As a lifelong golfer and current Head Professional at Birchwood Farms G & CC in Harbor Springs, Michigan, probably the most common question that I’ve been asked through the years is “What is the best set of golf clubs for me?” Or “What is the best driver/putter?”
It’s a great question, and very similar to the same one all of us ask, like “what’s the best cell phone” or “what’s the best laptop?” There are many variables and ultimately it really depends on what the individual is looking to accomplish.
My response is usually a series of short questions:
- How often do you play?
- How many times a week, just social events, do you play weekly in a league with your spouse?
- What is your skill level?
- If you are a novice, what is your handicap range, do you play competitively?
- And, of course what is your budget?
All of these factors must be considered when steering a customer/ member to a knowledgeable and intelligent decision. Armed with the answers and a basic profile of the player I can then assess what is the best product for them.
Though skill level and one’s budget are probably the two biggest factors when choosing your set, believe it or not, aesthetics also play a part in purchasing a set of clubs. As we know, everyone has different tastes and likewise when it comes to picking out golf clubs. As Henry Ford said about the 1909 Model T, “You can have any color as long as it’s black”….it wasn’t that many years ago when that quote could have been used in the golf industry. With the advent of metal (steel) drivers and fairway woods by TaylorMade back in 1979, the choice of colors has changed radically. Though black is always available, the colors of white, blue, red, orange, aqua, green and pink (I’m sure I missed a couple of colors!) are readily available depending on the manufacturer.
You really want to like the feel and the looks of a club.
The improvement and revolution in golf technology, like most other industries, changes almost monthly. Not unlike the auto industry, the club manufacturers are working on new product two or more years ahead. (Last October I attended a 2015 TaylorMade product review seminar and a representative from the R&D department mentioned that they were working on prototypes for 2017!)
For those of you who have played through the years, you know what I’m talking about. The changes have been mind boggling! From the original hickory shaft and wood heads, to the steel, graphite, titanium and alloy materials, today’s clubs are truly a tribute to the modern age of golf.
The large club manufacturers spend hundreds of millions of dollars in research and development. They spend millions of dollars in advertising their “latest and greatest” clubs and then spend even more money sponsoring events and paying professional players to use their equipment. Unfortunately, some of this cost is filtered down to the consumer. However, I believe, there is no doubt that technology has improved the game and increased enjoyment for all level of players.
United States Golf Association (USGA)
Before I discuss the basic components of a golf club and it’s impending effect when striking the ball, let’s begin with the United States Golf Association (USGA). Probably unbeknownst to many golfers, is the fact that the USGA dictates how the manufacturers can design and develop a golf club. That is, for all aspects of the club including the shaft, club heads and grip.
There are strict specifications that must follow explicit rules to make all golf clubs “legal” or conforming for play. Some such aspects monitored are weight, size of the club head, length of club and depth of the face grooves. By the way, all golf balls are also subject to a list of specifications. Without boring anyone with the details, these specifications of both, golf clubs and golf balls, are listed in the USGA’s, The Rules of Golf (Appendix II).
So, let’s look at the dynamics of a golf club (excluding the putter).
To put it mildly, the golf swing is a complicated sequence of body motion. It has more to do with timing, posture, placement of the golf club and balance than it does with brute strength. The harder or faster one swings the club is not necessarily an indicator of a desired result. While club head speed is a big factor in how far we hit the ball, it certainly is not the only cause that creates distance.
Centeredness, or where the ball strikes the club face, is the other factor. Regardless of how fast I swing the club the further I strike the ball from the center of the club face the less chance I have to hit it further and straighter. It is the optimal combination of both that creates distance and accuracy.
As I stated earlier, skill level is a good place to start when determining the right set of clubs for each individual. As a novice or part time player for example, I would be looking for clubs with a larger hitting surface….that is irons with larger heads with “perimeter weighting” and woods (sometimes referred to as metals) with larger club faces. Obviously, the larger the club’s face, the more striking surface we have, which offers more forgiveness on miss-hits.
The better or higher skilled player is likely to use a club that has a smaller head. His swing is likely more consistent and precise, so the smaller club head gives this player more “feel” at impact.
Next, the shaft of the club is equally as important as the design of the club head. Shafts are made with a variety of materials, most commonly steel or graphite. What makes the shaft so important is not necessarily the material, but the “flex”. Flex in a shaft is what creates club head speed. Imagine swinging a 32 ounce baseball bat versus a thin tree branch. While there is little or no bend when swinging the bat, the thin tree branch bends dramatically….that is what is referred to as flex. So your swing speed determines what shaft flex is best suited for you. All clubs are available in various flexes. This allows players of all skill levels to produce as much “club head speed” as possible.
Well, now we have a general idea of what we’re looking for when buying a set of clubs. The other factor mentioned above is budget. There are hundreds of choices out there. Unfortunately, there is really no magic relationship to the dollars spent versus the ability or desired result.
Like so many other choices in our lives, price is up to the individual. Golf clubs prices vary greatly. Prices for a new single driver can start in the $50 range and can go well over $500. The range for a set of irons is even higher. So, when shopping for golf clubs, here are a couple of recommendations. First, determine your skill level. This will help you decide what is going to work best for you. Remember, you can always upgrade as your game and ability improves.
Second, consult with someone knowledgeable. Talk to a golf professional or instructor that knows something about the game. Custom fitting is more popular now than ever and custom fittings are available for little or no cost, whether at a country club, resort or off-course retailer.
One final thought.
Once you have the proper clubs in your hands, take a lesson. Private, group, couples clinic or whatever. The cost of a lesson is minimal compared to the investment in your equipment. It can only give you a better understanding of the game and teach you drills to work on. If you’re going to spend time practicing, then you may as well be practicing the right thing!
About the Author
Cris Cavitt has been the PGA golf professional at Birchwood Farms Golf & Country Club for the past 15 years. He has been nominated for Merchandiser of the Year 6 times in the NMPGA Chapter, Private Facility (2-time winner) and a 2-time finalist for the Merchandiser of the Year, Michigan PGA Section. Cris is a supporter as well as a member of the advisory board for The First Tee of Northern Michigan. He’s also active in the boys and girls Harbor Springs High School golf teams. He enjoys outdoor activities, all sporting events and especially spending time with his teenage children.
About Birchwood Farms Golf & Country Club
Birchwood Farms Golf & Country Club is located off M119 north of Harbor Springs, MI and approximately 15 miles from Hearthside Grove in Petoskey, MI. The Birchwood property encompasses 1,600 acres, which makes it the largest private golf and tennis community in Northern Michigan and has been described in many vibrant ways, namely, ”Jewel of the North”, the “Augusta of the North” and “the Best Kept Secret of Northern Michigan”.
Birchwood provides many amenities to its members, including three spectacularly beautiful 9 hole golf courses and an award winning golf pro shop, 10 HarTru clay tennis courts making it one of the finest outdoor tennis facilities in all of Michigan, pickleball, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a newly renovated clubhouse with multiple dining facilities. Additionally, in 2016, a new swimming pool and children’s splash pool will be opened, together with upgraded locker rooms, an expanded outdoor restaurant/snack bar, a new children’s play area and a new racquet sports center.
For more information on full golf memberships or social memberships, please visit www.birchwoodcc.com or call Becky O’Neil at (231) 526-2166.