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Critical Golf: Unbiased Golf Equipment Reviews

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Archive for August, 2011

About Critical Golf

Critical Golf brings you unbiased golf equipment reviews, including in-depth analysis of golf GPS devices, iPhone GPS apps (as well as necessary iPhone battery packs), laser rangefinders, carry bags and golf carts. We compare equipment across multiple criteria to present a comprehensive picture of which equipment is best, and why. Our testing staff includes players ranging from low to high handicaps to provide perspectives relevant to all golfers, regardless of ability level. If there is specific equipment that you would like to see reviewed, please let us know. We can’t fix your game, but we can help you find the tools that can!

Motocaddy S3 Digital

The “Digital” in the name for the Motocaddy cart line refers to the versions that are battery powered. The S3 Digital offers all of the base features found in the entry-level S1 Digital, including the same dial control with 9 speed settings, 200w motor, ability to lock when folded, ergonomic grip, in an aluminum frame that weighs 19 pounds.

In addition, the top-of-the-line Motocaddy also can track 3 different distances at any time (total distance traveled, distance for the found and also shot distances – though they can’t be saved as with some GPS devices), and for those of you who simply refuse to leave the office (or Angry Birds) behind, a USB charging port for your GPS device of choice. The S3 Digital’s display also provides time and a battery meter, and an adjustable distance control feature allows to to send the S3 on ahead of you from between 5 to 60 yards.

Owners can also select not just the color of their Motocaddy (black, titanium or Alpine white), but also from a long list of upgrades, including a Lithium battery, padded seat, umbrella, different wheel sets, cradles for GPS devices, drinks, scorecard, rain covers. Accessorize away!

Weight: 19 pounds
Folded dimensions: 900mm x 350mm x 570mm
Motocaddy S3 Digital Retail price: $849
Amazon.com: Check price now


Putting Arc MS III

The Putting Arc MSIII is one of those training aids that is so simple in concept that you wish you had thought of it first. It’s essentially is a piece of plastic, squared off on 3 sides, arced on the 4th. Simply stand over the Putting Arc, place the heel of your putter against the arced side, and take the putter back and through. Repeat over and over again, and you will develop muscle memory for a “swinging gate” putting stroke (see “Teaching Value” below).

The Putting Arc can be used on either a practice putting mat or an actual green (although you are cautioned against staying on any single spot on a green for too long lest you damage the grass).

It’s a useful tool for developing a consistent putting stroke, although, like most things that are good for us, it can start to feel like drudgery after awhile.

SCORE
92
GRADE
A-
Setup
100
Teaching Value
94
Fun
84
Construction/Durability
100
Cost/Value
91

Pros:

  • Simple concept for learning a particular stroke
  • Easy set-up
  • Tough and durable

Cons:

  • It won’t help you if you use a “square to square” putting stroke (it only teaches a “swinging gate” stroke)
  • Not high on the fun factor

Retail price: $69.95


100 / A+

SETUP

The Putting Arc MSIII is easy to set up – you simply place it on the ground, parallel to the desired putting line. So simple, even a caveman can do it.


94 / A

TEACHING VALUE

The Putting Arc MSIII is designed as a tool to promote a “swinging gate” putting stroke, where the path of the putter head is an arc. With a “swinging gate” stroke, the putter rotates slightly around the player’s body in a manner analogous to the way other clubs do during a full swing. The other school of thought on putting is a “straight back/straight through” (or “square to square”) stroke, where the putter face is always squared (looking down at the putter, the putter head moves in a straight line). “Straight back / straight through” is generally easier for beginners to execute, as they can look down and see when the putter is veering off of the line. But most advanced golfers use the “swinging gate” since it’s much harder to consistently hit long putts without some rotation (think about the difficulty of repeating a straight back / straight through stroke when a long backswing is involved).

The trick with the “swinging gate” style is to create the muscle memory to execute a stroke with the appropriate arc on the backswing and follow-through and a squared putter face at impact. Does the Putting Arc MSII help you do this? Yes it does – as stated above, you just put the heel of the putter against the arced side and putt, all the while keeping the heel against the arc. But those expecting some kind of instant magic won’t find it here – what the device does is provide a framework to develop the muscle memory, but you still need to groove the stroke by repeating it over and over again.

