Kingdom Come

Written by Sean Fairholm

This article originally appeared in Global Golf Post - read it here.

On a warm spring day, the practice range is wide open with a never-ending flow of golf balls and the type of detailed gear treatment the best players in the world receive.

Two massive equipment trailers overlook the 16-acre facility, and the builders within them are wizards when it comes to golf club anatomy. The seven indoor hitting bays next to them are dotted with an endless combination of clubheads and shafts, the golfer's equivalent of walking through a car showroom and test driving any ride you desire. Adjacent is a short-game area, which could be the type of backward some of us come up in dreams.

This is The Kingdom at Reynolds Lake Oconee, a slice of golf nirvana amongst the rolling hills and meandering lakes of north central Georgia. The pros come here on a routine basis - it's one of two such TaylorMade facilities in the world - to receive first-class care for their equipment needs. And for one glorious afternoon, I went behind the gates and experienced a full tour-quality club fitting process from Chris Nichol, one of the (incredibly patient) experts on hand.

I came away from my experience regretting all of the years I went to play golf at amazing, memorable courses with equipment that didn't maximize my ability. I wanted certain shots back - I wanted to hit them again with the clubs that could do what I couldn't do back then. Sean Fairholm

Truthfully, I had put off a proper fitting for nearly a decade. My driver dates back some 15 years, which is akin to living a modern life with the original iPhone. Golf is a game of self-negotiation for many of us, and one of the deals I made with myself is that my faulty swing didn't deserve upgrades in equipment. If I ever had the time to practice more, only then would I invest ion a club fitting and new sticks. Before that point, it seemed it would hardly make a difference when it comes to actually enjoying the game.

If I can only express one sentiment, it would be this: I was horribly wrong. The vast majority of us can benefit from it perhaps even more than the men and women who play the game for money.

I came away from my experience regretting all of the years I went to play golf at amazing, memorable courses with equipment that didn't maximize my ability. I wanted certain shots back - I wanted to hit them again with the clubs that could do what I couldn't do back then.

Blake Adams, a former tour pro and the current director of player development at The Kingdom, put my feelings into words when we met after my fitting.

"Think about it. I f custom-built clubs can save a tour player a couple of shots, then imagine how many they'll save the everyday player," Adams said. "You can pound buckets of balls and tweak your swing, but the biggest problem might not be you. It's the clubs."

It immediately became clear that this was the case for me as well.

There are only a handful of golfers present for fittings at The Kingdom per day, each golfer is like the lone kid in a chocolate factory. The premise is that a blend of instruction and fitting will lead them to the promised land. It's another misconception of mine that was shattered upon arrival: finding the proper gear also involved a diet of swing adjustments. There's really no point where club fitting and instruction are completely separate, and there isn't a high talent benchmark you need to meet, either.

I came to The Kingdom struggling with a pull hook. Throughout the fitting, Nichol would remind me to move my ball position forward - the opposite of what I thought I needed to do - and start the downswing with my lower body. He explained that his job was to inspect what struggles were related to technique and which were related to the clubs themselves, using TrackMan to see clubface and swing-path data that provided clues.

Those swing instructions alone were a major help, but he quickly saw that there were major gains to be made with my driver and 3-wood. The loft of my driver needed to go down from 10.5 to 9, and an upright sleeve setting along with a Project X Evenflow CB Blue 60 shaft greatly reduced my dreaded pull hook and increased my ball speed by 8mph. To that point, I made one swing with a 15-degree Stealth 3-wood that is maybe the purest I've ever hit a golf shot, For a brief moment, I felt like a tour pro.

To get there, Nichol would change shafts or heads after every few swings. Within a couple of hacks, he could tell whether we had found the right combination, we needed to keep searching or if the issues were more swing-related than club-related. It was an intersection of golf science and art.

After a few other revelations throughout the two-hour process, I had a full spec sheet to order clubs. It's hard to convince someone of this before going through the process, but you walk away with a different version of your game. There are misses you once feared that now appear less. Everything becomes more efficient. Golf is still undefeated, but you now have more of a chance - and the entire point of the game is that we're all just chasing more of a chance.

Once you see what you can do, it's hard to ever go back to what you were.

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