Tom Wishon served as Vice President of GolfWorks from 1980 to 1986. From 1986 to 1993, he was president of Dynacraft Golf Products, and from 1993 to 2002 he was Vice President and Chief Technical Officer for Golfsmith International. Wishon started his own company, Tom Wishon Golf Technology, in 2003.  

I read with great interest the article by Kevin Crook, The Focus on Equipment has Hurt Golfin which he basically said it’s almost a waste of time to go buy new golf clubs because you have no way of knowing if what you buy is going to help or harm your ability to play the game.

The main thing I took away from Kevin’s article is that he is yet one more confused and frustrated victim of the longtime business model of the golf equipment industry. If anything from the golf equipment industry has harmed golf, it is the way that golf clubs are being sold to golfers in a market that is fiercely competitive for sales.

Many golf club companies exist to sell their clubs to millions of golfers through thousands of retail golf outlets and websites. The top-5 golf equipment manufacturers now control about 80 percent of the premium golf equipment market with combined annual revenues north of $3 billion. Four out of five of these companies are publicly traded, each with the accompanying pressures from shareholders and financial institutions to grow in revenue, profits and stock price.

The only way large golf companies can sell the volume of clubs they must to meet forecasts and satisfy shareholders and executives is to pre-build their clubs to a series of standard specifications so they can be shipped to the thousands of retailers to be put on display and sold off the rack. Demand is driven by massive marketing campaigns that promise improvement and an increase in status upon buying the clubs. Credibility is established by paying professional golfers to play their equipment.

After three decades of such fierce competition, the golf equipment industry has become a commodity business. Most retailers are selling the same exact products, so consumers hunt for the best price. Retailers have to discount to get the sale, which results in them making less profit. Making less profit means they do not have the money to hire and retain quality sales people. And retailers can’t afford to allow the sales staff to take more than a few minutes to make each sale, because making money requires that they sell a high volume of products.

This is precisely what Kevin has encountered in his frustration with trying to do nothing more than to find the best golf equipment with which to play and enjoy this great game. He’s frustrated because he believes that whoever sells him his clubs should really know what they are doing. Unfortunately, the shortcomings in the current golf equipment business model means the people selling him his clubs do not know much more about golf clubs than he does, and may actually know less.

Launch monitors are placed in golf retail outlets to give golfers the impression they are being properly fit for their clubs. Yet little to no training exists to teach sales people how to properly turn the outputs of the launch monitors into the best prescription for clubs for the golfer. Retailers also have inventory to worry about, so it is very common for them to pay a “spiff” to their sales staff to get them to make more of an effort to sell what they need to get rid of.

Add to that the effects of the fierce competition among the golf equipment companies. At the wholesale level, it has resulted in drivers and woods that are far too long for the vast majority of golfers to ever hit consistently, which may or may not actually have the loft that is imprinted on the head.

Lofts in irons have been decreasing as well, as a way of impressing golfers with more distance in their short irons. But this comes at the expense of  golfer’s not being able to hit their mid and long irons as well.

Shafts are a problem, too. Average golfers have no idea how stiff the shafts they purchase actually are because of poor quality control and a lack of industry standards. Add it all up, and it’s no wonder that golfers like Kevin Cook are confused and often end up with the wrong equipment.

In truth, the best solution for golfers is to return to the original business model for golf equipment sales prior to the early 1900s, back when the only place a golfer could buy a set of golf clubs was to go see a clubmaker. Back then, golfers visited the clubmaker’s shop, where the clubs were built one club at a time, one set at a time, for one golfer at a time.

It’s critical to be honest and tell you that some of today’s clubmakers do not have the fitting knowledge to be able to properly match a golfer with clubs that allow him or her to play to the best of their ability. Just because someone can build and repair golf clubs does not mean they know how to analyze a golfer and choose the best fitting specs to match to the golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics.