Note that the Putting Arc MSIII doesn’t help you learn to use your shoulders to execute the stroke instead of your hands. So if you practice incorrectly, you can still end up with a “handsy” stroke that will work fine when you’re relaxed but will be less reliable when you get a little nervous and your grip gets tight.

One final factor to consider is that if you have a mallet putter with an extremely rounded heel, it’s a bit more of a challenge to keep the heel properly in contact with the arced side. Most mallets still have a squared-off heel (if for no other reason than to provide visual cues for properly aligning the putt), but some of the Odyssey putters, the TaylorMade Rossa and the Guerin Rife Barbados are pretty round. We’re not saying that the Putting Arc MSIII won’t work with those putters, but it requires greater focus from the player to derive the same level of benefit.


84 / B

FUN

There isn’t much pizzazz to the Putting Arc MSIII – it’s basically a block of plastic that you use as a tool to memorize the stroke. Because the intent of the device is to square the face of the putter at impact, if you properly align it with the hole when you initially lay it on the ground, there won’t be any real mystery about whether the ball is going to go in or not. It basically becomes set the ball down, make the putting stroke, fish the ball out of the hole and repeat. The length of the Putting Arc MSIII enables you to vary the length of your backstroke, so you can mix it up a bit by putting from a variety of distances. But truth be told, the Putting Arc MSIII is a bit like eating your vegetables when you’re a kid – sure, it’s good for you, but it’s not as much fun as wolfing down a piece of chocolate cake.


100 / A+

CONSTRUCTION / DURABILITY

The Putting Arc MSIII is 33 inches long and only weighs about 2.2 lbs., so it’s portable enough if you want to bring it to the local putting green, but heavy enough to stay in place when you’re practicing. It’s a sturdy and thick piece of plastic, so it should last as long as you want to use it. This sucker will probably survive far longer than any of us.


91 / A-

COST / VALUE

We had a fair amount of debate about the “value” rating for the Putting Arc MSIII – on the one hand, the MSRP of $69.95 seems a bit exorbitant for what is essentially a big shaped block of plastic. On the other hand, it does a nice job of teaching the proper stroke. We decided that the equivalent price of about 2 dozen high end golf balls isn’t too much to pay to shave a few strokes off of your game. Maybe if they just marketed it as some kind of space-age polymer, we’d feel better about it…

We note that there is a lightweight version (the Putting Arc T3) that retails for $35.95, and a fancy version made of wood (the Putting Arc Deluxe, which weighs a whopping 8 pounds) that sells for $89.95.

SKLZ Accelerator Pro

The SKLZ Accelerator Pro is designed to teach proper acceleration of the putter head through impact. It’s a typical putting mat with graphics marked at certain distances to indicate the appropriate length of the backswing and follow through when putting from those points. The mat has one of the best surfaces among the entry-level putting mats that we tested, and replicates the feel of a putting green.

Unfortunately, the slope of the green at the hole is overly steep, leading us to believe that the Accelerator Pro may actually be teaching golfers to putt too hard.

The Accelerator includes a ball return track that rolls the ball back to you if you sink the putt. The ball return track uses gravity as its impetus, so there’s no need to plug in the device or use batteries.

SCORE
89
GRADE
B+
Setup
96
Teaching Value
87
Fun
86
Construction/Durability
90
Cost/Value
88

Pros:

  • Visually drives home the important concept of accelerating the putter head through impact
  • Putting mat is made of excellent materials and provides a consistent roll

Cons:

  • Extreme slope near the hole may be teaching you to blow your putts off the green

Retail price: $49.99


96 / A

SETUP

Setting up the putting mat itself is effortless – just unroll it. The mat is thick enough that we didn’t encounter any difficulties with creasing or areas that wouldn’t lie flat.

The track for returning the ball consists of three track pieces that must be assembled together with small plastic tabs. It’s a painless process – if you ever connected a Hot Wheels track when you were a kid, you will have no problems with this. Just be careful that you don’t accidentally lose a tab when you’re opening the box.


