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Originally posted November 24, 2012 at http://www.golfwrx.com/52537/52537/ .

This is not the type of stuff you’d expect to see at Golf WRX.  When pieces like this start appearing on a site that caters primarily to “club ho’s”, you can’t help but hope that the golfing world might finally be wondering why the emperor has no clothes.

Photo: Darren Carroll

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The marketing machine that the golf industry has become, churning out new drivers, irons sets and putters seemingly over night, has hurt the game more than it has helped it. Too many golfers pay far too much attention to what they are hitting, rather than how they are hitting what they are hitting. The focus on equipment has steered the game in the wrong direction.

New clubs bring us that excited schoolboy, Red Rider BB gun effect, but by now we all know a great golf game can’t be delivered to us in a box. We’ve all heard the saying, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”

What about fool me 127 times?

The equipment manufacturers are not stewards of the game. They are not necessarily trying to build a better golfing public any more than a clothing company is trying to make the public better dressed. They are businesses that need our dollars to be profitable. While many golf courses seem to be struggling, golf equipment companies are rolling right along, economy be-damned. “These guys are good,” is one way to say it.

The manufacturers are not offering new clubs to the market every year with the idea of improving golfers, they are simply releasing new and fresh product to the market, looking for their piece of the pie. The painful truth is that most golfers have swings that no moveable weights, supersonic shafts, or dynamic paint scheme could possibly help.

Since 90 percent of golfers don’t break 90 on a consistent basis and the average USGA handicap in the United States for men is 14.3, how badly do we golfers really need to spend that $400 on a driver, instead of on a package of lessons from a local PGA professional?

Equipment is important to the game, but equipment is not the game. The game is about impact positions, consistent contact on the clubface and how well a player can control his ball as he hits it around those 18 holes. Even a golfer who has his “ideal” equipment still needs to make good swings and hit good shots.

Finding that ideal equipment is easier said than done. The science behind Trackman, FlightScope and other launch monitors cannot be argued. The accuracy of the information of this technology is incredible. PGA Tour players and top amateurs and professionals can use these devices to dial in proper shafts, club heads, club weights, lies and lengths with amazing results. But how are the rest of us supposed to use them?

My experiences with launch monitors when I was trying to “fit” for new equipment was that they showed me when I was making bad swings. I got two completely different sets of results from Flight Scope with the same clubs on different days. One day I was swinging about the best I could swing and had really low backspin numbers combined with an almost perfect smash factor. A week later my swing resembled a one-winged flamingo’s and my backspin, launch, carry and smash factor numbers were on the opposite end of the spectrum. There was no chance for me to “dial in” any shafts or head choices. I was too busy trying to make good swings to be able to tell which equipment might be best for me.

Golfers are often expected to pay upward of $250 for fitting sessions. That $250 fee puts pressure on us to get the most we can out of the fitting. If I had based an overhaul of my equipment on either one of those days with the launch monitor, I could very well have ended up with an expensive purchase that might not have improved me at all. In fact that was exactly what the pro told me. He said it is often difficult to “fit” people into new equipment and be able to assure them that the new equipment will make them better (outdated or poorly fitted equipment aside). Sometimes all of the new equipment hype is very hard to live up to.

My experiences at demo days at my club were equally as frustrating. TaylorMade came late to the event, with two clubs to hit and only the stock shafts in regular or stiff flex to try out. The grips were almost too slick to swing the clubs and the rep brought a range finder to follow the ball in the air and “tell” us how far we were hitting it. The Titleist rep had a launch monitor that told me I was carrying the driver he gave me to try out 295-yards in the air. Maybe it meant to say 245-yards. These are just two of the examples, and I am sure that the cattle call of people coming and going to these things is tough for any company to deal with, but the process left me feeling a little unwashed.

Conventional wisdom told me to take my club testing to the golf courses to try out drivers during actual rounds of golf. Over a two-week period I used several different Titleist 910D2 and D3 driver head and shaft combinations in about 10 rounds of golf. What I learned was that when I made good swings with almost any of the combinations, it was always better than poor swings with any of the combinations. The results were the same when I tried out drivers from PING and Callaway as well. With my driver swing speed, well-hit shots with just about every club went about the same distance and with the same accuracy.

