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Custom golf clubs no longer just for the pros

Some customers at Modern Golf in Mississauga spare no expense in getting fitted clubs, with one paying $18,000 for a set. ‘The sky’s the limit,’ says Matthew Sim, right, director of operations.

J.P. Moczulski/The Globe and Mail

While the majority of the golfing world will be fixated on Chaska, Minn., this weekend as Europe and the United States continue to tussle for the Ryder Cup, others may be looking to get in a round or two before the end of the season.

And though it may be a pipe dream for many to drive the ball like Dustin Johnson or replicate the swing of Rory McIlroy, customizing a set of clubs to suit an individual's game is becoming an increasingly essential part of any golfer's approach.

"Fitting is an absolute must when you're purchasing golf clubs nowadays," says Geoff Pinheiro, senior merchant, clubs, for Golf Town in Aurora, Ont. "Getting properly fit ensures that you've not only got the best set of golf clubs for your game, but it's also set up correctly for your swing and your game."

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Pinheiro uses the example of five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who recently said he gained 18 to 20 yards on his drives just by making some adjustments to the shaft of his driver. That extra distance isn't an anomaly, either, and in some cases it might be even more, club fitters say.

"I've done fittings before where [the client has] picked up 30, 40 yards," Pinheiro says. "But you can easily pick up 20 yards with your distance."

He adds that although fitting and customization have always been part of the game, it is probably the largest growth section in clubs right now, with Golf Town seeing the number of fittings it has performed doubling year over year.

"You've got the best technology now that can give you really accurate numbers so now it allows you to really dial it in."

That's certainly the case at Modern Golf in Mississauga. When putting a customer through a fitting, the facility uses almost 30 data points generated by its TrackMan launch monitor. TrackMan measures such things as club path, ball speed, launch angle, the spin rate of the ball and the "smash factor," which relates to the amount of energy transferred to the ball from the club.

From there, the staff at Modern Golf can put together a set of clubs tailored for a customer's game and build. That might mean a golf bag containing a TaylorMade driver, a Callaway fairway wood and Titleist irons, for example.

"Different products from different companies do perform differently and some are better for some people and some don't work as well," says Matthew Sim, director of operations at Modern Golf.

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Modern Golf employs a universal fit system, meaning that every iron shaft can be fitted into every iron head and every driver shaft fits into every driver head. And if a customer would rather have a white TaylorMade driver head in black, or even green or purple, the store can do that, too.

In terms of time, a driver or an iron fit will take about an hour and a half, while a full bag might extend to four hours or so.

That level of customization can get expensive, though. Sim says that an iron from upstart company PXG, forged from carbon steel, sells for $459 a head, plus shaft, plus grip. He adds that one customer paid $18,000 for a full custom set of clubs. "The sky's the limit," Mr. Sim says.

At Modern Golf, customizing a full set will cost $400, with individual groups of clubs ranging from $100 to $150.

Golfers tinkering with their equipment to gain an edge out on the fairway or on the putting green is hardly new, though. From shaving the persimmon heads of wooden golf clubs to soldering or taping on lead to make irons heavier, the limits of customization are seemingly only limited by an individual's imagination – and the rules of golf.

"Golf is a big game of feel, so if it doesn't feel right it gets in your head," says Don Irving, the owner of Artisan Golf in Ottawa. "It's kind of like wearing a pair of shoes that are three sizes too big for you. Yeah, you can wear them and you can walk around and get the job done, but it just doesn't feel right."

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Irving, the International Clubmakers Guild 2016 Canadian club maker of the year, says golf is a difficult game, and persevering with a set of clubs that are too heavy, too light, too long or too short can be like trying to build a house with blunt tools. However, the right tools can give an individual a fighting chance.

"I had one guy, the only thing he did was get new clubs and he shaved 11 strokes off his handicap," Irving says. "That's not typical, but it's kind of a nice thing to hear."

In the past, finding the right set of clubs would mean lining them all up and hitting a ball with each to find the one that felt right. But newer analysis technology, such as Trackman or TaylorMade's Motion Analysis Technology (MAT), allows golf manufacturers and stores to build clubs to suit an individual, even as that individual's game changes over time.

"What would happen in the past is, if you made a significant change to your swing, you would have to get a different club to match up with what your coach has tried to do,' says Cameron Jacobs, a PGA of Canada professional and experiential manager for TaylorMade.

"Now, the club is almost designed to grow along with you as you progress in your own game."

As for who should get their clubs custom fitted, the answer, according to the fitters, is everyone.

"A lot of people think, 'Oh, I'm not good enough for club fitting,'" says Irving at Artisan Golf. "They're the people that need it the most. Custom club fitting really is for everybody, from the new golfer to the professional tour player."

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