87 / B

TEACHING VALUE

If you take a moment to watch amateur golfers putt, you will see that a frighteningly large number of them use the same length of backswing regardless of the length of the putt – they utilize the dreaded “decelerating club head speed” to control the distance the ball actually travels. While this can be moderately successful on a good day, those good days will be few and far between. To consistently control the distance of your putts, you need to vary the length of your backswing so you can accelerate the putter through impact.

The SKLZ Accelerator Pro is a putting mat designed to promote an accelerating club head at impact through the use of graphics on the mat’s surface that indicate the appropriate length of backswing and follow-through for putts of 3, 5 and 7 feet. We like the philosophy, and there is no doubt that practicing with the Accelerator Pro will result in greater consistency in the roll of your putts.

The graphic markings are most conducive for golfers who use a “straight back/straight through” putting stroke, but we don’t think that those who use a “swinging gate” stroke will have any problem using the Accelerator Pro. “Swinging gate” putters just have to realize that their putter face should not be perfectly square with the graphics at the extreme ends of the backswing and follow through.

We note that the Accelerator Pro does not account for the fact that people have different tempos for their putting strokes. Taking the putter back 5-1/4 inches (the distance marked on the Accelerator Pro for a 5 foot putt) will result in putts of different lengths depending on whether you have a quick tempo or a slow tempo. For an absolute beginner, this may not be a problem – practicing with the Accelerator Pro will ingrain a particular tempo. Those who are more set in their ways will have to accept that the markings on the mat are more of a general guideline than any kind of a hard and fast rule and remember to make the same relative adjustments at the 3 different lengths. There’s no magic way to account for the difference in tempos, so we aren’t docking any points from the Accelerator Pro for this limitation.

What we ARE docking points for is the fact that the built-in slope of the mat is just too steep. Most putting mats utilize a slight incline near the hole in order to promote putting the ball slightly past the hole (if you don’t putt the ball hard enough to reach the hole, then it never has a chance to go in). But the Accelerator Pro has a wicked slope that will lead to jacking the ball significantly past the hole in real world situations. Our guess is that SKLZ designed it this way because the steepness of the incline is necessary in order to get the ball return feature to work (the Accelerator Pro just uses gravity to feed the ball back to you). But we would rather have the inconvenience of taking a couple of steps to retrieve the ball than the monumental disappointment of grooving a putting stroke that will lead to repeatedly crushing the ball past the hole and off the green.


86 / B

FUN

The idea of the Accelerator Pro is to groove the length of your backswing and follow-through by having you repeat that precise stroke again and again…and again and again…and again and again…There are 3 different distances at which you can practice, so it isn’t completely mind-numbing, but in the end, we’re talking about repetition. We’re talking about…that’s right, practice.

“I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not … Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man.” And we talking about practice…I know it’s important, I do. I honestly do…But we’re talking about practice man. What are we talking about? Practice. We’re talking about practice, man. [laughter from the media crowd] We’re talking about practice. We’re talking about practice. We ain’t talking about the game. [more laughter] We’re talking about practice, man…” – Allen Iverson, basketball superstar, in a press conference diatribe about a dispute with his coach about missing practice.

The fun will have to wait until you’re playing a round and are absolute money at dropping in putts from 3, 5 and 7 feet.


90/ A-

CONSTRUCTION / DURABILITY

The mat of the Accelerator Pro is made of a form of artificial turf with sufficient heft to endure normal wear and tear, and is 9 feet long and 1 foot wide. The construction of the mat is among the best that we’ve seen in entry level putting mats, with enough thickness that it provides a true roll regardless of the surface on which it’s placed. Thin mats will emulate the properties of the surface below – putting a thin mat on a thick carpet will result in a slow roll, while putting a thin mat on a hardwood floor will result in a lightning quick roll. The SKLZ Accelerator Pro keeps a consistent speed across varying surfaces.

The hole area (and the related incline leading up to it), however, is made of relatively thin plastic, which could be susceptible to breakage or cracking.

The ball return track must be dissembled if you are going to store the Accelerator Pro between uses, in which case those small plastic connector tabs are likely to get lost, sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, or eaten by the dog.


88 / B+

COST / VALUE

The SKLZ Accelerator Pro retails for $49.99, which is about the cost of putting mats that don’t provide any teaching benefit. If we weren’t so troubled about the excessive incline around the hole, we would lift the cost/value rating significantly, but it bothers us that the device actually might wind up teaching you a BAD habit.

