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Critical Golf: Unbiased Golf Equipment Reviews

GolfTEC

GolfTEC

We sent one of our editors to GolfTEC as part of our continuing series on club fitting centers. The visit was our first to a manufacturer-agnostic facility. GolfTEC is one of only two companies that offer manufacturer-agnostic fitting services nationwide, though with over 140 Centers available in North America, it is the largest by far. Our editor provides his description of the experience below.

Easy Access

With no stand-alone GolfTEC Centers available on the West Coast, I signed up for a Personal Club Fitting at a GolfTEC Center conveniently located within the local Golfsmith retail store. One of the significant benefits of a GolfTEC fitting is their partnership with Golfsmith. Given Golfsmith’s large number of stores available throughout the United States, if you live in or around a major city there is a reasonable chance that there is a GolfTEC location near you.

Those familiar with the GolfTEC name will most likely recognize the company as a provider of golf lessons. And it is indeed a powerhouse in the lesson business, teaching over 20% of all U.S. lessons annually, an absolutely stunning number. My visit, however, was for their Personal Club Fitting, one of the other services that they have available for players.

Simple Is as Simple Does

Signing up for a fitting is as easy as calling your local GolfTEC Center or filling out an online form so a representative can contact you to set up an appointment. Prior to your fitting you will receive a GolfTEC ID that allows you to log into their Player Performance Center website and book the initial as well as any additional fittings (or lessons) online. There is no threshold handicap in order to attend a fitting, but beginners will most likely be steered toward lessons as well (if they are not taking them already). It’s true, there’s only a certain amount that custom clubs can correct!

As with club fittings from equipment manufacturers, prices at GolfTEC can vary by location. For reference, the rates at the center we visited in the San Francisco Bay Area were $99 for each Component Fitting. These 60-minute fittings include either: 1) irons and hybrids, 2) driver, fairway woods and hybrids, or 3) putter only. Alternatively, for $315 you can sign up for a 2-hour full bag fitting. Unlike manufacturer fittings, you won’t receive a credit from your fitting fee towards the purchase of clubs, but you will receive pricing for your custom clubs at the same price as an off-the-rack set from a big box retailer. In my case, if I had chosen to purchase clubs after my fitting, I would have been introduced to a Golfsmith representative in the store to assist with the purchase.

No information was required prior to arrival – I just needed to show up with my current clubs (not required, but always recommended for a fitting) and be ready to swing.

The GolfTEC Center

The GolfTEC room for my session, one of two at the Golfsmith store I visited, was located at the back of the store, with the GolfTEC reception desk overlooking the practice putting green in the center of the store. Within the room were the desk and computer that my “Personal Coach” (as those who perform the fittings at GolfTEC are called) controlled during the session. The room was equipped with three cameras, one on either side of the hitting mat and a third looking down the line of the intended ball path. A Vector Pro Launch System was on a turf mat in the middle of the room, with a computer monitor sitting on the floor next to the mat, providing easy viewing for me from the hitting mat during the session. In a departure from our other fitting experiences, but as might be expected in an environment focused on lessons, there were a number of training aids in the room – an impact bag, golf power fan, SKLZ weighted clubs, Medicus hinged clubsand so forth.

There are obvious pluses and minuses for indoor fittings. The technology used by GolfTEC for indoor fittings, which includes flight data captured by the Vector Pro combined with club data from a GolfTEK Swing Analyzer (similar to the more common P3ProSwing System) allow the Personal Coach to obtain accurate information, though we leave it to others to debate the relative accuracy of high-speed photography and infrared cameras versus radar-based systems (such as the TrackMan and FlightScope). In any event, working indoors will obviously not provide the same ball flight information that is captured on an outdoor range, where the ball can be tracked through its entire flight by radar-based systems. In addition, there isn’t any impact from wind or humidity indoors (a plus or a minus depending what side of the fence you are on), and mats will provide different launch characteristics versus natural grass – resulting in approximately 5 yards or so in carry distances.

As I warmed up with some practice swings on the mat, Bryan, my Personal Coach for the session (who has a background of over 6,000 lessons and 200 clubfittings), walked through a brief interview process to capture details that would be fed into the software to make club recommendations, including:
– Shot history: my typical shot trajectory, club contact and direction, along with desired trajectory and direction.
– User information and preferences: if I wanted a fitting for my current swing or one that focuses on future swing changes, if I feel tired at the end of the round, any injuries that limit my swing, if I have a budget, and any brand preference.
We then walked through four other objective factors. The fitting software provided a recommendation for each, based on body and swing information:
– Grip size, based upon hand length and longest finger length
– Club length, based upon distance from wrist to floor
– Club flex, based upon clubhead speeds of my 6-iron and driver, and swing tempo.
– Club lie angle, based upon wrist-to-floor distance and height.