I eventually settled on a purchase of new irons and woods that Frontier Airlines lost for me on my way home from a family vacation. While I square-danced with Frontier for a few weeks on the phone, a friend of mine offered to let me use his old clubs. They were about a 15-year-old set of huge-headed PING irons, the wrong length, lie, and flex for me, and an eight-year-old Callaway driver, also the wrong flex. I had some old wedges, a trusty old hybrid, his ill-fit 15-year-old Callaway three-wood and a back up putter that had been banished to hell. I figured it was better than nothing. I proceeded to have the three best weeks of golf I had ever put together in my life. Using that crazy combination of clubs, my handicap improved a shot and a half and I shot my career best round on one of the courses I play the most. A person more cerebral than I am might have felt downright silly for all of the money I had shelled out for the new clubs a month a before.

Lost in the fun and madness of trying out new equipment was the fact that good swings, solid course management, and knowing how to execute the short game are more important than the clubs I had in my bag. I grew up in a small Kansas town, on a nine-hole golf course with no driving range. The only practicing I could really do was chipping and putting around our course’s little practice green. I used to do that for hours at a time when I wasn’t good enough yet to play on the course with my grandfather’s nassau groups. Maybe that’s why I have so much fun trying out new equipment on driving ranges now; I never got to do it as a kid. I’m sure there is a lesson for me to remember about that now, but it is eluding me.

When I see the OEMs make videos for GolfWRX describing how they improved one set of irons over their previous year’s model, I can’t help but wonder who out there it is that can really tell the difference in the performance of the heads when they hit clubs with such subtle changes. They are all the highest quality clubs, and I’m guessing Luke Donald really feels a difference between the Mizuno MP-62 compared to the new MP-64. Nick Watney can discern the difference in one model of Titleist AP2 irons over the other and there may be some nice aesthetic and functional differences between the PING S58, S57 and S56 irons. But how many guys can tell the difference and have it really matter?

That player out there who says one is way better than the other might just be looking for a way to justify that Red Rider high once again. Maybe the turf interaction or the flighting built into the head is better in one club for some guys, but if they already owned the previous sets is there really a $900 difference in the new one? The club ho in me will say that I might buy one of the sets anyway, but that’s just because a ho is going to do what a ho is going to do.

The biggest problem with the focus being shifted to equipment rather than getting lessons and honing skills is that people recently new to the game won’t have the background in golf from 30-years ago as a child that prevents the bad “arrows” we sometimes find from keeping the “Indian” from being effective. Golfers are being convinced that their bad tee shots were hit because the club head weights and face angles had been set poorly or that the shaft in their new $399 driver wasn’t good enough. They are led to believe that equipment can be bought that will “fix” their swing flaws. I asked my local pro, a PGA Tour veteran with many made cuts to his credit about a certain shaft I was interested in trying out. He looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. He told me he had no idea what that shaft was, or what shaft was in his new TaylorMade driver he was killing. He had seen me in action many times, and he was polite enough not to come right out and tell me I wasn’t good enough to need anything more than what I had.

We can all choose to spend our free golf time and our golf dollars however we choose to. It doesn’t have to make sense, especially if it makes us happy. I’ll probably buy and sell two or three different putters over the next year or so too. One of my grandfather’s old buddies that helped teach me the game back in the day told me it didn’t matter if you putted with an old sheep herders stick if you are making putts with it. Playing with Bo Peep’s stick would be a lot cheaper, but it would not be as much fun as trying out new putters. The club ho in all of us knows that. That’s why the ho wins out and buys new equipment rather than sticking with what we have for awhile and spending that money on lessons.

It’s fun to hope that the next set of irons, newest driver or precisely milled putter could be be the spark we need to produce our best rounds and Nassau-winning putts. But we just can’t kid ourselves that we wouldn’t have been able to do it with what we had in the bag three, five and maybe even eight-years ago.

