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Opinion & Analysis

COVID-19 has proved a surprising boon to the golf industry in Australia and beyond

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In early April, the doomsday preppers were loading up on Pro V1s and installing putting mats in their fallout bunkers for the long cold winter while this virus closed the courses and golf retail outlets across the globe. The rumors of product releases being canceled and suppliers going under were swirling with more momentum every day.

It was going to be a race to the bottom for retail prices as the manufacturers did their darndest to get rid of stock to enthusiasts not likely to play golf for the foreseeable future.

Bryson didn’t know his favorite flavor of protein shake, and Hideki was about to run away with the Players Championship. The Masters was postponed, and everything was going wrong.

In Australia, April was a complete write-off. Courses allowed to remain open were thin on the ground, and people lucky enough to get on the course were unable to play competitions and were restricted to two-person groups. Retail sales were almost non-existent, and the bar sales leading up to Easter, and so often the life-blood of golf clubs, were no longer.

Then, one by one in Australia and the U.S., the states reopened their courses. There were new innovations to get balls out of the hole without touching the flagstick, and even the tour started again. Predictions about the death of golf seemed to have been wildly exaggerated, and if anything, golf had been working out in the off-season and was coming out of isolation looking as good as when Tiger was winning tournaments in 2000!

With golf on the very short list of approved activities during COVID-19 restrictions, golf was now the Steven Bradbury of sports, sliding to the gold medal as all the others were far too socially close to remain in action.

People who previously had golf as a third, fourth, or fifth priority were all of a sudden out of alternatives and golf courses, and driving ranges were some of the only outdoor activities available. If you were lucky enough to be a member of a course, you had to be online the minute the timesheet went live, or you were out in the cold for another week.

So, the April showers brought the May flowers to golf in more ways than one. It has been written in other articles that Australian courses, in particular, were welcoming new members in their droves in the middle of an Australian winter! Not since Adam Scott won his Masters in 2013 has there been a shift in members to this extent during these hibernation months.

Another story told of new players venturing to a driving range wanting to borrow clubs. When they learnt that restrictions meant they couldn’t do so, they went to the nearest golf store and bought new ones before returning for a hit.

This has flowed through to suppliers who were previously running on seven-day custom build timelines, now pushing out over 14 days due to the combination of incredible demand, and challenges getting stock prioritized out of (mainly) China.

May and June have now been the equivalent of two Christmas months back to back with sales spreading across hardgoods and softgoods alike. It isn’t quite the same as the toilet paper aisle in the first weeks of the pandemic, but it is exponentially better than the projected nuclear winter which was written about.

Now it is up to golf to take advantage into the mid and long term. Other sports will progressively return, but this has pulled in a demographic of players who were otherwise not going to hit the links until their knees and backs gave way in 10-20 years time. Others who have come to the course were previously disillusioned players who have had their enthusiasm re-awoken with the lack of football, hockey, baseball or other sports which would have otherwise taken up their weekends.

New golfers are buying at least some new stuff, and returning golfers have spotted that their clubs from college probably weren’t right for them. Also, now the money that was going on those other sports or memberships has gone straight into a new Driver/Iron set/Putter/ Bag or all of the above.

The biggest benefit may yet turn out to be a brand new generation of golfers who would have been going to play (and adopt) other sports and activities rather than heading to the course with their parents. It has been far easier to convince my young daughters to come to the course when there are no dance classes or museums or libraries to compete with!

Many of us have stories of parents or grandparents taking us to the golf course during holidays and that turning into our lifelong addiction, so we may look back on 2020 as giving birth to a whole generation of golfers! The Masters champion of 2035 could well have been a dancer, or a gymnast, or a footballer, or a baseball player if it had not been for COVID-19 restrictions.

While it isn’t a universal river of gold for everyone in golf, it is definitely on the shortlist of industries that could end up coming out in front once the dust settles from the COVID-19 virus.

So with short term gains looking likely, it is now a question of how golf can keep all of these golfers coming back to the course, or the range, or the minigolf courses, or the simulators that were struggling to bring anyone through the gates in 2019.

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Will Kay is a passionate Australian fan of everything related to golf and equipment, with a particularly unhealthy love of waterproof jackets and outerwear. Previously the lead buyer for a chain of 50 golf stores across Australia, Will is a qualified lawyer and is struggling to maintain a single figure handicap in a double toddler household. He is always planning the next trip to Barnbougle in Tasmania, and doesn’t play enough golf to see any benefit in laying up.

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The Gear Dive: Elk is in the house!

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with the one, the only, the legend Steve Elkington.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

The differences between good and bad club fitters—and they’re not what you think

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Club fitting is still a highly debated topic, with many golfers continuing to believe they’re just not good enough to be fit. That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s a topic for another day.

