This spring, club companies, retailers, courses and practice centers have scheduled hundreds of demo days across the country -- "try before you buy" events where you can hit the latest equipment. Sound like a good deal? It is, provided you know how to make the most of it. Here's the scoop on how to prepare for golf club demonstrations and what to do once you're there.
• Find out when and where a demo day is scheduled in your area by checking the bulletin boards at the courses and ranges you frequent. Your local golf shop might host demo days, either at the store or with a nearby golf course or driving range.
• If you're interested in sampling a specific brand or model, go to the club company's website. The biggest equipment manufacturers have "demo day locators" that can help guide you to a demo day in your area.
• Want to play the field by testdriving the newest clubs? Then visit www.golfdigest.com/equipment, which lists demo days at public courses conducted by most major clubmakers. In addition, so-called "mega demo days" featuring equipment from multiple manufacturers are highlighted.
• Develop a game plan. Review magazine articles, websites, and visit your golf shop to get an idea of which clubs you want to test.
• Make notes from your research so you can take them with you to the demo day. The kid-in-a-candy-store thrill of getting to hit a bagful of new clubs could cause you to forget some of the questions you had.
• Consider your long-term game-improvement goals and the kinds of new equipment that could help you achieve them. One key decision to make when buying new gear is whether to get the clubs fitted to your current swing or to a swing you want to have after more lessons and range time.
• If the demo day you attend has a tech van on site -- a "golf shop on wheels" packed with the latest custom-fitting tools and gadgets such as launch monitors -- see if it's possible to make an appointment. A proper fitting can take up to an hour per golfer, so one-on-one time may be limited.
• Schedule enough time. You might have to wait your turn -- especially to get on that launch monitor -- and you don't want to rush when you get your chance.
• If the demo day is at your local course, try to work with both your pro and the company rep. If you trust the fit you receive, then you won't second-guess yourself when you play poorly.
• Mornings usually produce more accurate test results than afternoons; the winds are typically quieter, yielding a truer representation of your ball flight.
• Come prepared as you would to play golf. Even if it's indoors, wear golf shoes, and bring your own glove -- or two. The key is to be comfortable and simulate what you do on a golf course.
• Make sure you're warmed up. The last thing you want to do is walk onto a demo-day range, pick up a club, and put three bad swings on it because you didn't stretch or hit balls first.
• Even better: Play nine holes first to get the bugs out. More than just warming up, it gives you confidence for the tee shots.
• Bring your own clubs to compare accuracy, distance, and ball flight. You might have been able to "hit it out to that sign" last time you were on the range, but it could have been 20 degrees warmer (or colder), or the wind could have been blowing. The best comparisons are under the same conditions at the same time.
• It's not necessary to know your club specifications beforehand, but it does provide a good starting point. Stop by the fitting cart -- where the sample clubs are stored -- to discuss your options with the club rep. That way you can avoid hitting clubs that obviously aren't right for you.
• Know that club specs vary among manufacturers. There is no universal set of specs -- one company's R-flex shaft may well be an S-flex on another brand.
• Most demo days are free. Those that do charge a modest fee usually allow you to apply it to the cost of any golf equipment you end up ordering.
• Many sales reps pay for their samples and have to cart them around. So don't be offended -- especially at hectic mega demo days -- when asked to leave your driver's license before trying the clubs.
• Another reality check: Don't expect to always be able to try clubs from different different manufacturers side by side. At many mega demo days, you're more likely to have to hit one brand, then move on to the next company's station.
Getting into the swing
• Don't wear yourself out working with one model. Rotate among woods or irons or different shaft options or different shaft options rather than working with just one kind of club before moving on to another.
• If you hit a bad groove, take a break. Practice your putting or hit wedges to regain your tempo.
• If possible, hit the newest, or at least cleanest, balls in your bucket. Not all range balls are of the caliber you may play, and you want to avoid a false assessment.
• Better yet: See if you can hit a few shots with your own brand of ball. Take your cue from today's tour pros, who know how important it is to match the right driver with the right ball to produce the optimum launch conditions for each player.
• Best-case scenario: Try all the clubs in a set on the course. Some golf shops allow you to play or rent a demo set for a round. How you hit on the range may be different from the swing you employ on the course.
• Above all, enjoy yourself -- it's just tire-kicking, albeit with a purpose. You're under no obligation to buy, so don't feel pressured or intimidated: The golf pros and sales reps have seen a lot worse swings than yours. They're there to show off their new product and help you take your best shot at getting the best clubs for you.
Closing the deal
• If you liked working with the sales rep or clubfitter, get a business card so you'll have a contact at that company.
• If you decide to buy, let the sales clerk know who helped you on the range, or better yet, have that person escort you to the register. You might get a discount or a hat or other goodies in appreciation -- and the rep or fitter might get the commission.
• Leave the demo with brochures of the clubs you hit, and be sure to write down any key points you might want to remember later. Most golf-club purchases aren't made on the spot, but are the result of a fair amount of research -- and, nowadays, field-testing.
By Barry Salberg