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Critical Golf: Unbiased Golf Equipment Reviews

Callaway Performance Center

Callaway Performance Center

I’ve had fittings at retail golf stores in the past, but my experience at the Callaway Performance Center was my first directly with a manufacturer. The fitting session took place at Callaway Golf Company Headquarters in Carlsbad, California, one of 15 Performance Centers in the United States and six locations overseas.

Prior to My Visit
Visiting a Callaway Performance Center is as easy as a call to the Center in your area to book an appointment. For those without a Performance Center nearby, Callaway also has custom fitting locations at retailers nationwide. The number of visitors to the center varies by season, but with a bit of advance notice, Callaway can readily accommodate guests for the one hour and 15 minute sessions. The session cost is $150, a portion of which can be credited toward a club purchase (more on this later). Callaway recommended wearing comfortable golf attire and bringing my driver and 6-iron, which are the two clubs they use to fit a set. Visitors aren’t required to bring their clubs, but Callaway recommends that you do so in order to compare your equipment to the fitted Callaway clubs (and I recommend it as well). If you’re concerned whether you are “good enough” to have a fitting session, know that it’s not just for PGA tour pros – the majority of visitors to the center have a handicap ranging from the mid single-digits well into the 20s.

Arriving at Headquarters
I was met by my fitter for the session, Marc, in the lobby of Callaway Headquarters. Marc, one of four “Club Specialists” at the Center, led me down a corridor featuring images of Callaway-sponsored Tour Professionals and past an Iron Byron to their Performance Center. As we walked through the Center waiting area and upstairs to our fitting room for the morning (one of two dedicated fitting rooms in Carlsbad), Marc provided an overview of the brains of the center – “CPAS” (for Callaway Performance Analysis System), a proprietary system that originated in the R&D department at Callaway. This system collects a variety of impact information and is the same one that Callaway uses for fitting Tour Professionals, so visitors can expect a level of performance and data accuracy far beyond local retail systems. The only difference in environment and system used for fitting Tour Professionals versus average Joes like us is that Tour Professionals hit off of grass at a Callaway range, as opposed to the artificial turf mats in the indoor center.

Review of Callaway Performance Center View 1

Click image for CPC photos

Inside the Center
Upon entering the fitting room, you can’t help but be struck by an image of the view from the 18th tee box at Pebble Beach against the target wall. The other three walls are taken up by a dizzying array of irons and woods. In the center of the room is a turf mat with a monitor alongside, and there is one wall-mounted camera recording a side-view of the swing for review and reference, and two high-speed cameras mounted on the ceiling trained on the area of impact. The high-speed cameras capture 2 frames prior to impact, and up to an amazing 5 frames after – enough data to provide extremely accurate information on both the club and projected ball flight. Due to the complexity of the CPAS system, it is only available at Callaway Performance Centers (local Callaway retailers have portable Callaway Fitting Systems available).

Let the Testing Begin!
As I laced my shoes we started with a discussion of my game – current index, weaknesses and strengths, and goals. One of the keys to having a successful session is to be honest, and to listen to the fitting specialist and their recommendations. If you are the type of person who thinks you already know what is best for your game (you know who you are – to the delight of your doctor you also self-diagnose your illnesses using WebMD), then this type of fitting session is not likely to be a good use of anyone’s time.

Marc placed small circular reflective stickers on the top of my 6-iron to allow the cameras to capture club position during the swing. He then showed me where to place the ball so the high-speed cameras would be triggered starting just prior to impact. Lines are drawn on each axis of the ball to help the camera capture and determine the spin rate.

Marc stood behind a very well-branded “control center” (props to the Callaway Marketing team) where he could monitor the session. His views were mirrored on the screens I could see, and displayed:

  • a side view of my swing,
  • a view at impact of a ghostly clubhead and ball, along with data calculated by CPAS, including (get ready…): head speed and ball speed; attack, path and launch angles; back spin, side angle and side spin rates; and
  • their “Virtual Test Center,” which captures the launch conditions and then simulates ball flight. It also displays shot carry distance, total yards, and height of the shot, in addition to displaying the CPAS information.

I took a bit of time to warm up with my 6-iron (that’s odd, normally I hit so well on the range), while Marc set up the system for my session. Once I was warmed up, Marc started recording each shot, and removing those he deemed complete mis-hits (no really, I’m much better than this). It is a bit intimidating being “on stage” with your swing for all to see, with camera bulbs flashing at impact. Just relax as much as you can and remember that their goal is just to fit the right clubs, not to render judgement! Hit as many shanks as you like – as Marc noted, they’ve seen it all before.

Callaway Performance Analysis System

Click image for monitor images

Analyzing My Swing
Once Marc had a grouping of shots from my 6-iron, we reviewed the data collected. His goal was to get me into a targeted range for each piece of data based on Tour Pros and computer simulation (and I’m guessing Iron Byron down the hall). Marc walked me through the information and areas where they would be able to help – in my case, among other things, I had both too much back spin and side spin on the ball. All the while Marc was very engaged, tailoring his explanation of the data collected to a level at which I was comfortable and providing positive reinforcement.

