The buzz about club fitting isn't new to golf. Walk into any mega store and you'll see a simulator or launch monitor, and nearly every major manufacturer has touted its ability to tweak clubs to best match the needs of a specific player.
Just like buying a suit, it's one thing to stick with a department store fit when you're starting out, but by the time you're ready for the executive boardroom, you're likely looking for a tailor to custom fit you. For golfers who are serious about their game, it's time to ditch the off-the-rack clubs and find equipment that will get the most out of your swing. Mass produced gear is designed for the masses and just like the suit that will look good on many, there are options to upgrade from the stock club offerings to something that matches your swing and your game and will fit like a million bucks.
Hot Stix, long known in the golf industry as a leader in the full service club fitting game in a few warm weather locales, is spreading its reach, and golfers in the New York area will benefit. A new Hot Stix facility is now up and running in Westchester County, at Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook, N.Y.
Especially as the golf season is starting to wind down, now is an ideal time to get fit: You're likely in your best playing shape of the season and by making changes now, you'll have time to play with new clubs, but then more importantly, you'll have the entire winter to spend at the driving range working with the new sticks to get comfortable and be ready to go full bore when spring arrives.
Plus, that holiday gift list? What's better than having a list of new clubs you'll be wanting, and more importantly you'll know are perfectly fit to your game. Gone will be the days of someone walking into Golf Galaxy, asking an employee for a suggestion (based on nothing other than your gender and age) and you trying to feign excitement, or even worse, trying to play with a randomly selected piece of golf equipment.
As for Hot Stix itself, the first advantage you'll notice right away is that it's based on a driving range. You'll actually see your ball flight, as opposed to smashing a ball into a net and looking at a computer spitting out numbers. For example, on my recent fitting, I hit a smother hook that was so far left it nearly ended up on the road 100 yards left of my target. But, my launch angle was perfect and the spin rate was ideal. Had we not seen how awful the result was, had I been hitting into a net 30 feet in front of me, we never would have known to toss that swing out. Hot Stix uses TrackMan, the top of the line, industry leading launch monitor. It utilizes the same radar technology the military uses to track missiles.
Secondly, you'll be working with fitters who are trained on both the technology of the launch monitors and the equipment itself, but this their area of complete expertise. They're not folding golf shirts, stocking shelves or running the register while waiting for someone to show up. Chris Marsh, a Hot Stix master fitter, estimated recently that on a given day, he will see 1,000 golf shots, each one spitting out data that will in turn need to be interpreted. He and Peter Schiller, a certified fitter, will have watched tens of thousands of golf shots a month, and can blend the science of reading the launch monitor with the experience to put the right clubs in your hand. From my perspective, it's as much as art as it is a science.
“Hot Stix Golf assembles the most trusted and talented club-fitters and club-building craftsmen, and combines this human element with cutting-edge software,” says Mark Flynn, CEO of Hot Stix. “Perfect club configuration for improved distance and accuracy results from precisely measuring loft, lie, shaft frequency, swing and ball speed, launch angle, spin rates, smash factor and other variables.”
For those who haven't had a club fitting, it's an eye-opening experience. My session began with a warm up, hitting a few balls to loosen up while Schiller brought my clubs into their tech trailer to get some measurements. Once we began, I hit about a dozen drives with my current driver. Waiting with bated breath as I could see Peter looking at the numbers, he didn't spill the beans. Instead he handed me one driver after another, often interchanging shafts and heads (using a quick-fit system for maximum flexibility in trying everything). After about 10 combinations we started to zero in on the right ball flight characteristics.
By this point I knew that I was launching the ball too high, and spinning it too much with my own driver. Excess spin robs a drive of distance because the ball will keep rising, instead of driving through the air. Too little spin will cause the ball to nose dive and it won't reach its ideal height. It's a balancing act, and here's where the Hot Stix fitters bank on science, knowing the ideal numbers based on swing speed and some other variables.
As a point of full disclosure, when I was invited to participate in a Hot Stix session, I went into the fitting believing that my driver was the best club in my bag. I was hitting it 20 yards longer than any driver I'd ever hit, and it was straight as an arrow. I was more interested in dialing in my fairway woods and hybrid, which I knew weren't right. My assignment for this blog post was to learn about Hot Stix and the fitting system, but it wasn't hard to convince me of the benefits of club fitting. The results were as tangible as any, thanks to hitting so many shots with a wide variety of clubs.
At one point Schiller, who was explaining all the different numbers as we went, and was talking me through his thought process, said that I was an interesting challenge. No matter how stiff the shaft or how low the loft on the head, he couldn't get my spin rate down to where it should be. Finally, thinking outside the norm, he handed me a club 1 inch longer than the others. Suddenly, I was hitting rockets, nice, low, line drive, penetrating shots. At first, I thought it was too low, until I saw the numbers. This was the perfect trajectory, and suddenly this driver was flying as long as my own, but it was hitting and running out another 10-15 yards. It also wasn't ballooning when the wind picked up.
Not only had I learned what the ball flight should look like, I learned about my swing as well.
TrackMan can measure the angle by which you attack the ball. On my better swings, it was close to 0 degrees. On a bad swing that launched the ball high with tons of spin, it was around 5 degrees descending. Schiller told me that some pros on Tour can get all the way to 5 degrees on the upswing, meaning they are hitting up on the ball, launching it high and keeping the spin way down. That's a big reason they can get so much more yardage out of a similar swing speed.
Schiller and I made our way through the drivers, fairway woods and hybrids . At this point, I asked him if Hot Stix was really just there to sell golf clubs. It was a blunt question, but it was the one nagging perception I'd always held about fitting services, on top of the fees for their fitting services. He'd obviously heard it before and was honest in his response.
Basically, there are three outcomes to a fitting. First, your clubs are way off, it's costing you shots and enjoyment, and you should replace them. Second, you've found your way into the best possible fit, and he'll be the first to tip his cap and say play well (and you'll leave with the peace of mind knowing you're properly fit). It's the third scenario that's a bit gray. It's possible you're not quite maximizing your potential, but you're pretty close. That, Schiller said, is when it's up to the player to decide if that extra 10 yards is worth a few hundred dollars. Hot Stix will also work to have existing clubs reshafted, and will send a full report with your TrackMan data and their suggestions.
Overall, the Hot Stix experience is both educational and fun. I learned about parts of my golf swing and the effect it has on ball flight. I also gained a much better handle on what the "right" clubs feel like and have a better understanding of the different types of equipment out there, especially after being able to hit a dozen premium and exotic shafts, something you can never do at a typical golf superstore.
Additional Hot Stix Performance Centers are in California (three locations), Scottsdale (two locations), Minneapolis, Dallas and Orlando, with several more opening in the next 12 months.
Appointments for Hot Stix Performance Centers are scheduled online at www.hotstixgolf.com or by calling 877-513-1333.