Custom golf club fitting is now so widely available to the average golfer that if you aren’t fitted by your local golf professional you are missing out on technology that can help your game. With most major golf retail stores and PGA professional equipped with simulators, launch monitors and similar measuring devices, the average golfer can not only get his or her physical measurements taken but also find out their swing speed, ball speed, optimal launch angle for each club, ball spin rate and other player-specific specs. The golfer can then have his clubs created to his particular specs, from shaft flex to loft, lie and face angles of the head. No longer does the average golfer have to settle for clubs with standard measurements, although even off-the-rack clubs are now being manufactured with built-in adjustability.
It used to be that tour pros were pretty much the only ones who had access to custom club fitting on a regular basis, and for players on the PGA Tour that takes place in the tour van. Even though the average player has unprecedented access to customization, if you’re like me you still wonder what takes place in those vans behind the fence at the various stops on tour. I recently had the opportunity to find out when the fine folks at Nike Golf invited me to take a behind the scenes tour of their tour van at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February.
My host and tour guide was Nike Golf’s Ben Giunta, and he showed me the van and its features in detail. You enter the van from the back deck, on which reside a few golf bags full of shafts that the Nike Golf technicians use to create clubs for the athletes. Through the sliding glass door at the back of the van we entered the first room which is part meeting room and part office and is equipped with a seating area, a table and a few folding chairs, as well as counter space, work stations, several cabinets and a large flat-screen TV. This room is where the athletes meet with the staff, and where backup accessories, headwear, gloves and balls are stored according to the athletes’ particular choices and specs.
The second room is the workshop where all of the club adjustments, repair work, re-gripping and creation of new clubs for the athletes takes place. As you enter, to the left of the door there is a large flat screen and a laptop where the athlete’s club specs can be displayed as the techs work on their equipment. There is also a rack of file folders that have additional information and specs for each athlete. On either side of the room there is counter space where the work is done, and on which are a variety of tools and machines. Under the counters and at the opposite end of the room is a storage system with large flat drawers (like flat files) that house extra clubs for the particular athletes, as well as grips, shafts and a variety of club heads so the techs can create new clubs for the athletes as needed. In the center of the room there is an island on which there are more tools including Nike Golf’s famous Green Machine, the same one made famous at The Oven. This room is a complete mobile workshop that has all the essential tools the technicians need to do any necessary work on the athletes’ equipment.
When Ben was finished showing me around, I was able to hang out for a while and chat with him, Steve Stach and Rob Burbick (also known as “Nike Rob” and seen in Nike Golf’s new series of commercials) and get some additional information. First Ben explained that Nike Golf has three vans, the large tour van that travels to the tour stops, and two smaller vans that travel to other locations throughout the country. He and Rob mentioned that the athletes’ specs are determined early in the year, then their equipment is maintained per those specs throughout the rest of the year — for the most part the athletes usually don’t change their specs during the year. They mentioned that one of the benefits of Nike’s new STR8-FIT technology is the time it saves in fitting shafts for the athletes — by being able to quickly change shafts they can determine the correct shaft for an athlete in a matter of minutes, rather than the hours or even days it used to take. In addition, they are able to use the same clubhead (e.g. the clubhead the athlete likes), thus eliminating the variable of using multiple clubheads glued into different shafts (the old way).
Steve Stach is the apparel representative to the athletes, and he handles the athletes’ requests for apparel, accessories, headwear and footwear. Steve mentioned that athlete scripting is done four times a year around the four majors. Nike Golf is constantly introducing new footwear and apparel, and Steve introduces some of this to the athletes and gets their feedback. Ben, Rob and Steve all echoed the fact that the athletes are constantly involved in the development of new products, both at home in Fort Worth at The Oven and on the road in the tour van.
Rob capped the conversation with what I thought was the biggest takeaway of the day — he mentioned that the most important thing the Nike Golf tour van gives the athletes is confidence. The athletes leave the tour van knowing that their equipment is dialed in and correct for them, and that they have the best and most innovative equipment available. There’s no doubt that their equipment is right or that it’s the best it can be, they don’t need to give it another thought and they can focus solely on their respective golf games.
The tour van tour was really interesting, and my thanks go out to Nike Golf and specifically Ben, Rob and Steve for taking the time to show me around and speak with me. I took a few quick videos, I’ve also linked to a video that The Hacker’s Paradise did of their tour, and below that are some photos from my tour. Enjoy!