So I’ve written and re-written this blog a few times because I’m super passionate about the topic at hand, but I’ve had a tough time striking the balance of going full golf hardo and writing something readable for your average golf fan. In fact, I’d say this blog may have a less humorous slant than most of my golf blogs, so if you don’t care about golf equipment, just skip to the last paragraph where I get to the punchline. Anyway, I hate to say it, but for a long time, average golfers have been getting swindled by big golf manufacturers… Shocking, right?
I won’t do a crazy dive into the deep state of the off the rack golf equipment market, but I will bring up some pertinent background to let you know that for years, the equation has been simple. Top golfers would sign a huge contract with an equipment company. Tiger played Nike, Phil played Callaway, Sergio played Taylormade. Then each of these companies would offer a watered down version the equipment to the public and dumbasses like you and me would pay top dollar to play the “same shit the pros play” and pay $400 for each year’s driver, $300 for new woods $800 for each season’s new set of irons, $120 for fresh wedges, and $200-300 for each new putter. The shit was like clockwork and the belief that these companies were offering updated technology that made last year’s irons obsolete infected the brains of weekend hackers everywhere.
How Golf Companies Poisoned the Well and How We Got Woke
Golf is weird. It has an insane amount of hubris attached to it. I guess to an extent, it’s a way for middle-aged guys to re-live their glory days and convince their buddies that they’re still athletes. For that reason, the dick swinging carries over to wanting to have the biggest and baddest equipment in a similar way that high school athletes want the best cleats, baseball bats, lacrosse sticks, jock straps, whatever.
Golf manufacturers effectively preyed on this pride extremely well until two things happened.
The first thing that happened was the advent of a new technology called Trackman. It’s this little orange thing you put behind you when you hit golf balls and it spits out a fuckload of information about your swing. It can pinpoint what exactly is going on with your swing and what the problem is. You can hit clubs side by side and determine what club will help your game and what shitty part of your swing is hurting your game. Thanks to this technology, golfers no longer need to go see an equipment fitter at golf galaxy who gets paid on commission to tell you that you need this year’s $500 driver vs. last year’s model going for $200 that you can actually hit further. It’s a totally objective piece of technology that comes in at $25,000 a unit, but has proved to be priceless to professional tour players, private clubs who want to provide an impressive perk of membership, and the new breed of club fitters who are paid to give commission-free swing analysis.
The second thing that is destroying equipment companies is their greed. Taylormade stepped up their release schedules. Instead of a new set of each club in the bag, they were delivering clubs on a six month release schedule that were more or less dog shit. In fact, their clubs are so bad that the faces cave in on drivers and stock shafts are snapping on irons, and Taylormade is replacing their products with no questions asked in order to keep the complaints as quiet as possible. Consumers see it as great customer service, but it’s really just replacing shit with more shit. Also, off the rack clubs have gotten more expensive. Drivers are clocking in at $500, irons are going for over $1000, and putters are coming in at $350, a price that used to only be charged if it had a Scotty Cameron stamp on it.
Times Are Changing and So Are Pro Equipment Deals
Some would argue that I’m overstating the reality of what’s happening. After all, even if you consider yourself a regular golfer, you may not be aware of what I’m even talking about and this topic is almost certainly not the centerpiece of conversation in muni-course scrambles. There are still golfers who are wetting themselves over the upcoming releases from the major manufacturers, but let’s take a look at some of the top golfers on tour. Justin Rose did not re-sign with Taylormade this year. Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, and Francesco Molinari all won majors last year with mixed bags and without equipment contracts. Tony Finau played Ping in 2018, but refused to play a Ping putter. Jason Dufner went out of pocket and paid for a set of boutique irons hand crafted by Don White at Custom National Works. Golfsmith has shut down its stores like crazy. Dick’s sporting goods has been abandoning its golf departments. At this point, the only golf store chains that are growing is Club Champion, a service that uses Trackman to give a paid printout of what equipment fits their client best and basically makes a tiny percentage of its money on equipment sales.
It’s true that golf is simply growing at such a rate and sponsors are paying more so that for equipment companies to keep up, they can only afford to keep on 2 or 3 golfers as full on sponsored players, but on the retail side, it’s clear that manufacturers are starting to panic.
