What Does Your Club Fitting Operation Need?

Four grips with text "Save Big on SuperStroke Putter Grips"Four grips with text "Save Big on SuperStroke Putter Grips"

Let us discuss some of the items you might need prior to fitting your first or your next customer. It should be stated at this time that there is not one comprehensive list of items that will fit the needs of every reader. Therefore, it is important to explain some general items that are available at the time of this publication and issues (some of which you probably have not even considered) to fit you and your customers. When each of the different fitting parameters is discussed, you will find a more detailed list of items or suggestions that will help develop your fitting program at the end of the respective chapter.

6 Steps to a Successful Golf Fitting Program

Before starting fitting clubs for a profit, you want to establish a business plan. It is crucial that any clubmaker understands the economics of running a business thoroughly as they understand how to build, repair, or even fit a golf club. The items required for any successful club fitting program will serve as an investment and often these can be amortized as a business expense. Certain items will be one-time purchases while others may have a life span of one or two years and must be replaced. The following are 6 steps to helping you develop a successful fitting program.

Step One: K.I.S.S.

The first step is Keep It Simple Stupid or K.I.S.S for short. You are probably already aware of this saying, and it can help if you start out by writing down the minimum of what you need to conduct the level of fitting you are striving for. In most cases, I bet you can get by with less than you might think. Streamlining your business is always a key to success.

If you do simplify your club fitting operation, you assuredly will not confuse your customers or even yourself. There is a fine line between having too little as well as too much. While you might want your customers to feel like they are a kid in a candy store, they may feel overwhelmed by the variety you offer.

One key point I would like to make now is that you will never have everything you need to fit everyone that walks through your door. Even the most equipped of shops will run into a situation or two they did not anticipate. But that is all right because if you do already have a well-equipped shop, chances are that customers will come to you because of your reputation, or they have exhausted all their other resources.

Contrary to many beliefs, custom fitting is not rocket science. While fitting by many can be considered part art and part science, a lot of it is common sense that can be easily resolved by understanding the very basic cause and effect relationships.  You are not going to need an expensive piece of equipment to tell you that your customer is dribbling the ball on the ground after each hit.

Step Two: Know Your Demographics

If your business is a golf shop that relies on walk in traffic rather than internet sales to generate most of your revenue, most of your traffic will be local – within a 50-mile radius. Therefore, one of the first things you should absolutely know is your demographics. That is a fancy way of saying “Who are my customers going to be?”  Do you live near a retirement area where your clientele will be older, swing slower and may have more chronic ailments such as arthritis? Will your business cater to a younger crowd, or will it be diverse? Are you going to specialize in fitting male, female or junior golfers?

What is the income level of those that will be in your shop? Will it be the country club set who will be willing to pay more for brand name components or are your customers going to be more blue-collar types who may not have the same discretionary budget? The answers to these questions will factor into the type of components such as heads, shafts, and grips that you will want to offer to your customers.

Do you live near the 48th parallel? If so, you will find a higher concentration of players that will be left-handed the further north in the US or over the border into Canada. Therefore, you will need proper equipment to fit them with. You might even consider the course conditions as it deserves consideration.  For instance, is it always windy in your area? Maybe the fairways are continually wet and soggy or the bunkers on the local tracks are often barren of sand.

Step Three: Spend Your Money Wisely

I have sadly witnessed on several occasions a club fitter who goes overboard by loading up their shop before they ever conceive a business plan. After all, your goal as a business is to make money and the worst mistake is to spend beyond your means. So, the best advice I can give is do not go broke before you ever start spending your money wisely.

This is why I will encourage you to gradually build up your fitting operation. The list of items can vary greatly depending on how involved each club fitting operation is.  They can range from around $100 for just the very basics of items to tens of thousands of dollars. The items you might need can be divided into three categories. The first is measurement tools, second is club fitting supplies and lastly are demo clubs. Most full-service shops will carry all three, while hobbyists may rely only on the first two categories.

Some very basic tools consist of a 48” ruler for measuring length, calipers for measuring grip sizing and a swingweight scale for measuring the club’s balance and overall weight. The good news is those items you probably already have for your clubmaking.  You might even have a frequency analyzer and loft/lie machine that can service double duty by acting as your measurement tools. 

