Luckily for you, we are in something of a golden age for competition-built firearms. With advances in machining techniques brought on by CNC, coupled with the availability of high-quality polymers to make lightweight yet durable frames, an aspiring competitive shooter has his or her pick from several different styles and manufacturers. Look in your gun safe—you probably have one right now.
Leading the way in competition-grade polymer pistols is the father of the Wondernine, Glock. The company's pistols are currently the most common on IDPA and USPSA Production Division firing lines. This represents a huge field of shooters, and Glock has created such support there is a cottage industry dedicated to aftermarket competition parts for its pistols. The obvious choices from Glock are the Glock 34 and 35—chambered in 9 mm and .40 S&W respectively. Glock's competitive shooting team uses the Glock 34 for USPSA Production, IDPA Stock and Enhanced Service Pistol, Bianchi Cup Production, Steel Challenge and pretty much any other sport that calls for a soft-shooting, accurate 9 mm. But with Glock, your choices aren't limited to "competition" guns. If something a little more practical is your flavor, the Glock 19 or Glock 17 (or 23 and 22 if you prefer .40 S&W) are excellent choices for competition. For .45-caliber fans, Glock offers the Glock 21 and G21SF, both great for IDPA's Custom Defensive Pistol division.
If Glocks aren't your cup of tea, have no fear. Rapidly gaining ground are Smith & Wesson's M&P pistols. Used in competition by Smith & Wesson's shooting team, the M&P has built an impressive record in USPSA Production and IDPA competition. There are two M&P pistols designed with competitive shooters in mind—the Pro Series M&P9 in 9 mm and the M&P9 JG, also in 9 mm. The Pro Series M&P9 features a 5-inch barrel. The longer sight radius makes the gun easier to shoot accurately and the resultant added heft reduces felt recoil. The JG in M&P9 JG stands for Julie Golob, the captain of Smith & Wesson's shooting squad and designer of this special-edition pistol. For each JG pistol sold, the company donates a portion of the proceeds to help breast cancer research. The pistol comes from the factory with a 4.25-inch barrel, Warren Tactical rear sight and a competition trigger job.
Another popular choice for polymer competition guns is the Springfield Armory XD and XD(M), which, like the Glock, have spawned a small industry of custom shops dedicated to hot-rodding these carry guns into serious competition pistols. These are competition-ready pistols from the factory, with their match barrels and Heinie sights. The 4.5-inch barrel is great for action pistol competition, and the classic XD is available with a 5-inch barrel.
Glock, Smith & Wesson and Springfield are not the only players in the competition game when it comes to polymer pistols. While they certainly represent the "big three" in terms of market saturation, if none of their guns fit your niche, but you still want the advantages a polymer pistol has to offer, there are plenty of guns out there for you. Heckler & Koch's P30L in 9 mm would make an excellent IDPA gun, offering HK's legendary accuracy on an easy-shooting polymer frame. Possibly the best deals on the market right now are from FNH USA—the FNP, FNX and FNP-45 are top-quality pistols that don't cost a ridiculous amount of money. Used by FNH USA's competition shooting team in USPSA and 3-gun competition, these guns feature the ability to be carried cocked-and-locked or traditional double-action, with the first shot being DA and the rest being from a short, single-action pull. Also available is Ruger's SR9, a 9 mm featuring adjustable sights and a thinner grip than found on a 1911, making it one of the easiest to shoot double-stack pistols on the market. The SR9 is a great buy for a new shooter as it has a 4-inch barrel that's good both for competition and concealed carry.
Any one of these polymer pistols can be a great choice for competition, but the most important quality is your personal comfort with your handgun. All the technology in the world won't help you win if you're not at ease with the pistol. Thankfully, there are plenty of options and aftermarket modifications to ensure you find the right gun.