Magazines, websites, and YouTube are filled with club reviews. How valuable are the results from these tests to someone in the market for new equipment? The more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve determined there isn’t much value at all.
Forged or cast? Blade or game improvement? Steel shaft or graphite? We read and watch to see if the latest set of sticks is the answer we’ve been looking for. At the end of the day most of us are looking for improved performance over our current set at a price we can live with. Can we find that out by reading or watching a review? Not really.
There is value, of course, in getting an opinion from someone who has experience testing clubs. They might tell us that an expensive forged blade doesn’t feel as soft as another brand. A game improvement iron may not be as forgiving from the heel and toe as expected. The improved distance claims are due to the clubs being set stronger than most.
Price is also a valuable part of any good club review. If “Club A” tests about the same as “Club B”, but costs $200 less, you might have somewhere to start your own testing.
And that’s the real key to this isn’t it? We need to do our own testing whenever possible. Why should we plunk down $1,200 on a new set of irons or $500 on a driver without hitting at least a few shots first? A particular club may work better for me and my older swing than your 125mph tee-ball special. Show off. But how do I know? I need to try it.
Then we get into the topic of custom fitting. Any club you can buy will see a performance increase after going for a personal fitting. Even the clubs you already have in the bag can perform better if you can find someone who will work with you. It’s not like the clubs you played with last year stopped working. Has your swing speed has changed? Are you starting to stand a bit more upright with age and your lie angles are off? Working with a custom fitter will get you the best performance possible from any club no matter who made it. Your ego may say x-stiff shaft but if their launch monitor says senior flex listen to them. I’m rarely asked what shaft I’m playing or the loft on my 7-iron. What matters is the number of strokes I took and who’s buying the first round at the 19th hole.
Most clubs from the major manufactures perform about the same in any given category. The USGA and the R&A see to that. The pros prove it to us by changing equipment based on the size of the sponsorship check as much as performance. When fit to their needs, they can make every major manufacturer's equipment work for them.
So, do club reviews have value. Sure they do. Knowing what’s new in the market is important. But, because someone says they’re great or flawed doesn’t tell you how they may perform for you. Club reviews are fun, but, they’re only a starting point. Get yourself to a fitter or at least a demo day. Hit some shots and let your personal results tell you whether those new sticks should go in the bag. You may find last year’s gear will get you through another season. Invest in some lessons instead.