So golfers who decide to visit a clubmaker to end their equipment frustration MUST DO THEIR HOMEWORK to be sure the clubmaker they choose is a good, experienced and knowledgeable. Such clubmaker/clubfitters do exist and they are without question the very best sources for golf equipment and knowledge. They can truly help a golfer improve and play to the best of the golfer’s ability.

The best way to find a good clubmaker is from the following resources:

The AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals):  http://www.agcpgolf.com/locator/

The ICG (International Clubmakers’ Guild): http://www.clubmakersguild.com/index.php/membership-directory/guild-google-map

If you find a clubmaker from any of these sources, call him/her, visit, and ask how he/she conducts a fitting analysis. Ask for names of other golfers in the area he/she has fit. Call these golfers and ask them about their fitting experience.

Do NOT just blindly go see a clubmaker who you have not vetted. The good clubmakers will never mind golfers doing an investigation, because they are confident of their skills and experience.

Do this for your next equipment purchase and you will avoid Kevin Cook’s frustration with modern golf equipment. If you do, you will end up with golf clubs that are far better for your game than what you can buy within the golf industry’s current business model.

Tom Wishon is a contributing writer for GolfWRX.com. is His views do not necessarily represent the views of GolfWRX.

Click here for more discussion in the “Clubmaking” forum. 

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Tom Wishon is a 40-year veteran of the golf equipment industry specializing in club head design, shaft performance analysis and club fitting research and development. He has been responsible for more than 50 different club head design firsts in his design career, including the first adjustable hosel device, as well as the first 0.830 COR fairway woods, hybrids and irons.

GolfWRX Writer of the Month: February 2014

Tom served as a member of the Golf Digest Technical Advisory Panel, and has written several books on golf equipment including "The Search for the Perfect Golf Club" and "The Search for the Perfect Driver," which were selected as back-to-back winners of the 2006 and 2007 Golf Book of the Year by the International Network of Golf (ING), the largest organization of golf industry media professionals in the USA.

He continues to teach and share his wealth of knowledge in custom club fitting through his latest book, "Common Sense Clubfitting: The Wishon Method," written for golf professionals and club makers to learn the latest techniques in accurate custom club fitting.

Tom currently heads his own company, Tom Wishon Golf Technology, which specializes in the design of original, high-end custom golf equipment designs and club fitting research for independent custom club makers worldwide Click here to visit his site, wishongolf.com

49 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Tom.

    The one thing that needs to also be addressed though is that some of these fitters that you allude to look to “rip off” people and sours real fittings for everyone.

    I had a couple of buddies exciting for a “professional fitting”…they were talked into $1000 drivers and $1300 sets of irons and $500 in woods, etc. because they upsell and sell at the max price. It would be nice to if this would not happen either!

  2. I cannot believe they sell new drivers & irons stock off the shelf with grips on them. It seems to me at minimum the standard should be no grip from the factory and let the buyer decide the length. Tom is absolutely correct about 46″-47″ stock drivers…they really fit a very small % of the market. I took his advise and cut mine back to 44″. I lost no distance (hit sweet spot much more often) and am rarely out of the short grass…improvement was immediate.

  3. This article is a little one-sided. Yes it’s commercial, yes there’s often ridiculous hype and marketing, yes lighter and longer isn’t good for some; but in general the quality and range of product OEMs consistently put out is good. The competitive nature of the golf industry means no manufacturer would survive if they repeatedly brought out inferior performing equipment, or failed to innovate.
    The hard truth is the failure of golfers to improve is not due to poor, or poorly fitted, tools. Obviously if clubs are massively wrong that won’t help, but for many, “off the shelf” specs, with the correct shaft flex, will work fine-maybe not optimal, but nonetheless nothing that would significantly hold back a golfer from improving-especially if they’re committed to lessons and practice.

    • I am sorry to disagree. To mention just one – Biomechanical studies done on the relationship of length to golfer swing motions have proven that the longer the length of the club, the more stress this puts on the swing motions of path and release, and the more load the golfer has to withstand to make his best swing path and release moves. Nowhere is this more critical than in the driver.