TOMI Personal Putting System

TOMI, short for The Optimum Motion Instructor, is a training system designed to support instruction on the practice green. The system consists of a transmitter that attaches to the shaft and a base unit which records the information and saves it to your PC. The system records the motion and angle of the putter in space, from the backstroke to follow-through. The system then in near real-time breaks the data into sets of data for each of the eight key stroke measurements and then displays these results in charts and graphs.

The focus of the system is on the fundamentals of putting (see image at right), which Marius Filmalter, inventor of the TOMI, has broken down into the eight measurements: alignment at address, alignment at impact, path at impact, stroke path and rotation, shaft angle/actual degrees of loft at impact (effective loft), impact spot, club velocity at impact and stroke tempo.

We are a little concerned that the website is in bad shape, and the data provided on screen doesn’t look as up-to-date as some other swing analysis systems, and here’s hoping they focus on the user experience of both to make a good first impression. It’s a unique training aid, and provides a wealth of extremely detailed information. For data junkies out there looking to work on their putting, this could be just the device they are looking for.

TOMI Putting System

Click for images

Retail price: $199.99
Amazon.com: Check price now

And a video or two:

TOMI overview

TOMI Golf Channel Commercial


Z Factor Perfect Putting Machine

The Z Factor Perfect Putting Machine has been purchased “by over 60 players on the PGA tour”. Which might alone be enough to warrant a look. The system rests on the green (or your carpet, of course), and is unlike other products in that you attach your putter to the system, and then “feel” the correct putting stroke. Now don’t quickly dismiss this with a “ahh, just another putting device that forces me into a specific swing path” – the Z Factor is adjustable for six different swing planes. That includes both square to square, as well as five different arcs. And our bet is that your stroke matches one of the six. Or at the least, it should. Left handed? No worries, it’s fully reversible.

The putter is attached to the machine though a magnetic carriage that allows the putter to attach, or for putters with synthetic faces, small steel plates included are attached to the putter heel and toe using foam tape (after practicing these are then removed). By having the putter attached to the device, and selecting the appropriate arc, you can feel the correct path during your swing and build the muscle memory to groove it. The parallel design of the machine helps the player in setting feet and shoulders square to the target line, and numbers on the top of the device allow you to replicate your stance on each stroke to develop consistency. And it’s not all about stance…ball position is also a factor, and a ball position indicator helps you place the ball in the same location each time. Even better, there is a ball feed ramp that delivers balls during practice.

Z Factor Putting Training Machine

Click for images

The Z Factor Perfect Putting System takes about 5 minutes to set up initially, and then is ready to go (a handle is attached to the device to make it easy to carry if you don’t own the optional canvas carry bag.

Retail price: $199.95
Amazon.com: Check price now

Some videos of the Z Factor in action:


Best Golf Books and DVDs

Though we would rather be at the course, sadly it’s just not possible to be there 24/7. So when away from the course, it’s time to break open a good book or watch a DVD. About golf, of course. While there are hundreds of books and DVDs, we have selected a number that we enjoy in different categories – fiction/non-fiction, coffee table, classics and history, and instructional. Don’t forget, some books may be available on the Amazon Kindle.

Fiction/Non-fiction

Coffee Table Books

Classics/History

  • The Badminton Library : Golf. Difficult to find, this book was first published in 1890 and chronicles the early days of the game.
  • Bernard Darwin On Golf. A collection of classic essays from one of the best writers of the game. From the Golden Age of golf, a great addition to any golfer’s library.
  • Down the Fairway. Written by Bobby Jones following winning with the U.S. and British Open titles in the same year, combines history, biography, and instruction.
  • The Spirit of St. Andrews. Insight from Alister McKenzie, one of golf’s greatest architects, on course design, the swing, technology and equipment, putting tips, as well as stories of famous players including Hagen, Sarazen and Jones.
  • The Story of American Golf Volume One: 1888-1941. A now-illustrated classic, this book is the most comprehensive chronicle of golf from its introduction in America through World War II.

