Fitting for Length
Having said why we should get it right, how do we make sure we do get
it right? There are three classes of methods in common use:
Both the static fingertip height method and the dynamic method depend on
a "standard" club. For the fingertip-height method, the standard is a set
of "ideal" measurements, not physical clubs that the clubfitter must have.
In the case of the dynamic method, the standard club is a physical collection
of clubs of known length and lie.
The visual sizing-up approach, common in many pro shops and most
golfing "department stores". This involves no more than looking at the
golfer's gender (and height, if it's unusual), and taking a hot guess.
This gives a decent fit (perhaps not ideal, but acceptable) to at least
half the population. But that's hardly a desirable "design method"; the
less said about it, the better.
Static measurement of the golfer. For example, some club manufacturers
(Ping and Nicklaus come to mind) supply their retailers with a hinged,
telescoping shaft to measure the position of a golfer's grip at address.
But I feel that a naive static "measurement" of a properly positioned clubhead
at address gives a club that's too short or a lie that's too flat,
for several reasons. Because of
the flex of the shaft, the clubhead will be toe-down at impact. Also, the
golfer's position at impact is going to have the arms and club in the same
plane, making it play longer (i.e.- more upright) than it was at address.
I prefer estimating club length from a static measurement of the golfer's
Properly used, static fitting will give a good match for over 90% of
the golfing population, in my experience.
Dynamic measurement of the golfer swinging
Obviously this is the most accurate, fitting 99% of the golfers correctly.
The only ones that aren't fitted correctly are those with a swing that
doesn't repeat, so it's impossible to get a consistent measurement.
Every static method of determining the proper length depends on
a "standard set" of lengths, and measuring the golfer's deviation
from this "standard", in some way related to proper length.
The method I'll discuss here uses the measurement of the golfer's
fingertip height, but the current Golfsmith recommendation is based
on wrist height.
Since the methods depend on a "standard",
let's start with the nominal club lengths for a "standard" men's set. The
following table agrees with the recommendations from Golfsmith (before
about 1995), GolfWorks, and numerous books:
I am unable to account for the seeming discontinuity of the length-lie
relationship between the woods and the irons, but these measurements have
been around for quite a few years and seem to cover quite a range of manufacturers.
The nominal women's set is one inch shorter for each club, at the same
More recently, Golfsmith has come out with new recommendations, with
all the clubs 1/2" longer. Many of their clubheads are being built with
lies more upright than the traditional standard. In reading between the
lines of Golfsmith's comments about the reason, it seems to be based on
the fact that the majority of golfers slice. The longer clubs and more
upright lie both contribute to a hook, which may lessen the average golfer's
slice. Of course, if you have a hook, it will make it worse. And, in any
event, it will result in striking the ball "toe up".
According to Carl Paul in Golfsmith's "Golf Clubs - Design and Repair",
the best way to design the length for any particular golfer is ...
"... by measuring the golfer's 'hand height'. This is accomplished
by measuring the distance from the golfer's fingertips to the floor while
he stands erect with arms hanging straight by his side. Standard clublengths
are based on the average 'hand height' of 27 inches for men. A general
rule of thumb in determining proper shaft length is to increase or decrease
the club length by 1/4 to 1/2 inch for each full inch of 'hand height'
over or under the 27 inch average."
Geometry says that changing club length by only 1/2" per inch of hand height
isn't enough. My own calculations indicate that you want about a one-to-one
ratio; that is, add or subtract an inch of club length for each inch of
hand height. Moreover, I know at least one rather tall person who didn't
feel comfortable with his clubs until they were increased to a full one-to-one
to his hand height.
One reason for being "conservative" in changing length (that is, following
Carl Paul's rule of thumb) is that changes in length can make significant
differences in swingweight and non-negligible differences in flex. If you
go a full inch of club difference for each inch of fingertip height difference,
you need to take some design measures to keep swingweight and flex from
getting out of hand. We'll get into some of these design approaches in
As a testimonial to the value of fingertip-height measurement, let me
relate a personal experience. My brother visited me, and we decided to
go golfing. He hadn't swung a club in almost twenty years, and had no clubs
of his own. Since my garage and basement contain about two sets for each
member of the family, I told him to pick a set that felt good and he could
use it. I fully expected him to pick one of mine, since we're a similar
height and build. So I was surprised when he picked my wife's set. I was
even more surprised (matched only by his own surprise) when he hit the
ball better than he ever had twenty years ago. When we got home, I gave
him a fingertip-height measurement. His fingertips were almost and inch
and a half lower than mine, and the same height as my wife's. The difference
in length between my wife's clubs and mine is almost exactly an inch and
Anyway, now you've heard Carl Paul's opinion and mine; you're free to
develop your own. ("One nice thing about standards is there are so many
of them to choose from." - anonymous engineer.)
Dynamic Length Fitting
This is the most accurate method, since it measures DIRECTLY the length
of club the golfer needs. The minuses are the necessity for
several calibration clubs and the time and place to take some swings.
(Note that there is a similar procedure for
dynamic fitting of lie angle.
What is described here is related, but it determines length independently
from lie angle. After you've read and understood the chapter on fitting
lie angle, you would do well to combine the fitting of length and lie.)
Here's how to dynamically fit for length:
You need several clubs of differing lengths. Ideally, you'd want a series
of, say, 5-irons of known lengths in 1/2" increments (though
1" will do nicely). It would be a good idea to have both irons
and woods, say a set of 5-irons and a set of drivers or 3-woods.
That is because most people can hit woods that are longer than
the longest iron they can hit well. So you want a measure of each.
Prepare the clubs so you can see, after each swing, where the
clubface struck the ball. This is easiest and most professional
looking with "impact tape" made for the purpose. But a perfectly
serviceable and much less expensive solution is to take a bit of
talcum powder to the range, and lightly dust the clubface with it.
You'll see the imprint of the ball very clearly after the shot.
Have the golfer swing at the ball with various length clubs, and note
the point of impact on the clubface. Is it high or low, heel or toe?
But, most important is it CONSISTENTLY in the same place?
This test was designed to find the longest club the golfer can
- If it is consistent in the middle of the clubface, try a longer
club. It's possible the golfer can deal with a longer club, and might
get more length (or even more comfort) with one.
- If it is inconsistent, a shorter club might be called for.
Or it might just be that this golfer has an inconsistent swing.
The clubfitter has to be enough of a swing coach to tell the difference.
But do experiment, because even most inconsistent ball-strikers have
some length beyond with they become even less consistent -- often
markedly less consistent. Find this point and treat it as the maximum
length the golfer can handle.
- If it is consistent but on the heel, the golfer may need a shorter
club. Conversely, consistent but on the toe may indicate a longer club.
But don't count on it. While geometry suggests this, experience seems
to suggest otherwise. The consistent toe or heel hit most often indicates a
faulty setup. In that case, going to a longer or shorter club will not
change the position of the ball mark; the difference in length is
compensated for in the setup.
You probably ought to determine the shortest club as well. This
will usually be a wedge, and you shouldn't try to use the 5-irons for
this purpose. A few sizes of wedge will usually suffice, and the
too-short wedge will result in either an awkward stance or balls hit
too thin. Nothing as easy to read as ball marks on a club face,
The professional clubmaker should keep a set of calibration clubs on
hand, since their presence makes the more accurate dynamic measurement
easy. If the one-time clubmaker cannot get one or more calibrated clubs
for a dynamic measurement, they should be reassured by the fact that the
fingertip-height approach gives the right answer nine times out of ten.
Last modified Jan 2, 1999