Golf clubs are no less confusing now than they were two decades ago. That’s why we work to get it right for you.
▶ When we launched this golf-equipment evaluation enterprise 20 years ago, we said the buying process should start with the Golf Digest Hot List. For the team here that puts it together, it’s an unwavering commitment to providing a comprehensive guide that makes the golf-club universe intelligible for you. It takes us nearly a year to get it right. Multiply that by 20 and you have the knowledge behind this year’s list. The two lead editors responsible for the Hot List have each been covering equipment for the past 30 years. They live for moment of inertia, carbon-composite fibres and artificial-intelligence algorithms, meeting with R&D people of every level to find, as we said in 2004, “the clubs you should try right now.” Our 20th Hot List, fuelled by three weeks of research and testing at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club in Arizona, has 134 winners that are universally better than they have ever been. ▶ ▶ ▶
The process the hot list judges assess this year’s equipment based on months of research, meetings with our scientists and two weeks of testing with players like you.
▶ The judges, listed at right, cast the only votes in the Hot List, but they gather insight from two independent panels. The Scientists advise us on Innovation, and players like you evaluate Performance and Look/Sound/Feel. Those criteria are not equally weighted, as indicated at right.A product’s final score is based on its weighted average in the three Hot List criteria. All scoring is based on a 100-point scale. All player testing and meetings were conducted at the Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club and Harrah’s Ak-Chin in Maricopa, Arizona.
Note: The clubs evaluated for the Hot List meet a few guidelines. First and foremost they must be what we consider to be “new” through autumn 2023. In other words, they must be the flagship products for those companies in those categories. Should a company introduce, or be scheduled to introduce, the next version of that product in autumn 2023, then we do not consider its predecessor.
50% – Based on interviews with our player panellists on their evaluations of clubs within a category, the judges assess the utility of each product. In other words, this is a grade of what happens to the ball when a player hits it. Foresight Sports GCQuad and Rapsodo MLM2Pro launch monitors are used at every hitting station. Fitters monitor players to help them dial in the proper fit before they provide their evaluations.
30% – In consultation with our scientists and based on interviews and our review of technical documents, this grade reflects how a particular technology advances the category
in all aspects, how that technology is explained to the public and to our editors, and to what degree a company commits to fitting the vast majority of golfers with this entry.
Look• sound• feel
20% – Using input from the player panellists, our judges evaluate the relative excellence of the
visual, auditory and tactile experience of using a particular club. The more the club resonates with our understanding of what a golf club should be, the higher the grade it receives. In short, this is a grade of what the player experiences when viewing, holding, swinging and hitting the club.
All judging is based on a 100-point scale for each criterion under each club category.
(Note: Starting this year, Demand is no longer one of the criteria used in the Hot List.)
Gold: Products earned a score of 93 to 100.
Silver: Products earned a score of 88 to 92.99
Arccos says: The No.1 stat-tracking system offers equipment-data insights for Hot List
Equipment, and increasingly the selling of equipment, is about data and statistical analysis. There is no shortage of advanced technology to analyse how clubs work – and how they work for you (visit a qualified club-fitter if you want to get clubs optimised for your game). However, what about the data we have on what modern clubs are doing for average golfers? Well, for that, there is no better source than the GPS sensor-driven stat-tracking app from Arccos Golf. To date, Arccos sensors have recorded more than 600 million shots from average golfers across the planet. Together with Arccos, we’ve dug up a few quipment-related nuggets from the database. They’ll be labelled “Arccos Says” in the Hot List pages, and to get things started, here’s a quick one about the decline of distance and the increase in accuracy as you age.
According to Arccos, as we move from our 20s to our 60s, we lose almost 50 metres in distance. Even more distressing, the bulk of that drop (about 30 metres) happens after age 50. What we lose in power, however, we gain in accuracy. Arccos data reveals that players in their 20s and 30s hit the fairway barely 40 percent of the time. However, golfers in their 60s and 70s are hitting more than half their fairways, and those in their 70s hit the short grass 55 percent of the time. As for that loss in distance, maybe oldsters should take heart from the ageless Bernhard Langer. At 65, Langer’s driving-distance average in 2022 was nearly 249 metres. That’s longer than his driving distance when he won his first Masters at age 27. – Mike Stachura
The hot list gets its inspiration from the passion and relentless pursuit of ‘better’ that comes from our panel of golfers just like you.
