A new set of golf clubs, driver, fairway woods, irons, wedges, putters, a total bag overhaul, averages these days around $2,500. It amazes me how many players simply walk into a golf shop (or visit an online retailer) and just pick out left- or right-handed and start playing. Club features work differently for different players and not everyone can benefit from the most expensive clubs available. Instead of buying clubs off the rack and trying to adjust my game to them, I wanted to find a better way. PGA tour pros use a detailed, technical process, analyzing their swing and matching each aspect of a club (grip, shaft, clubhead, loft) to a player’s personal body and swing. Now, TaylorMade Golf has brought the club fitting process offered to their professional tour players to the public. In my personal search for the best clubs for my own game, I visited the TaylorMade Performance Labs at the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert, California.

With my TaylorMade SpeedPocket Irons

What is the TaylorMade Performance Lab?
Located onsite at seven premium golf courses in the U.S. and internationally, the experience lasts about two hours and is a wonderfully detailed, professional and scientific analysis of your swing. The process is designed to be the initial part of a club purchase but a club purchase is not required. The experience costs $350 – $400 depending on the location and discounts are sometimes offered to on-property hotel guests. Clubs can be purchased at a competitive retail price, and are then delivered within 48 hours direct from the TaylorMade factory.

DIfferent iron heads for fitting.

The process starts with the player wearing a special outfit, featuring 34 reflective markers used by the nine high-speed cameras mounted in the lab to track swing and body motion. The clubs themselves also have built-on sensors mounted on the grip, shaft and clubhead. The sensors and the cameras provide a motion-capture experience, like an animated superhero in an action movie. The swing is recorded and replicated on a computer monitor, allowing for detailed analysis. This is done with woods, irons, wedges and even a putter (each fitted with special sensors), to analyze each individual swing type. All this is geared towards matching the swing with the correct TaylorMade clubs.

In my special motion capture gear

The last part of the process is to be able to try samples of the recommended clubs on the mini-range. The fitting pro has adjustable heads and shafts that allow him to instantly build a custom club. Once confirmed it works, that exact custom club can then be recorded and ordered from the company. The player also gets to try out the recommended clubs on the outside driving range, to further confirm they are a good match. After the fitting process, the custom clubs are then shipped to the player within 48 hours. Participants also a get a printed report of their swings and club recommendations (for all clubs), along with a CD containing the images, swing data and swing simulations. Even specific golfballs are recommended. The CD format is a bit outdated and I would like to see the data delivered by USB flash drive.

My experience at the Palm Desert location
I arrived at the facility in the morning and stepped into the TaylorMade Performance Labs center, with it’s recognizable bank vault door. There’s an outer office with a lot of information about TaylorMade clubs and the Performance Labs process. The inner sanctum, the driving range and camera area, is like a golf laboratory, with the walls lined with new TaylorMade clubs and parts of clubs. It’s like the home of a mad golfclub scientist, except the Frankenstein monsters they create here are perfectly fitted and matched clubs. There’s a big green mat with a driving range set up, facing a golf course backdrop and large net. There’s a sophisticated launch monitor at the tee and the area is brighly illuminated and surrounded by the nine high-speed cameras.

Once I arrived, I met the TaylorMade fitting expert, a great PGA Pro and Master Club Fitting Professional named Mike Amira. We first went over the procedures and what would happen, how the process works and what I should expect to get out of it. I then had a chance to warm up a bit on the mini-range with my own clubs, which I had brought with me pursuant to the advance instructions. Once warmed up, I put on the reflective markers, which are attached to a hat, vest, belt, leggings, wrist wraps and shoe covers. All those markers (and the ones on the special clubs) are tracked by the cameras and computer software to provide a realistic image of my body, my swing and my movements.

More than a club fitting, a complete swing analysis is performed showing impact angles, loft, distance, swing speed, swing path, face angle, ball speed, launch angle, backspin, carry and roll. Multiple swings can be overlaid for comparison and swings can even be compared to touring pros who may share similar characteristics. I learned I was setting up was behind the ball, where a more perpendicular shaft would work better. I could also see how my hip movement, though good, was not ideal and then could see the positive results after making some adjustments. I also learned and saw how my swing was similar to PGA tour pro Dustin Johnson, with some differences in key areas. His initial addressing set-up was much more vertical, with his hands above the ball, and his hip angle was 54 degrees on the finish, where mine was 7. I learned that I could increase my distance by swinging my hips further into the shot, but basically doing everything else the same. I could see the comparison on the screen, with me on one side and Dustin swinging on the other side.

I also found the process would be a great analysis for any player, even one not shopping for clubs. It can confirm your current clubs are correct for you and if they’re not perfect, give you the information to compensate. I also appreciated the deep swing analysis from that club fitting perspective. Aside from all the great technology, the process is conducted by a serious, professional club fitter, who in many cases is a PGA pro himself. Fitting clubs is an art, different than teaching golf or playing golf, and these guys really know (and love) their stuff. They are the link between you and the huge amount of data provided by the process and can help interpret and analyze it all to do one thing, make you play better.

My club recommendations
The analysis showed I should use TaylorMade’s JetSpeed driver with a high 13 degree loft and a medium flexibility shaft. Same recommendation for fairway woods, the JetSpeed series. It also showed I should be using the new TaylorMade SpeedBlade irons, which offer a Speed Pocket for greater loft and a larger sweet spot. For the putter, it was the new Ghost Spider Si, which really felt perfect in my hands. Now I look forward to playing with the new clubs to confirm they really do match my body, swing and play.

A great golf travel experience
I think the TaylorMade Performance Lab experience would make a great golf destination experience. Since the labs are located on amazing golf resort properties, the ability to immediately play using the new knowledge gained would be very helpful. And with the 48 hour delivery, it would be possible to do the lab on the first day of a golf vacation and have the new clubs delivered to the hotel in time to use them. I made a little weekend getaway out of the process, and stayed at the brand new Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs, about 30 minutes from the TaylorMade facility.

Hard Rock Hotel
Hard Rock Hotel Palm Springs
Hard Rock Hotel
My pool view room at the Hard Rock