Karl Benz is widely credited as being the creator of the first practical motorcar. While Mercedes-Benz would spawn from Karl Benz original company, it was Rolls-Royce that made luxury synonymous with automobiles. Parsons Xtreme Golf is doing the same thing with golf equipment. This is a story about the niche market of luxury goods and how the principle of luxury has found its way into the mainstream golf equipment industry.
By the end of 1903, Sir Henry Royce had designed and built his own gas-powered automobile that boasted a 10-horsepower engine. Charles Rolls met Royce in 1904 and vowed to sell as many of Royce’s cars as the man could make. Thus, Rolls-Royce was born. In an early advertisement, the company called the six-cylinder Rolls-Royce, “Not one of the best, but the Best Car in the World.”
Today, if you’re searching for a Rolls-Royce on the company website, you won’t find a price on any of its vehicles, not even its pre-owned cars. Similarly, you can’t find a price for any golf clubs (save for the putters) on the website for Parsons Xtreme Golf. You can’t find a price because if you’re a serious buyer, the price is extraneous. The saying, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” comes to mind.
If you have time, you should check out the Rolls-Royce website. The homepage has this elaborate short film where Kate Winslet narrates the story of Rolls-Royce. The short film opens with a view of the camera gliding through a cloudy sky with a fade-in title, House of Rolls-Royce Presents. “It may surprise you to know,” Winslet says, “There is, in this world, a place where beauty is made.”
On the other end of the spectrum, when you log on to Ford’s website, you see “A vehicle for every lifestyle.” Where Ford wants everyone to own one of its cars, Rolls-Royce wants to sell to people who settle for nothing less than the Best Car in the World.
For a long time, the golf industry has operated much like Ford. Most of the manufacturers have produced similarly priced clubs at a similar level of quality all aiming for a share of the same market. Boutique golf equipment manufacturers such as Scratch and Fourteen have built fantastic forged irons, but their price points still pitted them against the behemoths of the golf world. Miura and Epon stand out as companies that have successfully built a bridge between luxury goods and golf equipment with higher price points, but PXG took it to the next level.
Bob Parsons has driven his proverbial Rolls-Royce down Main Street with claims placed gracefully on the PXG About Page. He says PXG makes “the world’s sexiest, most forgiving golf clubs that launch higher, go farther, feel softer and have a sweet spot the size of Texas.” His colloquial description is my favorite.
“Simply put, PXG clubs are the Duck’s Nuts.”
Since PXG released its first line of clubs, its most popular being thin-faced, forged irons filled with a material called thermoplastic elastomer, the discussion has focused disproportionately on the price of the clubs and not the quality. The question most golfers have asked is, “Is there any way PXG clubs can be twice as good as anything else on the market?” It’s a fair question, but it’s irrelevant. Is a Rolex watch 10 times better than a Citizen? It doesn’t matter. Because if you’re looking at the price, then you can’t afford the Rolex, so your opinion of quality doesn’t really apply to the Rolex, does it?
Every article about PXG clubs I’ve read has some comment that resembles the following, “The price of these clubs makes no sense. This is Parson’s pet project and the company won’t be around in two or three years.”
Maybe it is just a pet project for Parsons, a billionaire with an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion, but the truth is, Parsons is a bit of genius. He’s not a genius because he has invented the greatest set of clubs in the history of golf, although some golfers do say that about his clubs. It’s because he identified a hole in the market, and he has filled it with a thermoplastic elastomer.
Another common tirade I’ve seen is something similar to the following: “The prices are laughable…You can only do so much with a technology…and there is only so much of a premium you can charge here today…”
The prices are laughable… for someone who can’t afford them. The observation about money running out is different because it shows the commenter doesn’t necessarily understand what Parsons is doing. Parsons has said over and over again, “I’m not competing with TaylorMade and Callaway because my target customers are major earners.” And that’s why he’s seeing success. In an interview with Michael Collins on The “Golf” Podcast, Parsons said the company is on track to reach $100 million in sales and will be profitable for 2017.
Bob Parsons, whatever your opinion of him is, is using the emotion of luxury to drive his success. In an article published in Psychology Today, Dr. Peter Noel Murray (Ph.D. in Psychology) discusses the emotion of luxury:
“…consumers also are rational beings; aware that they can buy products at mass market retailers which have aesthetics and features similar to luxury brands but are a lot cheaper…Is the rational mind more likely to choose mass market while our emotional mind yearns for luxury? Is it that simple?”
Dr. Murray goes on to say, “we can be emotionally drawn to good design, and then rationally decide whether the exceptional qualities of luxury design are worth the additional price versus the ‘good enough’ qualities of a mass market alternative.”
Golf is a brutal combination of the cerebral and the physical, and because of this players make club choices primarily on subjective and inherently emotional qualities. It’s why players can walk into a store, hit several models on a launch monitor providing all sorts of data and chose a club that might not produce the best data because it feels better.
“Purchase behavior is a direct result of how a consumer perceives that a brand delivers the emotional end-benefits of buying and owning,” Dr. Murray says. “The emotional end benefit is basically, ‘Who am I?’ And how does a brand help define who I am?”
People have an emotional connection to luxury brands. As Dr. Murray points out in his article, this connection typically occurs within the realm of people who have the financial means to purchase luxury brands. Rolls-Royce only wants those people. So too, does PXG.
When people who love cars watch Top Gear and see Jeremy Clarkson roll out in a brand new Ferrari, they don’t look at it and say, “The price on that car is ridiculous.” They say, “That car is amazing,” and then enjoy the test Clarkson puts the Ferrari through, watching in awe of its power and elegance. I know, I’m one of those car lovers.
So, why do we look at PXG and say things like, “Those clubs are ridiculous. There’s no way they could be that much better?” The comparative quality is irrelevant. Basic economics says that the market equilibrium lies where supply meets demand. Parsons doesn’t need the equilibrium because he’s not trying to scale; he’s trying to build clubs that people are willing to wait in line to get. That’s how luxury works.
As Dr. Murray puts it, “The luxury brands they [the consumers] treasure have the rare and intangible quality of truth…Luxury brand truth is a visceral connection between consumer and brand.” He goes on to say, “Truth is expressed in narrative and other communication which breathes life into the brand, evoking perceptions of authenticity and timelessness.”
What Parsons has done so well is ensure that his marketing matches his personal feeling about the product he’s created. Because without those two living in harmony, there would be no authenticity; without authenticity, there is no truth. The narrative Parsons tells with his marketing and his clubs is something those who can afford them relish. This narrative, coupled with successful use of the clubs by LPGA and PGA Tour players such as Lydia Ko and Zach Johnson, has given PXG the platform to take luxury golf equipment mainstream and that’s the gap PXG is bridging. Thanks to brilliant marketing and truly revolutionary designs, luxury golf equipment is no longer a fringe niche.
Welcome to the era of Rolls-Royce, Porsche and Ferrari in golf equipment.
TG2: Should Tiger Woods play in The Masters without a driver?
Tiger Woods’ No. 1 concern heading into the Masters is the driver, according to Notah Begay. Equipment expert Brian Knudson and Editor Andrew Tursky argue whether Tiger should even use a driver during the Masters. Also, they discuss Rory’s new prototype putter and how it was made, and they talk about a new shaft company called “LA Golf Shafts.”
Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
For more info on the topics, check out the links below.
- Rory’s putter: www.golfwrx.com/503976/rory-mcilr…rmade-soto-proto/
- Tiger’s driver: www.golfwrx.com/503940/tiger-wood…irms-notah-begay/
- LA Golf Shafts: www.golfwrx.com/503818/la-golf-pa…s-la-golf-shafts/
Book Review: The Life and Times of Donald Ross
The Life and Times of Donald Ross is a successful golf history, in that it holds one’s attention, regardless of one’s level of enthusiasm or interest for the subject. It can hardly avoid doing so, as it traces the life of a man who lived through both world wars, emigrated from the old country to the new, and championed a sport that grew from infancy to maturity in the USA, during his earthly run. The loss of two wives to uncontrollable circumstances, the raising of a child essentially on his own, and the commitment to the growth of golf as an industry add to the complexity of the life of Donald J. Ross Jr. Within the cover of this tome, through words and images, the life and times of the man are communicated in fine fashion.
The book was published in 2016, by Chris Buie of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Buie is not a professional writer in the traditional sense. He does not solicit contracts for books, but instead, writes from a place of passion and enthusiasm. This is not to say that he is not a writer of professional quality. Instead, it isolates him among those who turn out high-level prose, scholarly research, with attention-holding results.
Before I opened the book, it was the cover that held my attention for much longer than a single, fleeting moment. The solitary figure, staring out across the ocean. Was he gazing toward the Americas, or toward his birthplace, in Scotland? And that blend of blue shades, like something out of Picasso’s 1901-1904 period of monochromatic azures, proved to be equal parts calming and evocative. Those years, by the way, correlate with the 29th to the 32nd years of Ross’ life. During that period, Ross lost a brother (John) to injuries suffered in the Boer War, and married his first wife, Janet. With care like that for the cover art, what marvelous research awaited within the binding?
After a number of readings, I’m uncertain as to the greater value of the words or the pictures. Perhaps it’s the codependency of one on the other that leads to the success of the effort. The book is the culmination of 5 months of exhaustive research, followed by 7 months of intense writing, on Buie’s part. The author made up his mind to match as many images as possible with his descriptors, so as to create both visual and lexical collections to stand time’s test. Maps, paintings, photos, newspaper clippings, postcards, etchings and course routes were collected and reproduced within the covers. Throughout the process, so much of Ross’s life and craft, previously unrecognized in publication, were revealed to Buie. Ross’s ability to make the unnatural look natural when necessary, is hardly equaled in the annals of golf course architecture. According to Buie,
Growing up all I’d heard was natural. Certainly he incorporated as much of the existing terrain and environment as possible. But given how much other work went into the courses, it would be more accurate to say his courses were naturalistic.
