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Like It Or Not, Ultra-Premium Golf Equipment Is Here To Stay

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Back in 2015, Bob Parsons burst onto the golf scene with PXG. Its ultra-premium pricing, eccentric CEO, and bombastic brand image have remained a lightning rod for attention in the golf industry for the last two years. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Nearly everyone has an opinion on the matter, and they will argue it until their face turns blue. There’s one thing it’s time for us all to agree on, though, regardless of which side of that fence you happen to be. Parsons started something. It has officially stuck. And it’s not going anywhere.

About a month ago, I wrote an article surmising that the vast majority of golf clubs are incredibly well priced. I also stated that some equipment manufacturers are looking to reach new heights in that regard, and ultimately, consumers will vote with their wallets as to the validity of those prices. After letting that idea marinate for a little bit, I think the aforementioned validity is already bubbling up to the surface. Consumers are buying it.

The obvious place to start is with TaylorMade, which launched its P-790 irons about a month ago. While their retail price is less than half of a comparable set of PXG irons, their construction (a hollow head filled with “Speed Foam” and tungsten to increase MOI) was strikingly similar to PXG’s 0311 (a hollow head filled with TPE and tungsten screws to provide perimeter weighting). The constructions are similar enough, in fact, that Parsons has elected to drag them to court over the matter. Time will tell on that one.

The company that’s probably most excited about that lawsuit is Callaway, which has been leaning pretty heavily on the accelerator pedal in its own right. In January, the company released the GBB Epic and GBB Epic Sub Zero drivers at a price of $499.999 each. Later came its Epic and Epic Pro irons at roughly $2,000 a set, and just recently, Callaway released an ultra-lightweight line of Epic Star clubs. Those will hit the streets at $699.99 for a driver and $2,400 for an eight-piece set of irons. Callaway isn’t filling its irons with SpeedFoam or TPE, but it is reaching for the same ultra-premium price points.

Even if you step outside of the “big boys,” you’ll notice that as long as a company is providing an exceeding level of technology, quality, customer service, fitting, etc., consumers are more than willing to open up their wallets. Examples include some names that have been around a long time in the “boutique putter” game such as Tyson Lamb, Byron Morgan, and MannKrafted, but can also be stretched into newer craftsmen such as Raybon Putters and Selfmade Flatsticks. I spoke with the owner of Bluegrass Fairway, a company that sells hand-made leather scorecard holders and yardage book covers, who recently told me he was “blown away” by how busy his business is.

If you read the forums and comments sections on GolfWRX and all the other sites across the golf world, you’ll find a lot of belly aching over the price of gear nowadays and also over the gear geeks that buy them. What’s starting to crystallize at this point is that regardless of your personal opinion, this level of gear has officially gained traction in the marketplace. In return, the consumer is getting a very high quality product with unprecedented attention to detail and technological advancement. Who knows how long PXG will be around, but its contribution to the game has already left an impression.

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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.

43 Comments

43 Comments

  1. Sean

    Sep 29, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    I have no problem with premium clubs, and I don’t understand people who do. It’s not like golfers are being forced to purchase them. If people want to lay out the cash for these types of clubs, that is their business. It has no affect on either my wallet, or my game.

  2. Steve C

    Sep 29, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    Full disclosure… I am currently a 6 HDCP and have been as low as a 3. So, I am neither a good or bad golfer. I recently went on a vacation to see some friends. Not expecting to play golf, I did not bring my clubs on this trip. I ended up using my buddy’s wife “Golden Bear” set that was likely 10 years old. I shot an 80, which is probably what I would have shot with my own clubs. MY POINT IS THAT I DOUBT SO CALLED PREMIUM CLUBS WILL TRANSLATE TO BETTER SCORES.

  3. Peter Schmitt

    Sep 29, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Thanks for the reactions and comments as always, guys and gals. As one can plainly see, it’s a polarizing subject, which makes it worth pondering and writing about.

    To be continued… 🙂

  4. Mike

    Sep 29, 2017 at 4:21 am

    Have you forgotten we used to pay $1500 big ones for a”J’s Professional Weapon” driver not so many years ago

  5. AD

    Sep 29, 2017 at 3:02 am

    Ooooh I want my $3000 set of irons, please

  6. Da Judge

    Sep 28, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    Ultra-premium priced golf equipment is so so pathetic. It’s only for show and status. Toys for golfturds!

  7. Andrew

    Sep 28, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks, shoeshine boy. Now I know the market for “ultra-premium” is topped. Good luck, suckers.

    • Doobie

      Sep 28, 2017 at 7:22 pm

      Next big golf club market is the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” golffing gearhead geeks who don’t play golf… they just want to fill their WITB so they can join golf forums and share their feeelings with other like minded morons.

