Golf's tee shot tempest over, but marketing issues remain

By Published on .

Most Popular
How do you market a product that will be declared "illegal" in five years?

That's the dilemma golf-club marketers face after the U.S. Golf Association decided to compromise with the U.K.'s Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews on a rule governing the spring-like effect in golf drivers.

The good news for the golf club makers: Drivers that were banned for having too much spring-like effect will now be legal. The bad news: They will be legal only until 2008.

In a major departure from tradition, the golf club compromise establishes two rules. One will be applied to highly skilled competitors (who cannot use the "hot" drivers). The other rule will be applied to everyone else. In five years, however, no one will be able to use such drivers because the clubs will again revert to their "non-conforming" status.

The big winner in the new rules is Callaway Golf Co., which has been selling the ERC II, a non-conforming driver, since last year. Sales of the ERC II have been slow here because USGA regulations have said that golfers cannot turn in their scores for handicap purposes if they use the ERC II or other non-conforming drivers. Also, many club tournaments have banned the use of the clubs.

Now all that changes-at least for the next five years. "We now have the opportunity to bring the greatest driver ever made back to the U.S. market without the issues of conformity," Callaway's chief marketing officer told Advertising Age. "We're going to return to fully marketing it with TV, print and broad-based golf-related sales support."

Callaway and other golf club marketers no doubt see the new rules as a great opportunity to sell off a lot of inventory. But two big questions in my mind are:

* Will golfers be informed that their suddenly conforming clubs will revert to non-conforming status in five years?

* Will golfers who haven't been told be mad as hell, at both the marketer and the retailer, when they find out their driver is no longer approved by civilized society?

Another issue is whether golfers, believing the spring-like effect of the new drivers is the answer to all their golfing woes, will stop buying any other kind. If unsold ERC IIs caused inventory buildup, think of what havoc could be caused if golfers abandon all the drivers without the added turbo boost.

The sad truth is that the USGA created this potentially chaotic scene in a dispute over a rather miniscule difference in length off the tee. To get the most firepower from these new clubs, you've got to have a very fast and powerful swing speed (one comparable to that of the pros). And you've got to hit the ball at the exact sweet spot where the ball catapults off the club head. For us average players, neither of these requirements are easy to perform.

One of the greatest things about golf is that, until now, average players could buy the clubs the pros played (or at least modified versions). But the compromise between USGA and the R&A creates a situation where the pro can't play the same club as the amateur.

Facing stagnant growth, now isn't the time for golf to foster this kind of disconnect.

Advertising Age Editor in Chief Rance Crain also owns the weekly newspaper Golfweek.

In this article: