Allow me a bit of forecasting, for those of you planning to buy clubs in the upcoming years. Start saving your money.
The TaylorMade scenario of pushing the market with constant product reached the predictable overload, with the company’s drop in sales giving way to margin-driven efforts. This means higher prices by the major manufacturers, and retailers being held to honoring suggested retail prices. Translation: More out of your pocket when it’s club-buying time.
Some of the lesser-selling brands can view this as an opportunity by striking lower price points. This is nothing new, and past efforts have not been enormously successful. Think of it as “We’re just as good and we cost less.” And the truth is they are just as good, but by selling for a lower price they send a message that they have to because they don’t perform as well.
We may well see the return of counterfeits — not that they ever completely disappeared — but the rapid-release cycle made it difficult for them to compete. By the time they were available, the copied model was already on discount and the “new and better” model was out.
The subject of counterfeits takes some explaining. There are “knock-offs,” which are loosely defined as being very similar to a specific brand, but they do not have the trademark. On reasonable inspection, you can tell they are not the real thing.
Counterfeits are exactly that. They look exactly like the intended product, including the trademark. Knock-offs are legal (and there can still be litigation over brand deterioration), but counterfeits are definitely not.
For the sake of this story, I’ll use the terms interchangeably even though they are technically different. The heads come from China, and equipment manufacturers source in China. So why don’t they switch to the U.S. and protect their brand?
At Adams, I was personally involved in switching from a U.S. source to a Chinese manufacturer (Taiwan in those days). Two dynamic reasons:
- The price was much less
- The quality much better
The job is to provide your customers with the best product at the best price, so the sourcing was inevitable.
Casting, the process by which most current clubs are made, requires hand grinding and polishing, and it must be done with great accuracy to look right and match the weight specs. Hand grinding foundry cast products is essentially one of the labor functions that the U.S. market couldn’t fill, or it did so at a cost per head that was prohibitive. It’s a lousy job and I speak from experience spending a summer working in a black sand iron foundry in 1956. It’s a miracle I still have my fingers, but the $0.80-per-hour pay was tall cotton in those days.
So along with most of the rest of the golf equipment industry, we got our heads from Taiwan. While some of those sources still exist, much has moved into mainland China. Not unlike the U.S., when the electronics industry moved into Taiwan the choice for a bench job was electronic parts assembly in a relatively clean, quiet environment — or enjoying the noise of the grinders and breathing in the polluted air.
Back in my day, the process of getting good product was arduous, as samples shipped back and forth while we battled the language barrier and what looks good in a head with suppliers unfamiliar with the game. Today, the degree of sophistication is significant; you can download computer files to a tool-making machine in a hamlet in mainland China and have pristine samples back in a relatively short time frame.
For the record, most of the U.S. manufacturers assemble their custom orders while importing stock and packaged sets. Even the majority of milled putters are imported. While small operations will say, “This isn’t us,” their total market share is 1.2 percent with brand awareness comparable.
This positive importing relationship came with, for most of us, an unwanted consequence — counterfeit product. I say, “for most of us” counterfeits closely tracked market popularity. In more than one instance, the source was our own supplier. Tooling that we paid for had an “extra run” for heads that were popular.
On one of my visits, I visited a new foundry and asked to see knock-offs of a popular model from another manufacturer. After inspecting them, I asked to see counterfeits and was taken into another room for a “private showing.” While our main foundry would steadfastly deny those “extra runs,” it wasn’t difficult to find knock-offs.
Quick story about renegade operations. I had made some friends in Taiwan and they took me to a foundry that “specialized” in copies. I kid you not, the entire operation was below a restaurant! You walked down this labyrinth of winding stairs, probably three floors in all and nervously looking around all I could think of was Dante’s Inferno!
The foundry was at the very bottom, and the grinding and polishing levels were on the higher floors, with product delivered by conveyer belt. There was no air circulation, and just one entrance/exit. It was like looking through (and breathing) a world of grainy smoke. The noise was deafening and open bottles of some kind of “white lightning” were on the benches. That part I understood, you had to do “something” to work there.
Think for one millisecond that the owner/operator was terribly concerned about the ethics of copies? The place made such an impression that I can see it to this day; it made my personal foundry experience in the 50″s benign by comparison.
One evening, a Taiwanese man who I considered a friend educated me at dinner. He explained that the world of knock-offs and counterfeiting, while not something to be proud of, was ingrained in the culture. Some suppliers (like him) refused to participate, but the practice was wide spread and looked at as more of an enterprise than some heinous crime.
What he essentially told me was that it was a way of life, and the best thing to do was have our own full-time rep in Taiwan to look after our interests — but even then a very popular model would spawn copies. He very politely warned me that some of the major operators in the world of counterfeiting were not upstanding citizens and could be dangerous.
