May 132013
John Keeler of Burden Lake CC

John Keeler of Burden Lake CC

By Chris Graf

“Golf Digest” magazine assembles a panel of golfers each year to test new clubs. When West Sand Lake resident John Keeler was invited to join the panel in 2008, he jumped at the chance.

“They assemble a panel of golfers, and once a year they bring them together in one spot to test all of the latest equipment and prototypes being planned for introduction for the coming year. The test results are gathered, compiled, reviewed, and presented in their February issue dedicated to all of the new equipment,” explains Keeler.

When Keeler was asked to join the panel, he was told that he would receive an all-expense-paid trip to a golf resort in California. But he was warned that it would not be a vacation; he would be expected to spend three full days doing little else besides hitting golf balls. Keeler was told that it would be physically exhausting.


After arriving in California, Keeler attended a banquet and met the other panelists. Many had been participating in the event for several years. There were 16 panelists in total: four club pros, six amateurs with handicaps under five, and six “choppers,” golfers such as Keeler, with handicaps ranging from 8-to-14.

Among the sea of faces at the banquet that night, he recognized Stina Sternberg from the Golf Channel. He also spotted Mark Soltau, a writer who has worked closely with Tiger Woods since the time he was a freshman at Stanford University.

During the banquet, “Golf Digest’s” senior Editor for Equipment, Mike Stachura, addressed the panelists. He expressed great appreciation for their willingness to participate in the event.

“He feels this is by far one of the most important tasks they undertake annually,” says Keeler.

Stachura told them how much Golf Digest readers rely on the unbiased reviews of the panelists. They use these reviews to help them with their buying decisions. He went on to say that some manufacturers were much less enthusiastic about the reviews.

“He said that when they first started doing this six years ago that the equipment manufacturers didn’t always like what the panelists had said about some of their products,” says Keeler. “But Mike felt that it was crucial that Golf Digest forge ahead, and the equipment companies are now onboard.”

Despite this, Stachura said that it is not unusual for him to receive some unpleasant phone calls and e-mails from the equipment companies when their products receive unfavorable reviews.


After enjoying the banquet, Keeler and the other golfers were told to be on the course by 7:30 the next morning. For the next three days, they golfed from 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., stopping only for lunch. The days were hot and temperatures were in the 90’s. Keeler realized that they weren’t exaggerating when they told him that it would be exhausting.