      • AD

        Sep 29, 2017 at 3:01 am

        You really aged yourself there, girlfriend, with that quote from what was it – Mary Poppins, is it? Lemme look it up on Wiki…..

  8. Methislife

    Sep 28, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    if you can afford a ferrari, go ahead… But your the douche that drives a Ferrari. If you can afford PXG, go ahead.. it’s your money… But your the douche that plays PXG

    • Fredo

      Sep 28, 2017 at 9:47 pm

      I guess that makes you the douch that can’t afford top end anything

      • Da Judge

        Sep 28, 2017 at 10:21 pm

        And what are you? A bottom end golfer with top end ultra-premium clubs?
        You know what that makes you look like? (Clownish).

  9. L

    Sep 28, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Parsons didn’t start anything really. Brands like Honma pioneered the ultra expensive sometimes funky looking equipment niche way before PXG came along.

    • Doobie

      Sep 28, 2017 at 7:17 pm

      Honma pioneered the ultra expensive clubs because in Asia you are what you own…. even if you can’t hit the golf ball a snot.

  10. BB

    Sep 27, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    GM. Ford and Chrysler owe their survival to pickup truck sales at exhorbitant prices for a cheap to build product. The markup on pickup trucks is huge whereas profits are meager for the econo-sedans because the Asian car builders have the low end market sewn up.
    Similarly the big golf OEMs are not selling enough lower priced clubs to a dwindling market and must seek profits from the upscale market where price is irrelevant.
    So stop slobbering over the premium golf equipment because that’s not for you to judge. People who buy these golfing pickup truck at premium prices are mostly golffing clowns anyway.

    • bbdumdum

      Sep 28, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      You sound jealous. Maybe you can get a used set in a few years.

      • Da Judge

        Sep 28, 2017 at 10:23 pm

        Me jealous? Naaah! I just love to twist you WITB nerds and geeks into pretzels.

        • DaJudgeisJealous

          Sep 29, 2017 at 8:44 am

          Just what we all thought. Jealous. Thanks for confirming.

    • JThunder

      Sep 28, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      The fact that golf sales are down since the dizzying heights since the high point “bubble” of Tiger Woods era hardly makes them “dwindling”… if people would stop drinking the Kool-Aid, then the global economy and corporate culture might actually work.

  11. Tom54

    Sep 27, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    The golfing public is pretty smart when it comes to equipment. Those that love the game and all it’s new products will continue to purchase the latest stuff. Those that don’t have fat wallets will wait a while (not that long anymore) till this years hot item is a fraction of what it was when it was current. That’s the way to go.

  12. Gorden

    Sep 27, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    We all know part of the fun of golf is having new or equipment we really want to play (even if may not be right for our level of play) So having premium equipment is important for ones who can afford that choice. I would worry more about the division in course quality we are facing now…the premium market (Country Clubs etc) are even facing this problem…Just in my area 4 public courses have closed in the last 3 years, 2 more have announced closing in 2018 add to that 2 Private Country clubs in the same area have gone Public this year….must remind those buying premium equipment hitting off bare dirt fairways and putting through weeds on greens may not be worth the price.

  13. Jim

    Sep 27, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Actually nothing new about appealing to the upscale, luxury (big ego) market. Ever hear of Hiro Honma (who hasn’t)?. Some of their gold-plated stuff goes for well over $10,000 per set of irons.
    Many of their older, lower cost items (PP-717, 727, etc.) are quite wonderful, very playable blades, challenging any muscle back or blade in today’s market.

    • Doobie

      Sep 28, 2017 at 7:24 pm

      In Asia, you are what you own…. even if your slicing drive is only 150 meters…!!

  14. AM

    Sep 27, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Of course they will be here to stay, and new and improved premium clubs will be available annually.
    The new model clubs will sell because they are aimed at the ultra-rich up-scale market where price doesn’t matter.
    The rest of us peons will play with our 5-7 y.o. clubs and save money for another super-duper driver down the road. The golf market for cheaper clubs is vanishing along with the drop in participation.

  15. Matt

    Sep 27, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Don’t see a problem with more options. I’m one of few in my group with new gear, though definitely wasn’t in the market for PXG prices. Most of the guys I play with are old school – quality second hand clubs and new balls only for tournaments.

  16. SV

    Sep 27, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Just keep churning out the equipment at whatever prices the OEMs want. If it’s available left-handed and I like it, I’ll buy it later on Ebay or Global Golf for a lot less and enjoy it just as much.