He selected a Diablo Forged 6-iron for me to try, and as I rotated through several shafts we could see the spin rates on the ball vary widely (a surprise to me, not to Marc). He then paired the head with a Dynamic Gold S300 shaft, one of the standard shaft offerings from Callaway, and a 1 up lie (trusty impact tape helped assist with this recommendation). For those worried that the computer makes all the decisions, the head, shaft, lie and length of club were still based on my feedback as well as his judgment. They aren’t going to fit you to a club if you don’t like the “feel” of it, and even if the specs say one thing, there can always be some tweaking. For example, I was measured to a club +1/2″ in length, but based upon my swings Marc decided to stay with a standard length club. With the recommended Callaway clubhead and shaft the spin rates moved within his target range, and projected ball flight became both more accurate (of course, I am speaking in a relative sense) and gained slightly over a half-club in distance. Why didn’t I come here long ago?

The process with the driver was generally similar, the exception being that I needed to hit the selected Callaway FT-iZ quite a bit more to get accurate readings. The high-speed cameras had no trouble keeping up with my swing speed, but weren’t able to deal as well with the reflections off the shiny flat surface on the top of the FT-iZ clubhead. What are the odds that Callaway R&D can convince the product team to put design matte surfaces on future drivers?

While a fitting session isn’t meant to be a lesson, Marc pointed out that my angle of attack with the driver was descending (believe me, that isn’t the only issue with my game off the tee), and that without a shift to my swing path, a fit driver wouldn’t have as great of an impact as the irons. I tried modifying my swing slightly to get a “positive” angle of attack during this portion of the session, but this of course is something that is best handled later by a local teaching professional. Marc paired the FT-iZ head with an FT-iZ Tour Aldila Voodoo stiff graphite shaft, though he also discussed the option of using the FT Tour if I preferred a “look” that is closer to my current driver.

All Good Things Must Come to an End
And just like that, my session had flown by. In contrast to fittings offered by some other manufacturers, the Callaway Performance Center fitting doesn’t include a dedicated outdoor range to test the recommended clubs, and there isn’t time to walk through any more clubs in the set other than the driver and 6-iron. Keep in mind, however, that those other fitting experiences come at a significantly higher price tag.

We went back downstairs to the waiting area, where another guest was getting ready for their fitting. I relaxed on a comfortable leather couch surrounded by Callaway equipment as Marc quickly pulled together the summary of the recommended club specifications.

For those concerned about being pressured into the purchase of a condo or a set of ginsu knives at the end of the session – don’t be. As Marc walked me through the spec sheet he explained that the specialist’s role is to provide the best experience to the player, and that they aren’t salespeople. For players who decide to purchase clubs, $100 is deducted from the total cost if the clubs are purchased at the Performance Center or afterwards by phone. If clubs are purchased through an authorized retailer at a later time, the player will receive a $100 gift card for use at the Callaway online store. Given that the fitting includes a dozen balls and a cap or towel, with a purchase of clubs you are talking about a wash in terms of total cost.

No wedges were included in the club specifications recommendation – wedges are more difficult for Callaway to fit since the session takes place indoors on mats, although the fitter can make a wedge recommendation if requested. Callaway’s Performance Center also has a very small putting area in the waiting area where a visitor can be fit to their putter with adjustable lie and loft. And while any putter fitting lacks the data that CPAS captures for your 6 iron and driver, the specialist can can assist with recommendations. You are probably wondering, as we are, if visitors could just take the information and purchase clubs from a different manufacturer. Of course you can, but given that the fitting is for specific clubheads, and pairs the qualities of those clubheads with a selected shaft, it makes far more sense to purchase Callaway clubs if you have a Callaway fitting.

As part of the fitting I received a dozen Tour i(z) balls, which Marc recommended for use with my current clubs, and also a suggestion to switch to the Tour i(s) if I move to the Callaway set. Included in the fitting also is the choice of a Callaway cap or towel (being follicly-challenged, I went with the cap) and an engraved bag tag.

Overview
The experience overall was very positive. The staff was extremely professional and courteous, and the session was fun as well as informative – both about their technology and clubs as well as my swing. Marc was just the kind of fitting specialist you want to work with: energetic, friendly, knowledgeable (with over 6 years and 5,000 fittings of experience), and a good listener.

It’s a straightforward process that takes relatively little time and is a great way to get many of the same fitting benefits as Tour pros at an extremely reasonable cost. I recommend a visit to a Callaway Performance Center for any level of player considering a purchase of new clubs.

Contact information (tell ’em you saw them on Critical Golf):
Callaway Performance Center – Carlsbad
2180 Rutherford Road
Carlsbad, CA 92008
1-888-223-7842

For more locations, please see Callaway’s detailed listing of Callaway Performance Centers in the U.S. and overseas. “Corporate” and ‘Retail” Center Locations share a similar setup and use the same technology, the only difference being that the “Corporate” locations are staffed by Callaway employees and “Retail” Performance Centers are non-Callaway employees that have undergone extensive training from Callaway. If there isn’t a Performance Center in your area, Callaway also has Callaway Custom Fitting Locations across the United States.



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