Sales fly high with balls

For golf retailers golf balls are a steady revenue earner and the need to stock up draws players into the shop where they can see and be tempted by other merchandise. GOLF RETAILING looks at the current state of the market and gets the views of the major manufacturers on a range of issues.

The ContributorsFigures provided by Sports Marketing Surveys Inc show that the average amount spent on balls last year was a not inconsiderable £66.63 and more than three-quarter of purchases are by the dozen.

Balls-Point-of-Purchase

The players most likely to buy new balls are young, low handicap men. In fact category-one players on average spend nearly 50 percent more on golf balls. However, if better golfers buy new and higher priced balls , more generally ten percent of players buy golf balls only once a year and more shockingly 40 percent of players do not know the composition of the ball they play with!

Fortunately as the table shows the on course pro shop is the overwhelming preferred point of purchase for nearly 44 percent of sales. This is probably due in part to distress purchases, when a player reaches into the bag and realises ammo is running low.

So how can retailers persuade golfers to buy new balls instead of using pick-ups or cheaper second-use and lake balls? We asked the major ball manufacturers to provide some answers and to also discuss how much further ball technology can be advanced within the current governing body rules.

 

1. Is there a real difference in golf ball performance based on brand and price or is it just marketing hype?

Bridgestone

The Bridgestone Golf philosophy follows the belief that there’s not one ‘best ball’ for golfers as a whole. Each ball in the range exists because it suits a particular golfer and his or her needs. It’s not based on price, more on the ball that will deliver extra distance, tighter dispersion and better greenside control for players with a wide range of swing speeds and playing characteristics.

Joe Di Stephano

Callaway

There are most definitely real performance differences in golf balls! When we go about designing a new golf ball we use measurement tools that can discern extremely small performance differences. This helps guide our development and achieve optimal performance in a design. But our overarching goal is to create a ball that has ‘demonstrable’ differences for golfers on the golf course. The price of the ball is usually dictated by what types of materials are used, how premium the materials are, and how many layers make up the ball. As a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the ball the more performance features it will have.

Mizuno

Having spent a considerable amount of time researching golf ball technology in Japan, Mizuno’s research team is certainly not just marketing hype! Perhaps some golf balls that attempt to appeal to a range of golfers are just marketing hype but balls that are specifically designed to suit a type of player do make a real difference.

Nike

In general, higher priced balls perform along many dimensions such as distance, spin, control and feel. As you drop down in price, the performance benefits change. While you might have a good distance off the tee, you may have less spin around the greens.

Srixon

Yes there are distinct differences in performance between brands and overall design philosophy. For example, Srixon makes golf balls with different key performance characteristics that helps players get better based on performance needs. Our large patent portfolio allows us to fine tune these offerings for superior performance with less tradeoffs amongst key performance variables as compared to our competitors.

TaylorMade

Yes, golfers of all abilities will notice a difference in performance when using a ball which is best suited to their game. As a general rule, as price point increases, so does spin and feel, although we offer balls throughout our range to suit all golfers – with our Project (a), tailored to meet the demands of amateur golfers, being amongst the most popular in our range.

Titleist

There are many real differences between golf ball brands and their various models when it comes to performance and quality. And those differences affect your scorecard. We are golf ball makers. We own each and every step of the process and continue to make significant investments in R&D and our manufacturing technologies. A result of that commitment and passion is Pro V1 and Pro V1x, the most played and best-selling golf ball models around the world.

Wilson

There is a difference in performance based on price, but it’s also dependant on the type of golfer playing the ball. Wilson Staff offers three models designed to maximise ball speeds – for the higher handicapper to the tour-level player.

2. How can retailers encourage players to purchase new golf balls, instead buying second-use and lake balls, or using pick-ups?

Bridgestone

Retailers will know the shelf life of golf balls has increased from the days of the wound balls, but every ball does still have a shelf life. New golf balls will perform better than second-hand or lake balls because the condition of them allows players to compress the ball more at impact and therefore generate greater distance. I’d compare it to buying a second-hand pair of tyres – you don’t know the tyre’s history and where it has been stored. Therefore you’re unsure of the performance of the golf ball – the least expensive piece of equipment to change and the piece you use for every shot.

John Rae

Callaway

Retailers can start by educating golfers on the performance risk they’re taking by playing a reclaimed or second-use ball. Ball speed declines over time due to the absorption of moisture in the air. This generally takes a few years to show a noticeable effect, but a ball that sits in a lake, or is exposed to weather, greatly accelerates this process. As a result, the performance degrades rapidly and results in erratic ball performance. Golf is challenging enough without adding the variable of shifting golf ball performance!

