If you’ve read my previous ramblings pieces, you’ve probably noticed where I see myself fitting in as a writer on this site. I’ve fantasized about a career in golf, but ultimately I’m just a regular hack with a sincere passion for the game who one day thought to himself, “You know what? I’m going to give this a go. I’m going to follow a passion and see what happens.” Look at me now, riding this whole blogging roller coaster.

With that being said, I now feel like we can all be friends and I can come to you with the following confession: I originally set out to write this piece by pointing my finger at the equipment manufacturers. “Look how much these golf clubs cost!” I thought to myself. “Who do you think you are? People have real concerns like mortgages and college funds!” Then as I sat down to write with literally a blank screen, the engineer in me took over and I thought to myself, “Let’s do this the right way. Let’s collect some data so that we can make an informed, objective decision.” Below is what I found on this journey.

The first place to start was by establishing a benchmark from which to evaluate the prices of today’s golf clubs. That part didn’t take long to figure out. It’s got to be the Ping Eye 2’s. Nearly every golfer from every walk of life (myself included) had a set of Ping Eye 2 irons in the 80’s and 90’s. Heck, tons of people still game a set today. Calling it a successful set of irons would be the understatement of the century. So, I proceeded to call up Ping and make my first official contact in the industry: its internal company historian. Yes, they have one of those.

I called Ping HQ and explained that I was a writer and I was looking for information on the Ping Eye 2’s. The voice on the other end said, “You should probably talk to our company historian. Hang on, I’ll transfer you.” A very polite man picked up the phone. I introduced myself and explained that I was working on a piece for GolfWRX. We exchanged some small talk and I learned this gentleman started working as a photographer for Ping in 1986 and has been the company historian since 2005. I proceeded to ask him if he could tell me what the retail price was for Ping Eye 2’s when they were released. “Hmm,” he said. “No one’s ever really asked me that one before.” That’s when I figured I was on to something.

He rummaged around his office and found some old price books. Some of the highlights I jotted down were that the Ping Eye 2 Plus irons cost $90 per club in 1996. Ping Eye irons were $55 each in September of 1981, and in 1980, a Ping Anser would have set you back $34. He was unable to find a price book from 1982 (the year the Eye 2 was released), but we exchanged some more small talk.

“I have it in my mind that the price of that club was $65 with a steel shaft,” he said. “I feel pretty confident about that.” After some more chit chat, he offered an anecdote: “I remember not long after I started working here, they asked me to come down to the shop floor to take some pictures because they had just gotten to a point where they were making 10,000 irons a day!” This was in 1986, which was probably very close to the peak of popularity for the Eye 2’s. Everything about that conversation told me I’d found my benchmark.

OK, story time is over. WARNING: MATH CONTENT FOLLOWS!

According to the U.S. Census, the median household income in America in 1982 was $20,171. I’ll skip through the boring details (though I do have the calculations if this causes an uproar) and say that household was left with $15,733.38 in their pockets after they paid taxes (assuming they were “married filing jointly”). Now, if said median household contained a golf addict who chose to splurge on a set of Ping Eye 2’s, an eight-club set (standard 3-PW, for example) at $65 each would have cost him or her $520. This would’ve been 3.3 percent of net income at the time. If you’re not a numbers person and all this just whizzes right by your head, just remember 3.3 percent. That’s how much of annual income the average guy (or gal) in America would have had to shell out to get the best golf clubs in the world in 1982.

I feel like I need a quick side note here. Please don’t make this about taxes and/or politics. This website is not the place for that discussion. I included that data only because it’s relevant to the actual topic at hand. Stay focused.

OK, let’s fast forward to today. In 2015 (I’m using the most recent data I could find here), the median household income in the U.S. was $56,516, which came out to $48,961.10 after paying taxes (again, assuming “married filing jointly” status). As previously discussed, the Ping Eye 2 essentially set the benchmark at 3.3 percent of net income 33 years earlier. That same percentage of the median household’s net income in 2015 comes out to $1,618.20.

Kind of surprising, isn’t it? At least that’s higher than what I thought. Ultimately, what this means is that if the “average Joe” in the U.S. spent less than $1,600 on his new set of clubs in 2015 (which I’ll wager the vast majority did), it was a smaller piece of his annual income than what his father presumably spent in 1982. See? Look at me now. I basically just justified your next club purchase for you. You’re welcome. I knew we could be friends.

