We could say a lot about Callaway CEO Chip Brewer, and trust us, there would be plenty to talk about.
There’s the quantum leaps Callaway has made in revitalizing its image since Brewer took over three years ago, the economics of the golf industry, Callaway’s frequent product launches… All of that and more would be part of the discussion.
Instead of telling you what we think, we had a better idea. Let’s have someone sit down with Brewer and hear what he has to say.
Our Managing Editor Zak Kozuchowski did exactly that, peppering Brewer with questions in his office at Callaway HQ. Enjoy Brewer’s unfiltered take on the hot-button issues for Callaway and the rest of the golf equipment world.
ZK: We hear a lot from other media and other people inside the industry about the health of golf. What’s your take on the health of golf right now?
CB: You know, on one hand I share some of the concerns that others have espoused. Clearly the game is not growing like we would like it to be. It shrank significantly with the great recession in 2008-2009. After that, I am more optimistic than most are. I think that the amount of negative PR around the sport is not helpful … If you look at the industry over the last several years, it clearly shrank in 2008-2009 with the recession and it has not sprung back after like it has after previous recessions. None of us really get that, other than this recession was different. But it hasn’t really substantially changed since then either. It’s just kind of meandered. Its had a couple good years and a couple not so good years. We’re just in a year this year that has just not been a good year for the industries total, although Callaway as you mentioned has been able to buck that trend.
I think that although the outlook could be glass half empty … you can also look at some of the positives. There are a lot of initiatives underway that are intended to help participation. It is too soon to judge their outcome, but they are uniform views that this is something that the entire industry wants to address. You could look at the PGA Championship and the ratings and the energy that was around the sport as very positive. I think that the story of golf’s demise is not a great argument and is overstated. On the other hand, I understand that we clearly have participation concerns and we have to work together to try to address that.
ZK: Do you think golf will start to grow again?
CB: You know, I don’t know. I’m not really much of a forecaster. If you just went from the business side of it, the greatest argument for growth is that the baby boomers should have led for growth over the last few years and I think the recession stopped that from happening. As the effects of the recession wear off, assuming they do, the baby boomers will have a positive impact on the sport.
I think that if Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler and those types of players continue to play well and we get the energy around the game that will drive growth. There is no question that Tiger Woods was part of the formula that drove growth in the sport around the turn of the century, right? We have seen this happen in the game many times in the past where there have been transition periods between periods of excitement with the top players and we’re are probably going through or went through one of those over the last year or so. And then things like Top Golf … all the growth initiatives, and I’m a fan of all of them. Get Golf Ready is a phenomenal program. We are big supporters of that. What TaylorMade started with Hack Golf I think is phenomenal. I can’t be more positive about it. But what really is going move the needle is Top Golf. It exposes the game to a whole different demographic and age group in a way that they love. It hasn’t moved the needle yet because it’s been so small. It’s only had 10 locations. It’s been more regional, as they roll that out I have high hopes that that could be a positive influence in the sport.
The one area we are concerned about is millennials. I think we understand some of the reasons they aren’t playing as much as they have in the past. Part of it is the change in the way we live today, but part of it is economics — they don’t have any jobs or money. This game requires money. If you segment the millennials by income group, those that have higher incomes and jobs are playing as much as they ever have. So, you get out of school and you have a bunch of debt … When I went to school everybody got a job out of college, right? And now that is not the case. No wonder they aren’t playing golf. They not in a position to. As the economics resolve, I think it will be incredibly helpful and the data suggests that and Top Golf can be a catalyst. I’m not in the forecasting business, but I do think that the negative points of view have been overstated and that has had the run of the PR game. It’s all you’ve heard about.
ZK: One of those stories is with Dick’s Sporting Goods. It blames its demise on having too many new products in the store.
CB: Well, Dick’s and TaylorMade have struggled in golf this year. They have in turn highlighted the difficulties of the industry and that’s natural. When my predecessor was here and he was doing bad he claimed a lot of third-party issues, too. And there is no doubt that there have been headwinds to the industry this year, but not to the degree that some of the naysayers have talked about.