Fitness

Instructional (Books)

Instructional (DVD)

Golf Magazine ClubTest 2011

It wouldn’t be quite right for us to comment on Golf Digest’s Hot List without making a few remarks about Golf Magazine’s ClubTest at the same time. Golf Magazine’s March 2011 issue is focused on drivers, and we eagerly flipped open our copy to see what insights we would find.

Golf Magazine took 40 “Average Joes” with handicaps ranging from 2 to 21 and broke them into three groups to test different categories of drivers: Tour, Game-improvement and Max Game-improvement. They also partnered with Hot Stix Golf (look for our upcoming article on the Hot Stix fitting process) and used a TrackMan launch monitor to capture swing and ball flight data.

We are happy to see Golf Magazine’s division of drivers into these different categories, and likewise their grouping of players based on handicap, with some overlap between handicap ranges. Each group then smartly focused on a specific driver category that matched their skill level. Of course there are high-handicappers that will play “Tour” clubs, and low-handicappers that will play “Max Game-improvement” clubs, but for the most part this segmenting seems to work. Even better, Golf Magazine features a distribution of players in their ClubTest that is much more reflective of the average player than Golf Digest Hot List panel, as shown in the chart below.

2011 Golf Magazine and Golf Digest Hot List Handicap Indicies

Click image to enlarge

While Golf Magazine set up a sound testing process, and had a strong research team from Hot Stix at their side, we were disappointed they chose not to provide the data captured during the testing process. With so much shot information at their disposal, it would be great to not just read a quick overview of the drivers tested and player impressions, but dig into a deeper level of detail based on the testing results. It would be fantastic to be able to go to the Golf Magazine website, for example, select “ClubTest 2011: Drivers” and “Max Game-improvement” and then have the website display the relative shot grouping from TrackMan for the relevant clubs. Better yet, if I happen to know my swing speed (and perhaps even other swing information such as attack angle), let me enter that information and then see the test results from similar Average Joes. Make a nice flash-based website or a sweet application using Adobe AIR, and let us have at it. Now that would be useful!

Instead of any data, we are unfortunately left with simply marketing-speak: discussion of a driver that “…produces a steady pattern of consistent results,” but without accompanying data to show what kind of results (hey, I consistently put drives O.B., but that’s not what I’m looking for in a driver. If the testers are hitting dead straight, just show me the data from their current driver and the test driver).

And I have to be honest, I want to shred my copy of Golf Magazine into little pieces when they tell me that for one driver “a number of testers indicate they hit it significantly longer than normal while a few others rate it about the same as their own.” Seriously, did I just read that? This provides me with no information whatsoever. Drivers with the same handicap can have wildly different swings, so I need the next level of detail: what type of player hit it significantly longer? For example, was it someone with a fast swing or a slow swing (just assume the difference in drive length is based solely on this factor)? “Game Improvement” players in the Golf Magazine ClubTest have an extremely wide range of ball speeds – from 126 up to 155 mph (as an aside, we know this isn’t the same as swing speed, but it is the closest information provided by the magazine)! And no, not all players will know this type of swing information, but they very well may. And if they don’t happen to know it nor do they have access a local course with a pro or equipment to estimate their swing speed, they can always invest in a TaylorMade TR3 Speed Stik or Medicus Power Meter to get this information. Hey, nothing wrong with a (relatively) small investment before dropping a few Benjamins on a new driver, right?

If readers can narrow the group of testers with swings that are most similar to their own, then the information starts to become useful. And exposing the data from the testing (in an easily digestible manner, of course) will help Golf Magazine readers with their decision making process much more so than today.

The Golf Digest Hot List Process

Online golf addicts have undoubtedly seen (and perhaps have been authors of) the barrage of complaints in forums and blogs about the Golf Digest Hot List. And every year you can hear many of the same criticisms: the list is based on whether the manufacturer advertises in Golf Digest, if companies have personal relationships with the Editors, a ranking process that favors larger equipment manufacturers, and panelists that don’t thoroughly test all clubs but rather gravitate to those they know best. And hey, what were each club’s numerical scores by category? Can we see the scores for all products tested, not just those that made the Hot List?

