A few weeks back, we posted the 2019 edition of our One Word Survey. This is the second time we’ve played this particular word association game. The idea was to get you to choose the golf equipment brand you most associate with each of the words we presented. Figuring some of you might have other brands in mind or that a given adjective wasn’t applicable to any brand, we also gave you a none of the above option. For the sake of consistency, we left the survey unchanged from the original. That’s almost a shame since I’d love to know which brand is succeeding in convincing you it’s the fastest.

It’s not lost on us that the one word one approach doesn’t leave much room for nuance. For me, that’s part of what makes this exercise so interesting. It’s an approach that means we don’t have any idea what your second choice might have been, so we can only look at the frequency at which each brand was chosen.

Frankly, I’m not sure what the results suggest about the equipment we buy. The idea was to get a sense of how you perceive the brands we cover day in and day out. Whether or not perception aligns with reality is often, for better or worse, inconsequential. What I find most telling in the results is when a smaller brand moves the needle for a given word. We would reasonably expect that the leading brands would be selected more often for both positive and negative words, so when a challenger brand factors significantly in the results, it’s something to talk about.

For each chart, I’ve included my general observations along with some of my interpretations. I would encourage you to do the same and share those thoughts in the comment section.

Before we get to the charts, just a few quick notes.

  • For comparative purposes, we’ve included the results from 2018 (grey) along with our 2019 results (gold).
  • The original survey data was based on a bit more than 5300 completed surveys. This year, we had just under 9000 surveys completed.
  • The original survey was completed in December of 2017, but for the sake of continuity, we’re referring to it as the 2018 survey.

The Really Quick Demographics

Let’s start with a couple of quick bits of demographic data.

What is Your Age?

Pretty basic stuff. It’s an interesting spread in our readership with the largest group being 30-39. Yes, the bars for 60 or older are longer, but that’s a 30+ year range. We should probably narrow that, but in general, the year-over-year trend suggests our audience is getting a bit younger.

What is Your Handicap?

In line with what we see in our other survey results, the typical MyGolfSpy reader is an above average golfer, with the sweet spot being in the mid-low to mid handicap range.

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The Good

With that out of the way, let’s get to the survey data beginning with our positive words.

Performance

It’s not any particular surprise that the 4 biggest brands are among the leaders. PING is up significantly (nearly 6 percentage points – enough to pass Titleist), and since this is a survey of our readers, that’s likely partially attributable to the company’s strong performance both in Most Wanted testing and our annual Buyer’s Guides last year.

Callaway was up slightly as well, while TaylorMade, Titleist, and Mizuno dipped a bit. Mizuno is the outlier here (as it often is in our surveys), significantly overperforming relative to its market share. Finally, while Cobra wasn’t a significant factor, it’s worth noting that it was selected 45% more often for Performance than last time around.

Innovation

The first and obvious takeaway is that Callaway has cemented itself as the innovation leader. Score one for Flash Face. Not only was it selected most often, it, along with Cobra, showed the most significant year-over-year increase. PXG dipped significantly, PING and TaylorMade were selected a healthy percentage of the time, though PING was down, and TaylorMade was up only slightly compared to the previous survey.

It’s notable that both Titleist and Mizuno were selected with significantly less frequency than either was for Performance. Titleist has a reputation for being slow (some might say plodding) in implementing new technology (particularly on the club side), while Mizuno, despite several innovative breakthroughs over the years, isn’t generally regarded as an innovator. As we’ve discussed previously, this is almost certainly related to its lack of traction in the driver market.

Engineering

As we would expect, PING was the top choice by plenty. Callaway was up by a few percentage points, Mizuno and TaylorMade were largely consistent with 2018, though TaylorMade did climb just a bit.

The curiosity here is PXG. While the company dipped a bit from 2018, it’s notable that it overperforms relative to its market share, and was chosen more often than both TaylorMade and Titleist. Continuing an overall positive trend, Cobra was again up.

Leader

Callaway was again the predominant selection and was actually up from last year. I think this speaks to the retail performance of the lineup from the driver to the golf ball. And speaking of the golf ball, Titleist was a strong second choice, receiving 27% of all selections. Attribute that to its #1 Ball in Golf status and the fact that it has the most played fairway woods, hybrids, irons, wedges, and ball on tour, and has frequently traded the #1 driver spot on tour with Callaway this season.

TaylorMade dipped by 2.25% points, while PING was up by roughly one and a half percentage points.

Integrity

What’s perhaps most interesting in this chart is the disparity between the leaders and the rest of the field. PING was chosen most often, and by a healthy margin. Titleist was a significant factor, while Mizuno again overperformed relative to its position in the market for a descriptor that I believe is core to the brand’s identity.