ZK: Do you anticipate that you will catch some flak — particularly from the serious golfer audience — for having three drivers in the marketplace this fall and potentially more in the spring and summer?
CB: From the serious golfer, no. From the trade and blogospheres, yes.
ZK: That’s a pretty good way to put it.
CB: Obviously your audience is serious, serious golfers and we value them and take them very seriously as you know. We desperately want positive relationships, and brand image and reputation are very important to us. The consumer that I play golf with at the club… they get excited about new toys.
ZK: They love it. The more the better, right?
CB: When Apple came out with the 5c and other derivatives of the iPhone, I don’t remember us giving them grief. I remember people lining up for it. And now they’ve got a new 6 and 6+. It took them a year on this one, but on the previous ones they were faster and innovation varies from time to time.
ZK: Callaway is in an interesting position, because certain brands have become associated with certain categories. TaylorMade is associated with the driver and Titleist is associated with the golf ball. What is Callaway associated with now, and what does it want to be associated with?
CB: That is a great question and we have to answer that. We have some categories where we are leaders again. We have been a leader in putters with the Odyssey brand for a long period and we have strengthened that position in the last few years. We have regained our No. 1 position in fairway woods and irons over the last several months, but I think that the brand is going to need to stand for excellence in product. Callaway has a unique brand position; it has a heritage of being very innovative and technical, but also very premium. So when we look at our R&D — which I think we have invested in more than anybody over a longer period of time — that fits with that strategy. What we should be is a leader in total performance premium golf equipment. That is, in essence, the best of the best high tech product lines.
ZK: So if Callaway could only be known for one thing… If you had one chance to reach our readers, what would it be?
CB: It needs to be the best premium golf equipment in the world.
ZK: And you seem to be making pushes in each category.
CB: Yeah, there isn’t a single category that we want to stand for above the others. We have clearly focused on hard goods, which sounds pretty stupid because… duhhh, what else would you focus on? But that was less clear three years ago, what we were. That was one of the changes here, but it’s now been a while. But we are, first and foremost a hard goods company. We want to be the world’s best at that. That’s what turns us on and gets us excited. Products like Apex irons and the (Big Bertha) Alpha driver … some of the new innovations that you see coming out that move the needle forward for the categories for the business for golfers. This cup-face technology that we have in woods and are expanding into irons, it’s phenomenal. It differentiates and that is the type of thing we want to be known for.
ZK: You mentioned Top Golf as a potential big driver of the game. On our site, it seems to be an increased interest in custom fitting. How do you see that playing out in golf’s future?
CB: I think it is the future. I sit up and espouse that to the team here constantly. You look at our investments … custom fitting is the future of the golf club business, and probably golf balls in the future as well. It is the future of hard goods. In the past, you could make a breakthrough technology and do it in a way that one size would fit everybody. We would come out in the past with a new driver made out of titanium. Literally, the Big Bertha was made for everybody, right?
ZK: It was such a huge leap. You can’t seem to make those leaps anymore.
CB: Well, I would argue that we could make similar leaps with other new tech like CAD systems and the ability to dial in CG locations. We build mass customization and manufacturing techniques that allow us to take these paradigm moves and customize them for an individual player. That takes it to another level. A cup face is better for everybody because of an increased ball speed, but that doesn’t mean any one size fits everybody perfectly. We are talking about more than just changing loft and lie angle nowadays. The amount of options available in shafts and their performance criteria, the total weight of the golf club, the ability to move the center of gravity vertically as well as horizontally … all of those things can be dialed in to take a driver that would be good for you Zak, and move it to a whole different level.
ZK: Well, I found one of those at your testing center.
CB: Right. If you look at our new drivers, it has double digit amount of customizable shafts available for no upcharge.
ZK: Is that something you brought from Adams? Is that something you saw success with there and thought it would work at a bigger company, too?
CB: I am a creature of my past so I brought some thoughts I wanted to continue, but there are 2000 people here with their own points of view and we talk it through. It’s not reasonable or fair to say I brought it with me. It is reasonable to say that I believe in it, and I have talked it through here. The team here agrees and embraces the same things. We have a huge technical advantage at Callaway — on drivers and metal woods we can create a lighter chassis. We have a multi-material advantage and expertise in composites that create a lighter chassis and allows us to add more adjustability without any tradeoffs. And we also have a legacy of spending $30 million a year over the last decade to build up a war chest of capabilities on the R&D side that we’re really excited about leveraging. Fitting and customization is one of those truisms; it is the future. You can see in everything we are doing our strong belief in that.