No ranking system is perfect, of course. As reviewers, we know this as well as anyone. Like boxing and figure skating, scoring for the Hot List is a blend of both objective data and subjective opinion. Personally, I can’t imagine having to rank hundreds of clubs in a period of just three days (‘Want to Become One of Our Next Hot List Testers?’, Golf Digest, February 2011, p.113). Talk about an exhausting process!

Let’s take a look at the Hot List process for the average player panelist, who for 2011 had a handicap index of 7.0. How many swings would it take that individual to be able to reliably score and rank a club for both Performance as well as Look/Sound/Feel (we are going to assume that players in the panel do not score for Innovation or Demand)? Golf Digest used 10 swings per club in its evaluation of new-groove wedges and chippers (‘How The New-Groove Wedges Affect You’ and ‘Does Using a Chipper Make You a Chopper?’, Golf Digest, February 2011, pp. 127, 130), but let’s say that five swings is all our average player panelist requires.

We don’t know how many entries there were for the 2011 Hot List, but Ken Morton Jr., who has been involved in every Golf Digest Hot List, offers an estimate of 1,000 clubs (‘Making of the Golf Digest Hot List,’ NCGA Magazine, Winter 2011). Assuming each player tests each club (a big assumption, but given the subjective nature of the testing, isn’t that the only way you can legitimately rank clubs?), this means testing an average of about 330 clubs a day to finish the reviews in three days (across six categories – drivers, woods, hybrids, irons, wedges and putters). At five swings apiece, this totals 1,650 strokes, or the equivalent of over 18 rounds worth of golf…each DAY! Our heads would spin from trying to keep all of the competitors straight. I wonder if Mead, Advil and Hirzl are sponsors of the event. Hmmm.

In the end, the judges provide us with the 2011 Hot List: an easily digestible group of, for drivers as an example, one Editor’s Choice winner, 8 Gold award winners, and 6 Silver award winners. With over 300 driver entries (‘Making Simple Overly Complex’, Golf Digest, February 2011, p110), less than 5% took home an award. Talk about competition! This is quite a different story from 2009, when 471 separate entries were considered and a whopping 116 made the Hot List (see Golf Digest 2009 Hot List: The Process & Glossary).

We look forward to watching Golf Digest’s continued refinement of their Hot List process. Our hopes for Hot List enhancements include more detail in select club summaries, such as the Editor’s Choice winner.

We also believe it would be worthwhile to include comments related to the review that could impact a consumer’s buying decision. The Fourteen iron set is expensive, certainly, but it would be worthwhile to know they are manufactured in the United States as that could very well influence a buyer’s decision.

If Golf Digest wants to be over-the-top, they could include advanced testing data from on their website, such as audio files of club sounds as well as an assortment images of each club, particularly the view from a player’s perspective at setup. Providing this information would allow users to score some of the subjective criteria themselves, instead of relying on the judges. Perhaps a reader prefers a tinny-sounding driver with a squared head, but the judges don’t. Maybe even one day users will be able to score these criteria themselves, and then these scores will be blended with judges’ ratings in other categories that would be more difficult for user’s to score, such as the feel of the clubs (that would require having access to all of the clubs and a range) to get a more personal score. Hey, a reader can dream, right?

Until then we’ll keep imagining the day when full detail behind the scoring for all clubs tested are released, and think of the conversation that the Hot List judges will get to have with the manufacturer whose latest and greatest club scores a 32 out of 100.

Who Determines the Golf Digest Hot List

Every year there is a fair amount of discussion around the Golf Digest Hot List – an “uncensored” (?) guide to the latest and best clubs. The 2011 Hot List Panel consisted of four judges, six scientists (hey, it beats being in the lab for the day, right?), eight retailers and twenty players.

To give a sense for the level of player evaluating equipment for the Golf Digest Hot List, below is a graph comparing the handicap indexes of the judges and players in the panel (we are showing only the men’s graph as only 2 out of the 24 total judges and players in the panel were women) against USGA handicap index statistics. As easy to see, your play may not be quite the same level as the players who are ranking the clubs (who have an average handicap index of 5!), so take this into consideration when evaluating the Hot List if necessary.

