Golf Equipment Reviews: Is Perception more Important than Reality?

Golf equipment reviews are the most popular articles posted at GolfUnfiltered.com. For whatever reason, my readers seem to enjoy what I write about new golf equipment and how it can help my game. Golf equipment is also the only topic to which any participant in this sport can relate. But has the performance of golf equipment plateaued over the years? What do consumers base their product purchases on today?

This month on this site and on the Golf Unfiltered Podcast we will focus on the old adage that "perception is reality." Simply stated: if we think a golf club performs better than our current gamer, is that good enough to make a purchase?

Or should we instead base our decision on cold, hard data?

Obviously, there are two schools of thought on this topic.

The Practical Approach

If you hit a golf ball longer with one driver compared to another, and you can see those results in real time, do you really need data or statistics to prove that you just hit that ball further?

No, you don't.

Feel, confidence and good ol'-fashioned personal preference play as much a role in how a golf club will perform as any technology built inside it. I'm willing to bet that you have a "favorite club" in your bag that you trust more than any other. You've established a relationship with that club over the years and someone will have to rip that sucker out of your cold, dead hands.

Your favorite club is your "favorite" because you can trust its performance.

But aside from personal preference, the technology gap between different club options has been reduced to a sliver. I don't care what any golf review says in the data: chances are the average player won't be able to tell the difference. Dan Hauser said as much in a recent podcast.

Don't believe me? Just look at what notable YouTube golf equipment reviewer -- and teaching professional -- Rick Shiels says in his review of the new Callaway Epic driver.

Did you catch what Rick said around the 3:45 mark? "Exactly where I see a ball speed for me..."

Compared to what he is already playing, this brand new driver  performs "exactly" the same in one category. That shouldn't shout "technological breakthrough" to the layperson. While a very positive review overall, I would venture a guess that Rick isn't going to replace his current driver with the Epic. (Note: We will be testing the Epic driver in coming weeks.)

What's interesting in his review, however, is how often Rick comments on the ball flight of the Epic. He takes note of how straight the golf ball is flying as well as its trajectory. What we don't know is how those characteristics compare to his current driver. So why can't we make a final determination on this golf club's performance?

That's because practical analysis alone cannot be the be-all-end-all determining factor when comparing golf clubs. That's where data is needed.

The Analytical Approach

Today's ball launch monitor technology is amazing. You can measure and compare statistics ranging from spin rate to ball flight apex to how off-center a ball flies when hit. In many cases, the incremental statistical differences from one club to the next cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Data helps us tell the difference.

Above, if Rick was shopping for a new driver that he can hit straighter and lower than his current driver, he could benefit from analyzing ball flight data before making his decision. During a proper clubfitting, he could also test different club shaft and loft combinations to reach his optimal club specifications.

So even though the technology gap between brands has shrunk considerably over the years, you could argue that this is exactly why data is so necessary. In my opinion, nobody site does a better job at providing this data than MyGolfSpy.com.

So if we agree that a combination of practical and analytical measurement is required to make the most educated purchasing decision possible, why doesn't every golfer just go with what performs the best in both categories?

The Perception Factor

Golfers are lazy.

I know this is true because all golfers are human, and all humans want problems to be solved in the easiest way possible. If I know purchasing Product A will get me to Outcome B, and Outcome B is more favorable than where I am right now, I'm going to pull out my wallet.

When golfers are thinking about buying a new driver, for example, the majority will make their decision based on how a driver performs at one moment in time.

A substantial number of golfers are also brand-loyal. You probably know a "Titleist Guy" or "Callaway Supporter" among your golfing friends. They refuse to switch brands no matter what.

As crazy as this sounds, other golfers will make a purchasing decision based on how well a club performed for their playing partners. This happens! I've seen it!

How a golfer perceives a club will perform -- regardless of reason -- is the most important variable that leads to a final purchase. Period.

Over the next few weeks I am going to speak to industry leaders in golf equipment and golf club reviews to dive deeper into this perception. I'm going to ask how each addresses this perception to learn more about what makes golfers like you and me tick.

In the meantime, I want to know your thoughts.

What variables do YOU look for when making a golf club purchase? What do you like to see in golf equipment reviews? Are they helpful? If not, why?

Leave your comments below or send me an email at adam@golfunfiltered.com. I'd love to hear from you.