The least expensive items are the ones that you will need to replenish. Those are the club fitting supplies like decals for the face and sole, protective face or golf club demo tape, lead tape and even lie boards for hitting golf balls off in conjunction with the sole impact decals.

Where your dollars start adding up is in the acquisition of your demo clubs. These are used for the purpose of trying out clubhead designs or a known specification used as part of the fitting process. You may have demo clubs to isolate club head parameters such as loft or face angle to name a few. Then you will have other demo clubs to test for length or weight, while yet other demo clubs are made available for the purpose of fitting the various shaft parameters or grip sizes.

Do not worry, the demo heads, shafts and grips will build up over time, usually from you wanting to know how something works long before a customer will ever ask. What you might think is a small selection for your potential customer may be more extensive than any one manufacturer complete fitting cart system.

To pare down the selection and reduce the cost, fitting connectors may be incorporated so that the heads and shafts can be screwed on and off. Instead of offering clubs dedicated for length or face angle only, the use of shafts and heads that can be interchanged can expand your fitting options with a lot less clutter.

Do not duplicate!

If you have four 60-gram S-flex shafts in your demo arsenal, all low torque, stiff tipped, low bend point shafts, they are all doing essentially the same thing.  This only ties up your money when the only thing the customer is going to be able to decide between is the color of the shaft or if it is a name brand they might have heard of before. Larger shops which are fortunate to have a lot of volume go through their door may be able to get away with offering more than one choice, which might be nothing else than different price points.

Make sure to charge enough for your clubs and set some of that money aside for upgrading your fitting tools & demo clubs. Grips will begin to wear, and need replaced and on occasion an errant swing may break a shaft or put a dent in a head. Over time these items will become obsolete as product life cycles and trends change. What was in last year may be well on the way out the next.

demo clubs labeled for lengthdemo clubs labeled for length

Make sure your demos are up to date to what your customers are asking for or what might be seen on TV, social media, or the Internet. Yes, demo clubs can be expensive, but they are a wise investment if planned out well in advance. Demo club provides the necessary insurance for you to fit your customers with exactly what they need.

If you network with fellow club fitters in a clubmaking organization or participate on different golf forums on the Internet, you can gain insight of what others have done. But remember one thing, a demo program that works well in one shop may not work for another! Again, understand the differences in demographics between your shop and someone else that you may be conversing with.

Step Four: Set a Budget

Before getting started you want to establish a budget – and stick to it! 

  • How Much Do You Set Aside for Measurement Tools?
  • How Much Do You Set Aside for Fitting Supplies?
  • How Much Do You Set Aside for Demo Clubs Alone?

The budget may not only be monetary but must deal with your shop space. Where will you be conducting your fitting? Will it be indoors, outdoors, or both? If you think you can just use your local range, you better think again. You may be in direct competition against them as they may be selling equipment or providing club fitting and golf club repair services, so it is best to ask ahead of time when setting up a budget.

If you are conducting fitting exclusively indoors where you cannot see ball flight, it will require more sophisticated equipment to simulate what an outdoor session will provide. These specialized devices available can be broken down into three types. There are portable launch monitors, swing analyzers and then there are golf simulators, and all of these can eat up your budget quickly.

Golf Launch Monitor

A launch monitor is a device that typically measures three parameters: ball velocity, initial ball’s trajectory, and the ball’s spin rate. The launch monitor is used frequently in club fitting because it provides accurate and unbiased data, even for outside fitting when you can see ball flight but require additional data. Launch monitors are often portable, providing convenience and allowing your investment to be stored safely. With advances in technology, prices have become much more affordable and make a nice presentation piece in the modern club fitting operation. There are two types of launch monitors to choose from.

Doppler-based Launch Monitor

The most familiar launch monitor is also the most expensive. TrackMan™ operates off Doppler radar which is the same technology that is used in military applications for tracking projectiles and missiles. How it works is the Doppler radar continuously transmits radio signals. When these signals bounce off a moving object, they experience a change in frequency and then translate into a velocity. By using multiple receivers, the system can measure the exact 3-dimensional positions during the entire ball flight in real time as well as gather important information about golfers and golf club in the swing. 