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12 Responses to “The Focus on Equipment Has Hurt Golf – An Essay by Kevin Crook”

  1. Avatar of Blade Junkie Blade Junkie says:

    Happy New Year PGT !

    That’s a good article and right on the money. My own experience is that if I play well then I score well – doesn’t matter which actual clubs I am swinging. I do find though that I am more likely to play well with classic equipment :)

  2. Avatar of Jeff Stern Jeff Stern says:

    Three years ago I put aside 21st century, whiz bag techno clubs and went back to persimmon, blades and even hickory sticks for fun. It’s not that I don’t know the ‘benefits’ of the todays equipment, I sell it for a big box spotying goods store every day. My TMade R7 425 was the last modern club I bought and its been relegated to gathering dust in my shed.
    Golf doesn’t have to be easy to be fun. If it were easy it wouldn’t be golf. The value of feel and having to create shots is far more invigorating to me than having the expectation of perfection with every swing. The real investment I make to the game is the time I put into actually playing it. That’s why I play golf with 20th century implements. The ball not withstanding, I don’t utilize the urethane multi-piece balls either.
    All the best to all, the Forged Radical

  3. Avatar of Jordan Jordan says:

    I think more and more people are coming to the realization that technology can only help their game so much. I was playing at my local muni as a single last week and was paired up with a threesome of tech junkies. They must have had 6 grand worth of the latest and greatest in their bags and all three never hit a fairway until midway through the round. None of them could believe i was playing with persimmon and old blades and kept saying things like “just think how far you could hit it with my driver”. On 18 one of them realizes that i’m 4 over for the day with antiques and says “i guess technology is overrated”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  4. Avatar of hickorychris hickorychris says:

    As one of the ‘converted’ I enjoyed the well crafted read. The few comments on the golfwrx site indicated that it was a well received piece of journalism. It is, however, but one of many articles in a similar vein and while I can bathe in the comforting warm fuzzy feeling that I am not alone in a shared viewpoint, it offers nothing in terms of how to move the issue along.
    ‘Kicking the can down the road’ has become a hackneyed expression particularly in the arena of financing nation states. As we have become aware this phrase wraps up the sinking feeling that, short of unconscionable revolution, nothing will change. So it is in golf. There will be no meaningful equipment change that will impact the way the game is played within the next decade.

    Two things, anybody want to join me in starting a rule making body replacing the USGA and R&A to benefit the large body of financially oppressed Golf Clubs with courses extending to a max of 6500 yards?…no?…I thought not.
    OK, anybody know a teaching golf professional who will work with my aging body, my 1950s persimmons and blades without conditionally trying to ‘change’ me and my viewpoints? No…me neither, and I already have a wife!

    • @hickorychris “‘Kicking the can down the road’ has become a hackneyed expression particularly in the arena of financing nation states. As we have become aware this phrase wraps up the sinking feeling that, short of unconscionable revolution, nothing will change.”

      This is the inconvenient truth facing anyone upset with the status quo. As in politics, it is so much easier to bitch about the things you hate than to offer up useful and practical solutions. It’s one thing to raise awareness about a problem and another to turn the microscope on one’s self. I have a piece or series of pieces in my head related to “traditional golf’s greatest challenges now”. We know about the ball and high powered TaylorMade/Callaway/Acushnet lobby which own the PGA tour. However, what we may not realize is that we are on the clock big time and the window for change may already be expired. Why? Because almost everybody playing elite golf in the persimmon and blade era is too old to lead that charge. Where are our playing champions? Trevino’s body is broken down and he’s still on Bridgestone staff… Pavin is still playing a little but is on the Champions tour… J Miller is announcing only, Floyd is done. Even if we could flip the equipment switch today – let’s say we could rollback the ball, make shafts steel or hickory only, and limit any clubhead size to 250cc, nobody would remember how to play that game. Maybe the would, but that crop is getting up there in age. Who’s going to play a persimmon tour? Or like Chris said – start a new governing body? It’s a nice dream but is going to stay a dream unless something very wierd shifts the whole paradigm – it needs a billionaire angel administrator with no interest in return on investment.

