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marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

Custom club fitting:  Path to perfection, or folly of the fragile golf psyche?

brand credibility from branding expertsOne of the hosts of an immensely popular golf podcast recently stated, on the air, that “club fitting is a total waste of time for most people.” It was the type of statement that boosts ratings and incites debate among those of us who do marketing in the golf industry.

His reasoning was pretty weak; “It’s not like real life,” he said.

But just because club fitting isn’t conducted on the course — with wind, rotten lies, competitive pressure and incessant heckling from beer-drinking buddies —  doesn’t mean it’s worthless. If it was, no one would be doing it.

The question is, does the average 18-handicapper, who forks over thousands of dollars for a club fitting analysis and custom club building, actually come away with a better game?

marketing in the golf industry - clubfitting article BN Branding

Is he a savvy, well-informed equipment consumer who knows something the rest of us don’t know, or is he just a sucker, throwing away money on the great, shiny placebo of the modern golf world?

On one hand, a dynamic club fitting session is the only way to know, for sure, that you’re getting what you paid for. But as I’ve recently learned, it’s also an easy way to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on shiny new clubs that only produce miniscule improvement in track man numbers that may or may not translate to better golf scores.

Is club fitting a waste of time for people who do NOT play at an elite level? And what do you really get from a $350 club fitting session at one of the fancy new club fitting boutiques?

 

 

 

 

Full disclosure here: I do branding, consulting and marketing in the golf industry. I’ve worked with several companies that offer club fitting services but this is NOT a paid post or a promotion of any kind. Just my overview of what’s happening in that business.

Basically, I’ve been drinking the club fitting kool-aid for more than 20 years, but what I’ve experienced recently really tests my faith. Even though custom club fitting is more prevalent than ever, I’m not sure that business is moving in a direction that benefits the average consumer.

One other thing:  I am not an equipment junkie. I’m not one to run out and buy the latest greatest anything. I hang onto my clubs, probably longer than I should, and I play more by feel than by data analysis. I play well to 9 handicap; but I was a 5, once upon a time, while playing with a set of Ping knock-offs made for me by a trusted old craftsman we called Uncle Milty.

It’s a story with more wrinkles than an Arizona centenarian and it begins back in the day of leather-wrapped grips and persimmon woods.

 

Lead tape and tinkering… The origins of club fitting.

marketing in the golf industryClub fitting, to some degree or another, has always been popular on the PGA tour. Arnold Palmer was famous tinkering with his clubs. He probably set his hands on more golf clubs than anyone in the history of the game. He was on a lifelong search for the perfect club, and said he never found it.

Palmer based his preferences on two things: how the club felt and how it looked. He believed that if it looked good, and felt right in his hands, he’d make it work.

Pros of Arnold’s era would add a little lead tape here and there, grind the soles, whittle the persimmon and bend the lie angles just so. It was more art than anything. They had no way to measure what they were doing; they were just eyeballing it and testing it on the course.

Trial and error.

That’s pretty much the way it was until the 1970s when Dr. Joe Braly added a little bit of science to the art of club fitting.

Braly was a fighter pilot, Veterinarian, aeronautical engineer and avid golfer who invented a way to sort shafts according to stiffness. His goal was to turn untested blank shafts into a matched set that the tour pros could trust.

To understand club fitting you have to understand Braly’s game-changing invention: The frequency machine. To this day it’s one of the main tools of the trade.

Frequency analyzers measure the oscillation of a shaft using a laser beam. The stiffer the shaft, the faster the rate of oscillation; the more flexible the shaft, the slower the oscillation.

frequency machine marketing in the golf industry BN Branding

Here’s how they work: Clamp the grip end into the frequency machine, then pull the clubhead back, let it go and watch the shaft oscillate back and forth.

The frequency analyzer counts the oscillation rate and displays it in the form of “cycles per minute” on an LED display. So Braly could assign a number to each shaft. He then built a set of clubs using only the shafts with matching numbers.

The idea caught on… Working with his son, Kim, they opened a repair van on the PGA tour circuit and by 1978 they had more than 100 tour players using their FM Precision Shafts. The two went on to start Project X and now KBS shafts.

The general public, however, didn’t see the benefit of Braly’s invention until a small, Idaho-based company called Henry Griffits brought custom club fitting to the masses and set the bar for every other company that wanted a piece of that untapped, unproven market.