Since golf equipment today is frozen technically by the USGA, at least in the critical category of distance, it’s essentially a brand-awareness, marketing game. Frankly it’s not unlike the fashion business, as new models must be accompanied by very strong marketing. Counterfeiting in that industry is a major issue and China is one of the main sources.
If my prediction of higher prices for new clubs comes to fruition, the knock-offs won’t be far behind.
Best irons of 2021 Part 1 on GolfWRX Radio
What are the best irons of 2021? GolfWRX Staffers Brian Knudson and Ryan Barath break down the 2021 Best Irons lists that were published this week.
The Wedge Guy: Playing your best
No matter what our experience, ability and handicap, all of us golfers have one thing in common–we want to play the best we can every time we tee it up. But unfortunately, that is not always the case. Having a bad day on the course is just part of the game, it seems, regardless of your skill level. But there are things we can do to make that happen less often, and other ways to get back on track when a round begins to go awry.
Let’s start with giving ourselves the best chance of a good round every time.
Setting up a good round
It all starts on your drive to the course, or even when you are getting dressed to go play. Think about good shots you’ve been hitting recently, and good swings you’ve made. Picture drives that were long and straight, iron shots that just hunted the flag, recovery shots that saved par and putts that dropped. I know it’s a cliché, but there really is no substitute for positive thoughts when it comes to golf.
When you get to the course, whether you change shoes in the parking lot or the locker room, S-L-O-W….D-O-W-N. Savor the fact that you have a round of golf in front of you —not work, not yard or house chores. It is time for F-U-N!
Give yourself a chance to perform your best golf right from the first tee
If it’s worth taking a few hours out of your day, it’s darn sure worth taking an extra 10-15 minutes to give yourself a chance. Stretch your legs and back/shoulder muscles that have shortened up from a few days or a week at the office and/or even a few hours of sleep. This is crucial to performing your best. Take a dozen or two back and forth horizontal swings with your sand wedge to get the blood flowing. These aren’t “practice swings” but more like baseball swings to further stretch out your shoulders and back and upper arms and get the feel of the club in your hands.
And for Pete’s sake, hit at least a dozen or so shots before you go to the first tee. At least a few chips and/or pitches and some putts. You have to get the feel of impact refreshed to have a chance.
Getting the derailed train back on track
We all are going to hit bad shots, no matter what kind of game you have, but what wrecks a round is when you get it going sideways for more than one hole. When that happens, the round can still be saved, but the key is to remove the stress caused by the bad shots or holes and build on something you can believe in. It is normal to find yourself tightening up as a result of a bad hole or two, so take an extra minute to “step outside”. Walk away from your group (since you are probably last to hit now anyway), and take some deep breaths. Get your tension down and get positive thoughts back into your head. Take some practice swings with those positive thoughts back in mind.
Here are what I find to be four keys to getting the train back on track
Reach for the 3-wood. If you have hit a couple of bad drives, drop back to the 3-wood, and get one in the fairway. It won’t be all that much shorter than your driver, and it will build some confidence. If the driver is the problem, in fact, bench it for the rest of the round.
Play to the “safe” side. If your iron shots are not sharp, play to the safe side of the greens and give yourself a chance to avoid the big number and put a par or two on the card. When you get your “mojo” back, you can fire at the flags again.
Play the fault. If you are blocking shots right, or a hook has raised its ugly head, play it! That is, if you can’t find the fault and fix it quickly. The range is the place to fix things, the course is for scoring. Unless you can find the fix quickly, just “dance with who brung you.”
Loosen up. A few bad shots will cause us to build body tension, and the first place that manifests is in our grip pressure. You cannot hold a golf club lightly enough, in my opinion–your body won’t let you. But you sure can get into a death grip quickly when the tension mounts. Run a mental check on your grip pressure and lighten up, particularly in the right thumb and forefingers. It will change things immediately.
So, there are my thoughts on playing your best. I’ll bet the readers have their own suggestions, too, so let’s all share our ideas, OK? This should be fun and informative for all of us.
And as always, if you have a topic you would like me to address in a future column, just shoot me an email to [email protected].
Club Junkie: Rapsodo MLM Personal Launch Monitor, Srixon XV balls, TaylorMade SIM2 Max 3-wood
I have been using a Rapsodo MLM for most of the year to track my practice and give me some numbers on my range sessions. The MLM is great for tracking your bag, distances, dispersion, and ball speed. Use it indoors into a net or on the range; the MLM has so many features. New Srixon XV golf balls are softer and more playable for the golfer who doesn’t need super low spin.
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