The Drive for Perfection

    ‘Drive for show, putt for dough’ is the old adage, but let’s face it, everyone wants to put on a good show, especially on the first tee. Approach pitches, chips around the green and nifty putts may all require skill and finesse, but there’s nothing quite like smashing a drive; which is why the driver is the most worried about and frequently replaced club in the bag. GOLF RETAILING asked three industry spokespeople for their take on the market for drivers and woods.

    Lynx GolfResearch by Sports Marketing Surveys Inc reveals that over a third of golfers bought a new driver in the last year, so this makes drivers and fairway woods an important hardware category for golf retailers. Fortunately on-course pro shops remain the main purchase location for driver purchases, accounting for with almost 38 percent of recent purchases, according to SMS Inc.

    So how can golf retailers better promote the sale of drivers and woods? Danny Osborne, technical representative for Bridgestone Golf UK offers some advice. “Given custom-fitting is an extremely important factor in generating extra sales, it makes a lot of sense to have a launch monitor available for customers to try out recommended clubs. Buying a launch monitor definitely pays for itself in sales because it shows golfers just how much better a new custom fit set of woods could be over their current set.”

    Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 12.58.39Leigh Fletcher, Wilson Staff territory sales manager agrees. “It’s important to custom-fit as many golfers as possible, so they can see just how much it can improve their game. We encourage our stockists to promote our feel, control and distance range of clubs to help golfers understand the model best suited to their game. It helps when pros take extra time to explain key technologies within each range.”

    Another suggestion comes from Stephanie Zinser, CFO of Lynx Golf UK. “We also offer free hire sets for pros wanting to run longer demo periods at their clubs. By trying before you buy, and by offering custom fitting advice, golfers can see and feel positive changes to their game, which is essential.”

    Leigh FletcherOf course, purchasing criteria depend a lot on the type of player doing the buying. Women golfers place a higher importance on distance than men. Ease of use and forgiveness increases in importance as a purchasing factor as a player’s handicap rises. Better players place more importance on ‘feel’ off the club face.

    There’s general agreement that custom-fitting is an essential part of the sales process. Danny Osborne is emphatic: “Custom-fitting is crucial to making more sales. Golfers have to see tangible results when it comes to making changes. Golfers who are custom-fitted for the Bridgestone J15 woods will help maximise distance and tighten dispersion.”

    Stephanie Zinser confirms, “Custom fit has certainly proved its value in our estimation: and it’s not just about club length and extra layers of grip tape for the occasional person. There is far more to it. With the different shaft and head combinations that we can offer at Lynx, we can make sure that players’ differing handicaps and swing speeds can be catered to for maximum effect.”

    Tour player endorsement is another factor in customer buying considerations and is more important for better players than high handicappers. This is why manufacturers spend huge sums from their marketing budgets on player endorsement. In the past month Padraig Harrington has re-signed with Wilson and European Tour player Paul Waring has been added to its list of brand ambassadors. TaylorMade re-signed Paul Creamer and Lynx concluded a three year deal with Dame Laura Davies CBE. “We are absolutely delighted to have Laura on board with Lynx. Not only is she a legend of the women’s game but her status on the tour is unparalleled and we are excited to be partnering with such an outstanding British golfer”, says Stephanie Zinser.

    In terms of trying to get golfers to review their drivers and fairway woods for change, Leigh Fletcher says, “Wilson Staff is proud of its two-year product lifecycles. This assures retailers and consumers that the brand is really getting behind a new product and won’t replace it with another model six months down the line.”

    “It’s certainly worth reviewing the performance of your woods before every season”, says Danny Osborne. “A launch monitor is a good way of doing this. In terms of how often a player should change his or her equipment, it depends on the individual. For example, a player who has reduced his handicap by ten shots in a few months will outgrow his current woods quicker than a player who has performed steadily over a period of time.”

    Danny OsborneStephanie Zinser sounds a note of caution. “Of course one should consider buying a new driver if you see real improvements in performance. There are far too many product launches taking place far too frequently in the industry that offer no real advantages over the older versions. It causes confusion, price wars and makes it harder than ever for the pro retailer to keep their customers happy.” This point is borne out by SMS Inc’s research which shows that the average selling price of an individual driver in the UK at end of 2014 had decreased by three percent to £194.72, compared to £200.72 a year before.

    With drivers and even fairway woods adjustable for loft and lie, is there much scope for further technical advance? Stephanie Zinser replies, “Unfortunately, only as far as the rulings of the R&A will let them go. Which is a shame, because we need to maximise people’s enjoyment of golf and speed things up to help the game’s waning popularity. The R&A do need to think carefully about the bifurcation issue. Do we honestly believe that a 60-year old gentleman with a 26 handicap needs to play by precisely the same rules on equipment as Rory McIlroy does? Does it matter if minor points of the game are reserved purely for when we are playing golf at the ultracompetitive end? These arguments are petty and are damaging our game.”

    Danny Osborne makes the point that custom-fitting means players can get more out of their equipment within the rules. “The Bridgestone R&D team continues to take club technology onto new levels within the R&A limits. But technology can only go so far, so we’d encourage all golfers to be custom-fitted to get the very most out of their equipment.”

    However, Stephanie Zinser thinks there needs to be a rethink about the rules for amateur equipment. “Technology is out there that, when applied to clubmaking, can speed up play, make golf easier for the masses and increase enjoyment. We cannot blithely rule out the importance of increasing speed of play, enjoyment and fun, because by stubbornly nailing our colours to the no-rule-change mast we also run the risk of strangling the game and driving down participating numbers. We need to bring the fun in and chuck the stuffiness out.”

    All statistics provided courtesy of Sports Marketing Surveys Inc.