 

 

 

The first consumer brand in the world of club fitting. 

I was first introduced to the wonky world of club fitting by the CEO of Henry-Griffitts in 2001.  Jim Hofmeister treated me to a tour of their facility and gave me thorough briefing on their unique approach to fitting and hand-crafting personalized golf clubs.

HG developed the processes and patented many of the tools that club fitters still use, and it was quite an eye-opener. The closest thing was PING’s color coding system, but that paled in comparison to what HG offered. It was a first in golf industry marketing. 

That was the first time I ever saw a frequency machine used to test the consistency of shaft flex, and I have to admit I was stunned. I had no idea that a “set” of brand name irons could be so completely screwed up.

They had a whole stack of reject shafts that were set to go back to the manufacturer. Hofmeister put one on the frequency machine and showed me the problem; He couldn’t even get a reading. Instead of oscillating back and forth, it just bounced all over the place.

That was lesson #1: The shaft manufacturing process is far from perfect. Discerning club makers who set tight tolerances for shaft flex consistency routinely send 15 to 25% of their shafts back. Every time.

Lesson #2: You can throw the labels right out the window. Shaft flex can vary dramatically from one club to the next within a set of so-called regular flex clubs. Especially when you’re talking graphite shafts. Not only that, every shaft manufacturer and every big golf brand has a whole spectrum of “stiff” shafts, “ladies” shafts and every other shaft category. And the spectrum shifts from one company to the next. There are no industry standards for shaft flex. One company’s “stiff” shafts is another company’s regular shafts.

Lesson #3: Lie Angles matter. If a golfer is playing with clubs that are way too flat or too upright, he’s going to adopt all sorts of bad habits in order to compensate for the mis-fit clubs and make the ball go where he wants.

As Hofmeister told me, “Golf clubs create golf swings.”

 

 

 

That look behind the curtain at Henry-Griffitts planted a seed of doubt in my head that will never go away.  Once you’ve seen a set of brand name, off-the-shelf irons tested and plotted on a frequency chart, you can’t unsee it.

So I left Idaho thinking “how can anyone trust the clubs they’re swinging if they buy right off the shelf? There’s no way the big manufacturers take time to test every shaft before assembly.”

When I returned home I contacted Andy Heinly, the local Henry-Griffitts guy, and went through the entire club fitting process. I was sold, hook line and sinker.

Upon delivery Andy confirmed the lie angles and the launch trajectory for every HG club in my bag, and that was before the days of the Track Man. He could tell, just by watching ball flight, that I got exactly what I paid for.

I’ll never forget how well I was hitting the ball after getting those HG clubs and doing a lesson with Andy. That was their secret sauce; They recruited and trained PGA teaching professionals to do fittings and sell their clubs. If you couldn’t teach, you couldn’t sell Henry-Griffitts.

It was a great way for PGA certified teaching pros to earn extra money and find new students. But with the advent of simulators and launch monitors, that model has fallen by the wayside.

Many people in the golf business today believe club fitting and instruction should be completely separated. Like church and state. Master club fitters do the best they can with the swing their clients bring on any given day. And they get very squirrely when a teaching pro encroaches on their rarified turf.

But here’s what both camps have in common; they’re trying to help build your confidence. Whether it’s with one new club, or a series of lessons, or a combination of a full club fitting session plus lessons, the end goal is the same.

I can testify to how that feels when it all comes together.

That buying process I went through with Andy provided the one thing that every golfer will pay for: Confidence.

I had confidence in the irons themselves, confidence in HG’s building process, in the fitter and perhaps even in even my swing.

It seemed like I was making a better swing with my new clubs. Maybe that was Andy’s expert tutledge or maybe that was just my imagination. It doesn’t really matter, because the confidence was real.

 

Golfers are drawn to shiny objects and we’re suckers for empty promises of more distance. We buy for completely irrational, emotional reasons and then conjure up all sorts of logical rationale for our purchase of those objects.

My first club fitting experience provided the ultimate purchase rationalization.

“Of course I needed new clubs honey, my old ones didn’t fit me. The lie angles were off and they weren’t frequency matched.”

There’s another subtle mental benefit to club fitting that’s worth mentioning… That little voice in your head that says “my equipment’s better than your equipment.”