While Callaway faired slightly better (its bars escaped the whitespace), it’s certainly notable that both it and TaylorMade (which was selected less often than Cobra, Wilson, and Srixon/Cleveland) found little separation from the challenger brands.

Quality

The survey data suggests there may be some correlation between the perception of Quality and the perception of Integrity. While the order was reversed, the same three brands (Mizuno, PING, and Titleist) were selected most often. The reputation of its iron offerings likely explains Mizuno’s position, while PING and Titleist have justified reputations for doing things the right way.

While the frequent selection of Titleist is likely at least partially attributable to its position in the golf ball market, I’ve been in the build shops of all three of your top choices (and many of the others), and while I might haggle with the order a bit, this is one where I’d agree that perception is reality.

While the other industry leaders faired a bit better, it is again notable that both Callaway and TaylorMade failed to register in any significant numbers.

Trustworthy

I’m starting to sense a pattern here. PING, Mizuno, Titleist. Integrity, Quality, and Trustworthiness. While the approaches may differ, each has built a reputation based on quality and integrity. Those two are likely the cause, while this (Trustworthy) is likely the effect.

Callaway was more of a factor this time around. TaylorMade (3.33%) didn’t climb out of the white, and only .62% of respondents chose PXG.

Modern

To a degree, this chart is the inverse of the last several. PXG was selected most often, while Cobra was selected with a slightly higher frequency than Callaway. TaylorMade was also chosen by a significant percentage of respondents.

PING is often regarded as steady, sometimes innovative, but not necessarily modern. Mizuno and Titleist aren’t known to push the envelope, though I suspect both would factor heavily if we included words like traditional, classic, or timeless. I think I said the same thing last year.

Humble

Industry leaders frequently speak of staying humble. By the looks of it, you’re not buying it. Callaway finished near the bottom (just ahead of TaylorMade and PXG), though I suspect all of the above are good with whatever perceptions you have, so long as you keep buying their stuff.

For the first time, we see Wilson and Srixon/Cleveland pop. Mizuno (27%) and PING (25%) again topped the chart, though it’s reasonable to surmise that Humble might be interpreted as a synonym for quiet. Callaway and TaylorMade make a lot of noise both in terms of Hype and moving the market, so there’s an argument to be made for staying humble, just not too humble.

A word about Cobra

For those looking to spot any sort of quiet trend; note that Cobra was the only brand to receive a higher percentage of selections for every positive word in the 2019 survey than it did in the 2018 survey. All the good things…it’s up across the board.

The Bad

With the positive stuff out of the way, let’s dig into our negative adjectives. Again, we expect that bigger brands will register with greater frequency. It’s when smaller brand emerge that real questions emerge.

Hype

TaylorMade on top here isn’t any particular surprise, though with 40% of survey respondents picking the brand, it’s fair to wonder if it’s inching closer to the wrong kind of tipping point. Callaway at 20% is reasonable given its market position, while PXG at over 25% is overperforming, though perhaps not in the most flattering way.

Flipping things a bit, PING, and Titleist are notable for being among the industry leaders and apparently avoided an association with some of the negatives that often accompany success in the golf market.

Gimmick

To a degree, visible technology and gimmick have become synonymous in golf, so we’d expect the brands with the moving parts, twisted faces, and screws to factor heavily in the results. While I’d argue that it’s not a gimmick if it works, the degree to which any of latest generation of eye candy has any significant impact on performance is certainly open to debate.

Marketing

Perhaps unfairly, marketing is a bit of a dirty word in the golf equipment industry. I suspect it started with smaller brands selling their warez on the premise that they put ALL of their money into R&D, while the big guys spend much theirs on marketing. Oh, the horror. Math working as it does, 5% of a massive budget is still significantly more than 20% of almost no budget, but I digress…

The two leaders on the club side account for over 80% of responses, is roughly the same as it was in the 2018 survey. Titleist and PING are both below 10% again, followed by PXG around 5%.

Follower

The good news for the industry as a whole is that you again choose None of the Above. All things considered, the responses are relatively balanced with the exception of Wilson who jumped up significantly from 10.5 percent in 2018 to 16.5 percent this time around.

We may have cause to talk about this again, but I believe you can chalk this up to what I call the Cortex Conundrum. Driver vs. Driver 2, and the final product that came out of it (the Cortex), inarguably raised brand awareness. The downside is that the final product was a driver that inarguably resembled every TaylorMade driver dating back to the SLDR. For challenger brands to make an impact, they need to distinguish themselves and there’s a case to be made that while the TV show helps the company do that that, the final product doesn’t.