      Without question, the move of the companies to increase driver length from the 43″ it was for DECADES to the 45.5-46″ we have today has prevented a huge percentage of golfers from ever being able to get rid of an early release or to learn how to go from an outside in to square or inside out path.

      And why did all the companies push their driver lengths up this long? To sell more clubs on the basis of distance despite the fact such length increase brings along poor shot consistency and difficulty in improving swing characteristics when the golfer does take lessons.

      Or how about this? Golf is the ONLY sport in which a “stick” is used to hit a ball in which the “sticks” are sold off the rack in standard, one size fits all form. Every other “stick hits ball sport” has ALWAYS sold its “sticks” with all of the fitting variables available off the rack to its players.

      Baseball/softball – Every ball player knows he/she cannot hit the ball to the best of their ability unless they have their correct LENGTH, WEIGHT and HANDLE DIAMETER. Even recreational baseball/softball players know this. So every sports store routinely stocks bats in all different combinations of these three key fitting factors for a bat because that’s what the ball players know they need and demand.

      Tennis – No quality racket is sold with the strings in the racket. And all quality rackets are stocked in their different grip size diameter with sizes marked on the side of the racket. Even recreational tennis players know they have to have the right grip size and string type and string tension for them to hit the ball as well as possible.

      But not golf. Golf has always evolved with this standard off the rack business model because of BUSINESS CONCERNS being more important than concern for the golfer’s needs. With 13 woods/irons, 12 fitting variables for each club, and separate right and left hand models required, it would be impossible for any golf company to sell the volume of clubs they need to sell if they were to make and sell their clubs the same exact way that bats and rackets are sold. And no retail golf store would be able to stock all those options in golf clubs for fitting either, for the same inventory management problems.

      So because it was too inconvenient from a business standpoint, golfers were never told that they could play better with properly fit clubs because it would get in the way of the business model for selling clubs that brings in the most money to the club companies and retailers.

      So please do not sit there at your keyboard and tell the world that all a golfer needs is more lessons and practice with a set of clubs off the rack. YES LESSONS ARE CRITICAL – but because golfers are all different in their size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics, it is an absolute fact that when properly fit for ALL the key fitting elements, a huge percentage of 80-100 shooters can and will play 3 to 8 shots better with custom fit clubs than standard off the rack. AND THEY WILL MASTER LESSON CHANGES SOONER when they do take lessons and practice.

      Sorry, but since I have seriously studied the relationship of golf club specs to golfer ability longer and more deeply than ANY other person, it truly is sad to me when the business concerns of an industry become more important than the enjoyment of the customer.

      • Thanks for your reply. I certainly respect your vast knowledge and experience in club fitting and technology and I appreciate you taking the time to share this knowledge.
        I have concerns about modern mass market equipment-often too long, too light, too upright, too strong lofts. But there is also good mass market product. I’m all for golfers having properly fitted clubs. However, it’s not going to turn a poor golfer into a good golfer-though it will help.
        Buying off the shelf isn’t good-I think it should all be checked out- but there will be plenty golfers in the ball park of standard length and lie and will broadly fit into a regular or stiff shaft flex. For example, how many elite players are using clubs within 0.5″ of standard length and within + or – 2 deg. on lie?

        • If one thinks only of IRON lengths and lies, yes for sure a lot of golfers could fall within +/- 1/2″ or +/-1* of the standards and be fine for these two specs in the IRONS only. But as we teach fitting and as we do fitting research, there are 13 Key fitting specs that need to be evaluated for all 13 woods and irons – 5 for putters.

          Length, loft, lie, face angle, shaft weight, shaft flex, shaft bend profile, total weight, swingweight /(headweight feel), grip size/style, clubhead design and set makeup. For putters, length, lie, loft, grip size/style and the weighting of the putter.

          OEM fitting and fitting done through retail golf stores and pro shops and fitting carts only hits a small number of all these and only within narrow ranges of spec options convenient within the std specs of the OEM – not to mention the training the retail/pro person has to even know how to fit. Slim to very poor as I have seen in my 30+ yrs in the industry and as I have tried to help fix in previous positions only to be rebuffed.

