I am asking this question because we as golfers have limited time and financial resources to put toward getting better at the game we love. Therefore, if we want to improve, it’s necessary to be selective about what we choose to invest in. A common dilemma is whether to upgrade our equipment or invest in our bodies. I have gathered the opinions of a variety of experts in the field of golf to help you decide whether your clubs or your body is going to get a tune up this year.
Before we crack on, it’s probably worth defining exactly what I mean by “your equipment” and “your body.”
Equipment: Driver, Fairway Woods, Irons, Wedges, Putter and any custom fitting thereof.
Body: Golf Fitness Assessment, Personal Training, Golf Fitness Training Programs, Fitness Equipment (golf specific or not), Strength Training, Yoga, Pilates, Movement Pattern Training.
Note: Coaching deserves its own category (and article) and is not included in this debate.
So which is more worthy of an investment of your precious time and hard earned dollars?
Some would argue that without the right equipment, it doesn’t matter how good your body is. Incorrect shafts are going to produce inconsistent ball striking, and too little loft on your driver will reduce your carry distance by 10-15 percent. But even a golfer with a body like Rory McIlroy’s is going to struggle without the right gear.
Others might suggest that you can have all the gear, but if your body doesn’t function well you can’t make use of it properly. You might have a driver that is brand new and custom fit to your swing speed and delivery conditions. If your swing speed is 89 mph, your path is 9 degrees left and your angle of attack is 5 degrees down due to mobility restrictions and a lack of strength, however, then you will always have a pretty low potential for improving your driving distance and accuracy by investing in a driver.
I am quite clearly and unashamedly biased in this argument. As a strength and conditioning coach, I will always say that your body is more important than your equipment and you should invest your dollars and your time into getting fitter, stronger, more mobile and improving your movement patterns. In my opinion, improving your body will raise the ceiling of your golf-related physical capabilities such as strength/power, flexibility, coordination and movement patterns. With bettered athleticism comes the potential to swing the club more effectively and hit better golf shots. You can find out more about my methods for raising your ceiling of potential by clicking here.
I am aware, however, that you probably don’t just want to hear this predictable and one-eyed view of the situation, so I have asked eight of my esteemed colleagues to chip in with their opinions on the matter. I tried to harvest a range of views from people who do various different aspects of golf stuff for a living. There are golf coaches, GolfWRX editors, GolfWRX writers, strength and conditioning coaches and even a former CEO of a famous equipment manufacturer. It’s a pretty broad spectrum!
For each of their responses I’ll award a point to either “Equipment” or “Body,” tally the scores as we go and summarize which category came out as the overall winner.
“I guess there are several levels to my answer that cover the different types of client that I work with. To start with, obviously if the clubs are grossly out of proportion (i.e. too long/short, heavy/light, game improvement/blade, etc.) then getting them somewhere near suitable is really important.
“If somebody walked through my door as a raw beginner and didn’t have clubs, I would always suggest not to buy them until we can improve their technique, which includes the physical training of movement patterns.
“If we are talking a long-term program for a player and their goals are to be as good as they can be, then physical first. This can determine how much they can practice and play and therefore have a significant bearing on their long term goals.
“If they are players who know they can’t practice due to work commitments or just aren’t motivated to practice more and enjoy the social aspect only, then clubs may be better suited to help them improve.
“If I am talking elite level athletes that have had their clubs fitted, then physical will always out weigh clubs or technology. Elite level athletes will adapt even if they are not spot on with a club fit.”
We start with a halve.
Scoreboard: Body: 0.5, Equipment: 0.5
“Given decent equipment, meaning that you might favor some older models that play perfectly, well then I say unequivocally that body is more important. I’m 76 and at best exercise might slow down the effects of age, so equating age to condition there is no way I play as well as my younger years. Body, no contest.”
Body takes an early lead with Barney’s full support.
Scoreboard: Body 1.5, Equipment 0.5
“For me… the body is more important to lowering your scores. If we assume we’re discussing any of the major, higher-quality pieces of equipment out there, there performance, as we’ve seen, is generally similar. Materials and craftsmanship sets equipment apart, but if we’re talking generally, moving your body the right way will have a bigger impact than say, upgrading your irons from last season’s model to this season. Yes, we all should have clubs fit for our BODY and our swing and it is possible to lower scores simply by getting a proper equipment fit.
“Better (lower handicap) golfers will, in my opinion, see a bigger benefit from getting their body to work more efficiently through better conditioning/fitness, which will let them get in better positions and fire everything in a better sequence.
“Higher-handicap golfers who have not been fit for their clubs or are using older technology can lower their scores with properly fit clubs or better technology (more forgiving drivers and irons for instance). But they will still see a bigger benefit from having a body that can get in the correct positions more easily, allowing them to swing the club better and improve at a faster pace.”
