Bushnell is launching two new DMDs. Glyn Pritchard met Andrew Grose, Managing Director of Bushnell in the UK to talk about the company and its products.
Bushnell was established in 1948 by the eponymous David Bushnell, originally to make binoculars, spotting scopes and hunting riflescopes in America. Along the way the company started making laser rangefinders for hunters to assist them with distance to target calculations. In the nineties these turned up on golf courses in the States and a number of professional caddies realised that hours of pacing with surveyors’ wheels could be avoided just by pointing the laser device, which was also a lot more accurate. And so the golf distance measuring device (DMD) was born.
Originally the governing bodies banned DMDs and it was only nine years ago that the R&A allowed their use in amateur competition, subject to local rule exemptions. As any PGA pro who has been asked to rule on a monthly medal dispute will know, this exemption only applies to devices that give distances. Devices which calculate the effects of slope, wind, temperature and other variables are still banned.
Andrew Grose was working for Bollé when it was acquired by Bushnell in 2001 and the company first set up shop in the UK. “We estimate about an 80 to 90 percent share of the laser DMD market in the UK with only one significant competitor. We prefer to sell through agents because they have very good contacts with golf retailers and currently we have about 1,500 outlets. We are TGI supplier partners and I would say 60 percent of our sales are through on-course retailers. We do also supply off-course outlets including Direct Golf and American Golf, which is our biggest single customer.”
However, the company does not sell direct. “We don’t sell through our website and although some of our retailers sell through Amazon Marketplace, we don’t supply Amazon direct. We would always discourage buying through Ebay simply because the customer doesn’t really know what they are getting. Our sales policy is to keep it within the golfing community where quality of product and service can be assured.”
With its latest launches, Bushnell now offers four laser DMDs and two GPS based devices. “We offer retailers a five to six piece starter pack for new accounts and we offer a free four-piece PoS display which also holds literature. That’s been very successful; you would be surprised at how many golfers will make an impulse purchase, when the display is on the shop counter.”
Pro tour endorsement is a major factor in the company’s marketing strategy says Grose. “On the US PGA Tour we have 90 percent of pros and their caddies using our laser devices in practice. The figure is over 80 percent for the European Tour. Rickie Fowler and Lee Westwood are our tour ambassadors and we have a representative that works fulltime on the European Tour. A lot of club pros also find our DMDs are an excellent teaching aid.”
While the company has a GPS watch and is introducing a GPS clip-on device, its core product offering is based on laser technology. “With a laser there’s no ambiguity on the reading which is why the pros use them for their yardages. The ‘jolt’ feature on our laser DMDs confirms that you have locked onto to a particular target such as the flag, giving you exact distances, not just back, centre and front.”
With most golfers using some sort of DMD device, isn’t the market near saturation point? “A lot of people play golf and our sales are rising. Technology also advances. Our sales of laser devices were up twelve percent last year against 2013 and our GPS watch sales were up 60 percent. We’re confident about the golf market and see a lot of growth potential for us and our retailers.”
New launches cover both ends of the market
With its two new launches Bushnell is tackling the two ends of the market with DMDs based on the two alternative technologies. At the top end is the Tour X laser rangefinder with an RRP of £399. Its big selling point is that it can be used both as a competition-legal DMD and also with Bushnell’s Slope Technology providing players with adjusted distance readings based on elevation changes.
The Tour X achieves this by having two interchangeable faceplates colour coded black for only distance and red for slope adjusted. Bushnell says that its product department consulted closely with the USGA whilst developing the Tour X, who in turn communicated with the R&A, to ensure that the product conforms with competition rules when the black faceplate is engaged.
“The target customer is the better golfer that wants one device that can be used to give slope adjusted readings in casual play and practice rounds, but with the black faceplate it can also be used for tournament play”, says Andrew Grose.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Neo Ghost GPS rangefinder which comes preloaded with more than 33,000 courses and provides simple measurements to the front, centre and back distances of the green – along with up to four hazards per hole. Unlike the Bushnell Neo XS watch-style DMD, the Neo Ghost has a multifunctional clip so it can be worn on the golfer’s belt or attached to a bag. It is offered in four colours – black, charcoal, neon green and white at an RRP of £99.