Most of you already know this, but here’s a quick cross section of some things that are hot today:

  • TaylorMade’s new P-790 irons were announced this week. They cost $1,299.99 for an eight piece set with steel shaft.
  • The new Mizuno MP-18 range is set to be released to the public next month will cost $150 per club, which comes out to $1,200 for a set.
  • Titleist’s 718 iron lineup was just announced this week, and it ranges in price from $999.99 (AP1) to $1299.99 (MB, CB, AP2, AP3) with steel shafts. The company’s premium T-MB irons will cost $250 per club, or $1999.99 per set.

What does that say about the really high priced jobs? Glad you asked!

  • Callaway Epic and Epic Pro Irons are priced at $250 each, so an eight-club set comes out to $2,000. This is approximately 4.1 percent of the median household’s annual income in the U.S.
  • PXG irons will set you back about $300 each, so an eight-club set would come out to $2,400. This comes out to 4.9 percent of the median household’s annual income in the U.S.

I understand this isn’t completely apples-to-apples because these are 2017 prices evaluated against a 2015 income, but it gives you a pretty good feel for where they stand.

It goes without saying that the market ultimately determines a price for everything… you know, that whole supply and demand thing. Everything from golf clubs to toilet paper is ultimately worth what the customer is willing to pay. Only you can decide if you think it’s worth the premium that Callaway, PXG, Titleist and others are charging. Some companies are definitely aiming at a price point that our market has not previously seen before, but in the end, it’s the wallets of consumers who will decide if they’re off their rockers or not.

As for the vast majority of products on the market today? All things considered, they are incredibly well-priced. The product you’re getting for your money in this day and age absolutely smashes arguably the most ground-breaking set of irons of all time, especially when you factor in the overwhelming amount of custom fitting options available today. It’s a great day to be alive… and playing golf!

Your Reaction?
  • 248
  • LEGIT45
  • WOW18
  • LOL17
  • IDHT5
  • FLOP5
  • OB7
  • SHANK261

Previous articleHow To Create Ground Pressure And Transfer Weight In The Golf Swing
Next articleHow To Play With The Ball Below Your Feet
Peter Schmitt does not profess to be a PGA professional or to be certified at...well...anything much in golf. Just another lifelong golfer with a passion for the game trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids. Follow Peter on twitter and Instagram using the links below.

57 COMMENTS

Not seeing your comment? Read our rules and regulations. Click "Report comment" to alert GolfWRX moderators to offensive or inappropriate comments.
  1. Woods are even “cheaper” than Irons today compared to before. I remember paying more than 700 dollars for a TP driver and around 550 dollars for a Callaway hawk eye Ti 3-wood on SALE.

  2. Few things to also consider…

    Technology improvements also come with a more efficient manufacturing process and reduced costs. OEM’s can now produce superior equipment at lower costs. Their profits may actually be higher even as the pace of cost of equipment hasn’t kept up with inflation or increased wages. Its not like you look at a flat screen tv and think, it should cost $6k today since wages have increased from the days when a tv used to cost 4k.

    Also, there is something call substitution in economics. If costs of golf increase to a point where an alternative activity becomes more more reasonable you may lose golfers. just because clubs are ‘cheaper’ now doesn’t mean that other suitable substitutes for golf have also increased in price.

    And what about things that we buy that have outpaced inflation. this factors into our disposable income. for example….cost of kids sports and their equipment, healthcare costs, cost of food, and college tuition.

  3. I’d be kind of curious to know what percentage of golfers were buying high end clubs like Ping Eye 2’s at the time.

    In my completely uninformed opinion it seems like golfers today of all skill levels are buying expensive clubs from the top manufacturers.

    I feel like back in the 80s and before, a larger percentage of golfers would be playing cheapo full sets from the local sporting goods store or hand me downs (forget about getting fit back then!) and not typically buying high end sets like the Ping Eye 2.

    Nowadays the cheapo set doesn’t really exist. You have to buy a minimum $750 Titleist, TM, etc. (well new at least)

    I suppose as things were more hand made and there were less technological jumps or exotic materials being used, there probably wasn’t all that much difference between a premium set and a cheapo set of Spaldings or even clubs that were 20 years old.

