The Future of Sports: Nick Sherburne On The New Emerging Technologies That Are Disrupting The World Of Sports
The Future of Sports: Nick Sherburne On The New Emerging Technologies That Are Disrupting The World Of Sports
This interview originally appeared in Authority Magazine on August 25, 2021.
New technologies have changed the way we engage in and watch sports. Sensors, Wearable Tech, Video Assistant Referees (VAR), and Instant Replay, are examples of new technologies that have changed the way we play and watch sports. In this interview series called, “The Future of Sports; New Emerging Technologies That Are Disrupting The World Of Sports,” we are talking to sports leaders, athletes, sports tech experts, and sports equipment companies who can talk about the new technologies that are reshaping the sports world.
As a part of this interview, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Sherburne. Nick is the co-founder of Club Champion, the nation’s top custom golf club fitter and builder. Since 2010, Club Champion has grown from a regional three-studio fitting business to a trusted golf club fitting expert with locations in every major golf market nationwide. With the advent of launch monitors, new shaft technology, and equipment advancements, Nick shifted his mindset about fitting. No longer just an art, the science and technique of a proper fitting became a founding principle for the future of Club Champion and the game of golf.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thanks for having me! I’ve been in and around the golf industry my whole life. I found my way into club fitting in 1998 at a place called EJL Golf in Willowbrook, IL. The “Steve Jobs started in a garage” story is sort of the skeleton of ours, too. Golf was just a passion of mine and I wanted to ensure others enjoyed it as much as I did. The best way to do that was to get people the best equipment for them. Club fitting has always been a part of the sport of golf but as time has passed, the technology behind club fitting has greatly improved. With EJL, our knowledge grew as technology advanced and we had more customers than we knew what to do with. Then, in 2010, Club Champion was founded and since then, it’s been a runaway train — we now have nearly 90 locations across the U.S. with plans to expand further. As I said before, club fitting has always been a part of the sport, but before the mass availability of TrackMan launch monitors, SST PUREing machines, SAM PuttLabs, and more, fitting was limited to Tour pros and an upper echelon of golfers. Now, we can give every golfer a Tour-level fitting experience to help them lower their scores and enjoy the game more.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Whether I’ve fitted them for clubs, played golf with them or drank on the golf course with them, I’ve encountered so many pro athletes and celebrities. One story that sticks out the most to me, I actually talked about this on our podcast, Fits With the Founder, but it involves Bo Jackson. He was the first “larger than life” person I met — I met him for the first time as a pimple-nosed kid and now we’ve grown to be friends. I was maybe 17 years old, and he walked in and wanted one of the stiffest shafts at the time put into all of his clubs. After relaying my hesitation, Bo goes, “Son, feel my forearm.” And he made me feel the muscles in his forearm. I just put in the order from there and he appreciated that I fit him how he wanted to be fit, and now we’ve known each other for over 20 years.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I got into golf and the industry very young, but it’s never too late to do something you want to love. Sure, work is work at the end of the day. Life comes with things you have to do that you might not want to do, but I still love what I do every day. I love bringing joy to other people by helping them improve their golf game.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There has been a village of people that make me and Club Champion what we are today. To name one would be unfair, but I reflect on these people often and it’s truly an amazing group. My life has been a journey from a small farm community to the big city, to a global company — the people and experiences, and people behind those experiences in my 38 years is truly amazing. I tell every person I train at Club Champion that every person has something to teach you and it’s your job to listen.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
This probably isn’t an impressive answer, but I’m not a big consumer of pop culture. I have been so buried in work that I really don’t read a lot, watch movies, etc. I have a few podcasts and things I enjoy for entertainment but nothing that impacted me from a business perspective. If anything, the media I enjoy has taught me that there’s so much info to consume and so many different types of folks out there. That wide-spread availability is what makes people ask questions and that awareness is what I use at Club Champion to attract golfers to us. Not just one type of golfer but anybody who plays the game.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I’d say humility, stick-to-it-ive-ness and passion. Humility in the sense that I started on this journey as a teenager and now I’m a father to two (soon to be three) kids with a company of nearly 300 employees and growing. I always want to remain level-headed and grounded just like I’m one of the guys, you know? If you walk around and act like “The Founder”, you’re not going to get a lot of people on your side. I go back and work in the build shop almost every day because I still love it and I want the people who are building and fitting clubs to know that I haven’t forgotten where I came from.
Stick-to-it-ive-ness is next because no matter what, things are going to change. Things like technology development is a change for the better in our world; it’s helped me stay passionate about the game of golf and the art of club fitting. I’m dedicated to the game, the craft and the people that trust us with their golf game.
Passion is another trait because it’s the base of everything. Things can’t get accomplished without passion. If people can bring the same type of passion consistently across a variety of things, they’re great in my book.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our contribution feels small but the crux of it is that we help people enjoy their hobby or passion even more. Our primary goal has always been to give every golfer a Tour-level fitting and get them the best equipment to help lower their scores and increase their enjoyment on the course. For some, that means playing their best golf in a competitive setting and making a living; for others, it’s just about being active and social and really getting the most out of the few hours they’re able to dedicate to themself and their happiness.
2021 has been our most successful year yet and that marks 11 years of dedication to improving the golf games of tens of thousands of golfers. We’re in the business of better golf which translates to happy golfers.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the sports technologies that most excite you at the moment? Can you explain why you are passionate about it?
Golf technology has moved mountains over the last decade or two, and we’ve been able to make it accessible to the masses. To improve your game, you need a launch monitor, but not just any launch monitor. TrackMan is the gold standard for the PGA Tour and there’s one in every Club Champion fitting bay. With TrackMan’s proven 3D radar tech, we’re able to measure smash factor, ball speed, clubhead speed, carry and more in real-time. We work with the top brands in golf, including TaylorMade, Callaway and Titleist along with a plethora of lesser-known brands to offer over 65,000+ combinations of custom golf clubs, and we’re able to use all the combos to improve all the metrics measured by TrackMan.