At the amateur level If you’re playing in a tournament head-to-head against a guy with stock clubs, your equipment becomes a competitive advantage.

At the elite level club fitting is standard operation procedure. So you have to do it just to keep up with everyone else in the field. You can’t NOT get fit because you can’t afford any tinge of doubt about your equipment.

Doubt sells a lot of golf clubs, and it seems to be a key selling point for the new breed of club fitting operations. Doubt and the fragile golf ego.

Doubt is what drove me to replace my reliable HG driver after five years of good performance. Somehow I got it in my head that I was giving up distance by playing steel shafts. So on a whim during a trip to Bandon Dunes, I “upgraded” to an Adams driver with a lighter, graphite shaft.

If I had compared the two drivers on a launch monitor I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have made that purchase.

Instead, I spent the next five years trying to convince myself that it was a smart buy. Ego prevailed over buyer’s remorse and prevented me from cutting my losses and moving on. Even though I was missing more fairways I couldn’t admit that I had made a bad purchase.

Finally, a couple summers ago, I swallowed my pride and decided it was time for a do-over. The driver needed to go. I wanted that feeling of confidence again. Plus, I had a hankering for something shiny and new. I wanted an entirely new set. I deserved it.

Luckily I didn’t have to walk into a big box store completely blind and trust some random sales guy to fit me properly. I went back to my fitter/instructor who sold me my HG irons all those years ago. Andy Heinly now owns a golf shop offering all the big name brands and all the latest, greatest launch monitors to help gauge what’s best for me.

He adheres to the old truism in club fitting that says “90% of you are going to be better off with a shaft that’s more flexible than what you think you need.”

Plus, Andy knows my swing and he recognizes that I’m not getting any younger. So he put me in a set of Callaway Apex irons with lightweight graphite shafts that seemed significantly more flexible than my steel shafted HGs.

They felt weird, fast and easy to swing. But Andy assured me that it was the right move, and I had no reason to doubt his opinion. Besides, the launch monitor data confirmed that they “worked better” across the board.

But did they, really?

I don’t recall any detailed A-B testing on the dispersion pattern of the Callaways versus the old HGs. But I do remember that I was getting more distance.

Maybe I was momentarily taken by the age-old golf industry sales pitch of a few more yards. But I know better!

It’s common knowledge that the big brands have been steadily decreasing the loft on their irons in order to deliver on that overused promise. In his book, The Search For The Perfect Club, Tom Wishon calls it The Dreaded Vanishing Loft Disease. So that new Callaway 7 iron was probably equal to my HG 6 iron.

I was not comparing apples to apples, and frankly, I didn’t care. I was dead set on getting new clubs so those Track Man numbers fit perfectly with my pre-conceived notion of what I needed.

I only saw what I wanted to see. Heard what I wanted to hear.

Even though it was bit of a blow to my golfing ego I went with Andy’s recommendation to use iron shafts that were on the softer side of the “regular” flex spectrum. From that particular shaft manufacturer anyway. (Matrix Recoil ES 760/F3)

When my new set of Callaways arrived Andy took time to check the lie angles and confirm the launch parameters, especially with the driver. A quick click click with his handy wrench and my new driver was launching them quite nicely with a “smash factor” that was very close to perfect. I was getting every inch of distance I could get out of my swing speed.

marketing in the golf industry BN BrandingI started feeling pretty good about myself, especially when I realized I was wielding a 9 degree driver. That’s contrary to everything I’d heard about how most people need more loft with the driver, not less.

But the dynamics of club fitting are such that a 9 degree driver in my hands behaves differently than the same 9 degree driver for the next guy.

It’s the way I deliver the club into the ball, in addition to an endless combination of other variables. There are so many different variables involved, it’s ridiculous.

Wishon lists 21 different variables in club fitting, but he’s only talking about the measurable stuff that he can control, like lie angles, swing weight, shaft spine alignment, shaft torque, frequency, etc etc.

We can’t forget about the “real life” variables that the podcast host was referring to. Like “feel,” how the club interacts with the grass, and they type of ball you play. (He contends that hitting practice balls off a matt just doesn’t cut it.)

In real life my new clubs have been performing quite well. My handicap went down 3 points and I’ve hit some of the best iron shots of my life. And perhaps, more importantly, my misses have been better.

