We asked a collection of equipment companies what’s on their collective minds...
10 Things Manufacturers Are Talking About
1 Can we get clubs into punters’ hands?
There are only three factories in the world which build titanium heads and they’re all in China. One company told us that the normal lead time for getting clubs to customers is a week, in recent times it has been as much as two months. In the first lockdown all supply chains just stopped as nobody wanted to risk having loads of inventory at the end of the year which they couldn’t sell and that then led to an inevitable back-log. The ‘good news’ is that everybody was in the same boat and, after the year that everyone has just had, there is a lot more patience and understanding over such problems.
Now things are up and running each of the big companies have their allocated slots to coincide with all the new launches and therefore it’s hard to fast-track stuff. The thinking is that 2021 could well be a momentous year but only if they can keep up with the supply.
One brand told us that they will be re-positioning an old product in May when there is less pressure to get it out and at a cheaper price.
2 What did 2020 really look like?
One manufacturer told us that they were down well over 10 per cent for April to June, absolute key golfing months, so you’re never going to recover from having three months being wiped out of people playing the game. But they are now predicting their biggest year with a new range coming out at the start of 2021 and the ability now to get the clubs into golfers’ hands.
Another said: “The bounce back has been amazing. We had predicted losses of 20-30 per cent for the year but they have more than likely come down into single figures which wasn’t even imaginable back in April.”
When golf got going demo days were over-subscribed and orders were so big that there is talk of actually out-performing 2019 but it’s been a lot of hard work to give customers the option of trying the new clubs and carrying out all the sanitising and social-distancing measures that weren’t there previously.
3 Will golf continue to ride the wave?
Data from PlayMoreGolf tells us that the UK has witnessed a 260 per cent spike in members since the first lockdown was eased in July. One trend was the average age of male and female members dropping by six and seven years respectively.
The weather was great, everyone had been locked away for months, there was less scope for pay-and-play options and other sports weren’t open for business so golf saw a big uplift.
One secretary told us that he had seen 80 new members join his club overnight but that the vast majority were in the 20-30 age bracket and that the worry was that they would go back to playing other sports again in 2021.
One another interesting take was that the golfer coming back to the game from 10 years ago was last playing in a lambswool sweater and clubs that didn’t help very them very much so that has seen autumn/winter clothing and some new clubs flying off the virtual shelves.
For everyone involved in the game one huge question is how to keep these players involved. The manufacturers have got their fingers crossed that golf will continue to boom as society days and travel opens up again in the coming months.
4 The 48-inch driver
One of the huge talking points in 2020 was the prospect, rather than the actuality of it not even happening, of Bryson DeChambeau using a 48-inch driver at Augusta National. The very thought of it had everyone up in arms that the US Open champion was going to reduce America’s national treasure to a pitch and putt. As it transpired the numbers didn’t match up in the build-up and it never even got out onto the course as DeChambeau ended the week being outscored by 63-year-old Bernhard Langer, which thrilled plenty.
Phil Mickelson said of his 47.5 inch driver at the Masters: “Awesome. I’m driving it like a stallion.”
It’s not going to go away and Mickelson predicted that 48 inches will be standard in the coming years.
5 Will we soon have two drivers in the bag?
Mickelson’s bag is always fascinating and it now consists of the lengthened driver and a strong 3-wood and he can see a time soon when we’re all carrying two drivers, so the longer one and a ‘kind of a weak driver’.
On one hand this could be amazing for the manufacturer; to have the amateur golfer adding another £400 club to the bag but the thought, for plenty of us, to have to wield a 48-inch club at speed isn’t that appealing for a few extra yards. And that’s before we start obsessing about what shaft might suit us.
How the longer driver filters down into the amateur golfer’s game is going to be interesting to say the least.
6 The ball..
Here we go again. Jack Nicklaus first went to the R&A and the USGA in 1977 about the ball, Bobby Jones wrote in his book in 1930 that he was worried about how far the ball was going.
Nicklaus believes that the authorities would have started to bring the ball back, or at least started to get take it really seriously, this year had to not been for Covid.
We’ve heard this all before but, when Nicklaus speaks up then everyone sits up and listens.
“If we had unlimited land and we had unlimited resources, then I don’t think it really makes a whole lot of difference. There’s not many places that have that. Augusta is the only golf course that I know in the world that’s been able to keep up with the changes in equipment. But nobody else has the land or really has the ability to afford to do that.
“They have to make some changes with it, otherwise all the old courses, all the strategy and everything else that you’ve had on courses is gone. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” the Golden Bear explained at the Masters in November.
We went into Masters week all a bit panicked about what DeChambeau was going to do to the place and then cheered from the rooftops when another bomber, Dustin Johnson, took both the field and course apart.
7 Bifurcation? Not going to happen
Staying with Nicklaus he doesn’t think that bifurcation (one rule for the pros and one rule for the rest of us) will happen. His guess is that a ball will be developed where the faster the clubhead speed the progression is less as you go down. So if you swing it at a slower speed you won’t lose as much distance.
“If you swing it at 90mph then you won’t lose hardly any distance at all.”
So the longer/pro hitters will be reined in and you’re not ruining every great course that has stood there for hundreds of years.
The other big line of thinking is that most of us still find the game hard enough as it is and we need all the help that we can get. So let’s put together a tournament ball for the pros and the rest of us will play with what we want (and then try the tournament ball to see what all the fuss is about).
New balls will be in the development stage for maybe three years so, whenever something finally happens, expect the lawyers of all the ball manufacturers to then get involved.
8 Will we see players moving about?
In short, off-course deals won’t just keep following an upward curve as we still don’t know what the European Tour schedule looks like and therefore the exposure on the TV or in front of crowds in 2021 is unknown. There’s a question mark over bonuses as players can’t improve their category unless they win so a stellar season might go unrewarded.
One way of thinking, the manufacturers’ one, is that they can’t be expected to pay as much when there have been fewer events and they’ve been seen by fewer people.
The other way of thinking, from some of the players, is that they’re still doing the business, and doing it under some extreme pressures to travel, and they’d like to be rewarded in kind.
It seems even more extreme than ever that those at the top of the game are going from strength to strength while the rest are getting left behind with smaller purses and deals.
But, as one manufacturer pointed out: “Speak to second-tier tennis players and see how much support they get.”
9 Is 3D printing the future of design?
This isn’t the first, Ping launched one in 2015, but Cobra have recently created the brand’s first fully 3D printed golf club in the King Supersport-35 putter, something they have followed up with in their more mainstream Radspeed irons. The concept means that an intricate lattice structure can enhance feel and save weight to lower the centre of gravity.
Cobra say they are now able to testing multiple variations on a product much faster than normal and, through a collaboration with HP Metal Jet and Parmatech, the system has the ability to produce hundreds of thousands of clubs without the need for the expensive tooling to create the shapes as it’s all done by a computer.
So, in a few years down the line, you might be able to personalise the look of your next set of irons.
10 Where does the hoodie go from here?
Wherever you sit on golf fashion the stir that Tyrrell Hatton’s hoodie caused at Wentworth simultaneously moved golf forward a decade and then back two by the reaction of some.
Again, Augusta is always a good litmus test and Hatton got as far as wearing his hoodie in his press conference but the weather wasn’t conducive to slipping it on for the tournament proper.
If you’re worried that golf fashion (and the obsession with some on dress codes) isn’t moving at the pace that you would like then you only have to watch some golf online from 10 years ago – these days we’re all more fitted and fashionable and more equipped to extreme climates.
Whisper it gently but a hoodie will appear at a major in 2021 and we can do it all again.
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