—Crain's Chicago Business
Club Champion Golf CEO Joe Lee, left, and co-founder Nick Sherburne (Photo by Manuel Martinez)
If you take it for granted that your new golf clubs have round shafts, you may be in for a surprise. The steel in even high-end shafts has a weld line, or spine, where the metal was fused. The result is the club will oscillate erratically during the swing, potentially sending your ball in unpredictable arcs.
Club Champion Golf can help your game. Club Champion is the #1 premium golf club fitter for golf clubs nationwide. Schedule a fitting at Club Champion and increase your Golf game.he company repositions the clubhead against the shaft to reduce the rotation with the assistance of an SST Pure Golf Shaft Analysis & Alignment machine—one of only 80 in use in the world today—that spins shafts at high speeds to identify flex points and rotational bias. Each machine costs $50,000; Club Champion charges customers $30 to “pure” each shaft.
The SST is just one piece of gadgetry that Club Champion promotes in its indoor fitting rooms. The Willowbrook-based company, headed by CEO Joe Lee and co-founder Nick Sherburne, is brand-agnostic, offering 200 clubheads from every golf manufacturer paired with a dizzying assortment of 400 shafts in inventory. A customer, who may pay as much as $350 for a fitting, has some 15,000 combinations to sort through.
The concept, which can lead to the sale of a bag of golf clubs priced as high as $8,000, is catching on, even as mass market retailers are struggling. The Golf Galaxy chain has closed two locations in the suburbs while rival Golfsmith filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September. Meanwhile, other tech-dependent fitting shops such as Cool Clubs Golf in Northfield and GolfTec, with at least nine branches in the market, appear to be thriving, their high prices notwithstanding.
Club Champion has opened five stores this year—in places like Seattle, St. Louis and Los Angeles—to bring its total to 16, and four more are due to open by the end of January. The company is growing at close to a 40 percent pace annually, with revenue on track to surpass $15 million this year.
The high price of the technology, which studies have shown can contribute to a gain of as much as 21 yards off the tee, doesn't deter Club Champion's customers. “Guys will really sacrifice to improve their game,” says Sherburne, a four-handicap golfer who has been fitting clubs since 1998, when he was 16. He launched the company in 2010 with the backing of local venture capital raised in part by Lee, now 47, a former Motorola engineer.
Jim Suttie, a veteran golf pro at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest who has a doctorate in biomechanics, says that properly fit equipment is a key for any player. “Customization of equipment is the wave of the future, and Club Champion is on that wave,” he says. “It used to be that pros changed their students' swings to fit their equipment. Now we have the technology to reverse that: We can build the right equipment to suit an individual's swing.”
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