Equipment change is evolution not revolution

Glyn Pritchard looks at how custom fitting and hybrid clubs have literally been a game changer and why custom fitting is in part responsible for the demise of golf trade shows.

A friend has recently taken up golf and asked me if there was a benefit to having fitted clubs and I said there certainly was. Club fitting has really changed the market for golf equipment retailing in recent years. It’s halted and reversed the growth in online discounters and revived the fortunes of the green grass pro shop because, of course, fitting can only be done in person.Glyn_Pritchard Newsletter photo

My friend then asked me if I’d had my clubs fitted and I had to admit I hadn’t. This is because I bought my current set of irons some time ago and instead of replacing them after a few years I’ve gradually replaced the long irons with hybrid clubs. As result I no longer carry an iron longer than the six, so for anything over about 150 yards it’s a rescue club or fairway wood. Most manufacturers now sell off-the-shelf sets of irons with five to PW, so you only get six irons to a set anyway.

Along with club fitting, hybrid clubs have been the big success story in golf club design over the last ten years and it’s not difficult to see why. Hitting down on the golf ball with an iron to get the ball airborne is counter intuitive for most amateurs whereas hitting a hybrid club on the upswing is much easier. I could hit my three iron pretty well, but the low ball flight meant that it was almost impossible to get the ball to hold on the green, but the higher ball flight from the same distance with a hybrid is more likely to stop.

Cobra first introduced their ‘baffler’ in 1975, which was probably the first hybrid club. By 2004 only seven percent of golfers carried hybrid clubs so it was a slow burn, but today that figure must be close to 100 percent. Even the top tour pros now carry hybrid clubs. They seem to be particularly popular with Asian tour players, with YE Yang and KJ Choi carrying as many as five at a time.

All improvements in golf equipment are incremental, despite manufacturers’ claims of revolutionary breakthroughs. Having read the sometimes spurious science stories that accompany every product launch, it’s easy to get cynical about the slight improvements of a new iteration of clubs over the previous series. But it’s when I think back to the clubs which I started playing with – bladed irons and persimmon woods – that the true extent of significant improvement in club design and technology becomes clearly apparent.

No show for golf exhibitions this side of the pond

This is the first October since 2010 that The Golf Trade Show has not been held. My baptism by fire as editor of this magazine was to produce a monster 72 page show preview special edition for the September 2014 issue. In terms of exhibitors the Harrogate-based show then looked in good health, but visitor numbers needed to improve. There was also the problem that the show was based on the PGA education conference and when the education sessions were on in the main part of the day, the exhibition halls emptied out.

The other factor the PGA identified, when in March it announced the cancellation of this year’s show, was the decline in large pre-book ordering. This ties in with my previous item, as former show manager John Davis identified: “With the huge swing to custom fitting PGA Professionals no longer need to pre-book large amounts of hardware, they simply place orders when needed.”

The PGA’s statement elaborated, “This shift in the trade has had a positive effect for the green grass professional with the on-course market out growing its off-course counterparts in recent years as more and more people head back to the Pro Shop for their golfing requirements.”

With the additional suspension of the Golf Europe show by organisers Messe Augsburg, there is now no golf trade exhibition in Europe this year. Of course there is still the massive PGA Merchandise Show, held every January in Florida, where trade buyers can purchase everything from ball markers to indoor golf centres. It’s a truly global event with international exhibitors brought together in the United States, the world’s biggest golf market. And it has the added bonus of providing visitors with some much needed winter sunshine!

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