          I’m an avid and very well read historian of the equipment side of the game. From that I can tell you that a compelling argument can be made that golfers who bought clubs in the late 1800s came away with a better FIT than do most golfers today. Seriously. (not talking the technology of the heads or shafts, just talking about the FIT of the clubs to the size, strength, and swing of the golfer) Because back then the only place a golfer could buy a golf club was directly from a clubmaker. The clubmakers had no stock clubs and had to build everything from scratch for every golfer who wanted clubs.

          There were no golf club companies making std clubs back then to stock in pro shops as that evolution of an enterprising clubmaker to form a larger company had not happened yet. That didn’t happen until the early 1900s.

          No question the clubmakers back then were not anywhere near as astute on the 13 key fitting specs as we are today, but they did know length, grip size, shaft stiffness (sanded the hickorys to do that!), club and head weighting, filing wood faces for loft and some even could file an open or closed face on a wood, or hammered loft and lie into their forgings. Fitting in a retail store or pro shop cannot do that – so it can be said that golfers got a better fit back in the 1890s than those who buy from retail stores or pro shops do today!

          Interesting thought isn’t it?

          • Thanks for your reply, interesting thoughts for sure! A bit counter-intuitive, but I take your point. The craftsmanship of earlier generations shows up a lot of what’s mass produced today-and not just in golf.

          • I agree with Andrew on this one.

            Also I cannot take content seriously when it is so obviously as one-sided as this article. Why can’t people understand that there are two sides to every story and that their point becomes devalued by only telling their half of the opinion. Situations are rarely so black and white as are construed above. It’s just another ‘evil billion dollar corporation’ vs ‘friendly local business’ approach.

      • Tom,
        Finding your articles on the web has made a big difference in my game by making me realize my tools were all to long for me. I actually found my swing was fine but even a Pro would struggle with a driver that was several inches too long for them.

        Thanks for your insights…They are helping many

        Billy C

  4. i am really not impress with the irons that keep decrease their lofts so it tells ppl their iron can hit longer.

    with this approach, how many wedges we gonna have in next 10 years?

  5. Would have to say that I agree with some of the points that Tom makes but overall I think he is a bit mistaken with his perception. Certainly there are shops that have club sitting on the rack and people will gravitate to them and buy them not being fit. Truthfully most of those people are not people who care much about their game or scores and are very casual golfers anyway.

    Now almost any serious golf manufacturer such as Ping Mizuno Titleist etc. Have fitting carts at all of the major retailers and within those carts they have multiple shaft lie length and head combinations. Those along with free fitting sessions that are often provided with a purchase set of irons allow the golfer to try multiple different combinations of sets to find which ones provide the best trajectories dispersions all being done while the person can choose the club that he likes the look and feel of . Certainly without question there are things that the custom club builder can provide that will extend beyond the range of what can be done at a retail outlet, however now we were talking about something that would maybe only benefit a few percent of us who are at the extreme.

    I would even go on to say that an issue with professional club fitting is that often the club fitting is tailored to the current swing of the player in order to give him the best results in spite of whatever swing flaws he might have. The perfect example is my brother who spent hundreds of dollars getting a custom set of clubs built and despite his 5 foot seven stature was found to be fit best into a set of irons that were relatively upright as much as 4° or so. Well certainly that may have made him have a more consistent ball flight pattern, the fact is that what it was really doing is masking some major swing flaws which would mean that were he to correct them while using the same irons he would ultimately have worse results as the irons no longer fit him. I would say that my goal in the fitting is not so much dynamic fitting but rather finding something whereby the flex of the shaft is appropriate for my swing that the irons provide a good trajectory and have the appropriate current lie for my swing but that have the ability to be adjusted if I have them retested at a later date when working on my swing. But to build a club to compensate for multiple swing flaws might hinder my ability to improve in the future.

