A Couple of Trends in Equipment

Without dusting off my crystal ball—it’s got a big crack in it anyway—I see two trends worth noting in the golf club business. Both involve the development of clubs with limited appeal and at this point neither can be described as having can’t-miss prospects.

First is the appearance of ultra-high-end price clubs as exemplified by PXG custom-only models starting with the driver which carries a tag of $700 followed by fairway woods at $500 and irons at $300 or more. And since a bag full of PXGs wouldn’t be complete without the addition of one of their putter models plan on spending another $400 to $600. Add that all together and the total comes to well over $5,000…without the cost of the bag.

Of course for many years there have been custom-made clubs at prices much higher than normal but none in just two years have made as much of an impression on the overall market as PXG.

PXG founder and CEO Bob Parsons said in an interview with Golfweek he expects $100 million in sales this year and more significantly, to be profitable. Repeat that to yourself. In two years from nothing to profitability…in the golf business.

Realistically $100 million in club sales is not a very big ripple on the pond compared with Callaway who expects around $980 million in sales this year and well behind Acushnet who has forecast in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion. The importance is that major makers have even decided to enter at the ultra-high-end price point. Titleist, for example, has the C16 driver selling for $1,125 and Callaway’s new Great Big Bertha Epic Star is $700.

The story is the same with irons and illustrating with the same two companies, an eight iron set of Titleist C16 irons are $3,000 while Callaway Epic irons start at $2,000 with new Epic Star irons at $2,400.

The question of course is how big can this ultra-high-end price market be? The fact is though at least three companies (and you can add Honma, XXIO, Bettinardi plus a couple of others) are working to take advantage of what growth may be there.

The bottom line is performance has to justify the price otherwise the only players paying double or triple of what are considered “usual prices” are those whose egos make the decision.

The second trend is the increase in the number superlight clubs made specifically for those with relatively slow swing speeds, often identified as seniors and ladies. These superlights are made to answer the quest for added distance based on the idea if the club weighs less it can be swung faster and thereby generate more yardage.

A couple of examples starting with Cobra Golf’s F-Max family with the F-Max driver headlining the offering. Cobra’s approach is to use extremely light shaft with a head shaved of extra grams while the center of gravity has been positioned both to fight a slice and hit the ball on a higher trajectory. Interestingly the $300 F-Max driver is also at the bottom of the price spectrum as is the pricing of other F-Max family clubs.

Callaway has gone the other way with the Great Big Bertha Epic Star driver which follows the extremely successful Epic of last season and with all the features that made the Epic such a hit but much, much lighter. The Epic Star comes in at 286 grams versus the Epic at around 310 grams. The Epic Star ($700 as mentioned above) is for players having trouble generating even a moderate clubhead speed and a relatively modest swing speed increase of five mph can produce an additional 15 yards. The cardinal rule is more speed equals more distance.

Lightweight, even superlight, clubs especially drivers have been around since titanium heads and graphite shafts became the norm and even after clubhead sizes reached 460cc Cleveland had a 260-gram driver. As always performance will decide if these latest examples are cost effective plus of course whether a $300 driver can outsell a $700 model. In any event it would seem the market for superlight clubs is much larger than that for ultra-high-end priced clubs.

It’s going to be interesting to see how these two trends develop.

Another Fearless Prediction – Team USA Wins Presidents Cup

JERSEY CITY, NJ – OCTOBER 3: Course scenics of Liberty National Golf Club, host course of the 2017 Presidents Cup in Jersey City, New Jersey on Ocotber 3, 2016. (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)

Well, the teams are set for the biannual exhibition called the Presidents Cup to be played over the Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey at the end of the month.

The top ten world ranked players for the International Team and the top ten point earners for the United States team have been joined by two picks by each team captain. International captain Nick Price added the 11th ranked international player, Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo and Anirban Lahiri from India who was the 16th. Though both are strong, experienced players and join a team headed by world number three Hideki Matsuyama plus Australian’s Jason Day and Adam Scott it’s hard to conceive the Internationals will prevail.

The U.S. team is led by world number one Dustin Johnson followed by Open champion Jordan Spieth plus PGA champion and five-time winner this season Justin Thomas. Spots four through six are filled with players almost as impressive: Rickie Fowler, Daniel Berger and U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka. Let’s face it that’s a strong lineup and captain Steve Stricker made predictable choices for his two picks: Charlie Hoffman, who was 11th in points and World Golf Hall of Fame member Phil Mickelson.

The prediction (which isn’t really so fearless) is the United States will romp, maybe not by 11 points as in 2000 but it’s almost certain this year won’t be close.

As in 2015 when Mickelson was a pick by captain Jay Haas the tsk, tsk crowd has lined up to criticize Lefty’s inclusion. They don’t remember that two years ago when he was having a singularly mediocre season with his best finish being a tie for third he went 3-0-1 in the Presidents Cup. Granted past performance is no guarantee of future success, but it’s hard to argue player with low experience should be picked over even a mediocre Hall of Famer.

The other argument against Mickelson’s inclusion misses the mark entirely. I have a lot of respect for Alex Miceli but in his Morning Read column the logic was Lefty, though playing well at the Dell Technologies Championship, hasn’t had winning form since the 2013 Open and is 15th in the points list therefore younger players should be given the chance to be on the team.

He’s correct that Lefty hasn’t lit it up recently though who can deny his memorable fight against Henrik Stenson for the 2016 Open shooting a final round 65. Unfortunately Stenson posted a 63 to take the Claret Jug home to Sweden but Mickelson was magnificent that Sunday to say the least.

The reason Stricker picked Mickelson was not so much for his record in international team play nor the level of his game this year but because his maturity and leadership are undeniable…an immense asset to the team. If younger players should be given a chance they should just play better and get in by virtue of the points system.