    • I remember what a golf store owner told me about the new Ping Eye clubs when I asked him the same question in the early 1980s. He said he just sold 4 sets to a Japanese man who ships them back to Japan and sells them at triple the cost. Ping had to ration the clubs internationally while selling to the domestic market in the early days. The world is awash in USD and the Japanese were on top of the world in the 1980s.

  4. Who buys these clubs? Idiot gearheads so they can brag how good they feel and how much farther they hit the ball, which is all neurotic lies. And the filthy rich who don’t have to look at the ticket prices on the clubs. Everybody else is saying no or giving up on golf because it’s too expensive and too time consuming. Golf participation is plummeting and the OEMs are just skimming off the last $$$$ from what’s left in the marketplace.

  5. I have to laugh every time I hear any type of golf associated person discuss the price of clubs and try to justify it. I worked for a golf shop for 3 years. I became a Callaway VIP and bought a set of Apex clubs for a great price. When I moved I stopped working altogether and after a few years decided it was time for new sticks. I coukd not believe the prices…………average of $900 for a set of 8 steel irons. I sold my Callaways on Craigs List, bought heads, shafts and grip components, and built my own “custom” clubs. I compared them with my old Callaways and the only difference was I hit my custom made clubs a bit longer (loft increase issue I am sure) and straighter. Now, pricing as follows:

    Head $15.00
    shaft $9.00
    grip $6.00

    Total cost per club = $30.00 each, or $240.00 for 8.

    No way can anyone justify overhead of $660.00.

  6. Let’s be honest. They are charging that much for a set of irons or a driver because they can. The guys who demand to get the newest will buy it. The guys who either don’t want to or can’t pay for it now will wait 6-8 months and get it for $50-250 less. All of this is factored in. For all the “new” technology in clubs, the tooling methods and (for the most part) materials remain the same. At this point, the biggest part of the cost of a golf club is marketing and over-padding to make money on the club in 6-8 months when you drop the price or drop a new club on us.

  7. Thanks for the comments, folks. I expected this to gather some of the reactions seen here. I will agree with many of you in that there are many different ways to go about calculating this and tons of factors to consider. However, no one would’ve wanted to read a PhD thesis (myself included). It is interesting food for thought, however, which is why I thought it worth sharing. Cheers!

  8. There have always been pricy clubs. I recall paying $750 for some Ping eye 2 beryllium model in the mid-80’s which was a lot. Even in early 90’s I was a huge Nick Faldo fan and had to have a set of Mizuno mp-29’s. Those were $1000. Also the early model of Snake Eye wedges were $200 which is more than a current Vokey wedge which are the best out there. I even recall getting a Taylormade 425 tp driver which retailed for $799. Some models have stayed relatively expensive and some have sort of stayed within reason. It is still exciting to see new clubs coming out Everyone has an idea what they are willing to spend. Look in any bag at your average course and you will truly see it all.

    • I am in no way saying I am the standard by which all others should be measured in this department, but I am a former Marine, and therefore not a complete wimp. Having said that, I’m not touching that one with a 10-foot pole haha!!!!

  9. Interesting article. As a fellow ME I appreciate the approach and expected the criticism of that approach. You could have used a much more complicated analysis and probably come up with a similar answer. For me the cost component that is not usually considered the additional cost of doing business today. Advertising and marketing costs are a greater percentage of most businesses today along with human resources costs. These were much lower as a percentage of your business in the 1980’s. I still won’t buy a brand new set of irons because the technology really doesn’t have that big of an effect on my game. 10 year old irons are about the same as current models as far as results with my swing speed. I do see a difference if I go back to a 20 year old set, however.

    So if you can have the discipline to buy a new set every 10 years your really only spending the equivalent of 2-3 rounds of golf a year on clubs.

    • I’m a retired professional engineer and I still play a decent game with my green dot, +1″ Ping Zing 2’s, and the only thing I do to them is change the grips. I laugh at my playing buddies struggling with their new clubs and assuring us they have to get used to them.
      I know my game and can control my clubs for consistent results. I don’t need an extra phantom 12 yards costing me $2000 and bragging rights with my new play toys. I play and perform; and not showing up with brand new toys to impress and intimidate. Men can revert into childhood with new toys.

  10. Adjusted for inflation, something that cost $520 in 1982 would cost about $1350 today. A set of Ping G irons costs $700 today, and a set of Ping G400s are $900. So, a vastly superior club at a remarkably lower cost. Nice.

  11. I don’t think affordability is simply just a % of median income. Although that may be the way manufacturers price their products. You have to consider the costs of necessities. You obviously have your food, water, and shelter, but I doubt mobile phones and internet were common household expenses; which I would argue is a necessity in modern society. And speaking of shelter, how much is the average rent now vs. 80s? Basically, the point I’m trying to make is that people now have greater income, but a smaller discretionary budget. Thus, making golf clubs seem much more expensive even though it may track closely with inflation and median income. The article is a good start, but I think it’s only scratching the surface and too early to say “all things considered.” I don’t know if I’m right, but just my guess.

  12. $56,516 median income per household? You must split that number.
    Husband’s income = $30,000. Wife’s income = $26,000. Get the picture?
    Millennials will not justify buying such expensive sport equipment and then get dinged for another $50+ for one round of golf taking 5 hours (30 minutes playing and 4.5 hours standing around and gossiping and complaining about slow play). Besides, the wife will not permit such a purchase where she and the kids gets nothing from it.
    Non-athletic millennials prefer to play video games, watch TV and playing Texas Holdem Poker and sitting on their butts. Get the picture?
    Golf is dying from self-inflicted wounds and economic reality.

  13. IMO…The tool itself can only carry so much value to the golfer and over a certain price point for a player to game overly expensive equipment is just to show others you can afford it (much like owning a new Tesla)
    Ive been out gunned by partners playing A GGB Warbird driver,irons produced in 1977 and a bullseye putter. My point? Equipment has a set value to each and every player out there and there are not many that see value in a $2000 set of irons when they can play just as well with a $300 set.

    One other thing…Everything else has gone up in price since those Ping Zings and some things more than others. Think housing…In 1996 you probably had more expendable income because shelter was more affordable. In todays market you will fork out a greater % of your income on the “necessities” which in reality leaves “less” for golf equipment. Why do you think Dicks,Golf Galaxy and the now defunct Golf Smith are/were struggling to stay afloat?

  14. This article confirms what I’ve been saying for years, golf is an expensive sport. This is from hand crafted wood clubs to what we have now. It always will be, get over it. I don’t have a lot of money, but pinch pennies in a lot of areas in my life to play. thank god I live in America which affords the middle class the ability to play.

    • Few things to also consider…

      Technology improvements also come with a more efficient manufacturing process and reduced costs. OEM’s can now produce superior equipment at lower costs. Their profits may actually be higher even as the pace of cost of equipment hasn’t kept up with inflation or increased wages. Its not like you look at a flat screen tv and think, it should cost $6k today since wages have increased from the days when a tv used to cost 4k.

      Also, there is something call substitution in economics. If costs of golf increase to a point where an alternative activity becomes more more reasonable you may lose golfers. just because clubs are ‘cheaper’ now doesn’t mean that other suitable substitutes for golf have also increased in price.

      And what about things that we buy that have outpaced inflation. this factors into our disposable income. for example….cost of kids sports and their equipment, healthcare costs, cost of food, and college tuition.

  15. Let’s see move manufacturing to China, Taiwan, and assembly in Mexico and you increase your profits. Since it’s so much better to manufacture off shore, perhaps the prices should have actually gone down.

    • Add to that the fact the casting process is much more efficient now, and the specs for clubs are basically in every companies computer..just move the weight a bit, put in different pieces of plastic every year, cut the groves a bit different each year….may as well just give in and come back out with the Eye 2 because irons have NEVER really got any better…if it cost $10 to make an Eye 2 iron the first year they could have that down to $5 dollars now.

    • I’m about to buy some 718 AP2’s and was slightly disheartened by the price hike, but I’ll use this article to keep the wifey from getting to upset lol.

      Like every article written on here there will be people picking apart every scenario, but I enjoyed it. And for the guys saying moving production over seas, and then complaining price points ect., yes moving club making over seas is cheaper for OEM’s and then us, but if they didn’t i imagine clubs here would be way more expensive. Also it’s all done basically by machines for the most part, so whether they’re cast/forged here or there, the product would be basically the same. Whether you pay someone $20 an hour here, or $5 an hour there the product would basically be the same. OEM’s want to make money, we want to spend the least amount for the best equipment, we can’t have it both ways.