  17. 06aces

    Sep 27, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Might be the up and coming market….time will tell…
    a already elite sport played by the rich….becoming harder and harder for the young families to play together…
    Not sure how this grows the game….
    Look at all the golf course closures in Myrtle Beach the last 10 years….
    The true bench mark for golf course is not how many $600 drivers it sells….it is all about…”rounds of golf played per year”……a number that has been declining recently

  18. Sam

    Sep 27, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Why would people not like this? It’s just more choices and something for everyone.

  19. cgasucks

    Sep 27, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Let’s face it…most guys want to play the same clubs the pros play on TV and most pros choose performance over luxury. The luxury golf club market will be there, but it will be nowhere as big as the regular mainstream performance club market.

    • Joey5Picks

      Sep 28, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      So how do you explain Nike have virtually no success in the club market, despite Tiger Woods playing their equipment for 2 decades?

      • JThunder

        Sep 28, 2017 at 4:25 pm

        The stuff that sells well in stores has very little to do with what the pros play. Ping G-series irons far outsell Titleist MBs, yet tour use is the very opposite.

  20. Golfgirlrobin

    Sep 27, 2017 at 11:40 am

    As with virtually all products, the tech in these ultra premium clubs will filter down to the more reasonably priced sets at some point, and every golfer will benefit.

    Every sport has equipment options that the average participant can’t afford but they don’t seem to take those offerings as a personal affront the way golfers do.

  21. Darrin

    Sep 27, 2017 at 10:55 am

    I have several friends who own these sort of clubs. They are the kind of people who have a lot of disposable income, they might wear Rolex watches, drive new BMW’s, live in nice houses located at private clubs etc. What exactly is the problem? Some people like premium products, if you can’t afford them or justify buying them then don’t buy them. Personally I can’t justify it, I have good clubs, I am happy with them, but I don’t look down on people for buying them if they can afford it.

    So I guess I don’t get the “like it or not” title to the thread. Should we protest premium products just because we can’t afford them? It’s a really weird mentality. I also think it’s cool to see people playing discounted classic clubs, because they like them and because they are affordable.

    To each his own.

    • Ray

      Sep 27, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      Agree with comments here. This is the same unfortunate mentality that prevails every aspect of daily life. Its called jealousy.

      Example: I know for a fact where i play locally that a good portion of the higher handicap golfers tend to disparage and isolate the accomplished members. The same mentaility applies to those buying $5,000 bag of clubs. Sad but true….

  22. Ripken08

    Sep 27, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Yes expensive equipment is here to stay, but not “ultra premium”. Think you got it all wrong as the performance isn’t there to warrant the price. This is just going to drive prices up and shy away people that mat want to take up the game.

  23. Ray

    Sep 27, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Im happy shooting low 70’s consistently with my Ping I3 blades, thanks anyway though 🙂

  24. moses

    Sep 27, 2017 at 10:36 am

    A lot of people thought Callaway was crazy charging $499 for the Great Big Bertha Driver back in the 90s. How did that work out?

    • BB

      Sep 27, 2017 at 10:43 pm

      Yeah…. and then they yanked out the stock graphite shaft and put in an exotic shaft because the stock shaft was floppy, soggy crap intended for sub-80mph swings.
      So the suckers had a $499 GBB driver head and a $150 fancy graphite shaft for a $650 driver….. and nothing changed until the OEMs decided to offer a choice of shafts when they realized what was happening.
      Stupid is as stupid does…. and nothing much has changed.

  25. Dat

    Sep 27, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Next up, golf equipment loans and credit lines.

    • TC

      Sep 27, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Taylormade already started it:

      “Here’s how it works: After credit approval, a consumer can purchase drivers and irons such as the company’s current M1 driver and M2 irons on TaylorMade’s e-commerce site through a monthly payment plan on an 18- or 30-month billing cycle. The resulting interest would lead to the $500 M1 driver typically costing about an extra $100.”

      • Dat

        Sep 27, 2017 at 6:22 pm

        Next up, golf equipment credit defaults and government bailouts.

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Gear Dive: USC head golf coach Chris Zambri on the challenges that will come with the new NCAA rules

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In this Special Edition of The Gear Dive, USC Men’s Head Golf Coach Chris Zambri discusses his thoughts on the new NCAA mandates, how to get recruited, and the pros and cons of recruiting can’t-miss superstars.

  • 9:55 — Zambri discusses thoughts on new rule
  • 17:35 — The rule he feels is the toughest navigate
  • 26:05 — Zambri discusses the disadvantages of recruiting a “can’t miss” PGA star
  • 32:50 — Advice to future recruits
  • 44:45 — The disadvantages of being tied to an OEM as a college golf team

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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