I’m not delusionsal. I understand that even with the volatility in the market, Titleist, Ping, Taylormade, and Callaway won’t die anytime soon. After all, the golf market is niche, and it’s insanely expensive to enter as a new competitor. However, with more knowledge becoming readily available to amateur golfers, there are a few trends to notice.
What to Consider When Buying New Clubs
First of all, the rate that golfers need to replace equipment has been insanely overestimated. Professional golfers who play 20 events and make the cut in a year will play 4 competitive rounds, a practice round, and a pro-am each week. That comes out to 120 rounds a year and that doesn’t include range sessions. According to a survey, the average amateur golfer plays 16 rounds a year, and that average goes up to 25 rounds a year in Florida. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you play a round every two weeks and take off for the winter season, that’s about right. If pro golfers are playing the same set of clubs for 120 rounds, I assure you, you don’t need to replace your clubs annually after a sixth of that many rounds. So that means that on average, a set of clubs can last you around six years, and if you’re a hard ass who buys irons every year, you’re spending $4800 and trading in perfectly good irons. I realize that math doesn’t factor in trade in value and such, but c’mon, I’m a blogger. The point is that golf manufacturers are marketing in such a way that convinces you to spend way more money than you need to. As long as your grooves aren’t worn out, your irons are good to go. If you want to give your clubs a makeover, new grips will go a long way to bring new life to your sticks and that’s only about $120 for an entire set or even cheaper if you learn to do it yourself.
With the introduction of social media, boutique golf companies have found an easy way to introduce themselves into the market. Serious amateur golfers are discerning and have a good eye, so if they see something they like, companies can grow. This blog is getting long enough, so I won’t go into great detail about some of these guys, but look up Lamb Putters, Wedge Wizard, Bradley Putters, National Custom Works, and retailers who sell Miura golf clubs. Some of these are insanely expensive, but they have the ability to build clubs specific to your game that you can play for years before the grooves wear out and require replacement. Some of the putters can creep up into the thousands of dollars, but they border on being useable art and can literally last forever if they are properly cared for.
A company that has bridged the gap between retail and boutique golf is PXG. Again, I won’t spell out the details of this company for brevity’s sake, but I implore you to look into them. They offer top of the line clubs on a slower release schedule that will last for years. When they first came out, top golfers on the PGA and LPGA were leaving their big manufacturers in droves to play under the PXG flag.
Justin Rose and Honma
So you’re probably wondering, what the fuck this has to do with Justin Rose? Well American golfers have been stupid. Asian golfers have been smart. Asians love golf. That’s not a crude stereotype. For years, American tour pros have spent their off-seasons in Japan, China, and Korea, not even playing, but showing up for demos and events with gigantic appearance fees because of how much Asians love golf. Golf manufacturers understand the Asian market and actually offer completely different equipment to Japan and China. Do an eBay search of “Japanese issued taylormade” and you’ll see that they’re getting better equipment and it costs more. That’s because Asian markets are willing to invest more in their game for the long haul. They have essentially been years ahead of the American understanding of golf equipment. So Japanese manufacturers produce clubs based on this understanding of their market and American companies can’t use their tactics on Asian markets, which has forced them to adapt.
When Justin Rose signed with Honma, he made the decisions to sign with a Japanese golf company. When he signed the contract he was the world number one golfer. He’s an Englishman who plays on the American PGA Tour, and yet, he looked outside the norm of the American market. Based on everything I’ve given you in this rambling blog, I think the writing is on the wall. These companies like Taylormade, Titleist, Ping, and Callaway could easily forego their tight release schedules and quick profits in favor of research and development to create long-term customers, but at this point, they’re sticking with their old model, which is clearly dying. Instead of releasing a set of irons a year, these companies could release new irons when they’re actually improved and ready for production and charge top dollar.
Justin Rose has had the foresight to not go with a mixed bag without a contract, but rather, find a company that he feels has growth potential and will provide him with the best sticks to win golf tournaments.
It will be interesting to see how the next few years of golf equipment plays out. If you’re a weekend hacker, the good news for you is that as long as you aren’t playing with wooden iron shafts, chances are, your clubs are good enough. You may need to get a fresh set of grips put on (and for the love of God, please do), but if you’re trying to play on a budget, you don’t need to get a fresh set of sticks until you’re ready to invest in a set that fit you and your game.