Tom Wishon served as Vice President of GolfWorks from 1980 to 1986. From 1986 to 1993, he was president of Dynacraft Golf Products, and from 1993 to 2002 he was Vice President and Chief Technical Officer for Golfsmith International. Wishon started his own company, Tom Wishon Golf Technology, in 2003.
I read with great interest the article by Kevin Crook, The Focus on Equipment has Hurt Golf, in which he basically said it’s almost a waste of time to go buy new golf clubs because you have no way of knowing if what you buy is going to help or harm your ability to play the game.
The main thing I took away from Kevin’s article is that he is yet one more confused and frustrated victim of the longtime business model of the golf equipment industry. If anything from the golf equipment industry has harmed golf, it is the way that golf clubs are being sold to golfers in a market that is fiercely competitive for sales.
Many golf club companies exist to sell their clubs to millions of golfers through thousands of retail golf outlets and websites. The top-5 golf equipment manufacturers now control about 80 percent of the premium golf equipment market with combined annual revenues north of $3 billion. Four out of five of these companies are publicly traded, each with the accompanying pressures from shareholders and financial institutions to grow in revenue, profits and stock price.
The only way large golf companies can sell the volume of clubs they must to meet forecasts and satisfy shareholders and executives is to pre-build their clubs to a series of standard specifications so they can be shipped to the thousands of retailers to be put on display and sold off the rack. Demand is driven by massive marketing campaigns that promise improvement and an increase in status upon buying the clubs. Credibility is established by paying professional golfers to play their equipment.
After three decades of such fierce competition, the golf equipment industry has become a commodity business. Most retailers are selling the same exact products, so consumers hunt for the best price. Retailers have to discount to get the sale, which results in them making less profit. Making less profit means they do not have the money to hire and retain quality sales people. And retailers can’t afford to allow the sales staff to take more than a few minutes to make each sale, because making money requires that they sell a high volume of products.
This is precisely what Kevin has encountered in his frustration with trying to do nothing more than to find the best golf equipment with which to play and enjoy this great game. He’s frustrated because he believes that whoever sells him his clubs should really know what they are doing. Unfortunately, the shortcomings in the current golf equipment business model means the people selling him his clubs do not know much more about golf clubs than he does, and may actually know less.
Launch monitors are placed in golf retail outlets to give golfers the impression they are being properly fit for their clubs. Yet little to no training exists to teach sales people how to properly turn the outputs of the launch monitors into the best prescription for clubs for the golfer. Retailers also have inventory to worry about, so it is very common for them to pay a “spiff” to their sales staff to get them to make more of an effort to sell what they need to get rid of.
Add to that the effects of the fierce competition among the golf equipment companies. At the wholesale level, it has resulted in drivers and woods that are far too long for the vast majority of golfers to ever hit consistently, which may or may not actually have the loft that is imprinted on the head.
Lofts in irons have been decreasing as well, as a way of impressing golfers with more distance in their short irons. But this comes at the expense of golfer’s not being able to hit their mid and long irons as well.
Shafts are a problem, too. Average golfers have no idea how stiff the shafts they purchase actually are because of poor quality control and a lack of industry standards. Add it all up, and it’s no wonder that golfers like Kevin Cook are confused and often end up with the wrong equipment.
In truth, the best solution for golfers is to return to the original business model for golf equipment sales prior to the early 1900s, back when the only place a golfer could buy a set of golf clubs was to go see a clubmaker. Back then, golfers visited the clubmaker’s shop, where the clubs were built one club at a time, one set at a time, for one golfer at a time.
It’s critical to be honest and tell you that some of today’s clubmakers do not have the fitting knowledge to be able to properly match a golfer with clubs that allow him or her to play to the best of their ability. Just because someone can build and repair golf clubs does not mean they know how to analyze a golfer and choose the best fitting specs to match to the golfer’s size, strength, athletic ability and swing characteristics.
So golfers who decide to visit a clubmaker to end their equipment frustration MUST DO THEIR HOMEWORK to be sure the clubmaker they choose is a good, experienced and knowledgeable. Such clubmaker/clubfitters do exist and they are without question the very best sources for golf equipment and knowledge. They can truly help a golfer improve and play to the best of the golfer’s ability.
The best way to find a good clubmaker is from the following resources:
The AGCP (Association of Golf Clubfitting Professionals): http://www.agcpgolf.com/locator/
The ICG (International Clubmakers’ Guild): http://www.clubmakersguild.com/index.php/membership-directory/guild-google-map
If you find a clubmaker from any of these sources, call him/her, visit, and ask how he/she conducts a fitting analysis. Ask for names of other golfers in the area he/she has fit. Call these golfers and ask them about their fitting experience.
Do NOT just blindly go see a clubmaker who you have not vetted. The good clubmakers will never mind golfers doing an investigation, because they are confident of their skills and experience.
Do this for your next equipment purchase and you will avoid Kevin Cook’s frustration with modern golf equipment. If you do, you will end up with golf clubs that are far better for your game than what you can buy within the golf industry’s current business model.
Tom Wishon is a contributing writer for GolfWRX.com. is His views do not necessarily represent the views of GolfWRX.
Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole
In this episode of the 19th Hole, Jason Goldsmith of FocusBand talks about how the breakthrough technology has helped PGA Tour stars Jason Day and Justin Rose to major wins. Also, host Michael Williams gives his take on Tiger Woods’ return to golf.
Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club
Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own.
Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.
All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.
Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.
Trees, or no trees?
The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.
The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.
Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.
A good variety
Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16. What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14. These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set. The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.
The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.
Green complexes are…complex
Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world. They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.
The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.
Ari’s last word
All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.
Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure
My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.
Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.
Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.
I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.
First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.
Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.
Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”
Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!
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