By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
Science and technology have transformed the game of golf in many ways. From teaching to playing to club fitting, the methods and procedures that were once the norm have changed drastically, and ultimately for the better. The precision of today’s club fitting process makes the new club sales process a trusted collaborative effort between professional and customer. In fact, to be an effective club fitter, one must have quality training and extensive experience to gain the trust of the golfer. I recently spoke with three PGA Professionals who have made club fitting an integral aspect of their business, and their continued engagement with golfers.
What was once all about shaft flex and lie, ultimately determined using impact tape and a lie board, has now become computerized, technical and specifically geared towards the individual in front of you. It has become very personal, and a crucial service that golfers look for at their course, club, driving range or local big box retailer. After all, they could spend a couple thousand dollars, or more, on new golf clubs that they hope will be the answer to their shortcomings and deficiencies on the golf course. These expert club fitters do not claim to be miracle workers, but the work they do with customers and golfers will render positive results, creating better golfers and generating more rounds played.
Trent Maxwell started Windmill Golf Center with two partners in 2012. They specialize in private and group golf instruction and custom club fitting. They have a vast golf shop and roster of golf coaches with credentials from the USGTF, LPGA and PGA.
Maxwell, the PGA Director of Club Fitting, said, “When I was hired as a club fitter at a previous job, I really didn’t know what that meant. I had to learn as I went.” Today, Maxwell is fitting 6-7 students per day and is booked a month or more in advance. “We’ve created our own little niche,” he added. “We do fittings for members of local country clubs, students already learning at our facility and golfers who were referred to us by someone else, usually an existing customer or student.” Maxwell says that he and his colleagues are Top 100 retailers with every major manufacturer out there, and even Top 50 with many of them. They’re open for business year-round and their results reflect a dedication and commitment to growing the game in northern Ohio. “It’s been nonstop craziness since we reopened in May of last year – it hasn’t stopped,” he stated. He says they were trending in that positive direction with increased engagement and sales year after year, a good sign for the industry.
Maxwell’s fitting facility encompasses two very busy hitting bays that hit out onto the range, with two more coming soon. Windmill’s many custom fittings are conducted using TrackMan technology for precise feedback and individualized data that ensures every golfer gets the club that suits him or her, regardless of skill level.
Since he works with every equipment company in the business, I asked Maxwell about the supply challenges currently being faced in getting equipment in a timely manner. “It depends what you consider timely,” he said. “For COVID times, we’re doing okay. We’re doing better than many facilities, because I have no problem having a set shipped to us and then re-shafted to meet the specifications of my student.” Maxwell has access to many shafts and components, including grips, which are also in short supply, and will alter a new set that just arrived to suit his client. He says it’s better than having the customer wait two months or more. “I will procure the desired shaft and will ship in whatever the club manufacturer can give me. I’ll pull it apart and re-shaft and re-grip it to get it out the door.” He admits it’s easier to get clubs the old-fashioned way – just call the customer when the shipment arrives. But changing on the fly to best serve his customers has made Maxwell a leading club fitter in the region.
Down south, Edwin Fuh is a PXG Territory Sales Leader, covering Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. He’s also a master club fitter at The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas. His team is at the facility 4-5 days per week, and in his new role as Sales Leader, Fuh is there, conducting fittings a day or two per week. His efforts at Carlton Woods remain instrumental to their fitting services, serving as his home base when he’s not traveling.
Fuh says that everyone needs to at least speak with an expert about their equipment. “You can get lucky and pull a set of clubs off the rack,” Fuh said. “It happens. But from my experience, very few people are perfectly fit to stock standard length and lie.”
“What I find to be the most important aspect of the fitting process is determining what weight the client can handle,” he stated. “If the club is too heavy or too light, whether it’s shaft weight, swing weight or total weight, that club will not be optimal for performance and desired results.”
Fuh says that he’s been conducting “phone fits” during COVID, engaging clients in conversation remotely. He asks them about their current equipment and the typical shots they hit. From the information derived, he is able to put a finger on what the individual needs for improved performance. “Everybody talks about flex, but if you start with flex, you’re going to miss the boat. Start with weight – what weight can they handle?” This is the first thing he targets in his fitting process.
Fuh emphasized the importance of understanding the fitting process and the intricacies of detailed analysis. He says as PGA Professionals, we all probably have more general knowledge than the everyday person interested in golf. But to most effectively fit a golfer to his or her specifications, he says you have to understand the cause and effect of different components, regular flex versus stiff, heavy weight versus light, etc. Why is someone slicing? How do we remedy the issue? It’s not just hitting a ball off a lie board anymore and looking at the markings. The most effective teachers teach A LOT, and the most effective club fitters fit A LOT!
