The Evolution of the Golf Equipment Industry

Nike Golf is no more.  Golfsmith is on the verge of bankruptcy.  TaylorMade Golf is up for  sale and Titleist’s future is uncertain.  Dick’s Sporting Goods laid off 500 PGA “Class A” Professionals.  Edwin Watts went out of business…From the outside looking in, the golf equipment industry is in rough shape.

 

In the USA rounds are declining, courses are closing, and the numbers of golfers actively playing decreases from year to year; thus the market for golf equipment continues to slow as well.  This has made for an extremely competitive marketplace, where 20 or so manufacturers battle their way to increase market share.

 

Even more competitive are the retailers and merchants who are trying to sell these goods to consumers.  With the advent of online sales, and some manufacturers selling direct to the consumer, it seems the industry is in a never ending spiral of product lines with promised results.

 

nike-rip

Nike recently announced a new direction for Nike Golf that includes an end to golf equipment.

Agents and players took to the phones last week as the news regarding Nike broke. Players were wondering “Who makes the best gear?” and agents were trying to get their players new deals.  Indeed, the winds of change are upon the industry, and many leading experts feel the days of the lucrative club contracts are over.  There is a sense that more and more players will go “non-affiliated”.

 

Tiger-Woods-bag-1997

Tiger Woods’ set used to win the 1997 Masters, “brand agnostic”
Driver:
King Cobra – Specs: 43.625″, x100, 8.5 deg, D3
Irons:
Mizuno MP-29 (2-4), MP-14 (5-pw).
5 iron specs:
37.75″, x100, D3
Wedges:
Cleveland 588 RTG SW, LW
Putter:
Scotty Cameron

 

As the club manufacturers no longer offer the 8-figure contracts, players will look to off-course endorsements, preferring to use whichever equipment gives them the best opportunities to play their best, thus affording them the chance to garner endorsements from brands that are outside the equipment business.

 

However, it’s not all doom and gloom in the industry.  Some manufacturers and companies are actually thriving.  Companies who are reinventing the traditional business model and thinking outside the box are finding niches in the marketplace where they can grow and find consistent profitability.

 

Consider Parsons Xtreme Golf. In an era where manufacturers are cutting costs and trying to figure out cheaper ways to make their existing products, metaphorically “trimming the fat” at every corner, PXG Golf has decided to reinvent the way products are designed and manufactured.  PXG spares no expense with the R&D invested in their products, or with the manufacturing process used to create them.  PXG has gone a different direction, choosing instead to offer ultra-premium products at significantly higher prices which yield a greater margin.

 

The traction they have gained within the industry has taken everyone by surprise, and they are undoubtedly the brand that has captured everyone’s attention in 2016.  This serves as just one example of how a company has chosen to break the mold and think outside the box to provide products which outsell and outperform their competitors’.

 

The PXG 0311 irons feature adjustable weighting, a polymer filled clubhead and various other technologies.

The PXG 0311 irons feature adjustable weighting, a polymer filled clubhead and various other technologies.

Another company who is breaking the alarming trend witnessed in the industry is True Spec Golf.  Started just 2 years ago, TSG has stormed onto the scene of custom fit and custom built golf clubs.  By the year’s end, they will operate over 15 fitting centers in 8 countries on 4 continents.  Much of TSG’s success has centered around 2 key principles; being “brand agnostic” and a commitment to build every customer’s set perfectly “to spec”.

 

During the fitting process, golfers tests products from the industry’s best club head and shaft manufacturers using their proprietary Club-Conex adapter system.  TSG has a demo matrix of over 30,000 combinations! Deference is not paid to which product produces a higher margin, or which brand a player may prefer.  The only thing that is considered is performance.

 

In a time where manufacturers promise yardage gains through massive marketing campaigns, and roll out new products month after month, individual performance can be overlooked.  TSG gives players a chance to test products on an even playing field to determine which combination will have a tangible effect to their games.  Furthermore, if a client finds that there is not a significant improvement in performance over their existing clubs then there is no pressure to buy.  Trackman is used to provide valuable insight into equipment performance and to validate results. Also, if a client is not satisfied with on course results then TSG will take the clubs back for a full refund.

 

true-spec-golf-fitting

A driver fitting at TSG Turnberry, Scotland

Building a set of clubs “to spec” when considering length, lie, loft, swing weight, shaft frequency, center of gravity, etc. is more complicated than most players understand.  This is something that can not be achieved when using the mass assembly line model of producing clubs.  Changing a simple variable like a grip can alter many other aspects of how a club plays.  Every last specific of every component is considered before the clubs are assembled, the same way the club builders assemble clubs for the top professional players on the PGA, LPGA, and Champions Tours.  This is done for each and every client who orders a set from TSG.

 

A set of irons drying at the TSG buildshop in Columbus, Ohio.

A set of irons drying at the TSG buildshop in Columbus, Ohio.

The final touches on a fairway hossel

The final touches on a fairway hossel

 

The industry has evolved from the days where the local professional fit and built a player’s set.  It will continue to evolve from the models used throughout the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s, as the game stabilizes itself in the post Tiger Woods era.  As some manufacturers go the way of MacGregor, and Spalding, room will be made for new innovators with exciting new products that give players the potential to enjoy the game more.

 

Time will be the ultimate test for some of these new companies, who challenge conventional wisdom and dare to do business in ways never tried before.  Hopefully, these new models will continue to push the game forward to a new generation of golfers, and help lead to greater player retention for years to come.