The Current State of Golf Equipment Reviews
Golf equipment reviews are a popular theme among bloggers, journalists, and golf media outlets. As the one commonality to which all golfers can relate, golf equipment -- and the opinions formed from their use -- have a tendency to create story lines all their own throughout a season.
But while the stories told on the newest driver, irons, ball or putter can drive sales among different demographics, the opposite can also be true. It all boils down to who you want to believe... and the review 'style' you prefer.
The Different Classes of Golf Reviews
Not all golf review sites are built the same.
There are sites that incorporate hard-coded data and testing perimeters to provide comprehensive reviews of new equipment. Others engage their readers by sending them equipment to test and author reviews "from the common man." Some sites preach an unbiased tone with their reviews -- perhaps even an 'unfiltered' approach -- in the spirit of just providing the facts. Hybrid styles that mix multiple approaches together exist.
And of course, there are the sites who publish reviews just to get free shit.
Which review type is the most trustworthy? Is it also the most popular on the web? Do you care either way, or do you simply like the writing style of one site over the next?
How you answer those questions will correspond with the review class toward which you are likely to gravitate.
The Big Boys
Golf equipment reviews are not new. We've been reading them for years, whether on a computer screen, mobile device, or (gasp!) hardcover magazine. This is because the most popular golf news outlets understand these articles drive views, which in turn drives dollars via consumer behavior.
Golf Digest's Hot List has been around for as long as I can remember. Every major golf equipment brand you can think of is included in their testing approach, which features a cross-sectional slice of reviewers from multiple handicap levels. The same can be said for Golf.com's ClubTest, although I have noticed the detail within their write-ups has dwindled.
Readers trust these sites because of their status and ability to work with almost every major brand. Over the years some of those readers thought they could take a better testing approach, creating their own data-driven websites.
The Data Divers
Where the Big Boys fall short -- overtly or accidentally, I'm not sure -- is the inclusion of published data in their reviews. How one golf club performs compared to another in terms of ball launch monitor data is intriguing, especially to readers who don't have access to that technology.
Golf blog junkies will immediately think of MyGolfSpy.com as the site hoping to lead this "datacratic" charge. Complete with their own fully-equipped testing facility and statistics-based testing method, MGS's Most Wanted series is quickly becoming the gold standard for indie golf sites. Some would argue they're already there.
Sadly, I feel the message of MGS has been stunted by their bias toward golf companies "misleading the common golfer", which has been the opposite of my experience. Readers love drama, however, and stirring the pot is definitely one way to keep the conversation going.
The data divers don't stop there, however. A flurry of bored golf course professionals (mainly from the UK, for some reason) have taken to YouTube to publish videos on all the new equipment, incorporating FlightScope data into their 'live tests.'
Channels like Mark Crossfield, Rick Shiels (appearing soon on Wilson Golf's Driver Vs Driver, Season 2), Peter Finch, MeAndMyGolf, and countless others have garnered millions of views as blokes like you and me tune in every day. We sit back and watch these guys hit shot after shot, drool over their spin rates and launch angles, hoping for the ah-ha moment when, yes, THAT'S the club right for my game!
But what about getting the average golfer involved in testing? That's where the community-driven model comes in.
Having readers test equipment and then reporting on those results is not a new concept. In fact, there are a number of sites that actively send golf equipment to their audience to help with reviews.
The Hackers Paradise is one such community, and perhaps the most influential in this class. While the majority of their content -- especially in their massive reader forum -- focuses on contests, giveaways, and golf experience opportunities, THP also features a huge focus on testing new equipment. In addition to their staff writers, THP encourages their audience to test equipment, write about it, and submit their review for publication on the site. (To be fair, MGS also features a forum and community testing model on a smaller scale)
GolfWRX, another massively popular site and golfer forum, takes a similar approach with their audience. While I am not as familiar with their process, scanning their message board yields the clear picture that their readers are intelligent, informed, and equipment nerds. Once again, providing readers the chance to get involved with equipment testing is attractive to the public and brands alike -- although not without its risks.
When you allow the Average Joe to comment on new tech, you may receive... well.... Average Joe content. That's the opportunity seen by independent bloggers.
The Indie Circuit
Undoubtedly the largest class in terms of volume, the independent golf blog circuit is constant and growing. The clear niche where our website fits, these sites focus on hybrid approaches to their testing in the hope of filling in perceived 'gaps' left by other sites.
PluggedInGolf.com is an example of one such site, featuring a mixture of data-driven reviews from multiple authors who know their stuff. Their style of brief, limited-scrolling reviews is appealing to many, especially in today's age of short attention spans and need for immediate information. While not on the scale of other sites with deeper pockets and access to testing facilities, pages like PIG (and Golf Unfiltered, to be totally honest) must constantly look for new ways to engage readers who can easily shift focus to bigger options.
Impact on the Reader and Industry
Regardless of a site's preferred review approach, one thing is clear: readers listen to what these sites say, and purchasing decisions are often based on what is published.
Clearly the landscape is changing not only in golf's blogosphere, but in the social element of the golf community. We are all interested in what others think of literally everything, and golf equipment is no different. Large or small, the sites mentioned above (and many that were not mentioned) shape the narrative around technology that companies dedicate millions of dollars to produce.