Q&A: Getting to Know Club Champion’s Founder, Nick Sherburne
1. How did Club Champion start?
I’ve been in and around the golf industry my whole life. I found my way into club fitting in 1998 at a place called EJL Golf. The “Steve Jobs started in a garage” story is sort of the skeleton of ours, too. Golf was just a passion of mine and I wanted to ensure others enjoyed it as much as I did. The best way to do that was to get people the best equipment for them. Club fitting has always been a part of the sport of golf but as time has passed, the technology behind club fitting has greatly improved. With EJL, our knowledge grew as technology advanced and we had more customers than we knew what to do with. Then, in 2010, Club Champion was founded out of EJL Golf and ever since, it’s been a runaway train — we now have over 90 locations across the U.S. with plans to expand further. Before the mass availability of TrackMan launch monitors, SST PUREing machines, SAM PuttLabs, and more, fitting was limited to Tour pros and an upper echelon of golfers. Now, we can give every golfer a Tour-level fitting experience.
2. What is the most challenging part of a club fitting?
Having 50,000 combos in your face can sometimes create a Netflix effect — too many options, not enough time. Our fitters are trained to dial in the best profiles and options pretty quickly but sometimes you get the golf nut who wants to try everything and we want to provide that experience. Our massive wall of demo options is one of my favorite things but it’s sometimes a double-edged sword.
3. Speaking of, do you ever say no to carrying certain brands or equipment?
We pride ourselves on being brand agnostic and fitting golfers into the best possible equipment for their swing, rather than what looks coolest in their bag. I’ll look at and invest in brands that believe in the science of golf and the betterment of golfers. I sometimes have to say no for logistical reasons, but it’s rare! My phone and email are always open to new brands and innovations from both the big guys and the small businesses out of a garage. I hope that the number of possible club combinations never stops growing because that also means that the number of golfers that we can help keeps increasing as well.
4. Bryson DeChambeau has been one of golf’s most consistent and significant distance players and is known for his quirky equipment choices. How do you feel about One Length, armlock, longer drivers and the other equipment trends that Bryson brings attention to?
Bryson’s a unique guy to talk about when it comes to equipment and science as it relates to golf and performance. We love having him on our team because he approaches golf exactly the way we do: by looking at the data and always striving for that next best thing. When it comes to single-length clubs or armlock or any trend off the beaten path, I’d have to say I stand by what Club Champion is all about. Every golfer and every swing is different. The reason we have as many equipment options as we do is because of that fact. One Length as a concept is super interesting and it works for a fair amount of people. But nothing is one-size-fits-all. At the end of the day, I’m taking the golfer in my bay into consideration, and nothing else. That said, if you think that I haven’t tested every one of Bryson’s components or fitted someone into armlock putters or what have you, you’d be wrong. It’s all about the science but science can be fun.
5. What’s the oldest set of clubs you’ve ever seen brought into a fitting?
I’ve seen weird brands, foreign equipment, knockoff clubs, and clubs so rusty you’d think they were 100 years old. But I had a guy come in with clubs that were nearly 50 years old. He was a scratch golfer and couldn’t part from his iron set outside of regripping them every so often. Contrary to what some people think, Club Champion actually fits existing clubs all the time, so we got this guy into the bay with these relics. We changed out his shafts, got him some new grips and he increased his distance with 50-year-old iron heads. I just love that I still can be surprised even 20-some years into this by what equipment and fitting tech can do for each other.
6. Let’s say you transported Bobby Jones, Gary Player or even Jack Nicklaus in their prime to today and got them in for a club fitting. Do you think they’d be even greater with the modern fitted equipment?
No doubt in my mind. The level at which those guys and even pros now play is just unfathomable for your regular weekend warrior, but they were doing it before so much innovation and science were applied to sports. And it’s not even just the club designs, it’s also launch monitors and other assets that help golfers better understand what they’re doing and what they can change. There are days when Bill Belichick’s philosophy of, “A statistic isn’t the reason why we missed tackles,” is true, but could you imagine having a peak Jack Nicklaus play against Justin Thomas or Jon Rahm, armed with not only fitted equipment but knowledge of every angle of his game? I love JT and Rahm, but I think Nicklaus with TrackMan data and 2021 club models in his bag is wiping the floor with them in this hypothetical match.
7. Where do you see Club Champion in five years?
When I look back five years, it’s crazy to see how far we’ve come. I’m proud to say that we’re a flag carrier in the field of club fitting and I think we’ve seen a massive shift in perception even just the last few years. Golfers are smarter, they have access to more technology, they interact more directly with pros, there are more golf retailers, and so on. The 2021 landscape for golf in general is wild, but club fitting in particular is seeing some massive movement as people realize that, like anything else, their hobby is more fun when they’re performing at their best.
In terms of where I think we’ll be in five years, this is sort of a cop-out but I think the answer is that there’s no limit. It’s cheesy but think about it. When we started, we were thrilled to be a local fitting business with three locations in the Chicago area. Now, we’re about to open our 100th location, we’re looking at international expansion, we employ hundreds of people nationwide, we work with some of the biggest names in golf…I’m not sure that I even want to come up with a goal because I’d rather just keep outperforming even my own expectations. Which is why we’re so hung up on words like “best” and “better” — we’re constantly searching for the next best thing, which it’s a club combination or the next spot for a Club Champion studio. Who knows what that’ll be in five years, but I’m excited to find out.