ZK: Is there a “most important” launch this year for Callaway?
CB: There isn’t one per se. They are all very important. The Big Bertha franchise is critical being that it is the most premium brand. We are bringing great innovation to that and a fitting approach. One driver doesn’t fit all, but we have new technology in every single one of them. Some people wish that it was simpler. That we could have one-size wood fit everyone, that you wouldn’t have to go through a fitting, that everybody would benefit from lighter or lower spin… but it’s not true. So to deliver the best product to the consumer we are going with the purer answer of three different drivers that we guarantee will be better for the consumer if they get fit into the right one from Big Bertha. And that will be important to us. We have some movement in the golf ball category, which we’re incredibly excited about. The iron category for us is huge. With this cup-face approach in irons, we think that will be a game changer in that category. You go down the line and they are all pretty important.
ZK: What could get in Callaway’s way coming out of the recession?
CB: What could get in Callaways way? Mostly ourselves. We have to stay humble and hungry — have to continue to listen, change and adapt and get better. Over the long haul, we have a great brand and great resources. We can be a positive factor for the industry, Zak. We’re never going to be perfect, we’re always going to make mistakes, but we have to be honest with ourselves and then use our resources in the right way.
ZK: Is that why you push R&D so hard?
CB: Yeah, I guess so I push everybody a little bit hard. I hope they know I love them, because I do, but we’ve got to be great. You can’t have a product out there that you aren’t wildly proud of, and that is the essence of what motivates us everyday. It’s the same with the marketing and the Tour. We have to keep getting better. We are growing on Tour, growing in popularity and we are making players better most of the time. One of the things I’m most proud of on the Tour is that the players who have joined us… the vast majority are getting better. We graduated seven guys off the Web.com (Tour). Both the No. 1 off the regular season money list and playoff money list were Callaway players. When did that happen last? Never? Stories like Patrick Reed, Chris Kirk, Gary Woodland — when they make the conversions to our gear they get better.
ZK: There doesn’t seem to be a drop off for a lot of the guys that have signed.
CB: Yeah, it’s been the opposite. We’ve all known that hasn’t always been true in the past with every manufacturer, probably even including Callaway.
ZK: What could get in the industry’s way coming out of the recession?
CB: What the industry has to worry about is that the business practices do change. If you look at the drops in average selling prices and excess inventory that has been put into the marketplace over the last few years, that has been a cancer to the golf industry. Everybody is talking about that changing now and it really needs to. If you look at another area that I’m really proud of Callaway, is it that over the last three years we have raised average selling prices in the field. We have gained a ton of market share and we have done it as we’ve raised average selling prices. It’s not that we are trying to gouge consumers. That’s not even a strategy if you wanted it to be, because nobody wants to pay more unless it’s better value, it’s worth it. But where we are using our abilities is to deliver product that is worth it, that delivers on the benefit. Because if you deliver “me too” product, you’re going to have to discount it to sell it through. And then if you over supply that “me too” product, then you’ve not only screwed yourself. You’ve screwed the industry. What we are doing is investing and bringing out products like Apex irons.
ZK: Is there a product that you are most proud of with your time at Callaway?
CB: Apex is up there.
ZK: A $1100 set of irons…
CB: That people love. They don’t like them; they love them. And when people are putting Apex in the bag, they are going to become huge advocates for Callaway because they’re having that kind of impact on their game.
ZK: Is that what you play?
CB: Yeah, but the feedback is almost universal and it wasn’t even on the radar screen but it was within our capabilities. And there are several products, and obviously I’ve said that if we are not proud of them I won’t sleep at night, so I’m proud of everything we’ve put out. But some really live up to the standard that we are talking about.
ZK: Do you think that innovation is ever going to be as sexy as it was when you went to original Big Bertha or when golf went to oversized-perimeter-weighted irons? Are we ever going to see anything like that again that is just so much better?