Mizuno

For golfers of all standards, purchasing new golf balls should be categorised along with purchasing all other equipment. All golf balls are designed to feature different characteristics, such as extra length, sensitivity or spin. Simply relying on second-hand balls will only limit a golfers potential.

Nike

The issue with used, second hand golf balls is that the consumer does not know where the balls came from or the conditions in which they had been kept. Over time, and particularly if exposed to moisture for an extended period, the performance of a golf ball (speed/spin and so on) can degrade significantly. These balls will have lost tremendous resilience and velocity. This will only hurt the golfer because they aren’t getting the performance they need out of their ball.

Srixon

Golf balls remain relatively resilient so some time lost in the woods or a short time at the bottom of a lake won’t impact balls speed too much, but many other areas of the golf ball can be compromised and the golfer will never know. Extended exposure to UV light, dramatic changes in temperature, and time itself can all act to break down the cover of a golf ball on a microscopic level and generate inconsistencies in spin performance. No matter how good the brand name, an inconsistent ball is the worst thing you can have and when you buy reclaimed balls the only consistent thing you can count on is that they will be inconsistent.

TaylorMade

The performance between a top of the range new ball and a used, lake ball will be unparalleled. It sounds obvious, but a golfer uses his ball on every shot and as such, it needs to be properly suited to the player. Somebody who creates a lot of cut spin resulting in a slice, potentially doesn’t need to be playing the spiniest ball on the market. As such, the education around golf balls is paramount.

Titleist

Consistency is a major factor in shooting lower scores. Once you have determined the best golf ball for your game, playing that same model golf ball every round will eliminate any performance variation and help you build a better, more consistent game. With second-use and lake balls, we have found significant variations in consistency and performance. It’s impossible to know where they’ve been, how long they’ve been under water or what they’ve interacted with. You need to be able to trust your golf ball on every shot. Why add another variable into the equation?

Jonathan Dowdell

Wilson

Golfers should know that old and well-used balls can affect their ball speed and therefore distance, as well as feel and touch around the greens. Wilson Staff has introduced a trial offer where golfers buying a dozen balls will receive a free 2-ball sleeve. This is to help retailers get more of their customers playing the ball and hopefully increasing sales of what has proved a very popular ball in 2015.

 

3. How much further can golf ball technology ‘push the envelope’ within the existing regulations?

Bridgestone

Bridgestone Golf continues to push the boundaries of golf ball innovation to improve aerodynamics – the Hydro Core and Dual Dimple technologies in recent years have proven this. However, protecting the heritage of the game of golf and its courses is very important and it wouldn’t be right if golf balls started flying 400 yards. The R&A regulation on how fast the ball comes off the clubface encourages manufacturers to be innovative with improvements to golf ball performance, like how it flies through the air after impact.

Callaway

The USGA and R&A have restrictions on golf ball performance that are designed primarily to limit distance increases for tour-level players with high swing speeds. Due to the physics involved in the collision of a club with a golf ball, this doesn’t mean that average golfers can’t expect to see longer distance in future golf ball designs. At Callaway, in our advanced research and development team, we feel there’s substantial room to increase distance and overall performance for average golfers, as well as push the envelope with soft feeling golf balls – all within the existing regulations.

Mizuno

Having worked closely with the Fukuoka Institute of Technology in Japan to produce the Mizuno JPX Ball, I think we can safely say that golf ball technology is always moving forward. The uniquely designed ‘dimple cluster design’ is testament to the evolution of golf ball technology.

Nike

While some manufacturers are limited with the capabilities of rubber, Nike Golf is just reaching the tip of the iceberg with RZN technology. The Nike RZN core is an advanced polymer co-developed with DuPont that is lighter, faster and longer than rubber. With RZN we are able to push the envelope with innovations like the Nike Speedlock core which has a three dimensional waffle pattern which interlocks the layers of the golf ball to increase energy transfer for increased distance through the bag. The lighter weight of RZN versus rubber allows us to put heavier layers on the outside of the ball thus increasing the ball’s Moment of Inertia (MOI). The higher the MOI, the more stable the ball is in all wind conditions.

Srixon

Every manufacturer is working on new materials, new constructions, new dimple patterns, and stuff beyond that to make the next generation of golf balls better than the products people use today. With the current regulations there are not massive leaps available in performance but rather incremental improvements. What is important to note is that for the average consumer massive gains are still available. Many, if not most, golfers are not playing the right ball for their game. By getting fit into the right ball and out of a poorly fit ball, a golfer can experience an improvement on the same scale as a switch from wound balls to solid balls.