Trackman launch monitor top and side ball flight viewsTrackman launch monitor top and side ball flight views

Besides the Trackman, there are other Doppler based launch monitors with 3D radar units providing the most accurate data compared to two dimensional. These all have software available to compare club results and to help pinpoint the performance difference between clubs.

Camera-based Launch Monitor

The other type of launch monitor uses high-speed cameras and capture images of the golf ball right after the impact has been made. The audible impact with the ball will trigger the unit to shoot images of the ball to be able to measure the spin rates, velocity and launch angle. Advanced algorithms will then calculate the direction (left, right, straight) and the distance the ball will land.

Personal Launch Monitors

Approximately the size of a Smart Phone or tablet and the most affordable, they will provide you with the basic information. Note, they do not provide accuracy as the larger and more expensive counterparts. For certain sized shops, these may be more than adequate.

Swing Caddie SC300i personal launch MonitorSwing Caddie SC300i personal launch Monitor

A couple quick thoughts on launch monitors

Perhaps you could use an interchangeable club head and shaft system to fit your customers as we will talk about later in the text. By exchanging various heads and shafts you and perhaps your customer will get caught up in the launch and spin numbers.  While you are paying attention to those figures, do not forget about direction and solidness of contact on the face, especially indoors where they will be hitting into a net, and you must rely on the computer screen to show you the direction of the ball.

You can observe impact markings on the face, which is if what you are using doesn’t interfere with the readings.  Many of the launch monitors I have used provide what is called a Smash Factor reading. Smash Factor is simply a relationship between ball speed and clubhead speed. For example, if the ball speed coming off the face is 146 mph and the swing speed at impact was 100, then the smash factor is 1.46. The higher the smash factor the better contact is being made. 

Also pay attention to direction. A pull will almost always create a lower launch / spin and possibly more distance. Chances are your customer will not pay any attention to all the data except which one gives them the most distance. In those cases, make sure the ball is going relatively straight and the landing area is consistent.  If not, you are not getting the most usage out of your investment.

Golf Swing Analyzers

Swing analyzers are designed to be used indoors. These feature a mat with a series of sensors embedded that the golfer swings over while hitting balls into a net. As the club head or ball passes over these sensors, it records the clubhead speed and tempo (elapsed time of swing), swing path, face angle at impact, impact position on the face and ball speed. From the data it can calculate not only how far the ball might land, but also the direction and flight path. The information is fed into the computer and the software simulates all the data on the screen.

Swing analyzers have been used for quite a while in club fitting as they provide an accurate means of observing what the golfer is doing at impact. What these do not show are the spin rates and the launch angle coming off the clubface as the launch monitor was designed to do.

Recent advents in technology have allowed sensors attached inside a golf grip that will show movement and speed of the club during the swing. That information could be fed immediately to a Smart Phone or tablet where the swing can be analyzed. This provides another option for golfers that are portable, economical, and yet accurate fitting in the future.

Golf Simulators

Golf simulators provide a golfer with the virtual feel of playing outdoors as the player will hit from a matted area and into a screen with the appearance of a real golf course. These will even simulate (hence the name simulator) the ball hitting a tree or the golfer putting off the green. Some will offer club fitting software to show the golfer not only their distance and direction but club head speed, ball speed, impact point on the club face, swing tempo, swing path, and club face angle at impact. Golf simulators are not portable and can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

If your club fitting operation is in the northern climes, the winter months might preclude you from fitting a player outdoors unless you install or have access to a heated hitting bay. Propane or electric heating bills are additional costs to be factored in those situations. You need to allot enough space if you will be fitting indoors when creating a floor plan. Plus, you need to make sure to allow golfers to hit from both sides of the mat without bumping into a wall or having to move everything just so they can hit. 

Step Five: Know Your Products and How to Use Your Fitting Equipment

Have you heard the phrase “Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk”? This will apply when you start interacting with your customers because they are going to rely on your advice and opinions about certain products. The first thing you want to do is play, or at least try to play, the products you are going to sell. If a customer sees you playing with a set of clubs you do not sell, he or she will wonder if the products you are fitting them for are of lesser quality or inferior.

You want to educate yourself in relation to the products you sell in your shop. Attend a school, trade show, or join a clubmaking organization to advance your knowledge base. This is just another example why you want to charge enough not only to upgrade your fitting tools and demo clubs, but to stay ahead of your competition and service your customer base better.

