Find The Right Club
January 02, 2020

Golf equipment truths: Are the prices for new clubs out of control?

Expensive practice

Guy Billout

We are lucky to have two of the most knowledgable golf gearheads in our office. And they are sharing their golf equipment knowledge with you. Golf Digest's equipment editors, Mike Stachura and E. Michael Johnson, have covered the golf equipment business for decades, and there are few who know the equipment industry better. We've asked them to answer your questions in a weekly equipment round-up. Tweet them any equipment questions you have, and they might answer your questions next week. (Click here or here to ask them a question.)

"I have been told that most pro golfers use shorter shafts on their drivers than do most recreational golfers. Is that true?" —@rogerdenning13

Absolutely true. Here’s why. Most manufacturers know that drivers are sold primarily on distance. And when hitting with a launch monitor a longer driver shaft will likely bring you more yards on your best strikes. That’s why the majority of drivers on the market today come with stock shafts that are either 45 or 45.5 inches in length. The PGA Tour, however, resides somewhere in the 44.5- to 45-inch range, with some players going considerably lower. In 2017 Jimmy Walker cut two inches off his driver shaft to 42.5 inches, and Rickie Fowler shaved an inch off to get his to 43.5 inches. Both saw their accuracy increase significantly that season. Fowler won that year’s Honda Classic right after making the switch and had this to say. “I’ll tell you what, it feels pretty good to step up there with 43.5 inches,” said Fowler. “[It] doesn't start off line very much and doesn’t move much from there. … I may be giving up a little bit of distance, but still, I was able to get it plenty far out there.”

So, should everyday players be looking at shorter driver shafts? Probably. Everyday players are not as skilled as tour pros, so a longer shaft, while perhaps generating some more speed, also can lead to inconsistencies with your swing and wayward shots. A shorter driver shaft could lead to more confidence and finding the center of the face more often. That could lead to more fairways hit, which could yield more roll for extra distance.

The takeaway: During your driver fitting don’t just focus on the distance number you get with your Sunday punch. That’s the distance drug you need to avoid. Ask to try a shorter shaft. You might just find it’s the key to more consistency.

"Please tell me why club prices, and green fees, have gone stratospheric over the past 4-5 years. Golf price rises bear no relation to inflation figures (apart from Venezuela) and are driving people away from our beloved game." —@TheHeal06017150

Ahhh, the good old days argument. I know a guy who feels the same way about hamburgers. And then he took a bite of an Impossible Burger and said, “Hmmm, maybe I need to open my eyes to the current reality instead of making bold declarations based on blindly held preconceived notions.” OK, he didn’t say that. But he did order another one. But seriously, let’s take a serious look at equipment pricing. The most popular driver in golf nearly a quarter century ago, and maybe the most popular driver of any time, was the Callaway Great Big Bertha from 1995. Its price: $500. In today’s dollars, with inflation, that’s about $850. Quite simply, there are no drivers at that price today that have any kind of share of the market. It is correct that average selling prices have jumped significantly. Four years ago, the average sticker price for a metalwood of any kind (drivers, fairway woods, hybrids) was just around $200. Today, it’s nearly $250. Yes, that’s a big jump, but let’s look at the economics and the physics. First, the primary, most reliable audience to appeal to for new equipment are golfers with a lot of money to spend. Second, the cost of making a product is dramatically higher because labor costs in China have jumped. In 2020, it’s estimated they’ll be 30 percent higher than they were just four years ago. Third, and this might be most important, you can’t innovate in a field increasingly hemmed in by the laws of physics without pursuing elaborate and previously unexplored technologies and materials and manufacturing processes. We’re talking the kind of innovation expertise usually reserved for mapping the human genome. These are dramatic costs to attempt to achieve performance differentiation. Heck, there’s a titanium used on a new metalwood that is made in one small factory and was developed only for golf. That kind of innovation doesn’t come cheap. (But these pursuits are justified because this kind of tech talk gets any consumer excited, and dadgummit, I need 10 more yards more than I need a genome.) All of that said, slow your roll. Golf can be affordable with the simplest of efforts. Many of your local muny and private clubs all have plenty of affordable golf deals. And when it comes to equipment, there are way more iron sets for less than $800 than there are for $3,000. And we’re not even talking about the fantastic opportunities in the used club market. (Use our past Hot Lists to guide you on what second-hand club is worth your hard-earned cash.) Heck, right now on GlobalGolf.com there are at least two dozen drivers that were Gold on the Hot List selling for less than $300. And every one of them is almost as much improved from your 1995 Great Big Bertha as what you’re reading this on is improved from your 1995 Motorola StarTAC flip phone. Order up.

"I really need to re-grip my putter. Looking at getting an oversized grip, but haven't really tried any out yet. I use a classic Odyssey 2-Ball and putt left-hand-low, but have a tendency to pull putts. Would an oversized grip help?" —@chadwzimm

We like the idea that technology can make life easier. Because it can. Like, for instance, online Christmas shopping. As such, golf club technology increasingly is about finding ways to make your specific problems better, not just making some human golf machine hit more 350-yard drives. In other words, tech gains are aimed at us and what we need now. The original idea behind oversize putter grips was to calm overactive hand action, particularly on super fast greens. Those putter grips have become incredibly diverse ever since and fit every degree imaginable from the type of taper to the texture and material and even the weighting. It’s better, but also not so simple to choose. And since you’re not likely to go through dozens of regrips to find out which works best with your classic 2-Ball, the first thing is to decide how much you want your hands involved in the putting stroke. Generally speaking, the bigger the diameter of that new grip, the less of a role your hands will play. With a cross-handed grip style, I think you’d want something with less taper, since your main motivation is to have the hands function equally in the stroke and, really, let’s be honest, calm those yips. I’d say it’s unusual for this type of grip to produce pulls as opposed to pushes, but if you want less pull, I’d also look at slightly bigger versus slightly smaller. But here’s a third idea, and one you might not want to hear depending on how spiritually committed you are to your “classic 2-Ball”: You might have the wrong putter for your stroke. If your “classic 2-Ball” is typical, it’s probably face-balanced. Depending on what or whom you believe, those kind of mallets are best suited to strokes that are straight back and straight through. If you’ve got a little more arc on your stroke, you might be fighting against that face-balanced feel, leading to a pull. You might want a heavier putter or even a completely different head style. That’s why we like toe-hang mallets, which give you the off-center hit benefits we all need, but with the open-and-close feel of an arcing putting stroke. Bottom line: If you haven’t changed your putting grip on your “classic 2-Ball” since it was new, let’s get on that. You will only putt better. That’s what the right technology in golf does. Usually, like Amazon Prime, overnight.


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