lengthen a player's irons or metals depending on how they handle the length -- if the club is digging or not,” Gray said. “Club fitting has evolved with the use of launch monitors and to be able to quantify results to educate the player, it's a great opportunity. Trackman also makes the process of gapping a player's set much easier because we know how far the player is carrying the ball with each club, but even still that's only part of the equation. We fit for lie angle by evaluating the divots the player is taking, i.e. -- more heel dig or toe dig and watching the ball flight.”
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.