I had absolutely no complaints about the clubs Andy sold me until I started doing research for this article. The deeper down the rabbit hole I went, the worse it got.

 

 

Blinded by bling – and too many choices.

High-end boutique club fitting firms have popped up all over the country in the last 10 years. Companies like Cool Clubs, True Spec, Hot Stix, Club Champion and GOLFTEC didn’t exist when I bought my last set, so I was very curious to see what they offered.

The first stop was a master club fitter with one of the fastest growing club fitting chains in the country. It’s a “brand agnostic” operation, meaning they carry a dazzling array of colorful shafts and high tech clubheads from dozens of major manufacturers. One of the chains claims to offer more than 50,000 different possible combinations.

Perfect for the guys who buy golf clubs like women buy jewelry. For me it was more like mix and match till my head explodes!

After a nice warm up period and a couple quick questions about my game, the fitter fired up the Track Man and started assessing data from my 6 iron shots. 173 yards of carry from 82 miles per hour of clubhead speed. “Not bad,” he said.

With that data point established he headed over to the frequency machine. (He did not check the lie angles.) He tested three random irons and determined that 291 was the frequency number.

“Oh, these shafts are way too soft for your clubhead speed,” he announced. “These are like super soft ladies flex.”

All I heard was “Why are you playing Granny shafts?” “Those are so soft you couldn’t smash a rotten pumpkin.”

My head was spinning and my ego was bruised. The seed of doubt was firmly planted.

At that moment, if I didn’t know any better, I would be really angry with my friend Andy. But he’d never put me in Granny shafts. No way. Something was amiss.

I told the master club fitter that I was absolutely sure I had ordered regular flex shafts. Then I asked, “How could they possibly end up being Granny shafts according to your frequency machine?”

He said it was clear that I didn’t get what I had paid for. “It was the build that they did at Callaway,” he said. “They probably tipped ‘em wrong so they came out much softer than what the factory specs say.”

Oooookay. Never heard of that, but since my Callaways had never been on a frequency machine I couldn’t deny that possibility.

But the more I thought about that, the more unlikely it sounded. Andy and I confirmed the lie angle and the launch of each club after delivery. I’m pretty sure we would have seen some weird dispersion pattern or launch angle anomalies on the Track Man if Calloway mistakenly gave me a whole set of Granny-shafted irons.

In any case, I went along with the fitter’s assessment because I wanted to see what other nuggets of wisdom he might provide. Besides, there were all those pretty shafts to try out.

One that looked particularly enticing was $400. For one shaft. I opted to NOT test that one for fear that it would produce the best numbers of the bunch and I would be somehow morally obligated to buy the entire bank-breaking set.

As he changed out clubheads and tried different shaft combinations one thing became quite clear: the shot pattern produced by my Callaway irons was pretty damn good. The baseline was high. Nothing I tried that day showed a dramatic improvement in both ball speed and dispersion, relative to the clubs I already had.

The fitter told me, “Your driver’s fine. Don’t change a thing.”

He also told me that my Apex clubheads were very good, and were out performing many of the clubheads that we tried. So one option, he said, was to re-shaft my current Apex irons with stiffer shafts.

Not a bad idea, except that alone would cost me $1000 — if they generously re-used my existing Golf Pride grips. For $2400 I could have a whole set of the new-and-improved Apex irons with stock grips that I don’t like.

I was far from sold.

The track man data showed that I would gain one to three yards with my six iron. That’s not going to make one bit of difference in my scoring. No freakin’ way. In my book, two extra yards with the same dispersion isn’t worth $2500, $1000, or $20 for that matter.

So the good news was, my set current performed well compared to all the new options we tested. According to the Track Man data there was no compelling evidence to suggest I needed anything different. The bad news was, I was left scratching my worried old head regarding his comment about 291 being granny shafts. It was like a parent being told his child is “a little slow.”

At that moment of vulnerability and confusion I turned to friends and family for support.

Word of advice: Don’t ever ask your arch-nemesis for club fitting advice. Any concerns you share about your set of clubs will be amplified 1000 times. On every tee box. At every opportunity. Especially when you’ve made a couple birdies in a row. Imagine his delight when he heard I’ve been playing with Granny shafts all my life. I’ll never live that down.

So I was on my own trying to decide whether I should I stick with the advice of my trusted friend Andy and his Track Man numbers, or believe this guy’s interpretation of the frequency machine data?

