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Custom clubs find fit in golfing industry

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Pairing golfers with the correct club is a team effort at Club Champion, a small, 20-employee company in Willowbrook started by 30-year-old founder Nick Sherburne.

The headquarters for Club Champion is a tight office in an industrial park just off Kingery Highway, across the street from a struggling strip mall with closed storefronts, a FedEx office and a Papa John’s. But don’t let the unassuming looks outside fool you. There is plenty going on in the shop in the back of the facility as fitters are busy building custom-fitted clubs for their customers.

Whether a golfer carries a low or high handicap, staff members at Club Champion feel they have just the right club for everyone.

“All my employees are full-time,” Sherburne said. “These guys eat, sleep and breathe this. This is what they know. This is their passion.”

With the help of investors Joe Lee and Keith Bank, Sherburne changed EJL Custom Golf into Club Champion three years ago. Local sites in Willowbrook, Northfield and Chicago, on Ohio Street, have mushroomed into more locations outside Atlanta and Philadelphia and in Houston. The company plans on opening sites in Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Fla., within the next year.

Each customer has his or her swing analyzed by a state-of-the-art Trackman computer system at one of Club Champion’s two hitting stations. Technicians use data such as smash factor, launch angle and spin rate to match equipment with the customer’s swing. Club Champion can even find the optimum putter using its SAM (science and motion) putting lab.

Club Champion’s fitting area has a rack running the length of the room with heads, grips and shafts from 24 different companies. Brands range from major names such as Titleist, TaylorMade, Nike, Callaway and Ping to smaller specialty companies such as Nippon shaft or Golf Pride grips.

Master builder David Seo joined Club Champion nearly 1 1/2 years ago from a rival company. The Korean-born Gilberts resident has worked eight years as a club builder.

Seo is on his feet up to eight hours a day while operating drills, blades and sand belts. His job mainly involves gluing together all the pieces: grips to shafts and shafts to club heads. He can adjust the loft of a club head with a digital calibrator in the build shop to within a quarter degree.

“It’s all about the details,” Seo said. “Everything is detailed. Everything has to be right.”

He will spend five minutes per club if all the specifications have been collected, otherwise, it might take up to 15 minutes each. He uses a special epoxy glue, including one that needs only 30 minutes to dry before the club can be used on the course.

Seo, 36, said he can look at data on a sheet of paper and can envision the swing of the golfer. Similar to finger prints, identical twins will have unique golf swings.

“The golf swing is very different,” said Seo, an admitted perfectionist. “We find the clubs that fit the player the best. That’s all we can do.”

According to fitter Justin Vondra, a typical customer has a handicap ranging between 15-20.

“It’s all about optimum numbers; how close you get to optimum numbers,” Vondra said. “We even test grip size. All of this matters. We have to think about every single aspect of every single club we build. It changes the club.”

Sherburne started working in the golf business while at Downers Grove North, then studied at the University of Illinois-Chicago so he could stay in the area. He started with EJL Custom Golf after college and later became a partner. Thirteen years after EJL was formed, Sherburne started his own company when former partner Everett Lockenvitz retired.

Club Champion can fit an entire bag of clubs. Sherburne said a set of irons can cost between $700-1,400 and three woods go for between $300-800. Golfers also can be measured for hybrid clubs.

“I like to call our clientele ‘The Discerning Golfer,’ ” Sherburne said.

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