Welcome back to another edition of #AskMyGolfSpy where readers like you submit your top questions to our experts here at MGS. You can pass along your questions to the team on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or right here in the comments section below!
Typically, we answer a handful of questions in these mailbag articles but this week we’re going to spend our time on just one.
“Are golfers finally starting to balk at driver prices?”
I plucked this question from @GolfSpy_GC2 out of the MyGolfSpy forum. In addition to helping out with the forum, Robert is a long-time golf course employee who has observed that golfers appear to be buying fewer new drivers.
Granted, it’s early in the buying season but let’s, for the sake of discussion, assume Robert’s observation proves to be spot on.
Is cost the reason?
Frankly, I don’t believe $600 drivers are the problem.
For sure, we’ve all had our fill of inflation and higher prices on the things we need make it more difficult to afford the things we want but, for a significant portion of the golfing population, $600 for one club isn’t a deal-breaker.
In my estimation, golf doesn’t have a price problem. It has a patio furniture problem.
Let me put this in context.
A while back, I caught a story on the radio about a patio furniture dealer who is trying to figure out how to navigate a significant decline in sales. I’m not an expert on the patio furniture market but I think we can reasonably assume that, like everything else, the cost of patio furniture has risen in the last few years.
If you geeked out on patio furniture like many of us geek out on golf gear, the question you might find yourself asking is, “Are outdoor living enthusiasts starting to balk at Adirondack chair prices?”
I doubt it.
As it turns out, the biggest reason why consumers aren’t buying patio furniture right now is that they already have new patio furniture.
The COVID Boom
Flash back a couple of years to peak pandemic. We were all spending more time at home and because of that, the collective we spent a lot of money on home improvement and backyard luxury projects.
I bet you have more than a few friends who had pools put in. You probably know somebody who bought patio furniture.
You may also recall that golf enjoyed a decent run as, quite literally, the only game in town.
Youth sports? On hiatus.
Your local golf course? Packed. No tee times before 4 p.m. … and that’s on a slow day.
You don’t need me to tell you that, as a result of COVID, participation in golf increased dramatically and golfers, both new and existing, spent a massive amount of money on golf equipment.
Chances are the clubhouse at your course is full of faces you don’t recognize. You definitely know somebody who bought a whole new bag of clubs. You probably know somebody who did it twice.
A few of those new faces may disappear but, other than lingering high prices, the world (such as it is) has more or less normalized and I suspect that means that, for the golf equipment industry, the day of reckoning is nigh.
Some on the inside have already told me as much.
Clues can be found in equipment buying habits during the pandemic.
Accelerating the Cycle
Painting with broad strokes here: There is plenty of historical info to suggest golfers typically buy new drivers roughly every four years. For irons, the buying cycle is understandably longer: five to six years on average.
During COVID, however, things went positively bonkers.
The influx of new and returning (aka “lapsed”) golfers accounted for a significant uptick in new equipment sales.
What’s talked about a bit less is that the population of already avid golfers also bought new equipment at accelerated rates.
The typical replacement cycles got tossed out the window.
From our surveys, we know that the typical MyGolfSpy reader replaces equipment more frequently than “average” golfer but, for our last two surveys, 50 percent of golfers reported buying a new driver within the last year.
For irons, where, again, typical replacement rates are closer to six years, in our two most recent surveys, nearly 40 percent of respondents purchased new irons within the last year.
Even in categories like fairway woods and hybrids where buying cycles tend to be longer, replacement rates were significantly higher than we’ve ever seen.
Again, painting with a broad brush, we’re basically emerging from a two- to three-year period where nearly everyone who plays golf bought new equipment—a whole bag full in many cases. That’s obviously not sustainable so it seems reasonable to assume that a return to typical buying patterns is inevitable.
The challenge manufacturers will face is that a healthy percentage of golfers are resetting their cycles at roughly the same time.
Inflation, the generally higher cost of golf equipment and the reality that there’s often not a significant improvement from one model to the next, isn’t helping anything but the primary reason why I expect golfers will buy less new golf equipment in 2023 is because they already have new golf equipment.
This isn’t a golf problem or a patio furniture problem. It’s likely true to some degree in every consumer industry.
The million-dollar question is, “What happens next?”
Time will tell which companies have done the best job of forecasting but for brands who get it wrong, we might see a return to steep mid-season discounts—at least in the short term.
Extended product cycles are also a possibility.
Titleist runs two years and Mizuno has said it’s going to do the same with its drivers. PING typically runs about 18 months between releases. Could the rest of the industry extend similarly?