Now at this stage of the story I’m compelled to explain, as briefly as possible, the numbers that club fitters attach to the frequency machine results. One article on Golf WRX calls it the biggest can of worms there is in club making, so I’m going to barely scratch the surface.

Remember how I said that each company offers a spectrum of flex variation within each label? And the spectrum varies from one company to the next…

According to that particular master fitter, a frequency of 310 cpm is what I need. He described that as “the stiff side of regular flex,” and he was quite sure about that. He showed me his frequency matching chart to prove it.

But frequency matching charts vary dramatically. One says 310 is “Stiff.” Another says it’s “Regular.” On several of the charts that I found 291 looked perfectly fine, falling on the soft side of “Regular” or the stiff side of “Senior.”

Almost every one of them showed 310 with a 6 iron is way out of my physical league. None showed 291 at the bottom of the chart in the granny shaft column.

So I asked Jim Hofmeister about that. “Every company does it differently, uses a little different numbers, and then they’ll turn around and tell everyone else they’re doing it wrong.” he said.

So if you’re an unscrupulous salesman whose only job is to sell a ton of high-end golf clubs on commission, you’d create your own frequency chart and show that to every guy who walked into the shop: The one that bruises his ego and paints a grim picture of his current set of whimpy, granny shafts.

And vice versa; you could show every lady a chart that paints her clubs as way too stiff and manly. Impossible to play with.

It’s like the psy-ops of golf industry sales strategy.

Luckily I had one more ace up my sleeve. I have a friend who learned how to fit, build and design golf clubs at McGregor, back in the day when Jack Nicklaus and many of the other big names were playing that brand. He worked with Arnold Palmer and many other tour stars.

I call him the club whisperer. You can blindfold the guy and he’ll tell you if you’ve hit it on the heel, the toe, or the sweet spot. He’s also one of the most meticulous people I’ve ever met. Everything he knows and does has been proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, over the span of 50 years in the business.

So I boxed up my perfectly good irons and sent them to Florida for his expert opinion. I specifically requested confirmation of the frequency numbers and on the overall “build” of the set.

What he found didn’t exactly align with what I heard at the fancy, boutique club fitting studio.

Frequency machine numbers club fitting BN Branding

The perfectly matched frequency numbers of my irons. The white area indicates “Regular” flex. The blue area is “Ladies” flex. Green is extra stiff.

 

First of all, he saw nothing that would indicate my clubs were built incorrectly or “not to spec.” Six out of seven were absolutely consistent with the 6 iron: 296 on his frequency machine. The five iron was the only club that was slightly off, and he fixed that by puring the shaft and reassembling the club.

Compared to the thousands of sets he sees every year, the club whisperer said that my Callaway irons were an A grade. “Those matrix shafts are really good,” he said. I hardly ever see any big issues with those.”

All of my irons fell within the spectrum of what he categorizes as “soft regular flex” or “Stiff Senior.” Grandpa shafts, perhaps, but definitely not granny shafts.

Whew! What a relief. Two out of three fitters said my current shafts are fine. I can put my wallet away.

His final assessment was this: “Most fitters would just look at your swing speed and say you need a slightly stiffer shaft,” he said, “but the only difference would be trajectory. If you’re not hitting it too high — If your launch angle numbers look good on the Track Man — then forget about it! I wouldn’t worry about the frequency machine numbers or the labels.”

Good answer.

While I waited for my Callaways to return from the club whisperer in Florida I decided to dispense with all the technical club fitting nonsense and just go play golf. My cousin happily offered to loan me an old set of Ping i3 irons, vintage 2000, that were gathering dust his garage. They had the original, crusty grips and steel shafts marked “stiff.” He was playing the odds. Messing with my head.

My first few swings with those eyesore irons were a little bit shaky, but after a few holes I was beginning to believe I could actually play with shafts as stiff as 310.

At the par-5 ninth hole I hit that crusty old Ping 8 iron to four feet. Made an easy birdie.

On the 11th hole – a par 3 – I hit 8 iron again and made birdie from 6 feet. Of course I did!

By that point the irony of it was laughable, to say the least.

Then, on the par-four 13th, I hit the most perfectly humorous golf shot of my life. It was that magic old 8 iron again. The one that seemed unfit for human consumption. This time, from 154 yards in the light, winter rough.