This is looking bad for equipment.
Scoreboard: Body 2.5, Equipment 0.5
“Equipment changes are best for short-term improvement, by which I mean your next few rounds. Simple things such as establishing proper wedge gaps and dialing in playable lofts and lie angles can create huge improvements in consistency for golfers of every level, and they aren’t usually that expensive. A shaft swap can also really help if golfers find themselves not being able to hit a certain type of club (driver, irons, wedges) as well as others in their set.
That being said, if it was either this or that, most golfers should probably invest in their bodies first, because they’ll only use new clubs for limited amount of time. They’ll need their bodies for their rest of the lives.
The best advice I can give to junior golfers and aspiring professionals is to understand what parts of their bodies could be limiting them and what they can do on a day-to-day basis to prevent injuries. Seek out the smartest coaches and fitters in your area, and you might learn what I did — some of the work I was putting in at the gym and on the range was not really helping, and in some cases hurting me.
Another halved point. Can equipment hang in there?
Scoreboard: Body 3, Equipment 1
“Obviously the body is a huge part of the success of the player, but I feel at the lower levels of playing ability the clubs are more important. This is because the higher handicapper struggles to make up for poorly fit or inappropriate clubs. At least we can alter the clubs to aid the improper body motions for golfers with less ability.”
A full point for equipment. Start of a comeback maybe?
Scoreboard: Body 3, Equipment 2
“I would say equipment short-term and fitness long-term. Equipment can help a golfer shave strokes without changing their technique. But improvement has a ceiling by strictly getting a set of custom-fit golf clubs.
Fitness, however, can help a golfer achieve a golf body (flexibility, stronger core, etc.) that allows them to practice more, while reducing the risk of injury. Also, they can possibly achieve movement patterns they wouldn’t have been able to without a golf-specific fitness regimen.
A new set of clubs isn’t much good if a bad back and tight hamstrings keep you from spending the proper time on the practice tee.”
A great argument in favor of body.
Scoreboard: Body 4, Equipment 2
“In regards to priority, I will always address how the body is functioning first and foremost. The golf swing requires both mobility and stability. If one or both of these functions are compromised, an equipment change may only “Band Aid” over the true cause of the inefficiency in the golf swing.
“Regardless of age, gender, ability, or time availability, we can all work toward a more efficient functioning body; this might mean incorporating dynamic mobility/stability, dynamic balance and/or strength and conditioning program.
“When I have my students applying themselves with structured programs as listed above, I see a dramatic increase in acceptance of swing/technique improvement. I always believe that time spent working on an efficient mobility/stability pattern will decrease the time required to implement swing improvements on the range.
“As the pattern of the swing becomes consistent regarding sequencing, we can then address the equipment and fit the player to equipment that will in turn compliment the players development.”
The first golf coach to go all out for body. This is turning into a one-sided contest.
Scoreboard: Body 5, Equipment 2
Nick Buchan: Founder of Stronger Golf / Co Founder of the Association of Golf Strength and Conditioning (AGSC)
“Obviously, what your body is physically able to do and the equipment you use can directly affect your swing mechanics. Getting properly fitted for your clubs can have you walking out of a 30-minute custom fitting sessions swinging better and ultimately playing better very quickly!
“Improving the function of your body in golf swing by addressing weak points in your movement chain, correcting movement patterns and alignment, etc., will optimise biomechanics and also allow improvements in swing mechanics albeit will considerably more effort and time investment. This approach has two advantages; first, the law of diminishing returns will impact physical training much more slowly or even be non-existent. There will almost always be physical issues affecting a golfer, which we can work to improve.
“Second, and most importantly, improving equipment choice and even swing mechanics through coaching is the equivalent of fine-tuning a cars engine. Increasing strength and power through physical training is the equivalent to making the cars engine bigger. A bigger engine simply has more potential for speed.”
The S&C coach predictably drives home the knife with another point for body.
Scoreboard: Body 6, Equipment 2
There we have it folks, a resounding four-point victory in favor of “your body.” The best custom fit equipment will take you right up to the ceiling of potential for improvement of your game, and there is no doubt that up-to-date and properly fit equipment can help you lower your scores — but increasing your level of (golf specific) athletic ability can raise that ceiling higher than you ever thought possible.
It’s well worth noting that quality coaching plays a huge role in game improvement. Often the best physical adaptations aren’t worth much without being told how to apply them to the swing, and every contributing member to this article massively advocates committing to some level of professional instruction if you want to get better.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the comments above and will encourage my fellow contributors to respond if they can find the time.