CB: I really don’t know, Zak. There’s a possibility that it always looks better. It’s like talking about the good old days you know and so you remember them with rose-colored glasses. Some of the innovations that have come out over the last few years are phenomenal. These high-CT fairway woods — they’ve obsoleted other fairway woods. If you’re not using a high-CT fairway wood, you are not in the modern age. Our version of that, X Hot, has moved us back into No. 1 in the fairway wood category. Now you can wax eloquently about oversized irons driving similar change, but it wasn’t any better. It’s just that you remember it as if it was. The changes in the adjustability of these drivers are phenomenal right now.
ZK: Do you think that we’ll look back at the current product and say how great it was?
CB: Absolutely. We’re are going to look back on this 10 years from now and go, “How come we don’t have great innovations like cup faces anymore or vertical CG adjustability?”
ZK: So this is a thing, you believe, of human nature?
CB: I think part of it is because we are in the process. We are going to change irons next year. We are going to change irons to the point where everything else out there is going to be obsolete. We did that in fairway woods now and we’ve got some thoughts on the golf ball category. You know, everybody says innovations are going to get harder and harder, and to a degree that’s true, but darn over the next few years all I see is opportunity and we are delivering on it. It’s not theory. We show you the cup face in the fairway wood and what that has done to the category. And to the credit of Adams and Taylormade, the slot started that and if you are not playing a high-CT fairway wood you’re in the stone age. Those similar types of changes, you’re starting to see that in irons. We are going to take that to a new level. We’ve got an argument in almost every category right now. Blockbuster change.
ZK: Where can you get better?
CB: Zak, we are not nearly as good as we should be or want to be yet. This is only 2.5 years into a change process. Callaway is an interesting spot. I’m glad to hear you say that you think the moral is good and I think it is too, but we are very self critical still in terms of how we can continue to improve in all areas of our business … There are products that were already produced that we decided not to launch. We made that decision last month because we got new information and the new information said that it wasn’t the right answer for the consumer.
ZK: Can you tell me more?
CB: It’s not available for writing about right now, but we’ll tell you when the time is right.
ZK: OK, let’s talk more about the criticism you’ve received for having too many products, especially drivers, in the market place? How can people be upset about having more choices?
CB: It doesn’t fit their paradigm of the world, they don’t understand it and we’re not ready to discuss it yet. So we’ll just let them slap us around a little bit. And yeah, it came quickly after the Big Bertha launch in February. We’re introducing V-Series now and maybe we should have put V-Series out in November (with the new Big Bertha Alphas), but you make decisions as you go … V-Series fits a lot of people. It’s a product that definitely needs to be out in the field, but obviously that low spin stuff for a guy like you is going to be game changing, right? V-Series is not going to be your driver.
Clearly you can see the success it’s having, and you know that for a sixty-year-old guy that is buying a 10.5- or 13.5-degree driver, a 295-gram aerodynamic V-Series driver is a perfect answer. Giving that guy a 320-gram driver with low spin is idiotic. I’m not serving the consumer. And to simplify the product offering to make some guy on a blog happy is dumb. Now, how we manage it is very important so where we work those transitions and managing the excess inventory is one of the big differences that we don’t get credit for.
ZK: Is there a differentiating factor right now between Callaway and its competitors?
CB: Well, Callaway is its own animal. We have our own flavor of coming to market and running our business, and people can’t lump anybody in. We are very aggressive on bringing innovation and cool products, but we also are very attentive to managing the field inventories and making sure that we are not flooding the market with excess inventory and such. That, I think, supports the strategy well. I think that the industry got into a lot of trouble over the last few years chasing too much growth that wasn’t there. If you take every order and you keep shipping into the field and keep making old product you’re going to oversupply it, especially if your products don’t differentiate in any particular year.
The world doesn’t need more cheap fairway woods or more cheap drivers. New golfers get excited about products that make a difference for them. We are really good at that. Some of the others are really good too at that, but we are also showing the discipline of a premium brand market leader and some of the blogs are not giving us credit for that. But the data is very clear. We are obviously gaining market share and we are obviously exciting consumers. We are growing with good players, with average players… we are growing across the globe. We’re making golfers happy.