The instant the ball left the clubface we started laughing. It was dead straight, right at the flagstick. Even my nemesis was rooting for it. The ball bounced once on the front fringe and rolled straight into the cup. Dead center for eagle.

No amount of club fitting or over-analysis could possibly replicate that.

After all research involving launch angles, spin rates and frequency numbers, I hit, quite literally, the perfect golf shot with a crappy old 8 iron that fit like my grandfather’s suits.

What the hell!  I couldn’t have scripted a more fitting, more golf-y, ending.

 

Conclusions:  

So what’s the average struggling golfer supposed to conclude from all this? Here are my key takeways that I hope will help anyone who’s thinking of diving into the same club fitting rabbit hole.

 

The human element is the most crucial piece of the club fitting puzzle. It ain’t the track man.

That podcast host didn’t say anything about the biggest, most important variable all: The experience and skill of the fitter. Or lack thereof.

All the data in the world don’t mean squat unless you have someone well trained and impartial to interpret the numbers for you. The fitting technology is only as good as the club fitter.

I’m lucky. I have a club fitter who’s also my swing instructor. We’ve been working together for almost 20 years so he can read between the lines and piece this puzzle together intuitively. I have complete, utter faith in him. I doubt very many people can say that about the kid at Golf Galaxy who just sold you last year’s TaylorMade driver.

So if you’re determined to spend a lot of money on new, custom-made golf clubs, don’t just do a fitting. Shop for a fitter. Find someone with a skilled eye, years of experience, and in-depth knowledge of swing mechanics. Don’t settle for a salesman with a Track Man.

 

Take every number with a grain of salt.

I could have easily been swayed into a big purchase by one number: 310. That was the frequency that I was told I needed in my iron shafts.

Was that master fitter just gaming me into buying a new set of clubs for a ridiculously inflated price? I don’t know. I’d rather believe that it was an honest mistake; he just read the numbers wrong, or he grabbed the wrong frequency matching chart, or he didn’t clamp the grip quite right, or my extra-thick grips affected the read out, or the frequency machine was unclean or uncalibrated.

All I know is, his number was incorrect and I’m very glad I didn’t spend $2500 on a set of clubs based on that inflated number. I probably would have gone to my grave trying to make those irons work.

310 is not some goal that I should swing to achieve. And if you want to get even more confused, many fitters use numbers ranging from 3.5 – 6.0. You should only use frequency matching to identify faulty shafts and ensure consistency across the set.

Swing speed another misleading number that’s routinely over-played by inexperienced club fitters. There’s absolutely no way you can correlate swing speed to a specific shaft flex. The shaft manufacturers provide rough guidelines, but every person is different. Every 80 mph swing is unique. You have to look at the bigger picture.

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Get my book on Amazon.

Sometimes, the problem really IS the club, and not your swing.

Faulty shafts are a lot more common than you’d think. In fact, you probably have at least one club, out of the 14 in your bag, that’s just plain wrong in relation to the rest of your set.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, but it does take a different mindset to do something about it. Most people just blame their golf swing for any bad shots. Even though they haven’t hit a single good shot in three summers with that new 3-wood, they’ll keep trying to figure it out.

Regardless of how much you paid for that unruly golf club, take it out of your bag. Stop trying to make that one work, like I did for years with my Adams driver. It’s an outlier. Stop making excuses. Just get rid of it.

The fact is, even lousy golfers can groove a swing that matches the majority of their clubs. My friend, the club whisperer, sees it all the time.

“I had a guy in my shop just recently who was playing with custom fit clubs that were 5 degrees off on the lie angles,” he said. “He was trying like hell to make those things work. He didn’t have very good golf swing, but it was definitely consistent. And when he saw that ball going right every time, he started changing his swing to compensate. It went from bad to worse.”

You’re likely to develop a lot of bad habits trying to make mis fit clubs work for you. Then, if you get clubs that are more “correct,” you’ll have to UNlearn whatever it was you were doing to compensate. So you’re likely to get worse before you get better.

That’s why it’s so helpful to have a club fitter who’s also a good instructor. Guys like Andy can tell the difference between swing faults and equipment issues.

 

Don’t let ego and confirmation bias sabotage your fitting or your golf game.