Fortunately, the Golf Digest Hot List provides player comments from low, middle, and high handicappers. Assuming we can divide the 2011 list of players evenly into three groupings, “low” handicappers in the panel have an index of +1.4 to 2.8 (whoa, that IS low), mid-handicappers of 4.2 to 8.7, and high handicappers have an index of 8.8 to 18. Therefore, even if you are a single-digit handicapper, you may find information most relevant to you listed under “high-handicapper” comments. Golf Digest is currently searching for players for their 2012 Golf Digest Hot List panel, and requirements include a handicap index of 15 or better. As a result, next year the high handicappers may even cap out with an index below 18, which already is lower than over 30% of USGA members. Yikes!

2011 Golf Digest Hot List Handicap Index

Click image to enlarge

Notes from a Golf Digest Hot List Panelist

We found a bit more information on the Golf Digest Hot List process to shed some additional color. Personally, we find each additional tidbit interesting as there isn’t a great amount of detail included in Golf Digest concerning details of the process.
This information comes from an article on Tom Allen, a Middletown, OH resident with an 8.8 handicap index, who participated as a player in the Hot List team for 2011.

1. Tom was one of five players chosen for the 2011 panel (there were 20 players on the 2011 panel, so 15 players were returning from the previous year)
2. Tom hit approximately 16 clubs per category (there were 6 different categories – drivers, woods, hybrids, irons, wedges and putters), so a total of 96 clubs in total
3. He hit about 10 balls per club (presumably the number of balls which allowed him to reasonably rate the club against the others), with testing from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

The estimate of 16 clubs from each category is a much more realistic than our original assumption of each player testing every club. Of course, this also means that no player is going to test every club, even within one category. With 20 players on the panel list, this means that each club is ranked by perhaps two players. Throw in the retailers and judges and it seems that each club may get tested in the early stages by 3 players at most (hey, can a statistician out there tell me if I am doing my math correctly?). Not too many individuals to determine whether the club is going to make it to the next stage. Toss in the fact that there are multiple levels of players (low, mid, and high handicappers), and it is clear that each club isn’t going to be tested by each level of player. This is just my own estimate – one former panelist argues that some of the clubs are never even hit! With so many clubs to test, I guess something has to give…

No Value in Golf Digest Hot List

For all the debating that occurs each year over the Golf Digest Hot List, one thing is for certain: there is no more Value in it. Zero. This isn’t anything new, however. “Value” as one of the Hot List criteria was removed back in 2009, with more significance given to the Look/Sound/Feel of the equipment.
The chart below shows the evolution of criteria that goes into evaluating clubs for the Golf Digest Hot List. The criteria has changed over time, with the weighting on club performance increasing and the value of equipment dropping from consideration entirely. We’re all for raw performance contributing in a significant way to the Hot List, but it’s a shame that the value of the equipment is no longer considered (bummer for us bargain hunters!). We’ll leave it to others to debate if the lesser-known brands have the same level of quality and performance as name-brand products. Innovation has continued to be a significant component of the Hot List scoring since inception, and demand has slowly dropped as a portion of the overall score over time.

Golf Digest Hot List Criteria Evolution

Click image to enlarge

Golf Digest does include the “scoring” (1-5 stars) for each criteria, which helpfully allows readers to choose how to weight the criteria on their own. As a great example, if you are looking for a blade putter and are most concerned with Performance and the Look/Sound/Feel, check out the Bettinardi Studio Stock putter. The Bettinardi received the top 5-star rating in each of those categories, outscoring 6 of the 7 Gold award recipients in Performance, and topping all 7 in Look/Sound/Feel. Overall, however, the Studio Stock only received a Silver award due to relatively poor scoring in Innovation and Demand (two categories that we wouldn’t weigh heavily).

Notes:
The chart above uses 2011 Hot List category names. Based on Golf Digest definitions, we categorized the 2005-2008 “Buzz” criteria as equivalent to the current “Demand” criteria. “Performance” was categorized as “Performance/Playability”, and “Innovation” was categorized as “Technology/Innovation” prior to 2009. “Look/Sound/Feel” was referred to as “Function” in the 2008 Hot List, and as “Personal Preference” from 2005-2007.
Percentages of scores are unavailable for 2004, but total score was based on: Market Forces, Technology/Innovation, Performance/Playability and Personal Preference.