With the complexities and value of technology thrown into the mix, there is more to know than simply mentioned above. He highlights TrackMan and Foresight Sports GCQuad as industry standards in attaining the vital data needed in a proper fitting. “There are other good systems out there but, for the most accurate information, you’re going to want to use either TrackMan or Foresight,” he advised. Of course, budgetary issues may prohibit a fitter from having access to one of these two systems, leaving the door open to a more cost-effective source of technology and feedback.
Fuh fits golfers of all skill levels and says it’s easier to gain noticeable progress from a high handicap player than a highly-skilled golfer. The questions he asks are different and the aspects of the swing he looks at are different as well. He says he’ll go into a fitting with a high handicap player with a good idea of what’s causing the undesired ball flight – impact position, swing path, etc. Better players are less cookie-cutter, more individualized in their deficiencies, making a fitting session with a low handicap player more detailed and data-driven.
With such diversity in play, I asked if it’s lessons or club fittings that drive progress. “Each golfer’s PGA Professional must provide that answer,” he responded. An initial equipment evaluation could determine the primary route to take if the clubs being played are vastly ill-suited for the player. As players improve, new equipment specifications may require new clubs – that’s part of the improvement process, and one that absolutely includes club fitting as much as it does instruction.
Fuh strives to do the best for each individual who comes through his door. “You have to have their best interest in mind.” Ask questions – give options – collaborate with your client in the decision-making process. “At the end of the day, my job is to sell equipment, but I’m only going to do that truthfully and honestly,” he concluded. Trent Maxwell said something similar during our conversation, emphasizing the importance of communicating with the customers as much as possible. Don’t mislead them – give them realistic expectations when it comes to estimated shipping time. Whether determining what they need or discussing how long it will take to get it, there’s no question that honestly is the best club fitting policy.
Daren MacKinnon agrees with that credo. MacKinnon is a PGA Assistant Professional, Director of Club Fitting and Lead Hard Goods Buyer at Pine Oaks Golf Course in South Easton, Massachusetts.
His club fitting efforts take place at a nearby driving range that houses Joe and Leigh’s Golf Performance Center, where an existing building on the range was modified for their use. MacKinnon and five other active club fitters have five hitting bays that hit out to the range. They use Foresight Sports GCQuad and GC2 technology to attain the numbers that will be analyzed before recommending anything to their customers. Through the expansive golf shop at Pine Oaks Golf Course, relationships with all major vendors are maintained to ensure customers get the clubs they want. “We do a lot more high-end shafts, to go along with the typical club fitting carts out there,” he highlighted.
MacKinnon’s team offers extensive club fitting options in the services provided. From “Easy Fittings” to “Performance Fittings”, Joe & Leigh’s Golf Performance Center (referencing Joe Ricci and Leigh Bader, PGA, the long-time owners of the performance center, golf shop and Pine Oaks Golf Course itself) has the right fitting service for every golfer.
MacKinnon and his colleagues stress the importance of club fitting in the game improvement process. He and his team attend classes and seminars to stay abreast of current trends and philosophies in club fitting. As is usually the case where technology is heavily involved, club fitting is a dynamic aspect of the golf industry. It is ever-changing, and remaining knowledgeable and up-to-date is vital to strong sales and service.
They serve golfers of all levels. “We have everyone from novices to scratch golfers,” MacKinnon said. With their proximity to Titleist headquarters, MacKinnon and his team will often service many of the local pros who are Titleist staff professionals. He says his Callaway rep does the same thing when their fitting schedule is tight. Gaining the trust of major manufacturers to custom fit their PGA Staff Professionals is possibly the highest level of trust and acknowledgment of one’s expertise. It’s very impressive.
Custom club fitting and the resulting new club sales are lucrative parts of many golf facilities. We saw a trend towards relinquishing these services in favor of big box retailers a decade or so ago. But in recent years, more green grass facilities are providing these services again. As leading club fitters in our industry, the professionals I spoke with for this piece are instrumental in making their clients better golfers. Whether it’s the facility, technology used or one’s philosophy or experience, club fitting is redefining the hard goods sales process, and truly bringing game improvement to a higher level.
For more information on Windmill Golf Center, log on to www.windmillgolfcenter.com.
For more information on The Club at Carlton Woods, log on to www.carltonwoods.com.
For more information on Pine Oaks Golf Course, log on to www.pineoaks.com.