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Web Street Golf Report

Web Street Golf Report
Monday, July 9, 2012

UNPREDICTABLE: Golf hasn’t been a growth sport, sadly, in a long time. In fact in recent years it’s been in a contraction mode largely influenced by the recession being experienced in the United States. The land of the free and brave, as its sometimes referred to, happens to be the its largest geography for equipment companies and so the task at hand has been to make more from less, financially speaking, on an annual basis. The old adage still applies even in today’s world, “The more the merrier.” However, trying to produce more is a challenging proposition, even in the best of times. Without the advent of more consumers clamoring for tee times and products, golf has largely leaned on its loyal customers to dig deeper into their respective wallets.

Find a way to get consumers to spend more is one way to overcome some of the obstacles. However, with the accelerated product cycles, throughout the years, and an aging consumer base to feed off of, finding ways to get recreational players to part with their after tax dollars is something that can never be taken for granted, regardless of any brand in question.

Throughout the years, equipment companies have enjoyed some of its best financial days, thanks to the equivalent of replacement cycles. When persimmon was tossed for titanium drivers that delivered along with it performance benefits, it created a wave of spending for example. It morphed its way into larger and larger club heads until it was determined that 460 ccs would be the final resting point for drivers. Resistance to twisting on off center hits was the curb appeal of the products, which average players benefited from. Ashworth enjoyed immense popularity in its early days, in part due to its soft collar look that was featured on Fred Couples. Tiger Woods popularized the mock collar as another example. Casual Fridays in the corporate world didn’t hurt either as khakis and polos spilled over into offices around the country. Solid core golf balls have come to dominate the professional and amateur ranks. Yet, the ProV1, which sparked a massive adoption rate, didn’t make its debut until late 2000 on the PGA TOUR and early 2001 with American consumers. In hindsight certain products can be linked to a shift in consumer trends. But equipment companies have strict and defined limitations under the rules of golf and everyone has been up against the line drawn in the sand for quite some time. The dream of building a better product still exists. However, it may not always deliver a steep performance enhancement as previous generations have.

A note passed by my desk recently from Golf Datatech that pointed out an interesting phenomenon occurring that likely is going by unnoticed. The Florida-based research company said year-to-date through April 2012, retail sales of spikeless golf shoes, in the On and Off Course Golf Shops in the United States, has accounted for more than 25% of all golf shoe sales. What began with Fred Couples at the 2011 Masters going with the spikeless look (boat shoes as Nick Faldo calls them) has developed into a curious business opportunity. In the January to April 2012 time period, overall on and Off Course Shoe sales were up 9.1%, Datatech reported. It’s a reasonable assumption that spikeless models are responsible for this increase. There is an equally interesting sidebar on this topic. Nearly every equipment company employs the pyramid of influence (PGA TOUR) strategy to serve as the ultimate validation of a product’s performance. The proof of any product’s performance at the highest levels of the game serves as the foundation of said product’s story back to consumers. However, the adoption rate on the TOUR hasn’t been quite as vibrant as it has with the pay to play brigade. There are instances of players that sport the more casual look versus athletic and in some but not all instances it also means sans spikes.

Historically, equipment companies via the TOUR drive the direction of new products that consumers will morph into annually. However, it seems the consumer adoption rate is significantly higher in this emerging sub-category, in the near term, without the majority of TOUR players indirectly showcasing or endorsing it. There are those that swear by it, such as Ernie Els. “I love these shoes man,” he gushed about his Del Mar model made by Callaway Golf. “On conventional shoes, your on your toes all the time. From the front of the shoe to the back it’s the same level and you can get some speed out of your feet and out of your legs. They’re pretty stable and they don’t curl up in the front as much as those other shoes.” He may be the only one of his peers that has verbalized a performance benefit with the product. Yet many haven’t embraced Els’ passion for the product. There are also hybrid offerings, such as the TW ’13. It does have plastic spikes (not too many metal ones around anymore and another example of a replacement cycle), which is also the case with the Del Mar models, yet Tiger Woods seems to be the only one in the Nike stable enlisting the product in competition.

It remains to be determined if in fact, spikeless models will replace a certain percentage of “spiked” models or if they are “add on” purchases, meaning golfers buying additional pair of shoes because they are quite frankly different. This isn’t meant to be considered an assault on the performance of spikes. A consumer trend, in part introduced by a charismatic player in Fred Couples, has largely gone by unnoticed. In turn it represents a growth opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t exist in the category. Will consumers find they no longer like the spikeless models as well after they try them or will they switch to spikeless permanently? Will the comfort associated with the products become part of any recreational golfers’ daily dress code? It isn’t completely far fetched to see someone wearing the shoe style in an airport for example. Perhaps what casual Fridays did largely for tops and to some degree for bottoms but mainly for golf in general, may drift into footwear.

Golf Datatech said it is about to launch a consumer study among serious golfers to determine their thoughts about spikeless shoes, what they like and don’t like about them, if they have playability issues, fashion issues, if they like being able to wear them to the course rather than have to change shoes at the course, etc. The study is expected to be available around mid-August, through Golf Datatech ( or 888-944-4116).