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Golf Problem

Posted on December 05, 2016

Written by Zach Sewill
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It’s getting quite lonely in the golf industry. One of the few things I remember from a college astronomy class, that as the universe ages and expands, stars will grow further apart until the sky goes dark, seems to apply more than ever to golf these days. Several of the businesses that started around the same time as BestGrips are no longer open and many of our original retailers have closed their doors. New, hot ideas become less innovative every year and most new club releases are just new paint fills or less than believable marketing jargon. Have we reached the pinnacle of success in the golf industry? I’ll be addressing this with the next few entries to the Grip Life as part of my State of the Industry series, a perspective on the business side of golf from BestGrips.

The State of Golf: The Problem in Golf

The golf industry had a tough 2016. In fact, it may have been the worst year of the decade. Earnings are down at all the large companies and retail stores are struggling. 2016’s effect on golf has been turbulent to say the least, with some very big, bleak announcements in the last few months. To recap, a major U.S. company announced they would leave the club sector altogether, a household retailer closed its doors, and an all-consuming big box store just became the most influential player in the entire industry. Every blogger, journalist and insider took a crack at the issues in golf this year, but they left some stones unturned.

The Signs of the Golfpocolypse

Personally, I believe you can trace the problem in golf to one issue weaved by the then big manufacturer (can we really call someone who outsources their manufacturing a OEM anymore?) that’s affected themselves, the governor, and the retailers. I’ve read countless articles, posts and announcements on what’s wrong with golf, but have yet to see any focus on what’s forgotten: the golfer. It’s not complicated. When you forget about the relationship with your customer, the customer leaves and takes their business elsewhere. The companies, governing bodies, and retailers have spent so much time in disdain of the common golfer, they’ve become completely detached and oblivious to who the golfer is today.

The Marketer

While “tour issue” products have always been a staple of business, the message they send always baffled me. A tour issue club possesses tighter specs, tested for performance and made to the player’s desired loft, lie and face angle. Retail clubs, however, good luck getting one in the ball park of loft, lie, face angle or flex. Over the summer, as part of a “tour vault”release, a very specific, a famous putter dropped in limited quantity. The club released and lo and behold it was nothing like the tour club everyone clamored for. Which brings me to this astounding point: the tour level manufacturers don’t know if the tour player or the average golfer is their customer. I’ll give them some advice: The player your paying (money you don’t have) isn’t your customer, the golfer you think Chinese knock offs tour versions will satisfy is your customer and you aren’t satisfying them.

The Governor

While not recent, the USGA’s ban of square grooves brings some questions to the table on who USGA serves. The USGA’s purpose is to protect golf’s sanctity, but where do you draw the line? Certainly, steel and graphite shafts offer the same challenge to the game’s integrity that square grooves and 400cc drivers pose. Let’s not forget, the recent square groove ban. Unlike earlier rulings against equipment already on the market, no company protested the ruling. Why? The ban of decades worth of clubs forces elite amateurs and encourages golfers wanting to stay true to the game to buy clubs with new grooves. So who or what is the USGA protecting? The rules of golf?

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that the establishment has never been further out of touch with the public and golf is no different. Want to discover the problem in golf? Take a look at the relationship between golfers and the rest of golf. There’s a reason boutique companies like BestGrips are on the rise.

A Side Note on Retail

With sales down in golf, large big box stores have consolidated the market and now posses a bigger sway on manufacturers than ever before. If you caught “Driver vs. Driver,” one of the episodes dealt with retail’s influence on club development. The supposed “retail experts” gave their opinions on the remaining clubs. While their opinions were contradictory, they all agreed on one thing, the golfer is stupid and needs their hand held through the buying process. I suspect the decrease in product life cycles originates with the same “experts.”

What About the Actual Courses?

You may have noticed a lack of focus on golf course rounds decreasing. Unfortunately, that problem isn’t so simply addressed. With discount tee-time websites becoming all the rage, course have tried to “have it both ways.” Imagine if a large OEM sold drivers on Tuesday though Thursday for $200 and Friday through Monday for $500. Think anyone would buy the $500 driver unless they had to? Quick sales are always a temptation in business. Just like with any other quick sale scheme, the bad always outweighs, the good.

Darkest Just Before the Dawn

I’ve painted a bleak picture for the future of golf. However, I wouldn’t give up just yet. In part 2 of the State of Golf series, The Solution, I’ll cover some solutions to golf’s problem. Golf’s problem is easier to solve than you think.

If you agree, disagree, found something missing or just have something add, comment below. 

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