Buie also scrapes away at the misplaced notion that Ross was a one-dimensional golf course architect. After all, what else did Shakespeare do besides write plays and sonnets? Well, Ross did so much more, in addition to building some of the world’s great member and tournament golf courses, shaping the Pinehurst Resort experience, and running an in-town hotel in the process. Again, Buie comments,
His greatest contribution was the role he played in the overall establishment of the game in the United States. He was involved in every aspect (caddymaster, greenkeeper, teacher, player, mentor, tournaments, clubmaking, management, etc). The theme that went through his efforts was that he was adamant all be done “the right way”. Given the breadth and enduring nature of his efforts I don’t think anyone else did more to establish the game in America. That makes him the “Grand Old Man of the American Game” – not just a prolific architect.
What was it about Ross, that separated him from the many compatriots who journeyed from Scotland to the USA? They were content to compete and run golf clubs, but Ross sought so much more. His early years involved much successful competition, including top-10 finishes in the US Open. He was also a competent instructor, manifested in the ability of his students to learn both the swing and its competitive execution. And yet, Pinehurst is so different from any other place in the Americas. And so much of what it is, is due to the influence of Donald Ross.
In a nod to the accepted round of golf across the planet, the book contains 18 chapters, including the appendices. At locomotive pace, the mode of transportation utilized by Ross to traverse the lower 48 of the USA and Canada, the reader gathers a proper awareness of the great man’s living arc. Beginning with the hike from the train station in Boston to the Oakley Country Club, the emigration of the Scotsman from the highlands of Caledonia to the next hemisphere was a fairly simple affair, with unexpected, poignant, and far-reaching consequences. Donald J. Ross, jr., would complete the shaping of american golf that was assisted (but never controlled) by architectural peers. Men like Walter Travis, Albert Tillinghast, Charles Blair Macdonald, Alister MacKenzie and Tom Bendelow would build courses of eternal worth, but none would shape in the far-reaching manner of Ross.
It’s tempting to make a larger portion of this story about Buie, but he wouldn’t have it so. A Pinehurst native, Buie’s blend of reverence and understanding of his home region are evident and undeniable. One almost thinks that a similar history might have been written about any number of characters charged with the stewardship of the Sandhills region of North Carolina. Fortunately for aficionados of golf and its course architecture, Buie is a golfer, and so we have this tome.
Donald J. Ross, jr. was a man of principle, a man of faith, a man of belief. When those beliefs came into conflict with each other, which they seldom did, he had an instinct for elevating one over the other. No other place is this more evident that in his routing of the Sagamore course in Lake George, in the Adirondack mountains of New York state. Faced with the conundrum of how to begin the course, his daughter remembers the sage words of the father. Despite contradicting his belief that a course should never begin in the direction of the rising sun, Ross commented I can’t start it anywhere but looking out at that lake and those mountains. Indeed, Sagamore would be a poorer place for an alternate opening, and this review would have less of a way to reach its end.
My recommendation: read the book.
Kingston Heath: The Hype is Real
We touched ground late in the afternoon at Melbourne Airport and checked in very, very late at hotel Grand Hyatt. Don’t ask about our driving and navigating skills. It shouldn’t have taken us as long as we did. Even with GPS we failed miserably, but our dear friend had been so kind to arrange a room with a magnificent view on the 32nd floor for us.
The skyline in Melbourne was amazing, and what a vibrant, multicultural city Melbourne turned out to be when we later visited the streets to catch a late dinner. The next morning, we headed out to one of the finest golf courses that you can find Down Under: Kingston Heath. We had heard so many great things about this course, and to be honest we were a bit worried it almost was too hyped up. Luckily, there were no disappointments.
Here’s the thing about Kingston Heath. You’re driving in the middle of a suburb in Melbourne and then suddenly you see the sign, “Kingston Heath.” Very shortly after the turn, you’re at the club. This is very different than the other golf courses we’ve visited on this trip Down Under, where we’ve had to drive for several miles to get from the front gates to the club house.
Nevertheless, this course and its wonderful turf danced in front of us from the very first minute of our arrival. With a perfect sunrise and a very picture friendly magic morning mist, we walked out on the course and captured a few photos. Well, hundreds to be honest. The shapes and details are so pure and well defined.
Kingston Heath was designed by Dan Soutar back in 1925 with help and guidance from the legendary golf architect Dr. Alister MacKenzie, who added to its excellent bunkering system. Dr. MacKenzie’s only design suggestion was to change Soutar’s 15th hole from a 222-yard par-4 (with a blind tee shot) to a par-3. Today, this hole is considered to be one the best par-3 holes Down Under, and I can understand why.
I am normally not a big fan of flat courses, but I will make a rare exception for Kingston Heath. It’s a course that’s both fun and puts your strategic skills to a serious test. Our experience is that you need to plan your shots carefully, and never forget to stay out of its deep bunkers. They’re not easy.
Kingston Heath is not super long in distance, but it will still give you a tough test. You definitely need to be straight to earn a good score. If you are in Melbourne, this is the golf course I would recommend above all others.
Next up: Metropolitan. Stay tuned!
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