Once you have decided to invest in your game and equipment, however, the next step is figuring out where to get fit, and working with a fitter.  You see, unlike professionals in other industries, club fitting “certification” is still a little like the wild west. While there are certification courses and lesson modules from OEMs on how to fit their specific equipment, from company to company, there is still some slight variance in philosophy.

Then there are agnostic fitting facilities that work with a curated equipment matrix from a number of manufacturers. Some have multiple locations all over the country and others might only have a few smaller centralized locations in a particular city. In some cases, you might even be able to find single-person operations.

So how do you separate the good from the bad? This is the million-dollar question for golfers looking to get fit. Unless you have experience going through a fitting before or have a base knowledge about fitting, it can feel like an intimidating process. This guide is built to help you ask the right questions and pay attention to the right things to make sure you are getting the most out of your fitting.

The signs of a great fitter

  • Launch monitor experience: Having some type of launch monitor certification isn’t a requirement but being able to properly understand the interpret parameters is! A good fitter should be able to explain the parameters they are using to help get the right clubs and understand how to tweak specs to help you get optimized. The exact labeling may vary depending on the type of launch monitor but they all mostly provide the same information….Here is an example of what a fitter should be looking for in an iron fitting: “The most important parameter in an iron fitting” 
  • Communication skills: Being able to explain why and how changes are being made is a telltale sign your fitter is knowledgeable—it should feel like you are learning something along the way. Remember, communication is a two-way street so also being a good listener is another sign your working with a good fitter.
  • Transparency: This involves things like talking about price, budgets, any brand preferences from the start. This prevents getting handed something out of your price range and wasting swings during your fit.
  • A focus on better: Whether it be hitting it further and straighter with your driver or hitting more greens, the fitting should be goal-orientated. This means looking at all kinds of variables to make sure what you are getting is actually better than your current clubs. Having a driver you hit 10 yards farther isn’t helpful if you don’t know where it’s going….A great fitter that knows their stuff should quickly be able to narrow down potential options to 4-5 and then work towards optimizing from there.
  • Honesty and respect: These are so obvious, I shouldn’t even have to put it on the list. I want to see these traits from anybody in a sales position when working with customers that are looking to them for knowledge and information…If you as the golfer is only seeing marginal gains from a new product or an upgrade option, you should be told that and given the proper information to make an informed decision. The great fitters, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, will be quick to tell a golfer, “I don’t think we’re going to beat (X) club today, maybe we should look at another part of your bag where you struggle.” This kind of interaction builds trust and in the end results in happy golfers and respected fitters.

The signs of a bad fitter

  • Pushing an agenda: This can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Whether it be a particular affinity towards certain brands of clubs or even shafts. If you talk to players that have all been to the same fitter and their swings and skill levels vary yet the clubs or brands of shafts they end up with (from a brand agnostic facility) seem to be eerily similar it might be time to ask questions.
  • Poor communications: As you are going through the fitting process and warming up you should feel like you’re being interviewed as a way to collect data and help solve problems in your game. This process helps create a baseline of information for your fitter. If you are not experiencing that, or your fitter isn’t explaining or answering your questions directly, then there is a serious communication problem, or it could show lack of knowledge depth when it comes to their ability.
  • Lack of transparency: If you feel like you’re not getting answers to straightforward questions or a fitter tells you “not to worry about it” then that is a big no-no from me.
    Side note: It is my opinion that golfers should pay for fittings, and in a way consider it a knowledge-gathering session. Of course, the end goal for the golfer is to find newer better fitting clubs, and for the fitter to sell you them (let’s be real here), but you should never feel the information is not being shared openly.
  • Pressure sales tactics: It exists in every industry, I get it, but if you pay for your fitting you are paying for information, use it to your advantage. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy, and it’s always OK to seek out a knowledgeable second opinion (knowledgeable being a very key word in that sentence!).  If you are getting the hard sell or any combination of the traits above, there is a good chance you’re not working with the right fitter for you.

Final thoughts

Great fitters with great reputations and proper knowledge have long lists, even waiting lists, of golfers waiting to see them. The biggest sign of a great fitter is a long list of repeat customers.

Golf is a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and just like with teachers and swing coaches, the good ones are in it for the long haul to help you play better and build a rapport—not just sell you the latest and greatest (although we all like new toys—myself included) because they can make a few bucks.

Trust your gut, and ask questions!

 

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Podcasts

TG2: TaylorMade P7MB & P7MC Review | Oban CT-115 & CT-125 Steel Shafts

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Took the new TaylorMade P-7MB and P-7MC irons out on the course and the range. The new P-7MB and P-7MC are really solid forged irons for the skilled iron players. Great soft feel on both, MB flies really low, and the MC is more mid/low launch. Oban’s CT 115 & 125 steel shafts are some of the most consistent out there. Stout but smooth feel with no harsh vibration at impact.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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