Current Trends in Golf Equipment and Golf Social - January 2019

As the world of golf prepares for another calendar year, the ever-growing atmosphere surrounding the game continuously breeds trending topics that are equally entertaining as they are frustrating. As I’ve done in various ways before, taking the temperature of these trends is always a fun exercise and it allows me to invite you, the reader, to engage in a conversation on a number of topics.

In this piece, I’ll offer a few brief thoughts on the popular golf course architecture (GCA) social chatter and how smaller golf equipment brands are competing with larger original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). I encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or reach out to me on Twitter at @golfunfiltered.

st-andrews-1591285_960_720.jpg

Golf Course Architecture and Enjoying The Game

Is there such a thing as the “perfect golf course?”

As with most things in life, the answer to this question is highly personal. You may have grown up near a public course that’s as flat as a pancake, featured minimal bunkers (let alone playable sand in said bunkers), and no discernible difference between fairway and rough. Or you may have scoured the globe playing the finest private clubs of which most of us can only dream.

The goal remains the same for either scenario: to find enjoyment in a game that can be frustrating as hell yet more rewarding than you’d imagine.

Golf as an activity is unique in that it requires massive plots of land to play and enough variability to keep people coming back for more. And, as people are wont to do, opinions abound for every course in an attempt to persuade others that one is better than the other.

Enter GCA social media enthusiasts.

At its core, this emerging subculture of golfers is highly engaging, incredibly educational, yet entertaining enough to sit back and observe. Admittedly, GCA is the topic I know the least about in golf, and websites like The Fried Egg or Garrett Ford’s excellent blog provide primers for people like me who want to learn more. Similarly, voices like Tony Dear offer a constant resource on Twitter who fields questions daily on the topic.

However, I fear there is a meticulous regression away from what can be an invaluable educational resource toward a mentality that borders on snobbery. Pockets of GCA supporters have fallen into the contrarian attitude that everything they like is correct while your opinions are shit. In fact, actual golf course architects fall under intense scrutiny for design features on new builds or renovation projects.

Who the hell do we think we are?

Readers of this site know I am not shy with expressing unpopular ideas nor immune to the (highly deserved) backlash from expressing those ideas. However, I fail to understand the point in denigrating others for their preference in course design in what seems to be an attempt to catch the attention of larger media outlets who’ve built a following of the same contrarians.

There’s a really good chance that experienced architects who are repeatedly hired to work on the world’s greatest courses know what they’re doing. Call it a hunch.

golf-clubs-1633748_960_720.jpg

Direct-to-Consumer Model Growing in Popularity

Speaking of experts knowing what they’re doing, another trend we’re seeing in the golf equipment space is soaring prices for new products from the game’s biggest OEMs.

January is always a popular time for gearheads like myself as brands like Callaway, TaylorMade, Cobra, Wilson, and others announce new club technology and release dates. This creates a ton of buzz leading into the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, which is the largest convention in the golf biz.

Being the market share leaders year after year, these brands can pretty much charge whatever they need to cover the costs of R&D, materials, and player sponsorships associated with their new product. Consumers continue to pay, even as driver prices have eclipsed the $500 mark and irons creep toward $2000 a set. What this has done, however, is open a window for boutique brands to offer high performing alternatives at half the cost.

Brands like Hogan Golf, Sub 70 Golf, Snell, Vice, and multiple others have embraced the direct-to-consumer model to cut out middlemen (middlepersons?) and offer insanely low pricing to players of all skillsets. For example, Hogan offers their incredible Ft. Worth Black irons for under $800, whereas similar sets with comparable tech will easily set you back $1200 or more. Sub 70 does the same at a price point that falls below $500 in some instances.

There are trade-offs, of course. The largest of which is custom fitting, which OEMs rely on for an advantage. To the best of my knowledge, a minimal number of DTC brands can be found at brick-and-mortar clubfitters, thus preventing golfers the opportunity to have a set customized to their game in a timely fashion. Taking a leap of faith before spending hundreds of dollars on product that might benefit your game isn’t ideal.

Regardless, and despite the number of writers like me who constantly push the importance of getting custom fit, consumers who actually do so are in the minority. The cost of a fitting is not cheap. Add that on top of the cost of equipment and you’re looking at a “you’re sleeping on the couch for a month” investment risk.

Marriages have ended for less.

In all seriousness, consumers will always trend toward walking into a store or viewing a website and purchasing something they think will work for them. It’s easier, it’s faster, and it’s cheaper. Golfers who already know their fitting specs are at an advantage.

The further OEMs head in one pricing direction, the wider the window of opportunity opens for direct-to-consumer brands to flourish.