Deceptive

Score another one for None of the Above. TaylorMade ticks up a bit from 2018, while Callaway ticks down by a more significant margin. PING and Titleist again barely register, while PXG (down a bit from last year), still factors more than you’d expect given its limited time in the industry. I suspect that many remain skeptical of the brand, and so perceptions will likely continue to be more negative than positive until such time as it proves itself. For what it’s worth, the GEN2 lineup is absolutely a big step in the right direction.

Inferior

I’m just speculating, and I’d love to hear from you as to why you chose who you chose. My thinking here is that this is almost entirely cost driven. Both Wilson and Tour Edge make good equipment. Like everybody else, some products are better than others, and some years are better than others. That said, both have finished on top in Most Wanted tests at one time or another.

Building on the idea that price point might explain things, it’s notable that Wilson priced the Cortex at $500, seemingly in an attempt to shed the cheap label it got ostensibly by selling box sets at Walmart. Tour Edge is heading the other direction. It’s embracing lower prices and actively seeking to serve the serious golfer on a budget. Is that inferior or just sensible? The reality is that performance is often equated with price, and so stuff that costs less is sometimes assumed to be lower performing.

Dishonest

It’s an admittedly fine line between Deceptive and Dishonest, so it’s not surprising that this chart is a toned down version of the Deceptive chart. None of the Above wins again.

Uninspired

There’s quite a bit unpack here – in fact, this may be the most interesting of all the results. Wilson is down a bit from last year, which is nice, but, in your eyes anyway, remains in need of inspiration. I believe things are moving in the right direction, but it’s going to take some time before those efforts reach the mainstream.

Tour Edge and Srixon are both above 10%, while Titleist is notable for being the most uninspired of the big brands.

The one that intrigues me most, however, is Bridgestone. After a leadership change, the company seems to be on the right track. It has Tiger and Bryson on its roster, and a new and improved ball fitting platform can only be good for the brand. Oh, and based on the chatter we’ve heard, something big is coming for next season.

That said, I think golfers – at least our readers – want Bridgestone to, as my grandmother used to say,  shit or get off the pot with its club offerings. With the exception of its blades, its most recent run of metalwood and iron releases have been mostly meh. The ball is great, but I’d like to see the company do something or nothing with the clubs. This in-between stuff is, well, uninspired.

Arrogant

$400 (each) irons, an unproven track record, and boisterous billionaire telling you his clubs are The Duck’s Nuts; even if I don’t agree with the group assessment, I understand where the perception comes from. The result isn’t a surprise, though it’s interesting that PXG ticked up just a bit this year, even after it lower metalwood prices (though I’m not sure everyone realizes that happened).

TaylorMade climbing past Titleist is a surprise. Both brands have made significant changes in over the last couple of years. Today’s Titleist is more accessible and open (dare I say, likeable) than it has been in the past, and while the observation of a less stuffy brand may be lost on the average golfer, the drop is nevertheless interesting. TaylorMade appears to be undergoing a transformation of its own, and while I can’t say exactly where this perception comes from, my feeling is that as its competitors have actively engaged consumers in an attempt to forge genuine relationships, TaylorMade has remained disproportionately focused on its tour staff, and itself. There are signs that things are changing, however. Whether perceptions will change as a result remains to be seen.

The Trends

Positive vs. Negative (Year-Over-Year)

Finally, we wanted to take a look at the trends from 2018 to 2019. Which brands received a greater percentage of the results for our positive descriptors, and which saw an uptick in the negative.

Positive Trends

I suppose we can squash any notion of brand fatigue, as the results show that Callaway’s share of the positive responses increased by 9%. PING climbed by 7%, while Cobra (22%) and Tour Edge were up significantly, though, in Tour Edge’s case, its share of the positive responses was still below 2%.

Wilson dropped by 22%, Bridgestone was down 30%, which, allowing for Tour Edge as the outlier, could suggest that the market place is becoming increasingly more challenging for smaller brands. PXG (-13%) also dipped by double-digit figures.

Negative Trends

Look at trends on the negative side, Bridgestone received 27% more responses to negative descriptors than last year. I’m hard-pressed to explain it, other than to wager that the positive steps it has taken over the last several months haven’t trickled out to the market just yet. Wilson (17% change) and TaylorMade (13% change) also received a greater percentage of the responses to words with negative connotations.

Turning negatives into positives, Cobra was selected 17% less often for negative words, while Callaway and Titleist were chosen 14% less often. PING, and somewhat surprisingly, PXG, each dipped, which I suppose is the same as improved, by 9%. In the case of PXG, it could suggest that the brand is becoming a little less polarizing.

The YOY Data

Because the chart above is admittedly a little cluttered, here’s the table view of the same data.

What Do You Make of the Survey Results?

What surprised you and to what do you attribute the performance of certain brands? Let us know in the comment section below.