If you’ve finally started playing golf, then you almost surely have started to feel those familiar pangs golfers know just as surely as they know the way to their course. No, we’re not talking about back pain or golfer’s elbow, we’re talking about the natural yearning for new clubs that hits at the start of every golf season.
Well, even with the interrupted beginning to golf in many places brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the want of average golfers to buy new equipment has not dissipated. Ken Morton Jr., vice president of retail and marketing at Haggin Oaks Super Shop in Sacramento, Calif., was still waiting in late May for clearance from local officials to begin offering custom fitting at his facility. But he knew when the go-ahead came down, he’d be busy. “We have 250 people on our waiting list,” he said. “That speaks volumes.”
Before we get too deep, a word to those who are just starting the game or just getting back to it. A boxed starter set can be a good way to get going, but unless your interest never moves beyond a couple rounds a year, it’s only going to be a temporary solution. As your game gets predictable and a little more sophisticated, you’ll want the options that come from a driver constructed of weight-saving multiple materials with adjustability features. (That’s a fancy way of saying your driver can change as your game changes, and it can help mitigate some of your game’s flaws.) Same goes for a set of clubs that fills all your distance gaps from your strongest-lofted fairway wood to highest-lofted iron. Still, at $500-$1,000, you can get your game going with a boxed set that not only includes more clubs than you’ll need as a beginner, but a bag, as well. And even if you’re not immediately ready to upgrade your current set, there’s a host of quick changes that will improve your game right now.
We know you want to buy new clubs. The question is, in the current environment, just what is the smartest way to not merely buy new equipment, but to get the ideal clubs to optimize your potential and make you want to play even more (and, yes, safely)? Here’s a quick game plan for buying new equipment now:
Step 1: Do your research. Understanding the equipment universe in a basic way makes you less likely to buy a club or ball just because your buddy did. Which would at least be the wrong reason and more likely be the wrong club. That’s why we created the Golf Digest Hot List to narrow the search of the equipment universe and to offer an education about how the new stuff is better than it ever has been. And don’t stop with the basics in the Hot List. Nearly every product on our annual list and past Hot Lists, as well, also has been more broadly profiled when it was first introduced.
Step 2: Seek the wisdom of experts. It is not enough to know about the technologies in products. No two golfers are the same, so you need to know whether a certain design fits with your specific tendencies. One big way to get you started in the right direction is our new interactive selection tool that helps you focus your search based on some of your performance preferences.
That’s certainly one virtual way to get some guidance. Others are online and phone-based fitting sessions Ping and Callaway are offering. These are at the very least a good chance to get sound advice from companies with tens of thousands of fittings in their database to help you form an action plan.
It remains advisable and in many cases mandatory to have a mask with you if you’re going to be going anywhere where social distancing might not be possible. That’s true for the grocery store, so it’s not a bad idea at your local golf retail store, too.
Now, all that said, every fitter on Golf Digest’s 100 Best Clubfitters list we’ve contacted is employing all sorts of sanitizing and safety precautions (we know one who even personally tees up every ball in a driver fitting, so the balls are never touched by a golfer). Still, the majority of that same group of fitters tells us that their operations have been modified to maintain more than sufficient physical distancing. Also, there’s comfort in the one-on-one appointment nature of clubfitting, where all clubs are disinfected before and after every fitting, and where any interaction between customers in many cases is completely eliminated.
Bottom line: A golf club purchase shouldn’t be an impulse buy. Getting the advice of a fitter in person or virtually gives you confidence that you’re not only making the right decision, but you’ve got somebody to consult after the fact if what you buy isn’t working the way you want.
Step 3: Trust your gut. Buying a club or switching to a new ball demands you actually try the product. For a new golf ball, based on the proper knowledge, buying a few different sleeves for some on-course testing should tell you all you need to know, especially if you employ the methods we outline in our golf ball Hot List. When it comes to clubs, without going to a fitting, your options will likely be more limited. Plenty of stores, even the giants such as Golf Galaxy, PGA Tour Superstore and Roger Dunn, are not going to be content to have you take up one of their hitting bays for you to work your way through their full fairway-wood inventory, for example.
Demo days, long the staple of how clubs are introduced, will be different in the wake of the pandemic. In many cases going forward, it will be appointment only, not the usual all-you-can-swing buffet. Nevertheless, if you’re genuinely interested in a major club purchase this season (and the evidence supporting the value of new technology over what you currently are toting is considerable), making these appointments are no less valuable than test driving a handful of cars before you find the right one. Moreover, companies have redoubled their efforts to make the demoing experience safe and efficient. One tip: Taking notes or making voice memos on your phone will be helpful in reminding yourself what you were experiencing at the time when trying out a new driver or iron.
In summary, it’s an exciting time to think about new golf equipment, and that’s not just blowing smoke. Every golf company, whether in our interviews, sales figure research from Golf Datatech or in corporate earnings statements, along with every retailer we’ve contacted made it clear that 2020 was off to a record-setting pace. That’s a reflection of genuine interest, but also we have evidence in our testing that not only does the new technology beat the old, you need it more than you realize. Being safe and smart in these challenging times is a given, but the good news is getting new gear is more practical and possible than ever.