Maybe—but I’m not holding my breath.
The answer could be found in consumables.
I suppose lighter beer, fajitas and a couple hours at Topgolf count but not everyone is as strongly positioned as Callaway.
Titleist has raised prices on golf balls, PXG just launched its first golf ball with the hope that loyalists will buy them by the gross and while strategies elsewhere may take time to materialize, it’s going to be interesting to see how your favorite brands pivot to account for what I’d wager will be a two- to three-year slowdown while the market resets and finds a new normal.
As always, if you have any questions for the MGS crew – drop them below for a chance to be featured in next week’s #AskMyGolfSpy!
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Marty3 weeks ago
Not club-related but cost in general. I just got back from Monterey where my wife has a convention every year (lucky me!). I was a single and I went to Spyglass, Spanish Bay, and Pebble in that order to see if I could get out that weekend. Nothing available, I left my contact number in case there was a spot open at the last minute. Nothing all weekend. $595 for Pebble, $435 at Spyglass, and $270 at Spanish Bay. Golfers are not balking at prices.
Tom543 weeks ago
TPC Sawgrass is now charging $800+. It’s crazy, but it obviously means people are paying it.
Tampon Woods3 weeks ago
Not “people” – RICH people, yes – but if you actually look at the course at that price – the course is not “full,” not even half – and they like it that way – it’s easier to maintain and keep it pristine.
It’s a rich-man’s game.
Sure, there are more millionaires and billionaires than there has ever been in the history of modern money – i.e. the past 150 years – and the game is catering to that, now. The secret they don’t tell you, is that hundreds and thousands of those millionaires and billionaires who are paying and playing those courses are from China, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Russia, etc etc – and the course wi’ll keep taking that money because they’re paying for it all. Great tax money for the US, and you know it won’t say no to that.
WBN3 weeks ago
To me, a possible gain of 5 yards when occasionally hit on the sweet spot is not worth $600.. If the gains advertised were anywhere near real, I would be hitting my drives 300+ yards by now. Show me a putter that claims to make 5 more putts per round and I will check it out.
xhooper4 weeks ago
I’ve been balking at equipment prices for the last 4 years or so. Just recently added origin of manufacture to my personal boycott list. Tired of hasving things made in countries that stick it to us. Unfortunately, in the golf industry, that severely limits my choices.
Wayne Ebe4 weeks ago
I just won’t pay $600 or $600 plus for a new driver. AND I’m a golf equipment junkie!!! I will play my 2022 driver thru 2023 and then purchase the reduced 2023 driver for my 2024 season…
bob3 weeks ago
I agree 100%. If you go to a driver fitting you will find, on a good day for the new driver, you are maybe a couple yards longer and maybe a little more online. Well, if that same driver will drop $300 at the end of the season why would you splurge for a $600 driver? Cost is a big factor, especially when a new driver is not going to outperform your current driver by more than a nose.
Tampon Woods4 weeks ago
The issue isn’t just the price-rise for me, even though that is starting to become a huge problem.
But it’s the accessories problem: if you were somebody who is just coming into the game., back in the day, all you needed were the clubs, bag, spikes and balls and off you went, if you were dressed appropriately for the golf you’re playing. Now, for somebody new – they show up and see these guys with the Laser Range finder and the Launch monitors – and think, do I have to buy all those IN ADDITION to clubs???
The expenses to play the game has gotten out of hand, that it’s truly become a ELITE game, and the industry doesn’t care, because it makes money from those who have money, and they don’t care if some cheap muni golf courses are closing because the rich private ones are numerous and so are the high-society rich members in the world and that’s enough, now.
So are the high prices justified? No, it’s not considered silly, because the game has almost reached critical mass where it TRULY is an ELITE game, once again, for the RICH. And they don’t care if you can’t afford it – they’ll tell you go play street basketball, and now, as soccer has taken hold in the US finally, go play that.
That’s their attitude.
joey5Picks4 weeks ago
You don’t “need” a range finder to play, though it’s nice to have. And you definitely don’t “need” a launch monitor, since those are for practice (again, not “needed” there either)..
And if you decide you do *need” them, they’re available used
Mike4 weeks ago
Whew, chill bro, go have a beer or two, the situation isn’t that dire.
Jeremy4 weeks ago
I like the conversation around this question in any realm right now. We have the same issue in cycling in a bad way. The same complaints that the performance gains don’t match the cost, the people buying the product don’t actually get the benefit, blah blah blah. There are a few things folks forget.. These businesses are marketing companies that also try to make the best product (new trend of AI development). If only the 1% of players who could get a marginal gain from a new product design purchased them, you would never have the opportunity to have it in your bag.