▶ When we expanded the Hot List panel of player testers by 50 percent this year – the largest growth since its second year – it wasn’t because we wanted something different. In reality, we were after more of the same. The foundation for how we evaluate the newest golf clubs in the market during the Hot List Summit rests on what our players tell us is happening when they hit those clubs. Why? How clubs resonate with real golfers is vitally more important to us than any robot test or computer readout. For this year’s Hot List, our players hit more than 37,000 shots, and a Golf Digest editor stood by for each one to record the player’s reaction and assessments about how each club is or is not improving on what’s already available. Our panel is how we get at the difference between equipment with adequate innovation and clubs that are exceptional. To achieve this requires enthusiastic objectivity and a relentless pursuit of what is truly better. Players expressing joy when they try a golf club is the essence of what propels companies to continue to innovate at a rate that would have been unimaginable when we started the Hot List in 2004.
To get opinions informed by real numbers, seven years ago we expanded our player evaluations to include launch monitors at every station. This year we had both Foresight GCQuads and the Rapsodo MLM2Pro with every player. In a typical session, a player might hit 15 or more clubs, and although they give ratings in our questions about Look/Sound/Feel and Performance, it’s the free-response portions of their interviews that drive our evaluations. For instance, when we hear a player say, “I’m convinced that when you go to heaven, this is the club they’ll pass out,” we know we’re dealing with something exceptional – different than when we hear, “Profoundly unsettling. Looks like its missing components.”
Our players take the responsibility seriously, whether it’s Ricky Brown, a plus-4-handicapper, mulling the shape of a new iron in his 14th year on our panel, or Erika Larkin, director of instruction at the Stable at Creighton Farms, in her third Hot List, putting a new club through its paces in the bunker in our wedge evaluations. Both, like all their Hot List colleagues, are committed to the hard work required to find out what clubs need to be on your shortlist this year. – Mike Stachura
We invited two celebrity golf geeks to the Hot List; they fit in just as you would expect
Being a Hot List tester is not a normal skill set, not even for an enthusiastic golfer. Discerning shades of excellence among 10, 15, 20 or more clubs in a category, elucidating those thoughts and characteristics quickly and then doing it again in a different category is as exhausting mentally as it is physically.
When we decided to embed a couple of outsiders into this year’s Hot List testing sessions, we knew we had to tap into a special breed of human. Former NFL star Danny Woodhead and celebrated actor Michael Peña, avid golfers and longtime Hot List readers, were up to the task. They came away with an appreciation for the Hot List’s intensity and a kid-in-the-candy-store enthusiasm for how good the best new clubs are.
“It’s like being able to see the hit movie before anyone else except you can’t talk about it,” says Peña, star of the Marvel “Ant-Man” movies. “That’s what the Hot List Summit is. It has that sense of secrecy, just like Marvel movies. There’s a mystique and feeling that if you told anyone anything about it, you might be wiped out of existence.”
No mere posers, Woodhead, a plus-3-handicapper and Peña, a 4-handicapper, grinded out the four days of testing like veterans, weaving their way through more than 180 clubs each in nine categories, hitting balls all the way to sunset on most days. Woodhead said his football background was an asset, though he put it at a cross between two-a-days in the preseason and going across the middle on third down. “You have to love golf to do it,” says Woodhead, who advanced out of US Open local qualifying last year. “If you don’t, I don’t know what you’re doing here because you’re gonna be hitting a lot of balls and spending a lot of time on the range. But it’s a lot of fun.”
That’s perhaps the best indication that Peña and Woodhead got what being a Hot List tester is all about.
“This is awesome, and I would love to come back next year,” said Peña, who could play anywhere and do anything he wants in golf, including play and nearly win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
– Mike Stachura