Thursday, January 3, 2013
By Tom Wishon GolfWRX Contributor Tom Wishon served as Vice President of GolfWorks from 1980 to 1986. From 1986 to 1993, he was president of Dynacraft Golf Products, and from 1993 to 2002 he was Vice President and Chief Technical Officer for Golfsmith International. Wishon started his own company, Tom Wishon Golf Technology, in 2003. I read with great interest the article by Kevin Crook, The Focus on Equipment has Hurt Golf, in which he basically said it’s almost a waste of time to go buy new golf clubs because you have no way of knowing if what you buy is going to help or harm your ability to play the game. The main thing I took away from Kevin’s article is that he is yet one more confused and frustrated victim of the longtime business model of the golf equipment industry. If anything from the golf equipment industry has harmed golf, it is the way that golf clubs are being sold to golfers in a market that is fiercely competitive for sales. Many golf club companies exist to sell their clubs to millions of golfers through thousands of retail golf outlets and websites. The top-5 golf equipment manufacturers now control about 80 percent of the premium golf equipment market with combined annual revenues north of $3 billion. Four out of five of these companies are publicly traded, each with the accompanying pressures from shareholders and financial institutions to grow in revenue, profits and stock price. The only way large golf companies can sell the volume of clubs they must to meet forecasts and satisfy shareholders and executives is to pre-build their clubs to a series of standard specifications so they can be shipped to the thousands of retailers to be put on display and sold off the rack. Demand is driven by massive marketing campaigns that promise improvement and an increase in status upon buying the clubs. Credibility is established by paying professional golfers to play their equipment. After three decades of such fierce competition, the golf equipment industry has become a commodity business. Most retailers are selling the same exact products, so consumers hunt for the best price. Retailers have to discount to get the sale, which results in them making less profit. Making less profit means they do not have the money to hire and retain quality sales people. And retailers can’t afford to allow the sales staff to take more than a few minutes to make each sale, because making money requires that they sell a high volume of products. This is precisely what Kevin has encountered in his frustration with trying to do nothing more than to find the best golf equipment with which to play and enjoy this great game. He’s frustrated because he believes that whoever sells him his clubs should really know what they are doing. Unfortunately, the shortcomings in the current golf equipment business model means the people selling him his clubs do not know much more about golf clubs than he does, and may actually know less. Launch monitors are placed in golf retail outlets to give golfers the impression they are being properly fit for their clubs. Yet little to no training exists to teach sales people how to properly turn the outputs of the launch monitors into the best prescription for clubs for the golfer. Retailers also have inventory to worry about, so it is very common for them to pay a “spiff” to their sales staff to get them to make more of an effort to sell what they need to get rid of. Add to that the effects of the fierce competition among the golf equipment companies. At the wholesale level, it has resulted in drivers and woods that are far too long for the vast majority of golfers to ever hit consistently, which may or may not actually have the loft that is imprinted on the head. Lofts in irons have been decreasing as well, as a way of impressing golfers with more distance in their short irons. But this comes at the expense of golfer’s not being able to hit their mid and long irons as well. Shafts are a problem, too. Average golfers have no idea how stiff the shafts they purchase actually are because of poor quality control and a lack of industry standards. Add it all up, and it’s no wonder that golfers like Kevin Cook are confused and often end up with the wrong equipment. In truth, the best solution for golfers is to return to the original business model for golf equipment sales prior to the early 1900s, back when the only place a golfer could buy a set of golf clubs was to go see a clubmaker. Back then, golfers visited the clubmaker’s shop, where the clubs were built one club at a time, one set at a time, for one golfer at a time. It’s critical to be honest and tell you that some of today’s clubmakers do not have the fitting knowledge to be able to properly match a golfer with clubs that allow him or her to play to the best of their ability. Just because someone can build and repair golf clubs does not mean they know how to analyze a golfer and choose the best fitting specs to match to the golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics. So golfers who decide to visit a clubmaker to end their equipment frustration MUST DO THEIR HOMEWORK to be sure the clubmaker they choose is a good, experienced and knowledgeable. Such clubmaker/clubfitters do exist and they are without question the very best sources for golf equipment and knowledge. They can truly help a golfer improve and play to the best of the golfer’s ability.