On the short game side, you’ll want the best tech as well since putts make up around 40% of your strokes. Also found in each Club Champion location is a Science & Motion (SAM) PuttLab system, designed to analyze the 28 most important parameters of your putting stroke. Using ultrasound measurements, SAM provides on-the-spot data and insight that enables fitters to identify the best putter for you.
The tech-focused philosophy extends beyond the stores to the build shop, where you’ll find SST PURE Shaft Alignment systems along with perfectly calibrated swingweight machines and loft and lie machines that match the machines in every store. Consistency is one of our key philosophies, and with all the available tech we have, we’re able to ensure that the clubs golfers hit in our bays are the same clubs they’ll receive after purchasing.
How do you think this might change the world of sports?
To be frank, I think our data-driven approach has already changed our category, and we see it in other sports as well. We see tracer technology in everything from golf to baseball; we see every metric imaginable on the screen during football games, we see athletes using technology to dial in their craft and get better and better every season. To some, this may seem like a move away from tradition or like an attempt to remove the element of human error; to us, it’s about optimization and a real understanding of your skill, your body and the equipment available to you.
Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
I don’t think there’s anything haunting or invasive about the technology we use, so hopefully nothing “Black Mirror”-like will happen in the game of golf. But, overanalysis is definitely a thing across all sports analytics and data. One of the biggest names on Tour right now, Bryson DeChambeau, sometimes falls into the trap of analysis paralysis since he’s always tearing things down to rebuild them in a better way. But I respect that because it means he’s striving for more. He’s willing to think outside the box and try things that might hurt his game in the short-run but really amp things up later once he’s acclimated. It’s always scary to think about failing, even just for a while, but you have to be willing to make a change if you want to see improvement.
What are the 3 things that concern you about the sports industry today? Can you explain? What can be done to address or correct those concerns?
- Intimidation. People are intimidated by sports; their cost and/or the level at which they have to play to justify an investment. At Club Champion, we try to explain that every level of golfer can benefit from having the right clubs — if you’re a great golfer, perfectly fitted clubs will only give you more control and distance. If you’re a weekend warrior or hobbyist, custom clubs can help you play well enough without having to dedicate hours on the driving range. If you’re a beginner, fitted clubs allow you to learn more quickly and effectively since your equipment isn’t working against your body as you make swing changes. There’s no such thing as “I’m not good enough” when it comes to having the right tools.
- Time. Becoming really great at a sport requires a massive time investment. Even being a great sports fan requires a lot of time, between watching games, catching highlights, following teams on social media, even participating in fantasy sports and the like. It seems like time is a more valuable commodity every day, and one that isn’t super available when you have work and kids and everything else, so it’s important to keep everything in perspective and understand that sports should be enjoyed and that any level of time commitment is still valuable.
- Getting the word out. Those of us who are in a position to be a thought-leader in the sports category need to make sure we’re providing interesting information about our sport and making it readily available to anyone who wants to consume it. Additionally, we have to package that info in a digestible way so anyone can jump in and pick up what we’re putting down. Knowing your audience is key but being willing to expand your audience is critical as well.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t be scared. I would say my youthful ignorance helped me at the beginning to understand this, but as I took on more responsibility, I became scared to make decisions. I learned if you work hard, make a plan, and execute the plan, you don’t have to be scared. It will work out the way it’s intended to.
- Own it. I had to learn this the hard way. But if you want to be successful, you have to own it. Good, bad, or indifferent, as a leader you have to own it and learn from it. It’s how you will see it through and it’s how you will grow as a person and a professional.
- Surround yourself with great people. Sometimes it’s scary to hire and invest in the right people, but having the right people can propel your business faster than 99% of investments. Don’t always try to be the smartest person in the room — you never know what you might learn if you listen to people who have something to say.
- Do what most people won’t. Even starting a business at the age I spearheaded Club Champion is something that most people wouldn’t attempt. Sometimes that challenge can act as fuel to get you through it. Honestly, doing the scariest things often reaped the best rewards, financially and spiritually.
- Always see around the corner. The most successful business leaders can see where the future is coming from. They know their next challenge and are prepared for it — it’s how they stay leaders.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Where I grew up, you were on your own. You had to self start and make it happen. I see so many young people today give in to the weight or challenges they face — they see the mountain as too big and feel like staying at the bottom isn’t that bad. I didn’t have the luxury. I would love to start a movement that sheds light on benefits of self-starting and capitalizing on your talents. I would love to empower people to take those talents and passions and leverage them into a career or a business.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Sort of a left-field answer here, but Dave Portnoy from Barstool Sports. One of the things that made us a big player in the golf world was being a disruptor. Fitting, technology, and everything we’ve talked about today were different before we came along and now we’ve set the bar for the industry. Dave challenged and disrupted traditional sports media with so much content and personality and now, the biggest sports media companies are trying to replicate Barstool. I’d love to sit down with him, eat some pizza, talk business and pick his brain because I respect him and everything he’s done for the internet and his business.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We’re on all social media. Club Champion on Facebook, @clubchampion on Instagram, @clubchampgolf on Twitter and you can find unique video content on our YouTube channel as well. Our website is chock full of informational blogs and you can also book a fitting at the nearest Club Champion location from there.
We also have our own podcast called “Fits with the Founder” where I’m able to speak freely with my co-host, Cassie, about everything in the golf world with some pretty exciting guests. Definitely check us out if you’re interested in golf, golf equipment or club fitting!