We all have our preconceived ideas of what works and we like, but if you want to get your money’s worth from a club fitting session you have to be open minded and honest with yourself.

This comment recently popped up on a golf group on Facebook: “Just got done with a club fitting. Had to swallow my pride. No more blades for me.”

If a guy believes that he needs blades, or stiff shafts, he’ll find data to back up the belief and he’ll pretty much ignore any facts that are contrary to that. Andy sees it all the time…

“Even if a guy sees great data from the launch monitor; perfect launch angle, perfect dispersion pattern, perfect spin rate, he won’t buy if the shaft says “senior” on it. He stubbornly insists on what he wants, instead of what you know he needs.”

Skewed perception outweighs reality. Ego wins over common sense. But if you eliminate the senior label and show him the same numbers he’ll defer to the launch monitor data without hesitation.

Several industry insiders I’ve talked with believe they should do away with shaft labels entirely, but no one can agree on numbers that would standardize the process from one manufacturer to another.

So consumers like me are left to believe what the “expert” club fitter tells us. Or not.

 

The real value is in the placebo effect.

In reality, there’s no way a $400 shaft is going to be four times better than a $100 shaft. You’re not going to get 4x better dispersion pattern. And four extra yards with a five iron isn’t really going to bring your handicap down or make you a better person.

But it’s not about reality. It’s about perception. Belief. Faith. And confidence.

Who cares where the confidence comes from? If money’s no object, knock yourself out. Go ahead and pay top dollar for a very expensive sugar pill.

There’s no doubt that more and more golfers are interested in fitting, and the industry is stepping up to provide it, not only at high-end studios but also at a growing number of big-box stores and pro shops

But debate about the value of club fitting isn’t going away.

On one end of the spectrum you have guys who wouldn’t touch custom clubs with a ten foot pole. “When they show me a shaft that’s guaranteed to eliminate my snap hook, then I’ll talk to a fitter. Until then, I’m buying off the rack.”

On the other end you have people who have convinced themselves that their $400 driver shaft is radically superior to any $100 shaft and you’d be an utter fool to settle for anything less. “If you’re not getting fit, you’re crazy.”

I believe club fitting is quite useful, to a point, but I definitely crossed over into an area that falls into the realm of too much information. The more I researched it, the less I believed.

Club fitting, to some degree, IS important for beginners and high handicappers. Because if they’re trying to play with clubs that are way, way too stiff, or way too upright, it’s going to be very hard to see any improvement. And golf’s hard enough.

There’s also a clear benefit in club fitting for elite amateurs and pros. No doubt about it. They need every little edge they can get just to stay on the same playing field.

But for the players like myself, who fall in between, I’m not so sure.

I could spend an entire golf season, and $5000, futzing around with my equipment and never see one iota of improvement. It can be a costly, time-sucking endeavor.

I’d be better off spending my time on the practice green and my money on a good instructor. $1000 worth of instruction is going to get me much further than $1000 in club fitting expenses.

If you’re shooting in the 70’s or low 80’s consistently, chances are you could shoot similar scores with just about any set of clubs. Stiff, Regular or Senior shafts, it wouldn’t matter. You’d make some small adjustments, figure it out, and manage to score.

Or maybe even hole out from 150 yards, like I did with that old Ping iron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2021 John Furgurson – BN Branding All rights reserved. Not for posting, copying or plagiarizing.

2

Masterful Brand Management – Golf industry marketing & Tiger Woods

Golf Industry Marketing and The Masters BNBrandingIt’s Masters Week —  the biggest week of the year in golf industry marketing and a tide-turning event for several brands.

Most notably, the TW brand.

Over the last 9 months the Tiger Woods brand has, shall we say, strayed a bit. The “indiscretions” of Tiger’s personal life have cost his brand millions in endorsement deals, and even more in public goodwill. As one sports writer put it, “it’s the most dramatic fall from grace in the history of sport.”

For Tiger Woods and company, The Masters represents the perfect venue for a comeback, and an ideal brand affiliation.

See, Augusta National is considered hallowed ground. It’s like the Sistine Chapel of the golf world and its annual invitational tournament is like Easter Sunday with the Pope.  Every player and every “patron” out there considers himself blessed to be part of it.

Call it the halo effect… TW needs some of that sweet aroma of blossoming azaleas to rub the stink off of him.

