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Opinion & Analysis

The looming “Fiscal Cliff” of golf clubs



I had this article about 90 percent completed when Tom Wishon posted his article: The way golf clubs are being sold has hurt golf. Since his post and mine are both discussing the retail business, I felt it appropriate to add his link for another viewpoint. While we are looking at different parts of the industry, there are some parallels.

The recent announcement on “anchoring” has made me reflect on some of the bonehead equipment decisions made by golf’s ruling bodies in the last 30 years, going back to the Ping Eye 2 fiasco. Each time, a “wait and see” attitude has eventually resulted in a massive reversal or rollback in the equipment section. The USGA’s decision on grooves allowed engineers to maximize widths through CNC milling and tight tolerances until the ruling bodies chose to make 30 years of clubs obsolete with “Conditions of Competition.”

In 2003, the COR ruling was announced with a ruling to be made in 2007. While the manufacturers pushed face technology to produce a reliable 0.860 COR driver, the ruling bodies did an about-face and capped COR at 0.830. Unlike wedges, the OEMs had to suck it up and offer conforming replacement drivers for those golfers that had purchased equipment in good faith that it was within the tolerance of the current rules. The quest of the ruling bodies to reduce driver distance also resulted in a club length maximum of 48 inches. Sure, Wedgy Winchester had learned how to accurately swing a 60-inch driver on the long drive circuit. But how many other golfers could keep a driver that long in the fairway? Finally, clubhead size was capped at 460cc to minimize the ability to create a forgiving driver through size.

Essentially, you cannot build a longer driver than anything that has been made in the last 10 years that met the COR/CT max. A center strike “on the screws” cannot travel farther.  The only variable to the golfer now is to optimize launch and spin through a fitting on a launch monitor.  This has led the OEMs to try and maximize distance in fairways, hybrids and even irons by creating hot-faced clubs. Despite the fact that these clubs should fly precise distances for scoring, the selling point of distance trumps all.

Suppose that you have already gotten the hottest-faced clubs, conforming grooves, fitted lengths/lofts/lies/grips and your launch conditions are proper. What will now make you buy a new club?  This is the nightmare that has to be keeping sales managers up at night. Sure, you have the GolfWRX crowd that always wants the latest and greatest. But how do you convince a recreational golfer or serious player to buy a new club when it isn’t much longer or more accurate, and offers little or no performance advantage over their current clubs?

This is the “fiscal cliff” that looms in the golf world. By 2014, it is expected that an overwhelming majority of golfers will have converted to conforming grooves. That sales hike in irons and wedges will recede back to normal levels. With no ability to create better launch conditions, what will be the selling point on the next generation of drivers? Right now, it’s graphics and all the colors of the rainbow. Why buy the newest equipment when top quality clubs with premium shafts are available for a song in the used market?

So what’s left?

Ironically, service, which has been driven to near extinction by the big box stores, will be the key ingredient to their survival. Similar to the tailor in a fine suit store, the need for fitting of clubs will be the last variable that the manufacturers will be able to offer for improving scores. The need to adjust length, loft, lie and grips gives each golfer the fit and comfort of a well tailored suit.

The advent of launch monitors, high speed cameras and elaborate shaft software have made it easy to get the player “in the ballpark” of a club that fits their swing. But it always comes to the assessment and final tweaks of the clubfitter to make sure everything is optimized. Are the yardage gaps between clubs consistent? Is the golfer increasing their center-face contact?  Will the launch and spin give the golfer the best chance of hitting and holding the green? Do the clubs allow the golfer to execute the shot that is visualized in the mind?

More and more clubs are being purchased off the rack. Even Ping, whose green grass model for years forced you to order your clubs, has 6 to 8 sets on the wall of my local big box, ready for sale.  The “right now” mentality of our society wants to take their clubs immediately to the range or the first tee instead of ordering to spec or having them fitted after the sale. Would it make sense to put a cushion in the price of a set of irons to allow the retailer to fit and set the lofts/lies of the clubs for the customer?

Perhaps partnering with teaching professionals to have them observe their student’s patterns on the lie board after they purchase new clubs would be an option. The teacher can recommend the dynamic adjustments and the golfer can now bring his clubs back for the correct loft/lie settings as part of the initial purchase. The same can be done with the adjustable drivers.

Have your teaching pro look at your flight patterns to determine optimal adjustments. Then return to the store and confirm your numbers on the launch monitor. There is revenue to be made in service and fitting if the industry embraces the concept. With the number of golfers staying static or declining in the US, and the need for publicly traded companies to increase sales and profits quarterly, the American retailers will have to adapt or share the same fate the electronics stores have: extinction by plummeting off the cliff.

Click here for more discussion in the “Equipment” forum.

