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Critical Golf: Unbiased Golf Equipment Reviews

Intro to Golf Fitting and Performance Centers

Golf fitting and performance centers are available nationwide, and can be found generally within one of three locations:

  • retail golf stores,
  • independently owned fitting centers, and
  • club manufacturers (or licensed facilities).

Critical Golf has visited a number of fitting and performance centers to take a close look at the variety of experience open to the public, and to help decide what environment is right for you.

Retail stores

The most common fittings are through local retail stores, public pro shops and teaching professionals, which for the most part are independent of any manufacturer.

The largest retail chains include a wide variety of clubs from which to test, and often offer portable cart fitting systems from one or more manufacturers (such as the Callaway Fitting System or the Titleist SureFit system), as well as ball launch monitoring systems to assist in finding the right club for your game. In addition to cart fitting systems, some retail stores have the advantage of independent fitting centers within them (see ‘Independent Fitting Centers’, below), so check with your local retailer or manufacturer’s website to see what is available in-store.

On average, however, the level of expertise at the larger retail chains is nowhere near the level as dedicated fitting centers (and if there are certified fitters, they may not always be available when you stop in), and there is the obvious drawback that these chains don’t have outdoor ranges available. In addition, for those retail chains that have ball flight monitoring equipment available, it is all to often “out of order” (yes, we are talking about you, Golfsmith).

For those that don’t have access to a nearby retail store to test clubs, there are also online fitting tools available at retail store websites, such as the Golfsmith’s SmartFit system. While these types of online tools are free and you can be “fit” from the comfort of your couch (or in the office during those tedious business meetings where you are pretending to be sending email but are actually surfing the web), players will need to will need to enter at least some information to get reasonable recommendations, including their height, distance from wrist to floor, hand size, swing speed (or shot distances) and tempo, desired trajectory, and whether they want to optimize for distance or control. And while these online tools may provide a reasonable recommendation and are certainly better than buying a club cold off the web, you just can’t beat an in-person fitting. If you have access to a retail and store, even if no fitter is available, you can at least become comfortable with your club selection in both look and feel – criteria difficult to measure online.

Whether or not you have a large retail store in your area, players shouldn’t hesitate to give smaller stand-alone retail shops and public pro shops a try as well. Though they can’t match the raw size of warehouse-sized retail chains, they can have just as many tools at their disposal. An example is our local pro shop at Pruneridge Golf Club, which features the FlightScope ball and club tracking system. In this case, the player also benefits from having driving range access to test clubs as well.

Lastly, don’t forget your local teaching professionals, who can be extremely helpful in helping wade through the morass of different clubs available. PGA instructors can be a particularly great asset if they are familiar with your game, though depending on any contracts they have, may represent only one manufacturer.

Independent Fitting Centers

Independent fitting centers come in a variety of forms, from small local shops, perhaps with just one owner/employee who both conducts the fitting, to nationwide centers. These centers in theory will fit you to the club that is right for your game, as opposed to a specific brand or limited set of manufactures (and yes, we do make the assumption that any dollars they receive from manufacturers for sales of their clubs is not affecting recommendation).

The smaller independent fitters often won’t have storefronts on Main Street, so you may have to spend a bit more time tracking down those in your area. But while they may be small in size, some of them sport the latest technology, including K-Vest 3-D motion analysis and Trackman ball flight monitors. Look for centers with AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals) members, and that are certified by manufacturers such as Titleist (through the Titleist Performance Institute), Rifle and True Temper.

The largest fitting centers operate nationwide, and like retail stores, many have the ability to build the clubs and offer golf lessons. GolfTEC, for example, has locations across the United States, both as stand-alone storefronts as well as stores-in-stores (such as those within select Golfsmith retail locations). GolfTEC fittings range from $99 for either wood or iron fittings, to $315 for a full bag. Incidentally, GolfTEC claims to provide over 20% of golf lessons across the U.S., a staggering number.

Other companies include Hot Stix, which operates across a number of regions, and in many cases offers an outdoor range and practice facilities, an enormous advantage in being able to test the custom clubs in real-world conditions. Hot Stix individual packages for specific clubs run from $75 to $200, and outdoor game packages are available at $795 and up, the highest level including 9 holes with your fitter.

Cool Clubs, another golf-club fitting company, has a handful of locations across the South/Southwest and East coast. Depending on facility, their fittings may be a combination of indoor and outdoor experiences, or may be served by a mobile fitting center (aka van), with prices varying by location. As pricing examples, both the Hank Haney Golf Ranch in Dallas-Forth Worth and the Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine offer fittings at $100 for 1 hour for any one of driver, long game or wedge, and $150 for 1.5 hours for an iron fitting. Full fitting packages are available for $275 and $375 for 3.5 or 4.5 hours, depending if a wedge fitting is selected.

Manufacturer Performance Centers

A number of equipment manufacturers open their doors to the public for fittings – a great opportunity to be fit using their latest technology, often leveraging the same systems that they are using for their R&D efforts and with their Touring Pros. These fitting experiences experiences generally break into two forms: more basic fittings that take place indoors and range on the order of one to two hours, to more extensive fittings that include access to outdoor ranges and fittings for full sets of clubs by default. Both of these types of fittings offer access to club specialists that either work directly for the manufacturer or are have gone through the manufacturer’s training process, and are intimately familiar with the equipment.

The more basic fittings cover one or more clubs and range in cost from a nominal fee (sometimes even available at no cost) into the hundreds of dollars, generally maxing out around $400. Some of the manufacturers allow a portion of the fitting session charge to be applied toward a purchase, so this can offset much of the cost of the fitting. An example of this are Callaway Performance Centers, available both at Callaway Headquarters in Carlsbad, as well as over a dozen locations nationwide.

More in-depth sessions start around $500 and can range into the thousands, depending on the offering. At the highest end, visitors can drop $8,500 (yes, we said $8,500 – that is not a typo) on experiences that include lodging at the Ritz, golf, lessons, and full sets of custom built clubs. An example of this is TaylorMade’s Kingdom at Reynolds Plantation . Where do we sign up?!

For those who don’t live near a manufacturer, there are also locations that offer the same experience, such as the ANNIKA (as in Sorenstam, yes) Academy, which includes a Callaway Performance Center, and TaylorMade Performance Labs (TMPL), which licenses the same MATT technology found at the TaylorMade Kingdom. There are also options to be fit by roving manufacturer vans, such as the Callaway Tour Van.

And for those that don’t have any of the above available, there are also a number of online fitting tools available, such as Ping’s Web-Fit, or Cleveland’s Wedge Fitting System. As with the retail store online tools, these are better than nothing, but certainly can’t match of the experience of an in-person fitting.

Been to a fitting or performance center before? Comment and let us know about it!