      That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy things on a personal level. What I do with my time is my own and I damn sure will teach my family and my kids when they grow up. Traditional golf will exist in little micropockets (or as Hickory which has done an incredible job with segregated infrastructure).

      • Avatar of Jordan Jordan says:

        Very well put. I think change will happen when Augusta National finely gets sick and tired of lengthening their hallowed grounds to accommodate for the USGA’s lack of control. I have often thought if Cliff Roberts were around he would have said “I’ll be damned if we are going to change this course” i think he would have made the players either use a different ball or just banned titanium from his course. Do you think the players are going to turn down an invitation to the master?

      • Avatar of Kirasdad Kirasdad says:

        Well, revolution may not be in the offing, but my feeling is there is getting to be more and more of “us” and I think if we get cranky enough some impact could be made. Palmer and Nicklaus have been making noises about the golf ball. The ball is where this starts, and maybe ends. If the the ball only goes 290 when Bubba Watson jumps out of his shoes, then perhaps other pieces will fall into place. I’m not sure 8000 yard courses are economically feasible so maybe designers can get involved. We and they have an obligation to the planet as well. Water for one thing, imagine an 8100 yard track in Arizona. What an abomination. There are plenty of allies out there. They don’t give a crap about persimmon or steel shafts, but they have an interest in changing golf. Callaway and TM will learn to live with it.

    • Avatar of Alec Alec says:

      Howdy ho. First things first, Chris, I’m a teaching pro & I’ll be happy to work with you on anything you like. Whatever’s clever and that’s not a problem at all. When I launched my website this past June the host asked to interview me and post that interview here on PGT, I’d like to thank him again for that and that’s the only exposure or promotion that’s been done in any way other than by myself face to face or by referral and I’m so glad that it was here at PGT. IIRC Chris you were a bit reticent about the views I expressed concerning the golf ball. To refresh your memory my take is that the ball is 95%+ of the problem, has been since the solid ball revolution and that I retired as a tournament player shortly after the introduction of the ProV1.

      This is an excellent article and the dialogue is of course necessary but there’s no development or progression of this dialogue at all. “The vast majority of…” Always about “the vast majority”, that’s as old as the world itself, most people are sheep and blindly buy into insane marketing fraud all day long, if they didn’t these companies wouldn’t hire advertising firms to create the insane marketing fraud in the first place. Trying to change that is impossible.

      One of my favorite movies is Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, Cary Grant & Myrna Loy; Blandings is an Advertising Guy with two daughters going to a “Progressive” private school, the older has a teacher who condemns all advertising as “blatant manipulation used to force people to buy useless things they don’t need with money they don’t have”, to a certain extent that was as true for the remarkably racist Aunt Jemima knockoff ‘If you ain’t eatin’ Wham, you ain’t eatin’ Ham’ slogan in this movie from 1947 as it is with Rocketballz today. It used to be jingles and now its neon noise, that’s the only difference.

      Stop buying the equipment and stop giving the OEMs money, that’s the answer to that question, I’m doing the best I can to never giving any of these crap ball & club companies any of my dollars as long as I live. Old stock off of eBay & Craiglslist, when that runs out, then I got a problem but not until. And seriously if you want to work some things out I’d love to chat with you anytime. This is a fantastic resource and we are not alone.