      Great article because it was different than the typical articles here. I hope there’s more like it to come.

  16. 1200-2000 plus for irons is nuts, especially since the ole trusty Eye2s can be had for next to nothing and still perform as good as anything out there. Do not and am not trying to start a debate or argument of any sorts either, too many good deals to be had as long as you know what works for ones self. New is nice but not at today’s prices!!

    • I used to feel that way, but there have been a few significant improvements since the Eye2.

      Perimeter weighting in forged irons is an improvement. So is the use of multiple materials and welding instead of being limited to either casting or forging one metal. Softer metals than 17-4 steel are now used in casting. Perimeter weighting is more radical, increasing MOI. Moving weight ports as the heads change throughout the set improve launch angles. Slots in the top, bottom, and sides to increase COR (for more distance). All this and more for a cheaper (adjusted for inflation) price? Brilliant!

  17. An article based on false premises.
    The prices quoted for Eye 2’s would have been Ping’s suggested retail price,check back in old golfing magazines and in golf shop adverts ‘ring for quote’ was the norm.
    Almost nobody paid suggested retail.
    The real nitty-gritty is how ridiculously high prices are asked for clubs that are mass produced in Chinese factories with no craftsmanship and mediocre quality,the EOM get away with it because perceptions of quality have changed enormously over the last few decades and the fact that your clubs look crap after one season is irrelevant because a new model from your favourite maker will soon be on the market.
    There are massive profits being made from clubs and associated products like clothing and shoes,polyester shirts are ‘in’ because cotton is now expensive,plastic/nylon shoes are ‘in’ because making proper leather shoes requires an element of skill rather than a cheap sewing machine and a tube of epoxy.
    If you want to produce something eye-opening then work out what a current Ping iron head would cost to produce,cost of a shaft and grip and add a bowl of rice and compare with what they want for the finished product.

    • A bowl of rice? Really? That’s your take on overseas manufacturing? Your assertions about quality are incredibly baseless as well, but the rice bowl comment is the winner (loser) by far.

      As for “massive profits,” the market determines prices which, after deducting costs, determines profits. If people didn’t pay those prices, then golf equipment companies would have to either (a) lower prices to meet demand or (b) go out of business.

      Adjusted for inflation, golf clubs are much cheaper than they were in the 1980s. And companies are struggling. Retailers like Golfsmith are disappearing. Nike got out of golf clubs and balls. Later this year, adidas will dump TM. (To a private equity firm, so watch out for TM!) All of this belies your view that fat-cat golf equipment companies are raking it in and abusing the consumer.

      I’m sure there is a community college near you that offers Macroeconomics 101. I’m sure you can even buy the textbook used if you’re concerned about publishers gouging you….

  18. The relative price of irons may not have changed much since 1984. What has changed?

    The Ping Eye 2 clubs were made from 1984 to 1990. They were replaced by the 2+, which were manufactured from 1990 to 1998. If a golfer kept up with the latest and greatest, the player would buy two sets of clubs in 14 years.

  19. What’s most interesting when it comes to irons is how few iron shots we actually hit over the course of 18 holes. Ever since I’ve gotten my game golf system I’ve been tracking stats and club performance etc. What I started doing was taking a closer look at what shots I hit throughout the round. In a typical round where I shoot between 80-84 I usually only hit about 10-13 real actual full iron shots (4-Pw) not counting short chips/pitches hit with my PW and many times, depending on course and situations, I will not hit 1 or 2 of my irons at all. Putts were obviously the most coming in at 30-34 per round, 14 shots with my driver, then my irons at 10-13 followed by short chips and pitches and fairway wood/hybrid shots. Seems like a lot of money to drop on a part of your game that statistically doesn’t account for as much as we think.

    • I agree with that. People say the driver costs a lot while you don’t hit it often, and I’d say it’s the second most used club you got. Well unless you miss every green and have to chip every time. Then the wedges come in to play a lot. But just because there are so many irons people assume you use it more. But then, you don’t use the irons more than 10-13 times? Are some PAR 3’s really long or some approach shots really long or short?

  20. Can’t argue with the math, but they seen to have taken a big leap forward in cost recently, drivers also, sure there were expensive drivers 10 years ago but now a base model like an m2 is really expensive

LEAVE A REPLY