Editor's Essay: Boxed sets?

October 22, 2009

MESQUITE, Nev. — At first glance, it was the most disturbing thing said in two days of discussions with retailers here at the Hot List Summit. In fact, it may have been the most disturbing thing ever uttered by anybody at any of the six previous Hot List Summit meetings. At any time.

"Boxed sets are making a comeback."

Short of a discussion surrounding the staying power of various shades of pink in women's golf clubs (shocking vs. tea rose, for example) or an analysis of the moment of inertia calculations for chippers vs. 8-irons, no words inspire more anxiety in someone whose job it is to analyze and evaluate the latest groundbreaking golf technologies than the phrase "boxed set." But in the last two years, the long-ago staple of the retail golf shop has found a new momentum. The boxed set is essentially an all-in-one, golf game in a bag approach to equipment purchases. The modern boxed set includes irons, woods, hybrids, wedges and a putter, and most often includes a bag, too. In short, the eager golf consumer can carry the box out of the store and right to the first tee.

Typically, the cost is significantly less than purchasing not only a full set of clubs in piecemeal fashion but less than many sets of eight irons. In some precincts, sales of boxed sets have doubled since 2007. For women AND men.

Whoa. What is happening here? Well, to quote James Carville, it's the economy, stupid. But I wonder if this is the best we can do? It's certainly a welcoming, easy-to-manage point of entry for newcomers to the game. But might it mean more than that? Could it be that the average golf consumer is too confused by the game's newest technologies? Could it be that he or she doesn't think the newest technologies are worth the investment, what with the game's ruling bodies putting a hard limit on the equipment inventors? Could it be that the game's new stuff just costs too much?

All of that could be, I suppose. But it's certainly not healthy for the game, particularly a game that thrives on pushing the boundaries of technology. And like handing out free fairway woods with the purchase of a new driver, it's not a particularly sustainable business model.

Here's an alternative to consider for those bemoaning the economy, the rules and the confusion: Why not a return to a different staple of the long-ago golf shop, used clubs? The market is flush and prices are dropping. An average golfer can find much more proven equipment made of better components (actual titanium in the driver head instead of, say, drivers "infused" with titanium) at huge savings in the used golf club market (see, for one) than any boxed set of clubs. How about a Hot List 2009 Gold driver with 5 stars in Performance for $109.95? Yes, it can be yours. I'm not making this up.

Is the boxed set the best we can do? I really don't think so. Frankly, it troubles me even more than whether the color for the headcover on your new 11-wood should be amaranth or bayberry. In short, it's a discussion that should not be happening.

-- Mike Stachura