  5. Avatar of dpark dpark says:

    I stopped believing the marketing hype about 6-7 years ago, and it was DUE TO THE TRACKMAN. I did make a significant investment in lessons, taking them consistently from the same coach for about 6 years. He believed that if you have a leaky roof, you fix the leak, not rebuild the whole house. He helped me fix some really bad habits that felt right to me but when I looked at them on video, it was pretty sad looking.
    With his help, I got down to the low single digits, and about that time, the Trackman appeared on the scene. About the same time, I also become a serious club ho, thinking that I could buy my way to scratch with some “Tour” gear and was spending some serious cash on equipment from places like BombSquadGolf.com
    Before I did serious permanent damage to my bank account, I was able to hit my clubs and some “newfangled” clubs on the Trackman, and it opened my eyes to the fact that I hit my clubs just as far as a “tour” club, and in some cases even better. The “placebo” effect was now gone. I had PROOF that there was no magic in “tour” clubs, just because Tour pros play them.
    There is definitely some benefit to the Trackman in getting fit for equipment, assuming that you can put a consistent swing on the ball. My driver at the time hit the ball too low and with too much spin. With the help of the Trackman, I found a driver/shaft combo that was in the bag for 5+ years (Ping Rapture 10.5* and Diamana BB shaft) and was only recently slightly upgraded to a Project X 5.5 shaft, but still using the same head. Every club in my modern bag, except for the wedges, is at least 6 years old, with some clubs going as far back as 1997. I got as low as a +2 index and won my club championship and was runner-up twice.
    I now have no need or desire to get new equipment. Yes, I still go to demo days and try out the new stuff, but as soon as I think I have found a “magic” club, I hit it on the Trackman and compare it to my current stuff and I have yet to find a difference worth caring about.
    I also started to play classics a couple of years ago. I was brought up playing forged blades and persimmon so they weren’t a foreign entity to me, but I hadn’t played them since college. As weird as it sounds, I got kinda bored when I could shoot under par on a regular basis and wanted a change. I pulled out my college sticks (Hogan Apexes, Powerbilt Persimmon woods and Ram wedges) and had a hoot. Didn’t break 80 for the first couple of rounds, mainly because of the woods and sand wedge. The irons were just fine (just shorter because of the old-style lofts). I went on a wood and wedge buying spree on ebay and picked up about 30 woods and wedges for less than the cost of a new set of irons. I finally put together a set that I really liked and use today (MacGregor Ben Hogan 2 wood, MacGregor Tourney fairway woods, Hogan Apex PC irons, Wilson Fluid Feel wedge and 8802 putter) and can regularly shoot in the mid-70s with them. I do lose about 30 yards off the tee and have distance gap issues because I only have 2 wedges instead of 4 and they simply do not have the advanced grinds of modern wedges to play the wide variety of shots you can do with modern wedges. But I can switch back and forth between the sets without issue. With my modern set, I do not care about laying up to a “distance”. My Scratch wedges are so versatile that I am comfortable with pretty much any distance inside of 100 yards. With my classics, I have to lay up to 90 yards or more since “feel” shots are much more difficult with a sand wedge that has a sharp leading edge and a swing weight of D-9. I do play much more conservatively with classic clubs than modern clubs, mainly because there is a much larger margin for error in modern clubs, especialy with the woods and hybrids.
    But I will say, I get much more satisfaction shooting a 75 with classics than a 69 with modern clubs.

    • Great background there, thanks for sharing. I have enjoyed switching back and forth too but I usually keep the irons the same. I agree that modern wedge technology is a vast upgrade over vintage.

      • Avatar of dpark dpark says:

        Can’t keep the same irons because of the differences in loft. My vintage set is the Hogan Apex PC which has a 51* PW and my modern set is the Titleist 680 which has a 48* PW. No need for a GW in the vintage set and I have to have one in my modern set. Tried bending the PCs down to the 681 loft but then the sharp leading edge just digs too much, especially on knockdown shots. I suppose I could play the 680s in my vintage set, but then I would have to find a vintage gap wedge and they aren’t easy to find in the days before OEMs started jacking up lofts to make people think that they were hitting their irons further when all they were doing was hitting an 8 iron with a “9″ or even “PW” stamped on the sole :)

        • Ya I hear you on lofts but I just play them at 2-9 which act as a modern 3-p. People are amazed when I hit good 2 irons but they only go around 200 yards for me – it’s really just a modern 3 iron. It’s not that impressive but may look like it sometimes. In the end it’s just about distances and having a set where you won’t be stuck at a yardage where you aren’t comfortable with either club.

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