Leigh Fletcher

Titleist

Our golf ball R&D team is made up of more than 75 people who come to work every day with the singular focus of improving golf ball performance. These people are chemical engineers, mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists. They’re always working on a variety of concepts and testing new materials. Some of those things will work this year, some will work in five years, and many will never work. We know we can make a better golf ball. At the same time, our development process will always be guided by what golfers are telling us they need to shoot lower scores. And we are good listeners.

Wilson

The current Wilson Staff range incorporates the lowest compression balls in the two, three and four-piece categories, so it’s safe to say the brand has been pushing golf ball technology to levels never seen before. However, it would also be fair to say that the R&D team hasn’t finished yet in its quest to provide ultimate soft feel and extra distance.

4. Should the governing bodies relax the regulations on golf ball design for amateur use?

Bridgestone

Bridgestone’s ball range is already designed to ‘bridge the gap’ between tour players and amateur golfers. The line-up includes balls like the e-Series range, plus the B330-RX and B330-RXS models that have been specifically designed to perform better for amateur players with slower swing speeds.

Callaway

One of the beautiful characteristics of the game of golf is that amateurs can use the same equipment, play the same golf courses, and use a handicap system designed to compare their performance directly to tour professionals. If regulations were relaxed it would start to detract from that fundamental attribute of the game. If golfers want products that are longer, or fly straighter, there are already products in the market that don’t adhere to the conforming bodies’ regulations. But I believe the reason more golfers don’t buy those products is because they like the current system and the challenging rewards that golf provides.

Nike

Nike Golf’s position has been and will continue to be that we will provide the best performing products under the current rules as determined by golf’s rule making bodies. We will leave it to these rule making bodies to decide what the regulations should be. And if they change, we are in a great position to adapt to changes.

Srixon

This is a philosophical question that as a manufacturer, we are probably not the right people to answer. The more the governing bodies relax the rules, the more we can improve performance, and the more fun it is for us. But since we are clearly biased on this issue it is probably better debated by a different team.

TaylorMade

Developments in other areas of the game mean that golfers are hitting it further and creating more spin on short irons thanks to development in metalwood and iron technologies. Relaxing regulations in all ball design would potentially cause more confusion in a category which already needs more education.

Dave Bartels

Titleist

We strongly believe in the unification of the rules and the fact that the game’s growth and globalisation are inextricably linked to the idea that golfers of all skill levels play the same game.

Wilson

There may be benefits to changing regulations, however today’s range of two, three and four-piece Wilson Staff balls has already proven to improve performance for all types of amateur golfers whilst remaining within existing regulations.

 

5. Any other observations?

Bridgestone

We have lower compression Tour-feel balls (B330-RX and B330-RXS) for the 77 percent of players that don’t swing it fast enough to compress the balls they see Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar using on TV

Callaway

Callaway has invested years of scientific and engineering resources to develop a technology that we believe regains the soft feel while providing unique playing characteristics in speed and spin rates that golfers will instantly notice and appreciate.

Nike

The golf ball is the most important piece of equipment in the bag because it is the only thing that stays constant across 18 holes and 14 clubs. Consumers can greatly improve their experience on the golf course by ensuring that they are fit to the proper golf ball. Nike Golf has a simple yet powerful fitting tool called the RZN Recommender on our website.

Srixon

Every golfer is not the same so there is no such thing as a perfect ball. What works for you may be wrong for me. Even if regulations don’t relax there will still be opportunities to make golf balls that are specifically tailored to different types of players. As manufacturers get better and better at understanding the finest details of golfers’ needs we can make balls that suit their individual game better than ever (without needing any rule changes to get there).

TaylorMade

As stated earlier, the emphasis is on getting properly fitted for the right ball to suit your swing. Our Project (a) has been so successful because it suits the need of the average amateur golfer, providing the right amounts of spin as well as the distance sought by most golfers. All golfers should spend some time making sure that they have found the characteristics in a ball which best suit their game, rather than buying purely on price point or recommendations for friends who could have a vastly different swing!

Titleist

It’s been an exciting start to the year with the launch of our new 2015 Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls. The 2015 models have a new, softer urethane elastomer cover that provides more short-game spin control with softer feel, and golfers really are benefitting from that enhanced performance on their scoring shots around the green.