While the system provides recommendations for grip size, club length and club flex, the Personal Coach can make modifications as they see fit based on their evaluation of the swing. This information, along with the swing and club data provided by Accusport (makers of the Vector Pro) and Golftek is then utilized by the Swing Labs fitting engine (a SkyGolf company, the makers of SkyCaddie golf GPS devices) to make club recommendations. In addition, the Swing Labs Advanced Fitting Module gives the Personal Coach the ability to customize the length and lie angle for iron fittings and the shaft offerings for both drivers and irons.

Bryan showed me where to position the ball on a small embedded turf mat so shots would be captured by the Vector Pro. The spot where the ball is placed is surrounded by holes that allow infrared sensors to capture club data. I found the holes somewhat distracting at first, but gradually became used to it. Balls were hit into netting in front of a solid colored wall (there was no image of a golf hole painted or projected onto the wall), with a piece of fabric suspended from the top of the netting to act as the aiming line.

My Personal Coach then attached impact tape on the face and lie tape on the base of a 6-iron “control club” (in my case, a Titleist AP2), to determine how lie, loft and club length may need to be modified in order to achieve optimal results. After I hit a number of balls, Bryan determined that with my swing, we should compare clubs with +2 degrees up lie angle against the control club.

We then switched over to my current 6-iron, and Bryan turned on the launch monitor to capture ball flight and clubhead data. As I took each swing, the monitor displayed a video of my swing along with the “results” of the shot, and Bryan could toggle between this screen and another that displayed the variety of data that was being captured by the system, including club and ball speed, launch angle, back and side spin, and side club angle, along with data the software calculates, such as carry and estimated roll, distance offline, descent angle of the shot, maximum ball height and flight time.

Accusport VFit Software

Click image for views

After I generated a handful of consistent shots (I won’t divulge how long that took), the Swing Labs system was able to provide recommendations of the best clubs to suit my swing. Based on the initial information and my swing data, the software recommended over a dozen different clubs for consideration. The majority were Mizuno and Titleist clubs, likely a nod to an indicated preference for a Mizuno club based upon what I currently play.

From this list my Personal Coach selected three clubs on which to focus: the Mizuno MP-52 and MP-53, and the Titleist AP2. This is the point in the iron fitting where the Personal Coach has the largest impact on the process. They could likely select far more than three clubs that are comparable, but the software limits them to comparing a maximum of four clubs at once (including the control club). Bryan selected the three clubs based on my previous indicated preferences during the session and his subjective opinion on what would work best for me based on his fitting experience.

As with the earlier process to capture information for my current 6-iron, I hit balls with each of the three recommended irons, taking enough swings with each until there were 3 good swings from which the system would get information. Best to just forget about those topped shots…the software can’t find an optimal club for those conditions (hey, maybe there is a business idea in there somewhere?).

Though I did not have the opportunity to walk through this same process for the driver, fairway woods, or hybrids, it is the same process as for the irons. Due to the nature of wedges, for which systems have more difficulty capturing launch information, wedge fittings are done using only a lie board and impact tape, with focus on the bounce of the club and ensuring that players have the correct distance gaps between clubs.

For those interested in a putter fitting, most GolfTEC Centers have a Contour Golf Certified Fitter available who will follow the Contour Golf Tri-Fit fitting process. GolfTEC also has g-PUTT software at their disposal, which involves placing a sensor on the shaft of the putter to allow them to track the path of the stroke and determine if the face is open or closed. We did not, however, have the opportunity to take part in a putter fitting.

Analyzing the Results

In the end, the software determined that the best irons for my game are ….drum roll, please…the current 5 year old Mizuno MP-60 irons that I currently play! No kidding! And here I was, just looking for an excuse to buy new clubs. Aaargh!

The GolfTEC Coaches at the Center mentioned that they have seen the system recommend a player’s current clubs before, so they weren’t as surprised as I was.