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A tinkerer since he was a child, Brad Hintz has always enjoyed getting his hands dirty and learning how things are put together. Taking apart and putting together his bicycle and the family room television to make them work better eventually gave way to golf clubs. While a career in operations and analytics keeps him busy during the day, he has been building and repairing golf clubs as a hobby and passion for more than 17 years. Brad has been posting on golf forums since the late 1990s and has been a member of GolfWRX almost from its inception. This is his first foray into writing articles online.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Square

    Jan 5, 2013 at 5:16 am

    I hit the ball 280-300 off the tee, play the bag tees and really have a love affair with the game. For 30 years I’ve never taken a break. Hooked the first time I played the game. I hit the ball far enough. It’s probably impossible, but I would have loved for the USGA to provide a higher COR for the average to below average player who wants to hit it farther. Interesting article….

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NBA Great Byron Scott explains why Charles Barkley’s golf game deteriorated



It’s the season for basketball and golf, and NBA great Byron Scott had some interesting takes on each when he joined our latest episode of “The 19th Hole with Michael Williams” podcast.

When asked who would win a matchup between his Showtime Lakers — consisting of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy — and the current Golden State Warriors, Scott left no doubt on the outcome.

“I give [the Warriors] a lot of credit for the way they playy the game,” Scott said. “They play a very unselfish brand of basketball and it’s all about winning for them. None of the players have agendas and I admire that. But if we go a a seven game series, we in our heyday and those guys playing the way they play now, we would look at them and say ‘we win this series in five or six games.'”

Scott did recognize the fact that the way the game is refereed would have a bearing on the outcome, however.

“Are we going to play 80’s rules or are we going to play 2018 rules where you can barely touch anybody?” Scot said. “If we play the 80’s rules where you can have the physicality in the game, where we can really get after you, then the series is going to be a pretty short one.”

Scott also talked about playing golf with Charles Barkley and his attempt to cure his now-famous swing issues.

“I played with Charles when he was about a 8-handicap; that was the first time I played with him…he had a really good swing,” Scott said. “Two years later I played with him [at the American Century Celebrity Pro-Am] in Lake Tahoe. That’s when he had the swing that he has today. I was shocked! I was like, ‘Man, what happened?’ He told me the story about hitting somebody (in the gallery) and that he just couldn’t pull the trigger anymore. And I said to him, ‘Are you that mentally weak that you hit someone in the gallery and now you can’t pull the trigger? C’mon, Charles; you’re supposed to be tougher than that.'”

Scott’s motivational speech was well-intentioned, but not especially well-received by Sir Charles.

“He proceeded to curse me out because he didn’t appreciate the way I said that,” laughed Scott. “It was funny, though because the first time he had that really good swing, but ever since then he’s been awful. And he continues to be awful and I don’t think there’s a cure right now for Charles besides just putting it down for a year or two and trying to pick it back up.”

We’d need a time machine to see that Lakers-Warriors matchup, but a Scott vs. Barkley match play on the links sounds like it would be most entertaining.

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

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play



The second World Golf Championship of the year begins this week for what will be the final stop before The Masters for the majority of players in the field. As always with WGC events, the field is stacked — only Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose are missing from the world’s top-10. With an earlier start than usual, 16 groups of four will battle it out in a round-robin format starting Wednesday. The winner of each group will advance to the last 16, which will complete in a straight knockout format from there on in.

Austin Country Club has held the event since 2016, and it’s been a course that has offered up lots of excitement so far. Expect more of the same this week, with four reachable Par 5s on offer as well as a drivable Par-4. The Par-71 course is a modest 7,043 yards with plenty of elevation changes and a mix of tight, tree-lined fairways on the opening nine. The fairways on the back 9 are more generous. Some of the key stats that I’m focusing on this week include Par-5 Scoring, Proximity to the Hole Inside 125 yards and Birdie or Better Percentage, which is always important in match play. Last year, a red-hot Dustin Johnson beat Jon Rahm in the final 1 up, which was his third-consecutive victory at the time.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Rory McIlroy 7/1
  • Dustin Johnson 8/1
  • Justin Thomas 10/1
  • Jon Rahm 12/1
  • Jason Day 14/1
  • Jordan Spieth 20/1
  • Phil Mickelson 20/1

For me, this is the most difficult event on the calendar to predict. Over 18 holes, any player in the field is capable of beating anyone else. We saw just that last year when Hideto Tanihara defeated Jordan Spieth 4&2 and Soren Kjeldsen took down Rory Mcilroy 2&1. For that reason, it’s certainly an event that I’d advise to play conservatively, especially before we reach the knockout phase. Despite the unpredictability of some of the results, however, recently it’s been an event that has been won by the world’s elite. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day (twice) have claimed the title in the past four years.

From the top of the board, it’s multiple champion Jason Day (14/1, DK Price $9,200) who gets my vote. The Australian has played a limited schedule so far this year, and he seems to be flying under the radar for the year’s first major. I find the lack of attention surprising. He has a win and a second-place finish to his name already in only three starts this year. Last week at Bay Hill he finished T22, where he appeared a little rusty on the opening couple of days before shaking it off and shooting an impressive 67 on Saturday.