Expensive gadgets are worthless without knowledge of how they operate. If you invest in the latest golf simulator or launch monitor, make sure to know intimately how it works. There is nothing worse than fumbling around learning how to use a new piece of equipment when the person has scheduled their valuable time for a professional fitting. You can practice beforehand on yourself or with family and friends until you get the hang of operating it. Every now and then you might experience a glitch, but if a device acts up all the time that it is interfering with your fitting then it is time to have it serviced or contact the manufacturer for a tutorial or additional technical support.

Step Six: Be Organized

If you want your club fittings to go smoothly you want to start by labeling everything clearly. If your demo clubs lack labels this will make you look unorganized as you try to examine each club and figure out what specification it is supposed to measure.

The label on a demo club should be easy and concise for you to understand. The label may say “Standard Length 2º Upright”. This way you know that this test club is designed to fit for lie and that you know exactly what it is.

grip sizes labeled on demo gripsgrip sizes labeled on demo grips

You can also color code labels or whatever makes it easy for you to find and identify. The customer does not need to be overwhelmed with the information on the label as they will be more worried about making solid contact with the ball when you hand them the demo club. You will also need that information when you go to mark down the information on the clipboard on into the computer when it is time to do the actual fitting.

Display your demo clubs in a professional and easy to use manner. Labeling is only half the battle as knowing exactly what the clubs are to measure and where each club is located will make the fitting your customer more efficient. Display racks either on the floor or on the wall keep the demo clubs separated better than shoving them all in a golf bag or in the corner of the room. Take note of the major manufacturer’s fitting carts as they serve as a great guide to a professional and efficient display.

One thing you will want to maintain is concise records for all the demo products in your shop. It will be well worth the little bit of extra time it requires. This may start with the raw frequency of the shaft, how much you tip trimmed it, the length, swing weight, etc. This way you do not have to go back and re-measure the club your customer just hit well to duplicate it the best as possible. While we are talking about maintaining records, make sure to keep a record of the customer’s fitting session and the clubs themselves. This is not only something you can give your customer to keep, but for your records for any future replacements or additions to their set.

A Word about Setting up Demo Clubs

A typical demo program not only consists of various drivers and mid-irons (such as a #7), but also a small selection of fairways, hybrids, wedges, and putters too. The club fitter makes an investment to be able to have their customers gain first-hand experience to serve their clients better. Think of demo clubs the same way as you would demo a car – you want to take a test drive to see if it is right for you.

demo clubs and lie boarddemo clubs and lie board

Demo clubs are required to allow the fitter to provide the golfer with a few club head, shaft and grip choices that will influence both performance and feel. Each demo club should serve a specific purpose. For example, we may want to test what loft is best for the player, what grip feels best or what shaft performs most accurately.  

To do this correctly requires a scientific approach. That is, your demo club for lofts should have all the same specifications except for the one you are testing – in this case the loft. 

You would want to start out with the same club head model available in the various lofts instead of choosing from a hodgepodge of products which may have different center of gravity locations or face angles and skew the results  If you don’t have a system where you can screw together different heads and shafts, then each of those demo clubs should have the exact shaft, flex, swing weight, length and grip.

This is one time you want to know your demographics well. It will become cost prohibitive to offer drivers of different lofts in all five flexes. If most of your customers will be men and a wide cross-section, then you may prefer to use R-flex shaft and standard sized grips. If you specialize in women’s clubs only, you can stick with lightweight graphite L-flex shafts and ladies grips. If your clientele is primarily older men, you can use senior shafts and possibly larger grips.  Again, you will not have a separate demo club for every possibly situation. This is why you want to isolate each parameter at a time.

For labeling and building up your demo clubs, if your philosophy is men’s standard driver length should be 45.5” instead of 45” or your #6-iron is 37.25” rather than 37.5” that is perfectly fine. After all, it is your shop so set your own standards.   You may decide on your irons to use a 6-iron instead of #7-irons but be consistent. However, I would suggest not using an iron with more loft than a #7-iron. The shorter the club and higher the loft might not detect which club performs better. A longer and higher lofted iron can magnify any errors made by your customer.

By following these 6 steps, it will make your club fitting operation more professional, profitable and your customers will end up with a better club fitting experience.

Modern Guide to Golf Clubmaking

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