What Does the Golf Customer Want -- and Get
Before we get too judgmental, lets agree that modern marketing is as much about creating desires as it is about catering to them. I had no idea I needed a new sedan until that cars manufacturer informed me I did. (Upon further research, I decided I didnt need one as badly as all that.)
Golf is not different from other discretionary-purchase industries. Did we know we needed Pro-V1s before they appeared on the front page of USA Today? Could Ely Callaway have sold us that newfangled Big Bertha ten years ago without convincing us that we couldnt live without it?
Theres nothing wrong with this approach, so far as it goes. And in this information-drenched age, companies simply cant compete on product merit alone. The best whatzit wont sell if we dont know what it does, and why we might want it.
That said, I wonder if desire creation sometimes crosses its own wires. On a very large scale, the Industrial Revolution solved a lot of problems (employment of a lot of people, uniform product quality, accumulation of funds and time to spur research). By the same token, it created a number of problems (workplace safety, separation of craftsmen from the entirety of a product, a generation of labor unrest). On a smaller scale, desire marketing may have created some unintended problems in golf.
These arent insurmountable problems, but they have created perceptions that arguably have stunted the growth of the game. Lets review a few:
Speeding technology. Perhaps no sport has better research and development talent than golf. Once the aerospace industry cooled off with the end of the Cold War, a lot of top scientists went to golf. (Much of defense aerospace was in the San Diego area; so is much of golf equipment; it made sense.) After all, a driver is a streamlined mass speeding through the air, so of course these guys and gals could contribute.
But are they too good? They move so fast that there is always unbuilt technology waiting in the pipeline. Be it through business pressure or the desire to compete, companies bring out driver after driver, sometimes every year or so. Whats an avid player to do? Budget $600 per year for a new driver and $6,000 for marriage counseling? What chance does a club have to become a cherished old friend that carries ones game over decades before being passed down to a child?
Of course, the aerospace-golfer-geniuses mean no harm. They want us to have their best. But golfers I meet often complain to me of a mild form of computer obsolescence disease. You know the symptoms: You bring home the latest computer, driver, juicer, you name it, feeling as if youre on the cutting edge ' and six months later you see something that claims to better. The cutting edge no longer cuts it.
Here, quite innocently, the customer has been told what to want ' and just as unintentionally, he ends up feeling at least a little dissatisfied.
(In fairness: One good step to counter this has been trade-in/trade-up programs, such as Callaways.)
Speeding to be important. Its hard to class up a pickup soccer game. The grass on the field may be a little thicker in New England than in New Mexico, but what it boils down to is a bunch of kids running around and having a good time.
Not so golf. The sports history offers a fertile field for perpetuating ' or eschewing ' elitism. We see it every day in the persistence of single-gender clubs or the over-the-top opulence of some upscale daily fee courses. On the flip side, we see no-frills municipal tracks where regulars play hardscrabble golf on turf they are proud to endure.
Somewhere along the line, aided by well-produced television broadcasts of the turf paradises demanded by modern pros, many in the hardscrabble crowd came to believe they were playing some sort of substandard golf. (Last I checked, a stroke is a stroke anywhere). Then the disease spread like poa annua to people whose courses had admirable turf throughout, although it may have been brown around the edges or damp over there by No. 15 where weve always hade trouble with those fairway drainage tiles.
Bottom line: Someone always thought the grass was greener, and someone felt a little dissatisfied.
Of course, one bears a lot of the responsibility for happiness with what one has. And nobody is trying to upset anyone by building nice courses. But for every guy who says (and means it), I like my courses rustic look, there are 10 who say (at least to themselves) I wish our course was more like Augusta National.
Speed of play. Time to face it: This problem is unsolvable. Mainly its because of an unwillingness of the games chief example-setters to set the right example. To that, touring professionals say (and its hard to argue) that theyre making their livings, and they cant afford to rush a stroke that could cost them thousands, even millions.
But whatever the reason, pro behavior gives many the impression that slow is the way to play golf. Many U.S. golfers will never get to Scotland, where speed is nearly religion, and where visitors realize that the game is better when played at a healthy clip. (Their pleasure in the surprise is always fun to see. Turns out that what my editor at Golfweek told me before my first trip was true. Youll hit your ball, he said, and as you bag your club, shoulder your bag, and take a step, youll hear a ball landing behind you.)
So we have the game divided into two camps in this country: The leisurely (or in some cases, downright rude) crowd, and the jackrabbits. There is only one first-group-out time per day per course, and oh, how those slots are coveted by those who want to sling it around in 150 minutes.
But the lingering dissatisfaction arising from the now-entrenched custom of slow play is this: Newcomers think golf is slower (read: more boring) than Major League Baseball (regardless of whose fault that might be), and avid players think a quick, exhilarating round is a thing of the past. Either way, you have dissatisfied customers who have been conditioned to expect other than what they got.
These are just a few examples, and of course they arise from my view, not necessarily gospel fact. But what we should take away, agree or disagree, is an unerring customer focus. Because in this day and age, there are too many other choices to allow folks to be dissatisfied, no matter what the reason.
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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.