With the release of the yearly Hot List, there are immediately lots and lots of posts with people griping about the products on the list and what their perception of the Hot List evaluation process is. To alleviate any confusion, let’s get one thing out of the way to start. The 2012 Golf Digest Hot List is, just as in previous years, a Hot List, not a Performance List. You may wish to use the 2012 Hot List as a starting point to determine what clubs might fit your game, but it won’t tell you the best performing clubs.

Yes, “Performance” is listed as one of the criteria for the Hot List (and is 45% of the total score), but this is based upon Hot List player panelist perceived performance as opposed to actual performance – no launch monitor is used to capture objective data during the evaluation process. Each player panelist evaluates performance information, such as whether the trajectory is where they think it should be, if the club is providing distance in an exceptional way, and how their worst hits fare. The player then relays the comments to the judges (there are 4 judges for the Hot List, and one is with every two players during the evaluation), who later collectively decide on the Performance score. This same process is used for the Look/Sound/Feel scoring process. Likewise with the scientists, who provide judges with their opinions to help form the Innovation score, and the retailers, who provide their thoughts on the enthusiasm and demand for a product that the judges then consider in determining the Demand score. So for those players who get worked up about the clubs on the list not being the “best” in their mind, just remember that it’s a list generated by subjective scoring in four different categories by four judges, nothing more.

Given that the Hot List is subjective, Golf Digest can use any scoring criteria and put any clubs on the Hot List that they like. If they want the amount of advertising dollars a manufacturer spends on their magazine to be a component of the score, well, they can do that if they want. Although if you think about it, with Demand as one of the categories contributing to the Hot List, that is happening already. How is enthusiasm and excitement around a product produced? Based on marketing dollars more than anything else, and golf equipment manufacturer advertising spend in Golf Digest (at least for the large companies) is one unavoidable component. I don’t believe that any manufacturer directly pays to get on the Hot List, but their advertising dollars spent with Golf Digest have an impact on their Demand score (heck, if it didn’t, the manufacturer wouldn’t advertise in Golf Digest). Perhaps the clubs used on tour or in a particular player’s bag will drive some demand independent of marketing, but the majority of us will only know what these clubs are based upon advertising that highlights this information. It is true that “Demand” makes up only 5% of the total score, but as Hot List judge Mike Stachura notes, there only tenths of a point separating clubs, so the “Demand” score can definitely have an impact in determining who makes the list and who doesn’t.

It’s interesting to hear Mike remark in the Hot List podcast that “…if I just said that whoever advertises we will just make them the winner…I think that is a misconception that is frustrating and I think we’d like to do everything possible to answer those questions and we are happy to do so at any time.” One of the best ways to answer these questions about what influence advertising has on the scoring would, of course, be to provide a breakdown of numerical score in each category for all the clubs tested, including comments from the player panel, scientists and retailers. It’s a bit confounding to hear the judges say that they don’t like the comments that the Hot List is bought and paid for…but when you have a selection process that isn’t open for review (such as showing the scoring for all clubs evaluated, TrackMan launch data, etc.), you quickly open yourself to this type of criticism.

So do you want the hottest equipment, or the clubs that best perform the best for you? Maybe in some cases they are one and the same…but you won’t know from just the Hot List – to get the full story it’s best to get fit for clubs by a professional to make sure you find the right match for your game. The Hot List certainly has its place, but don’t misconstrue it for the end all and be all of what equipment to purchase.

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