Austin Country Club is a course that undoubtedly suits Day. He dominated the event in 2016 when he was playing his absolute best golf, and he was very unfortunate that he was unable to defend last year on account of his mother’s health. It was an issue that appeared to effect his entire season, but there is no doubt that the signs are very good for Day in regards to 2018. Mainly, because he has the magic touch back with the putter. In 2016, he had one of the greatest putting years of recent times, and albeit early on in the season, he is currently on course to match it. Day leads the field in putting for the season by a decent margin, and on the slick bermuda greens of Austin Country Clubs, where he has memories of holing just about everything two years ago, it could play a huge factor yet again this week.

Along with the Queenslander’s fabulous form on the greens, Day is dominating the Par 5’s, where he sits second in the field over his last 12 rounds. Day loves to play aggressive golf, and it’s one of the reasons the match play format suits him so much. The odd blow-up hole is not the disaster that it would be in stroke play, and he has the ability to rack up birdies fast. So far this season, Day is third in this field for birdie or better percentage.

Day will be the favorite to advance from Group 8, which contains James Hahn, Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Dufner, but the unpredictability of the match play format means it will be far from easy. Should he do so, however, he may be an extremely difficult man to stop, and 14/1 is not a bad price on him repeating his heroics of 2016.

Patrick Reed’s (30/1, DK Price $7,700) return to form has been long overdue. With back-to-back weeks finishing in the top-10, he should be feeling confident in a format that in the past he has blown hot and cold in. Despite his colossus performances in the Ryder Cup, the WGC-Matchplay has been a frustrating event for the Texan. He has yet to make it past the Round of 16, but he seems to be rejuvenated by the return of his idol, Tiger Woods, to the PGA Tour. We’ve seen a far more aggressive Patrick Reed as of late.

With the top seed in his group being Jordan Spieth, there’s speculation that their matchup could be a fiery one. Last week, Patrick Reed was recorded saying that he guessed he needed to be Jordan Spieth to get a free drop after he was left fuming by a ruling. Personally, I don’t think there will be any hostility from either player, but perhaps the attention it has received over the last day will fire up Reed, who seems to produce his best when in the spotlight.

All facets of Reed’s game are firing at the moment. He is fourth in this field for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, Strokes Gained Around the Green and Strokes Gained Total over his last eight rounds. Not withstanding the volatility of 18-hole matchups, there is a sense that Spieth may be a little vulnerable right now. Reed will be relishing the opportunity to take him on in what could possibly be an important Game 3. At 30/1, there is a confidence about Reed at the moment that I like, and it could see him finally deliver in a format that he has adapted to so well in The Ryder Cup.

The star name in Group 7 is the current Masters Champion Sergio Garcia, but I’m willing to take him on this week with Xander Schauffele (66/1, DK Price $7,400). The 2017 Rookie of the Year has been playing well as of late with three-consecutive top-20 finishes. From that period, he scores well in the key statistics, which should bode well for him this week. The Californian is 10th for Strokes Gained on Par 5s for his last 12 rounds, and on a course where wedge play is vitally important, his short irons seem to be in excellent shape. Over the same period, Schauffele is 15th in the field for Proximity to the Hole from 100-125 yards and 16th from 75-100 yards.

He will have to overcome Garcia, as well as Shubhankar Sharma and Dylan Frittelli to advance to the next phase. Garcia has never looked comfortable at Austin Country Club, however, and I think Schauffele may be the best option to pounce on any weakness he shows. Schauffele does not rank outside 30th in this field for his last 12 rounds in any major statistic, and he is eighth overall for Strokes Gained Total.

Last but not least is Webb Simpson (100/1, DK Price $7,800), who is in Group 15 alongside Pat Perez, Gary Woodland and Si-Woo Kim. I think it’s fair to say that this looks to be one of the most unpredictable of the lot. Yet at 100/1, it was an easy enough decision to add Simpson to my stable this week, who just like Xander is performing well in the key statistics.

The former U.S. Open Champion is 17th in this field over his past 12 rounds on Par 5s, but it’s been his wedge play that really got my attention. Over the same period, Simpson ranks seventh for proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards and 15th from 75-100 yards. Some other good signs for Simplson include his putting, as he currently sits 11th for the season in Strokes Gained Putting. His scoring average for the season is also an impressive 69.5, which is seventh on the PGA Tour. At 100/1, it seems worth a small investment in what I’m expecting to be another roller coaster of an event with plenty of surprises.

Recommended Plays

  • Jason Day 14/1, DK Price $9,200
  • Patrick Reed 30/1, DK Price $7,700
  • Xander Schauffele 66/1, DK Price $7,400
  • Webb Simpson 100/1, DK Price $7,800
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Opinion & Analysis

Paige Spiranac explains her decision to pose for the 2018 SI Swimsuit



During the PXG 0311 Gen2 iron launch event, I caught up with Paige Spiranac to talk about a variety of topics including her advice to young girls in the golf world, how her life has changed since becoming a golfing celebrity, her relationship with PXG, her decision to stop playing professional golf, and she explains why she wanted to pose for the SI Swimsuit issue.

Enjoy my interview above!

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19th Hole