The straight scoop

Get everyday golfers' opinions about clubs, courtesy of a Tarpon Springs man.

Published February 1, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - Charlie Mandel retired to Crescent Oaks Country Club more than a decade ago, content to drive his golf cart down the street to the course and pit his handicap against anyone silly enough to believe it.

Only so much time, however, can be devoted to fleecing the locals in daily golf games. So with a background in publishing, Mandel dabbled with a regional golf publication. And in researching a story, he stumbled into a new venture he had no intention of starting: club testing.

Today, Mandel's company, Rankmark, is a big player in the business and one golf club manufacturers cannot ignore. His Web site - rankmark.com - is affiliated with so many regional golf publications across the country that he claims more than 1-million hits per month.

And his testing is amazingly simple. He gets everyday golfers to try out various models. And whatever they like gets his highest ranking.

"Every company thinks they have the best clubs," Mandel, 73, said. "But not every company can have the best club, can they? That's the point we try to make."

How it works

Rankmark does tests at courses, driving ranges and PGA and LPGA events. Testers are typically split into two groups, 0 to 9 or 10 handicap, then 10 or 11 and up, depending on the numbers. There are at least 50 participants in each group, sometimes as many as 200 to 300.

They are first asked which five manufacturers they think make the clubs in the category they will be testing. They are then asked which clubs hit the ball best, based on accuracy, distance or trajectory. And then they are asked to rate and rank all of the clubs.

Some surprises

Mandel said Rankmark recently tested a company's new drivers against its old drivers. Newer is better, right? Not necessarily. "Sometimes you're better off buying a 10-year-old club," Mandel said. "I'm sure the manufacturers don't like that, but it's true." The main reason, Mandel said, is that clubs today face stricter testing to be considered legal.

Look good, feel good

The look of a club is important. "This really did amaze me," Mandel said. "We videotape people doing tests. And if they thought they had a good club in their hand, or if they liked how it looked, they actually made a better swing. And guess what happens when you make a better swing? If you are comfortable with a club, you'll swing better."

Hybrids help

Clubs that have characteristics of a wood and an iron are big in the game-improvement area. Although hybrids are only now taking off, they have been around for some time. "They didn't become popular until the big guys started making them," Mandel said. Hybrids mimic irons in loft but offer a lower center of gravity, which helps get the ball higher than an iron. "Nobody knew about them," Mandel said. "I didn't know about them three years ago, but there were manufacturers making them - ones we had never heard of. They are simply easier to hit than irons."

Better than what?

Mandel said he recently did a test that involved 40 different putters. "You know what, every one of them said that they rolled putts better. I say, 'Better than what?' Better than a mop, probably," Mandel said. The point is that marketing is a big part of a golf company's success. "Instead of spending their money on promotion, they should spend it on R&D (research and development) and making better clubs," Mandel said.

Consumer reports

Golfers are often confused, Mandel said, by the various marketing pitches. "So many companies run ads saying this club will hit the ball higher, straighter, farther," he said. "Individuals want to know. We're like Consumer Reports. That's the reason people come to our Web site. And in most instances, what matters most is what the player is comfortable with."