Take a savvy Wharton grad, a passion for golf, and a personal experience with being fitted improperly for golf equipment, and you have the key ingredients for a great business recipe. Keith Bank turned it all into Club Champion, a golf club fitting and building service that recently opened its first Pennsylvania facility in Bala Cynwyd.
Many years before launching Club Champion, Bank had a bad club fitting at a big retail golf store, leaving him with women’s shafts in his newly purchased clubs—not ideal for his game and swing speed. “More golfers are realizing that being properly fitted for their golf clubs is going to help them improve,” says Bank, now the company’s chairman. “A big-box retailer cannot duplicate Club Champion’s demo club inventory, our technology, our fitting experience, or our custom building capabilities.”
Bank is no stranger to Philadelphia. He spent many formative years at the Univer-sity of Pennsylvania. This local tie is partly why he chose the Delaware Valley for Club Champion’s first location outside its Chicago headquarters. (New locations are also opening this spring in Houston and Atlanta.) “Philadelphia has a rich and storied golf history, and has such a thriving and active golf community,” Bank says. “The Golf Association of Philadelphia is one of the largest and most revered golf associations in the country. And, coupled with the amount of serious golfers and some of the greatest golf courses in the world, Philadelphia was a natural choice for our first expansion market.”
Club Champion’s facilities are comfor-table and spacious—part clubhouse, pro shop and indoor driving range. Their master club fitters use high-tech TrackMan Launch Monitors, which apply technology originally developed for military projectile and missile tracking. Now, it’s the leading technology for ball trajectory, speed, spin rate, and a variety of other club-delivery measurements. By analyzing the data from hitting different clubfaces, loft angles and shafts, club fitters can determine the best equipment for an individual golfer’s needs.
Many golfers typically sacrifice putting improvement for driving and iron play. Since close to 40 percent of a golfer’s strokes are putts, Club Champion addresses this oft-overlooked area of one’s game with its Science&Motion PuttLab. It gives a player precise, real-time feedback on 28 parameters of the putting stroke, including putter face angles, face rotation, swing path, impact spot, swing-time duration and stroke rhythm.
With its convergence of technology and experience, Club Champion feels uniquely qualified to fit and build clubs. “We are able to carry every major brand on the market. By using our universal club-connect system, we can fit any shaft with any head out there,” Bank says. “Customers have the ability to hit tens of thousands of combinations. Conversely, most people who fit golf clubs can only fit the heads and the shafts that the original equipment manufacturer decides to carry in any given year in their fitting cart.”
“Our fitters average more than five years of fitting experience,” he adds. “And we build each club ourselves to the exact specifications that resulted from the club fitting session. Most people are receiving clubs from a mass production facility, which simply cannot have the type of quality controls in place that we have.”
Club Champion works with all playing abilities, but often with high-end golfers—where shaving a stroke or two can be the difference in winning or succeeding at the next level. Take West Chester native Jeff Osberg, who’s one of the country’s best amateurs and plays out of Llanerch Country Club in Havertown. After a putter fitting at Club Champion, he finished the stroke play portion of the 2012 U.S. Amateur Championship at Cherry Hills tied for second at 7-under. When asked about his second-round 65, the 2010 Patterson Cup champion said, “I putted fantastically both days, probably the best I’ve putted in my life.”
Sure, a top-notch player will see the benefits of a club fitting, but how about a mid- to high-handicapper who has further to go in his development? As a 15, this writer put Club Champion to the test. I’ve always approached my golf game with a James Carville mindset: “It’s the swing, stupid.” Could proper fitting make that much difference?
After meeting with Jim Yenser, master fitter-builder and general manager at the Bala Cynwyd facility, I hit balls until my hands bled—no, really. The technology was just so cool, with instant feedback on my shots, I didn’t want to stop. After the analysis, I was fitted with a Callaway RAZR Fit driver head, a Fujikura Motore F1 65 regular-flex shaft, and Golf Pride Tour Velvet grips—all geared toward my swing profile and what I’d hit the longest and most accurate on the simulator.
I played with the new driver for 10 rounds at the end of the 2012 season, and I saw dramatic improvement in the accuracy and length of my drives. For the first time all year, I was scoring consistently in the mid to low 80s.
Of course, the caveat is always “your mileage may vary.” For those truly interested in improving your game, a proper club fitting may be something you’ve overlooked. Now, you know where to go.