The Evolution of Clubfitting Technology

I started to write this article on fitting players using a Launch Monitor. Whilst contemplating the subject I realised just how far the fitting tools of the trade have evolved over the last two decades. So, I have decided to have a little tongue in cheek look at where we have come from and where we are now, before analysing the numbers themselves.

1980: Golf Retail Store

Retailer: "Good morning Sir. Can I help you?"
Customer: "I am looking for some new clubs."
Retailer: "Anything in mind?"
Customer: "Well I would like some of those flash ones I read about in the magazine last month, perimeter weighted things."
Retailer: "OK over here, sir. They are beauties and just $995."
Customer: "OK I will have them if you throw in a few balls."
Retailer: "Done."

And he probably was too. The extent of fitting people even back in the early 1980's was most likely confined to a flex choice and the choice of an old style blade or new fangled cavity back.

1995: Golf Retail Store

Retailer: "Good morning Sir. Can I help you?"
Customer: "I am looking for some new clubs."
Retailer: "Anything in mind?"
Customer: "Well, I wondered if you had any of those new flash graphite irons."
Retailer: "We sure do and if you would like to have a hit with them feel free to use the hitting cage out the back to compare a few clubs."

Cage hitting is fine for learning to swing a club and getting to terms with the feel of a club however, ball flight results in a cage are at best, a guess. In 1995, the manufacturer True Temper launched its "Determinator" device (Fig. 1) which showed approximately how a shaft was loaded so that the player could determine what flex shaft was suitable.

2000: Golf Retail Store

Starts over as above with the response being:
"Pop out the back and have a hit with the demo clubs and the simulator will give you a good idea of how they will fly out on course."

In the late 1990's swing speed simulators started to come onto the market which for the first time gave club fitters much needed information for clubfitting. Shaft flexes could now be better matched to a players swing speed. Devices which cost a little as $100 popped up and provided this much needed information. I call these 1D machines.

Then the 2D machines evolved. These not only measured information on club speed but also clubface angle and swing path readings which along with some ballistic mathematics would give a ball's distance and directional travel. All of a sudden real advances were being made which resulted in players acquiring clubs which were tailored to and helps there game before they even got on the course. The Bengtson (Fig. 3) and P3P (Fig. 4) are the best of this line of simulators.

2005: Golf Retail Store

Again, same scenario:
"Pop out the back and try the demos on the Launch Monitor"

Science is a wonderful thing, although often driven hard by the prospects of higher sales. Thank goodness golf is a massive worldwide industry so the 2D information machines evolved even further and the Launch Monitor was born.

2D machines generally work on a device that senses the passing of a clubhead across a light sensitive field. Their weakness has always been that they had to guess the actual launch angle of the ball. In other words, you could flat out hit a worm burner on a 2D type machine and it would still plot the distance travelled as if it had been a clean hit. Also, because of their light sensitivity most of these simulators were designed for indoor use. In addition, having to hit balls off a board meant that they were better suited to fitting drivers rather than irons.

The Launch Monitor saw another line of thought introduced. They were developed to read what the ball does rather than the clubhead. Some, like the Golf Achiever (Fig. 5), use a small laser field to take readings off the ball as it passes through and it is a great indoor system. Others, like the Accusport (Fig. 6), take photographs of marked balls to read the spin and calculate the height the ball has passed the camera (or cameras as with the Golf Achiever) at. From these calculations a much clearer indication of the ball's behaviour and travel can be deducted. These are highly accurate machines used by many of the major club manufacturers to fit players.

Then there are the radar based Launch Monitors. These are often seen on cruise liners with all sorts of bells and whistles attached to them and are a major capital expense item. The main advantage of a radar system is that it can track the ball in real life terms from impact to where it comes to rest. The Zelocity Pure Launch (Fig. 7) is a relatively new system which does just this without having to mortgage your house to purchase it.

As you hit the ball the Pure Launch starts tracking its flight through its radar field and can let you know exactly how far you have hit the ball. It can do this in one of two ways. First via ball speed and launch angle (which derives a spin rate) or by using specially marked balls which the radar reads the actual spin from.

Best of all the Pure Launch will allow a clubfitter to fit woods or irons whilst hitting off grass, or indoors off a mat with no need for the ball to be teed up.

Systems such as the Pure Launch are not only useful to clubmakers when fitting players with new equipment but for players themselves. With real distances being plotted you can calculate exactly how far you are hitting each of your clubs therefore make your time on the course both more productive, all the while improving that all important score card.

How far you really hit the ball has to be major plus for your score card. No more wondering just how far that marker out there is.

We've Come A Long Way

We have come a long way since the 1980's in manufacturing processes and the use of technology to make the playing of this game more enjoyable. In coming articles I hope to bring more of the tools of the trade to you in more detail. Spine alignment machines, zone testing on frequency analysers, MOI machines to name a few.

A well decked out retail golf store can provide a lot more useful information to customers than twenty years ago. Qualified fitters (be they your local pro or a clubmaker) do an even better job at getting the right tools in your hands. Overall, I believe that the golfer is getting much better information in 2005 than in 1985.

There will be more on the practical aspects of fitting people with the use of simulators and launch monitors coming soon.

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