ZK: What is the vision you have for Callaway and when do think it can come into fruition?
CB: The vision is to do what we are doing, so we are in the process. You are never going to get there. There is never an end point. That is part of life, business — for you, for me, for anybody. There will be milestones along the way where we’ll stop and high five. Then we have to think about how we are going to continue to get better. The vision for Callaway is to have this be the No. 1 premium total performance golf brand in the world and I don’t believe that we are there yet, but I believe we are moving in that direction. The only reason I believe it is because the outside world — the objective evidence — is suggesting that we are. There is almost no metric that would suggest otherwise, but clearly I know what our potential is and we are not even halfway there to that yet. We continue to get so much better and we are continuing to invest accordingly. I kind of like, in a perverse way, the fact that we are doing well in a tough market because that means that we are going to be continuing to grow on Tour going into next year and we’ll be investing aggressively. We’ll continue to invest in R&D and marketing. Being the guy that is bucking the trend and putting more money into key areas when others may not have the ability to do that, usually that pays off. The guys that made those investments in 2008 and 2009 did well after that period. So I’m excited about that opportunity as well.
Coming out of the haze: What to expect from the OEMs in the second half of 2020
As we slowly come out of the lockdown haze, it’s going to be interesting to see which OEMs are primed to come out swinging. From where I sit, there are a few companies that either kept the foot on the pedal or found new ways to interact with the masses. I have been tracking the major companies for different reasons, and I am optimistic on most fronts. Now, it needs to be said that everyone has been keeping the respective momentum going in their own ways—this has been a challenge for everyone, so this analysis is simply a commentary on what may come in the second half of the year.
Many good folks were either furloughed or laid off during this lockdown—that’s where we all lost. It needs to be acknowledged that we are talking about golf here, but the underlying reality of this is still devastating. I so look forward to getting into the trenches with these folks again either back where they were or at new companies.
Big giant club company or big giant marketing machine…it doesn’t matter what you label them as. TaylorMade Golf, in my opinion, turned the heartbreak of stalling one of the biggest first quarters in company history into an opportunity to start talking…and teaching. With the help of the tour team and TM athletes, TaylorMade focused hard on talking to us all during the lockdown. With multiple initiatives through social media, the Driving Relief event, and the tour staff engaging way more than usual. I believe TM created a runway to start moving quickly once stores and pro shops open up again.
Let’s face it, with the social media presence, the most robust tour staff maybe ever, and the driver everyone seems to have reserved for the top big stick of 2020, what’s not to be confident about? On the flip side, a company that big could have really taken it on the chin hard, but how they handled the lockdown—from my chair—was fun to watch and will ultimately ensure a quick restart. There is something to be said about having guys like Trottie, Adrian, and Hause in the fold informing and keeping things fun.
Rumor has it new irons are dropping in the fall/winter, which could spell two awesome bookends to a bittersweet 2020.
PXG leaned in
Why online sales for all OEMs spiked is no mystery. Boredom, desire, and a credit card are keys to any great online buying experience, but PXG made certain that if you were not a buyer previously, you may be now.
The price tag has always been a key topic with Bob Parsons’ Scottsdale-based company. It’s no secret that the clubs aren’t cheap, but during this lockdown, they did multiple strategic initiatives to not only crank up direct-to-consumer buying but also expand the PXG conversation into different areas, namely fashion.
Price cuts across the board started early and, rumor has it, enabled PXG to achieve sales numbers unlike any other period in the company’s short history. Yes, cutting prices helps unit sales, but in the case of PXG, it brought in the club customer that ordinarily shied away from PXG for financial reasons and ultimately made them buyers. That’s where PXG seems to shine, once they finally get you in, they are very effective at keeping you in the family. Mercedes-Benz AMG is like that: once you have had a taste of the Kool-Aid, it’s hard to go back to Hawaiian Punch.