Are these companies charging more than they should? That is debatable, as long as prices go up and sales records are set, why would they lower the prices? I bet if the target consumer avoided being victim to great marketing and FOMO, and stopped buying the newest and greatest… prices would drop.
Tony P4 weeks ago
There are so many people using off the rack clubs that hurt their game it is astounding. The way to drive sales is to get people into a qualified fitter….of course those fitters need to be agnostic on club/shaft. Whoever figures that out is going to have more sales and more happy customers…..which makes that $800 price tag something of an after thought….
Tampon Woods4 weeks ago
Who do you mean by “so many”??? You need to quantify the demographic of golfers: good players versus beginners. It would make no difference for a complete new beginner to go to a fitter and spend the extra money on clubs he can’t even hit. It’s better that the beginners just get lessons, and if they don’t want to do that, spend at least 6 months to a year hitting at least a few buckets every week at the range until they can make decent contact with the ball on the face of the club and send it..
And there are those who can hit it fairly well without any help or having to take lessons, they just know how to hit the ball from being coordinated who just enjoys playing it once a month, who don’t need to spend any extra money buying expensive clubs at silly fitters because for these types of people, it would be like any other hobby they do, such as softball once a month or hiking or going to a picnic. They don’t need anything more than a few used clubs and clubs off the rack.
Now, those who might want to get fit and get some clubs are the more interested players who play at least once a week and hit balls a couple times a week at the range, who take it a little more serious than calling it a hobby. For them, shooting a good score is the goal so they might want to get a decent set to be able to do that.
– but what percentage of the “golf” population do you think that is? 20%? 15%? Probably less. And those are also the ones who have the disposable income, who are well-to-do, and when you roll that over to those who can afford to change clubs every year – well, they would be considered ELITE – and guess what – golf is becoming more and more ELITE again, like how the game started when it was introduced to the US at the beginning of time. The poorer of the population are being priced out from even being able to pay the green fees as they have become so high.
It’s started to become ridiculous.
There is a bubble about to burst, and golf will burst with it.
Mike4 weeks ago
If you’re talking in terms of cost, most professional sporting events are elitist. Most concerts are elitist. But you can still play golf at many places for a reasonable amount of money. You can buy thousands of used gloves. That will work fine for you. You can buy balls cheap in many places. So how exactly is golf becoming elitist?
Josh4 weeks ago
The other elephant in the room is that the performance gains just aren’t keeping up with the cost. I’m stoked to see everyone jump onboard the AI face design train, but we’re talking fractions of degrees of improvement for even the best in the game.
I almost think the price war is the Big Guys gearing up for the inevitable downturn in volume – if you can justify the R&D in 6 months of sales, you can chase PXG pricing for the rest of the year until you drop something New and Shiny for the small crowd that buys new every year.
You’re also seeing an incredible degree of diversification in product today, trying to break into new Niches of player profile. If you can convince players there’s a hole in their game, you can sell them a club – the proliferation of Chippers is just one example.
Jonathan4 weeks ago
I disagree with the price rise; companies know consumers are keeping products longer. The Driver is the most significant product con in golf, but it offers companies the most significant ROI next to the golf ball. Inflation is one thing, but in two years, when drivers creep toward $800 it just won’t work anymore. The sport is less accessible!
Mike4 weeks ago
In 2003 drivers were around $300. If you assume 3% inflation annually, that same driver should cost about $525 today. So at $550 or $599, yes their prices are a little out of line. But not nearly as much as some people may scream about. Yes, no one really cares about what drivers cost in 2003, all that matters to everyone is today. But I always do my research before I speak.
BTW, who says you have to buy a new driver? Last year’s models are probably half the price and will work just as well for 95% of the population.
Ben Hoagie3 weeks ago
note that previous models are not half off. They typically drop $100 – about 17-20%
Darren Jeffries3 weeks ago
I’ve read a few people make this argument, but it doesn’t stack up with my experience. I have a Ping G30, which was released back in 2014 (I believe) for £250. I purchase a brand new LS version in 2015 for said price. This year the Ping 430 LST would set me back £530. That’s 112% increase. I assume Ping were heavenly involved in R&D then as much as they are now, respectively and reletarive to the time. That isn’t just inflation.
Jonathan4 weeks ago
I disagree with the price rise; companies know consumers are keeping products longer. The Driver is the most significant product con in golf, but it offers companies the most significant return next to the golf ball. Inflation is one thing, but in two years, when drivers creep toward $800. The sport is less accessible!