Based on the results, however, I do wonder about a couple of items:
1. My captured preference for Mizuno (based on currently playing Mizuno clubs) in the interview process appears to have influenced the recommended list of clubs more than I would have expected. The fact that Swing Labs selected a number of Mizunos wasn’t unusual, but I was caught off guard by the fact that the only other brand that featured prominently in the recommendation process was Titleist. My personal opinion is that it is in the best interest of the player to avoid expressing any preference for a specific brand if possible. Then, if the system doesn’t wind up recommending a brand in which you are particularly interested, you can work with your Personal Coach to add that brand into the mix.
2. Given that the determination of the best performing clubs for a player’s swing is based on a set of three shots with each club (I leave it to the statisticians to tell us if that is a reasonable sample size), I wonder if it is possible that I was more comfortable with the look and feel with my current club, resulting in swings that created better results than those with the recommended clubs. If I spent more time with any of the other recommended clubs, would the results change? More costly fitting experiences that have provide longer session time, such as TaylorMade’s Kingdom and Titleist’s FittingWorks, do provide more time with each club, which in turn may provide for richer data.

GolfTEC provides all players with a hardcopy of their Session Report, which contains basic specifications on the clubs tested, including the player’s current club if it is brought to the session, and identifies the best performing club. It also shows an analysis of the best performing club versus the “optimum” performance of that club based on clubhead speed, and a breakdown of overall performance in a number of categories for the different clubs tested. Finally, the best performing set is outlined in full detail within a Personal Club Fitting report, which includes full specifications for the set. In my case, this included the shaft type, flex, grip type and size, and set makeup (4 through 9-iron, plus a pitching wedge, gap wedge and sand wedge, though degrees were not outlined in our summary).

After the Fitting

The online GolfTEC Player Performance Center is the source for all the information about your lesson or fitting. GolfTEC is the only fitting center we have visited that provides online access to the information following the appointment. This web-based dashboard was undoubtedly developed with lessons in mind, though it does also store fitting data in downloadable PDF form.

Additionally, though a lesson wasn’t a part of my fitting, Bryan loaded video of some swings into the Player Performance Center, along with some still images, drills, and some swing comment notes as examples of the features of the Player Performance Center. For those who choose to take lessons through GolfTEC, it’s a very straightforward system to easily access lesson information. Those who have used other advanced golf teaching software with their teaching pros, such as V1 Software may already be familiar with these capabilities.

GolfTEC Player Performance Center

Click image for views

For you UI-junkies out there, the Player Performance Center isn’t as visually appealing as others you may have seen, but it gets the job done. You can customize the dashboard through adding different “widgets” to the page. In addition to your personal information, you can also add selected content such as GOLF.com Featured Articles and Leaderboard, the GolfTEC Blog, and Local (golf) News. However, we have found the GOLF.com Leaderboard often misses key tournaments taking place, and other information such as “Wall of Fame” within Local News can be very out of date (the last post from our area was nearly a year and a half ago). The Center also provides the ability to view/post scores and some basic statistics, though we were unable to get the system to accept our information. The Center is trying to be a golf portal, and it may work for some, but we are happier going directly to golf-specific sites for news and leaderboard information (or building our own RSS feeds), and tracking our statistics via other means (such as through our Golfshot iPhone application). More advanced players and those who are tech-savvy are likely not the target audience for the additional features of the Center, but those who are new to the game may like it as a central repository for all of their golf-related content.

Overall Impressions

GolfTEC brings personalized fitting to the masses at a reasonable cost. It has advanced technology that captures club and ball flight information, a software system that has access to as much equipment data as any other company, and importantly, a wide number of clubs on hand to help with the testing process – likely more than any other fitter nationwide. Visitors to GolfTEC may come for just one of their offerings – testing or lessons – but many are likely best served by a combination.

One significant difference between GolfTEC and other fitting centers is the heavy reliance on Swing Labs to assist with initial club recommendation, for better or for worse. The GolfTEC Personal Coach will help tailor the process, but as fittings are just a small portion of a Coach’s responsibility (estimated to be less than 5% of their sessions, with lessons dominating the total), you may not find the same level of fitting experience that you will in other centers where fittings are their sole focus.

We view GolfTEC as a great option for those who would otherwise try to self-fit their clubs or receive very informal advice from salespeople at retail stores. If you’re trying to self-fit your clubs, you will be lucky to find a store that has launch monitors available in its hitting bays. And if you are really lucky, those launch monitors might even be functional. But even with this information available, it’s a significant challenge to sift through the broad range of available clubs or understand the optimal launch and lie angles, spin rates, and other factors that will provide the best performance.

In the end, as the recent Golf Magazine article on fitting can attest, most players wind up with clubs that don’t match their level of play. And given the cost of equipment, the relatively small investment in a fitting at GolfTEC is worth it to ensure that the clubs you buy are appropriate for your game.


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