CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- ERC's, X-14's, I-3's, TA-7's, and 975J's.
How can an average golfer without a cheat sheet to the frustratingly complex lexicon of golf equipment make an informed decision about what clubs are ideally suited to his or her game?
Not only are there dozens of big name manufacturers such as Callaway, Ping and Titleist, but there are also a shagbag full of smaller "component" companies advertising comparable clubs at cut rate prices.
According to local industry professionals, club selection essentially comes down to a player's budget and skill level.
Beginning or average golfers weary of spending too much money on name brand equipment are typically better off with a set of component irons and woods, commonly referred to as "knock offs."
Advanced golfers or those with money to spend may opt for the top-of-the-line models.
Randy Deas, owner of GRiPPiT Golf in Rock Hill, S.C. employs a state-of-the-art video swing analysis system to fit golfers with affordable, custom made component clubs.
A custom set of irons from GRiPPiT can cost as little as $203, and Deas says the average golfer can save between 50 and 66 percent by purchasing component clubs.
"Forget all the name brand recognition and get clubs that fit you," Deas says. "Correct length, correct lie angle and loft are key. Golf is hard enough as it is without clubs that don't fit. If you find a rack set that fits you completely, that is a very minute percentile."
Deas says that 95 percent of his club sales are custom fit sets of irons and woods manufactured by component club makers such as Turbo Power and Snake Eyes.
GRiPPiT's swing analysis system provides feedback on swing speed, tempo, path and distance. The results of the analysis are used to customize the component clubs' loft, lie and shaft stiffness for each individual player.
Deas says the average set of irons from GRiPPiT starts around $249, and includes the component clubhead of choice, a frequency matched, stepless steel shaft and standard grips.
GRiPPiT also sells sets of three Steelhead Plus woods with metal shafts for $150. Golfers can add graphite shafts, special grips as well as other bells and whistles to any club for an additional price.
Players wishing to dive headfirst into the best equipment the golf club industry has to offer can expect to pay accordingly, says Deas. A set of Callaway, Ping or Titleist irons can cost between $800 and $1300. Titanium head woods with graphite shafts can cost more than an entire set of component irons, topping out around $500 per club.
Deas says that like component clubs, name brand clubs can be custom fit to a golfer's swing and body type. But Deas cautions players from assuming that more expensive means more precise.
"If you want a set of Clevelands or another name brand we have here in the shop, we will measure you for $30," he says. "But they don't always come back from the manufacturer fit exactly to the player."
However, Deas is unable to build name brand sets from the ground up due to manufacturers restrictions.
"We can retrofit those (name brands), as far as adjusting them," Deas says. "I set lies and lofts and extend them if they need them or build up the grips. But the biggest thing with name brand clubs is shaft replacement. We probably reshaft five new clubs for every new club that we sell."
With a new set of custom clubs in hand, patrons can test their metal on GRiPPiT's golf course simulator. Golfers actually hit and putt balls into the simulator's big screen, and two sensor pads determine the balls' distance and flight path. Pebble Beach, Pinehurst No. 2 and a number of other famous courses are available for play.
"It's the next progression in golf," Deas says. "The technology is so good; the next big thing is club fitting."
Like Deas, Tom Rapone, chief executive officer of Paax Golf USA in Matthews, N.C., operates under the premise that the average golfer needs reliable, affordable clubs and balls.
Paax offers golfers a low-end and high-end set of irons that cost between $255 and $399 for the set, and a steel head Paax driver runs between $60 and $90. Paax even manufactures its own golf ball, which costs $18 for 15 balls.
"Our whole premise is to get a club into the consumer's hand for a good price," Rapone says.
Paax sells the majority of its clubs right off the shelf to golfers with little or no custom fitting. But Rapone says if players have special needs, such as longer or more flexible shafts, or an adjustment in the lie of the club, Paax will make the alterations for free.
"We hand make the clubs and will custom fit them if need be," he says. "But 95 percent of the golfing population fits to a standard set. The average golfer can play well with the standard. As you get better, you may want to tweak it a bit."
Regent Park head professional Todd Lawton can also get golfers into a set of custom irons for around $250. But he can also turn players on to the Rolls Royce of custom made clubs - Henry Griffits.
"They have the best quality control specs in the industry," Lawton says. "They use a dynamic fitting system that monitors ball flight, lie angle, shaft flex and club length."
A set of custom made Henry Griffitts irons cost between $90 and $100 per club, and woods can cost as much as $280.
Steve Dibo, head professional at Crystal Creek Golf Club in Pineville, N.C., agrees with Deas and Rapone that buying a set of clubs should not be such a wallet-draining, cerebrally challenging experience.
But Dibo says that even the average golfer needs to put some time and effort into club selection.
"I think that 90 percent of people play with the wrong clubs," Dibo says. "They play with improper shaft stiffness, primarily. We all have different body types. You can't take one set of golf clubs and stick it in all players hands."
Getting some basic custom fitting done doesn't have to be expensive, either, according to Dibo. If you play regularly at a local course, the head professional should be able recommend the ideal shaft flex and club lie for your swing and body type.
Dibo also points out that the average or beginning golfer should not be afraid to purchase component clubs.
"For some players, I think knock offs can be great," Dibo says. "Courses are too expensive, equipment is too expensive, and because of it, we are at a dead push. We gain two million new golfers every year, and we lose two million a year. What is that saying?"
For more information
Paax Golf - 704-708-5770
GRiiPPiT Golf - 329-1680
Regent Park Pro Shop - 803 547-1300
April 1, 2002
Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.