    This is my 2 cents and you can beg to differ. Fact is for many of us golf is a luxury and is quite expensive one at that. Those that are more serious about their performance will get more custom fit. Where I agree most with Tom is about his talk in the past regarding Drivers and making them longer and longer. We would mostly be better off with a driver of 44.5 inches or less. The pros ar easing them like this. Ironically we aren’t. At least now with drivers that are more customizable, we can at least modify the driver length much more easily.

    Truthfully if you do the math irons don’t really impact your scores much anyway. Over 18 holes of say someone who shoots 85:

    14 Tee shots typically with a wood
    33 putts
    12 shots from round the green on missed approaches usually with wedges
    3-4 shots in to greens with wedges on par 4 and 5
    5-6 shots in to greens with woods/hybrids
    2 par 3 shots with hybrids or more.
    2 penalty strokes
    2-3 shots pitching out of trouble

    That equals nearly 72 shots per round where irons are not used.
    that means there are for most golfers only 12-17 full iron shots a round at most where they are using a full non wedge iron.

    Given some testing by a company like Titleist who demonstrated that a 1/2 inch off centre hit on their AP1 model of a few years ago let to about 7.5 yards of carry loss and their player cb/mb models let to a 10 yard loss with the same mishit at same swing speed, it begs to question does the iron make enough of a difference in scoring?
    If a blade mishit is only 5 yards more penalized than a game improvement CB and if the irons being hit are used only a dozen or so times with perhaps only half the shots or so being significantly mishit, then you are talking about 6-8 shots around where you would lose 5 or more yards on a mis hit iron that is beyond your handicap level to play. Given a mid cappers short game and putting etc this can at most equate to 1-2 shots a round between well fit forgiving irons and unforgiving irons.
    the golfer would see much bigger improvements spending that money on lessons to hit the driver better, putt better and get up and down more.

  6. Same argument, tailor-made clothes vs. men’s wearhouse.

    It doesn’t matter that bespoke is nicer, it’s much more expensive and the world isn’t going back in time to Edwardian Saville Row suits any more than it will buy hand-crafted $3000 sets from Old Tom Clubfitter.

    • But if you go to the majority of good clubfitters’ shops, you will find that their prices are NOT commensurate with what you pay a Saville Row tailor compared to the department store suit. A handful will charge more, but not even close to as much more as will the tailor for his suit over the department store suit. Check it out by contacting a clubmaker on one of these search lists and you’ll be surprised. Better fit, reasonable price, more fun in the game – that’s a win win situation for sure.

  7. I agree very strongly with Tom on his article, nicely written. I am a person who works in the industry as a Master Fitter/Clubmaker/Grinder in a big box Golf Store. I am sorry to say that I have worked in the industry long enough to see the deterioration of a game I have spent a lifetime loving. As much as I agree with Tom and his wisdom, I have to say it’s not just the Big Golf Stores, the Vendors or the Salesmen that are at fault. Some of the blame rests with the consumer as well. There is no worse feeling in the world than to have a large client base that looks to you for answers on equipment and have happen the following: A 15 HC customer comes to you pleading for your help, you spend hours with them guiding them through the entire club fitting experience making your recommendations that can truly help there game and they tell you they like the feel of the forged blades with the PXi 6.0’s or some other tour style shaft with the pretty colored grips…instead of the Ultra Game Improvement Irons you selected for them…you bang your head a few times on the wall and explain it all again with the same results…I like the forged blade with the tour shaft!!. This is happing to me more and more often these days and sometimes it is hard to go to work. I am a person who has pride in the fact that I have made a name for myself in my area with Fitting and Clubmaking, but my true pride will always rest in the number of people I have talked down of the ledge of buying the big dollar stylish popular stuff, in turn fitting them with what they need, be it new or existing. Key term NEED! The consumer base has gone loco with style and the term Tour has become a Billion dollar word with equipment. Is this really about a better game anymore? or is it about playing Dress-up??. Call me crazy, but I am not really sure anymore about anything!!