It’s that time of year again, when—despite the mild winter—most of us are bringing out our clubs for the first time since last fall. And trying to remember what worked and what didn’t. So when I was given the chance to get fitted for a driver that could help fend off my evolving distance issues now that I’m getting older, who was I to say no?
And that’s how I ended up at Club Champion on Presidential Boulevard at City Avenue. I must have passed it 100 times without noticing. It’s their only Philadelphia location. But they’ve grown from three stores in the Chicago area not that long ago to 20 nationwide, which makes them the largest company-owned premium golf-club fitting retailer in the United States. So what did I have to lose? Or, more accurately, gain?
It was an opportunity worth investigating. Especially since it’s a Tour-quality process and I’m basically a bogey golfer these days just trying to pull off a few more shots to ensure my scramble partners keep inviting me back.
I’ve been fitted for clubs on several occasions before. But they were all brand-specific. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that Club Champion doesn’t have a horse in the race. They’re simply trying to match you up with whatever the data from their TrackMan launch monitor indicates is best for the individual.
“This is another level of detail,” said Steve Harrow, one of three Master Fitter & Builders working there. “We can do anything, when it comes to a variety of options out there versus other places. We don’t care about brand. It’s about what works. And we’re going to show you why. Everybody’s different.”
For them, the most important thing is the shaft.
“We don’t get anything extra for selling one brand over another,” said Jim Yenser, Harrow’s colleague and the person who did my fitting. “And we’re very serious about keeping it that way. We have to sell golf clubs. But because we guarantee performance, we just can’t sell willy nilly. That’s going to come back to haunt us.
“The shaft is the connection between the clubface and you. That’s critical. If it’s wrong, you have to manipulate and compensate to make up for that, and that’s hard to do. It’s like going to an eye doctor. It’s not just hit or miss. It’s a guided progression to a perfect prescription. But most golfers, the first thing they fall in love with is the club head.”
So they have you hit balls. Lots of them. Which was fine by me, even though I hadn’t swung a club in a while. That’s how it is with trial and error. They want to get it right. And you want them to get it right. Otherwise what’s the point?
This is, after all, an investment. Their services aren’t necessarily cheap. But you mostly get what you pay for. They stand behind what they do, because word of mouth is still their best advertisement.
“We’re expensive for a reason,” said Harrow. “You can get something built for you, or something off the rack. And we’re not for everybody. It’s ’What value does golf have for you, in your life?’ Some guys will spend $400 every year for a new driver. But you could have come to us and paid that much for a driver that will work for however long you want it to. When it works, it works. Hard to put a price on that.
“What player doesn’t want more distance, or to be more accurate? You can have both, if it’s out there. With comfort comes confidence. Every shaft is made to do something different.”
The first thing they actually do is have you hit your own clubs, to get a feel for where you are. Then they figure out how to improve on that. A driver fitting takes about two hours, a full set about twice as long. They also can do putter or wedge fittings, which take half the time. It really is eye-opening watching it all happen. I even came back later the same day to put in another 30 minutes or so because Yenser wanted to make sure. I can appreciate that kind of commitment.
“We have goals, just like the customer,” Harrow said. “That’s why we want feedback. I just got a call from a guy who got irons three weeks ago and took them out to Arizona. His exact words were, ‘Don’t know if it was just the maiden voyage, but you saved me eight strokes.’ He was (a) mid-teens (handicapper). I had to apologize. You can’t get any more shots.
“A month later, you’re going to hear from me. We had a guy, a lefthander, who 10 months later said he was losing it left. So let’s get him back in and see. You usually see something in the first 10 rounds, not 10 months. Somehow he’d picked up almost nine miles per hour in club head speed. I asked him if he was over swinging. What’s going on? He went, ‘Oh, I lost 25 pounds and I’ve been working out.’ Great. I had to swap the shaft out and put something in his hands that made sense. There is the human element. But we’re going to be there for you.”
Eventually, Jim found what he felt worked best for this aging short guy with the slowing swing speed. I trust it wasn’t easy, although he may have had tougher assignments. OK, maybe. Figure it goes with the territory. Anyway, while I didn’t understand all of the shop talk he was throwing at me, I did get enough of it to properly connect the dots.
“We’re looking to find the optimums,” Yenser said. “The goal is to make your misses better, really. That’s where amateurs need more help. You can’t play from the trees, but distance is still the carrot that’s out there. Everyone has their own sense of value. You want to make the game more enjoyable. And frankly, I can do that. Then I’m their best friend for life.”
At the end of the day, the computer said I was getting about 18 more yards with my new combination. Not quite 20, but certainly not shabby. Maybe it’ll allow me to carry a few more fairway bunkers, make my round a bit more fun, perhaps even lower my score. Because what else is there?
Club Champion might not be for everyone. But it can no doubt help the vast majority, since golf is hardly one size fits all. Trust me, I should know.
A Golf Magazine study found that 90 percent of American golfers may be playing with improperly fit clubs. Club Champion has over 35,000 possible combos to correct that.
“Think about going to a Demo Day, and the club you hit so well is the one you should be taking home,” Harrow noted. “That’s what we do. We put something in your hand that you should be hitting.”
I haven’t set a date yet, but I promise the invitations will be going out shortly.