 

 

So Tiger started the week in Augusta with a press conference. Every question was personal. Pointed. Charged. Every reporter wanted to rehash the events of Tiger’s private life. To his credit, Tiger’s responses seemed genuine and heartfelt. Not overly scripted. But it was obvious that his answers were thought out in advance. As they should be.

From what I’ve read, the CEO of Toyota, with all his PR advisors, didn’t handle things as well in regards to the recall.  Toyota execs withheld information that put their customers at risk of death, and the press was easier on them than Tiger.

Different rules apply to our sports heroes.

In any case, Toyota has 50 years of dependable performance and customer loyalty to help pull it through this little bump in the road. And ultimately, when it comes to Tiger’s brand, performance will trump everything else.

tiger woods comeback logo brand video

The Tiger Woods logo for Nike

As soon as he gets back to his dominant form and wins a few of these majors, like The Masters, people will begin to forgive and forget. And golf industry marketing can get back on track.

Keep in mind, his Tiger’s brand bordered on superhero status before all this crap came up. But every superhero has his kryptonite, and now we know what Tiger’s is.

The events of the last year have had a polarizing effect on the TW brand. The people who weren’t Tiger fans before really hate him now. And he seems to be universally despised by women.

However, among the men over 45 who make up 75% of the golfing public, he’s still  more admired than despised. He still gets a standing ovation on the 12th tee at Augusta. Still inspires awe with his performance on the golf course. And that’s always good for business.

The other thing that TW and company did this week was launch a new commercial.

In classic, Nike fashion, the black and white spot features Tiger, just standing there looking stoic, while his father’s words hauntingly ask the questions that the entire world has been asking:

“I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are… did you learn anything?”

The mainstream media and general public won’t recognize the voice and might see it simply as PR BS. Some have called it crass and creepy. Others are saying it’s  “Exploiting his father’s memory.”

But the general public isn’t the target. Die-hard golf fans will know it’s the voice of Earl Woods, reaching out from the grave, and for them, it will have the desired effect.

It’s common knowledge that Woods and his father were very tight. One of the most poignant moments in golf history came shortly after Earl’s death… Tiger won the British Open and before he get off the 18th green he broke down completely in his caddy’s arms, grieving in front of the entire world.

So my hat’s off to the guys at Weiden & Kennedy. I think it’s fitting that it’s his father posing the tough questions. In fact, the whole concept hinges on it. Any other voice over and the spot’s not worth running.

Then there’s the look on Tiger’s face. They’re not making him look heroic. In fact, he looks like a guy in the doghouse, licking his wounds. Taking his medicine.

I believe the spot works from a damage control standpoint. And as far as brand personality is concerned, it fits. Tiger never was great at dealing with the fans. Not the most popular guy to get paired up with. Not the most forthcoming with an autograph or quick with a smile.

In other words, he was no Lee Trevino or Phil Michelson.

One thing’s for sure, the new commercial has a high buzz factor. And it makes you wonder, would all this have happened if Earl was still around, keeping an eye on his superstar son?

I was never really surprised by Tiger’s misbehavior. Dissapointed, sure, but not particularly surprised. He’s a rock star, after all. How many rock stars stay at the top of the game without a blemish for 15 years?

Just saying.

truth in advertising BNBranding

The Tiger Woods brand is definitely tarnished. But no matter what they think of his commercials or his off-course antics, no matter what they write about him, Tiger’s brand will recover and thrive because he’s so amazingly good at what he does.

His performance will dictate the script of his branding success. It may not come this week at Augusta, but it will come.

Tiger Woods promises to light up a golf course like no contemporary player can. He’ll always be intensely passionate. He’ll give everything he has to every golf shot he hits, and leave nothing on the course.

But I don’t think the TW brand promise ever went much further than that.

In 2016 Tiger Woods made $43 million without playing in a single tournament.

In 2017 he was the 4th highest paid golfer, behind just Rory McElroy, Phil Michelson and Arnold Palmer.

June 3, 2018 update… Tiger has $1.5 million in on-course winnings so far this year, and another $50 million in projected off-course earnings. In addition to Nike, he also has endorsement deals with Taylor Made, Buick, Titlest, Rolex and many other big names in the golf marketing world.

Could this be the beginning of Tiger’s second coming?

Stay tuned.

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