In addition to the aggressive price-cutting, PXG fashion, spearheaded by President Renee Parsons, launched a new collection that is designed and manufactured by PXG. Fashion in times like these is always a risk from a financial standpoint, but this launch has been on the calendar since the BOY and the current lockdown did not disrupt that. It speaks to the confidence that Bob and Renee have in what they are doing. Now, is it a guarantee that PXG garments will fly off the shelves? No. but that’s not the point, it’s the fact that this current climate didn’t scare them into pivoting or holding off.
Point to this pick is PXG looks healthy coming out of this and it was possible to believe that perhaps this would have taken a toll on the custom fit brand. There is even a commercial produced during lockdown to attract even more club builders to the fold. Not normal behavior in times like these, but is anything that PXG does normal? No, and that’s what makes them fun to talk about.
The company also released its Essential Facemask with 50 percent of proceeds going to Team Rubicon.
Ping was quiet…but don’t be fooled
Yes, they did some rare social media engagements with Kenton Oates and the tour staff, which were fantastic. But the real magic here was the quiet way in which Ping slipped into 2020 and the mystery they have in hand and what’s to come next.
There hasn’t been really any new Ping product in a good while, and I anticipate a big winter for the Solheim crew. Sometimes, silence is golden and from what I can gather, what Ping has coming in irons and woods will be yet again a launch that gets people talking.
Ping from a business standpoint is a company that gets one percent better every year. Never any dramatic shifts in strategy or product. It’s always good, it’s always high-performance, and it’s always in the “best of” category across the board.
Watch out for them over the next six to nine months…a storm is brewing. A good one.
Cobra introduced the “Rickie iron”
Compared to 2019 and the runaway success that was the F9 driver, Cobra Golf seemed to cruise along in the first quarter of 2020. The SpeedZone metal wood line was an improvement tech-wise from the F9 but seemed to get lost in the driver launch shuffle with an earlier release—and frankly everyone in the industry took a back seat to TaylorMade’s SIM.
It’s not placing one stick over the other actually, I have been very vocal about my affections for both, it’s just some years, the story around a club can generate excitement, and if the club is exceptional, boom. Cobra was that cool kid in 2019.
What Cobra decided to do in the downtime is slowly tease and taunt with a “Rickie Fowler” iron. Players blades aren’t typically the driving element of any business model, but what Cobra did was introduce to a beautiful yet completely authentic forging that will not only get the gear heads going nuts but also entice the better players to start looking at Cobra as a serious better players iron company. No small feat.
Point is, Cobra has generated buzz. It helped that Rickie’s performance at Seminole was just short of a precision clinic. Beyond the Rev 33, its rumored Cobra has a new players CB coming and some MIM wedges.
It should be an exciting last half for the Cobra crew.
The Titleist train chugged on
I mean, what else is there to say about Titleist? They are as American as apple pie, have a stranglehold on multiple tour and retail categories, and one of the best front offices in golf. The company is a well-oiled machine.
So what do I expect from them in the last half? Well pretty much what I would expect on any other year, solid player-driven equipment. A metal wood launch is coming, the SM8 was a huge hit in stores and on tour, and the ball portion is the biggest 800-pound gorilla in golf.
It was also nice to see a little more social media interaction beyond the traditional. Aaron Dill has been very active on the social media front and a good portion of the tour staff, namely Poulter, JT, and Homa were proactive in engagement. Might seem trivial to some, but specifically, Titleist and Ping are not super active in the organic interaction game, so it was nice to see both companies dive into the fold.
Cleveland/Srixon should have a lot to look forward to
Let’s be honest here, 2019 was a quiet year overall for Srixon. Shane Lowry won The Open, but in the golf mainstream it was a leap year for them in regards to any launches. The anticipation from me personally of what is to come is quite strong. I adore the irons. I have yet to meet one I didn’t love, and fitters across the country will speak to that in sales. The Srixon iron line has become a popular yet-sort-of-cult-classic among fitters and gearheads and rightly so. They are phenomenal.
The recently teased picture of the new driver on the USGA site more or less teased us of what is to come for the overall line. New Cleveland wedges are coming shortly and the golf ball has always been a solid component to the Huntington Beach company.
As much as anyone in the market, I believe Srixon could finish the year with some serious momentum going into 2021. The irons and ball have always been firestarters. My only wish for them, selfishly, is a more aggressive tour strategy in regards to landing one of the perennial top 10. It seems like a dumb thought, but I have always felt Cleveland/Srixon was always a serious hitter that at times seems to get lost in the conversation. Having a big gun on staff or a couple of them will remedy that quickly.
Callaway has an eye on big things for the golf ball
Callaway, a company that seems to do it all well, was actually a bit quiet since the lockdown started. After a solid release of the Mavrik line and some momentum in the golf ball area, I’m sure this lockdown probably felt like a kick to the shin.
However, this company is shifting in a good way. The idea that they were a golf club company that happened to make golf balls is slowly turning into a company with multiple major components that stand alone. TaylorMade is on a similar shift, and honestly it’s very interesting to watch. Do I think that anyone will ever catch Titleist in the ball category? No, I don’t. All of these mentioned golf balls are ridiculously good, but 75 years of trust and loyalty are hard to compete with. But that’s not the point, Callaway is a monster company that takes the golf ball conversation very seriously, and I believe this will serve them very well coming out of this craziness and help the momentum going into 2021.
On Spec: Is testing clubs bad for your game? Plus listener questions
In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the Match Part 2 and then goes into a discussion about whether testing clubs is detrimental to your golf game or not.
After that, it’s time for the ever-popular listener questions to finish off the show.
Is 2020 golf’s big chance?
At the present moment, when discussing the game of golf, I use the word “opportunity” with great caution and understanding that golf is the least of many people’s worries in 2020. With that in mind, just like other industries around the world, there are millions of people both directly and indirectly who make their living working around golf, along with countless more that enjoy playing it for any number of reasons.
Outside of the four major championships, golf is generally a fringe sport that takes a viewership backseat to other team sports like basketball, football, and baseball. But as the only game in town, this past weekend golf brought in a lot of casual fans who don’t normally watch it. The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins game to benefit COVID-19 frontline workers featured some of the world’s top-ranked golfers, including World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, carrying their own clubs, getting their own yardages and playing in shorts—exactly how the majority of golfers enjoy the game.
It made the golf look and feel so much more approachable to the casual fans that normally tune in to see professionals debate over yardage with a caddy dressed in a white jumpsuit while patrons quietly murmur amongst themselves (in the case of the Masters).
If “watercooler” sports talk is the way we measure the success of a sporting event, then the skins game was a triumph.
The news sports landscape
Golf is in a unique position since it is one of the few sports that can currently be played with modified physical distancing measures in place. Golf is played outside, in small groups, and allows for players of all abilities to enjoy the game, and this is where the opportunity lies.
People want to be outside, get exercise, and spend time with their friends, and golf is the one game that offers all three of those—along with the ability to fill a competitive void left from the current absence of recreational team sports.
The proof that more people have already made this conclusion can be felt around the industry
- Pushcart sales have been so unprecedented, many companies have been sold out for weeks.
- As golf has been regulated to open within the United States, Canada, and the UK tee sheets have been loaded from dawn to dusk. Having spoken with operators of both private and public golf facilities, they have witnessed a huge influx of eager golfers including many who are much more infrequent players. In one case, a public course that I spoke to has seen membership triple from the previous year.
When you think about how many people enjoy sports as a way to be around friends and friendly competition, golf has the opportunity to provide a gateway for many who have never considered playing the game. Within the industry, there have been many well-thought-out-but-failed attempts to counteract declining participation numbers over the years, and one of the best ways to introduce anyone to a new hobby or activity is to do it with friends.
Here’s an example: a regular golfer has three friends they normally play a rec league sport with, with that league not operating, and those friends wanting to enjoy time outside in the company of one another, that one golfer becomes the catalyst to bring three new golfers into game. I realize it sounds simple, but it’s already happening, and this is golf’s opportunity to grow participation more organically than any 30-second commercial.
As a lover of golf and someone who has witnessed the declining participation over the last decade, this is our opportunity as a sport and as individuals to welcome people in with open arms, be supportive, and helpful. We have the chance to permanently change the perception of golf to the masses, and it all started last weekend with the top-ranked golfer in the world carrying his own bag.
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