The Rich Are Different

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.'I have found the golf equipment industrys dream customer.
 
I meant to get his name, but I would have had to risk being run over as he bee-lined his way to a rack of clubs in the well-appointed pro shop at Trump International Golf Club.
 
Ill need three of those Vokey wedges, the man said, steps before he reached the rack. And how many of these drivers do you have in the store?
 
The pro shop staff jumped like they were sitting on a hot stove. The customer was in the mood to outfit his companions for a day of golf.
 
Trump International is one of a number of courses built or being developed by legendary real estate developer Donald J. Trump. In keeping with his do-it-big-and-best tradition, Trump has gone out of his way to make a serious impact. The course, which recently received a best-in-Florida award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, is the antithesis of the fluffy Florida resort track. This is a serious test, good enough for the LPGAs ADT Championship.
 
The clubs authenticity attracts a lot of serious golfers. Many of them are long-time Palm Beach cognoscenti, which explains why they can handle the initiation fee, which is said to be around $300,000.
 
So a few wedges and drivers in one fell swoop is no big deal. This is premium equipment heaven.
 
I dont really do golf to be a profitable business, although it is, says Trump, who joined us to shoot a story youll be seeing in the coming weeks on Golf Central. I do it because I love golf. We have a great membership here, some real good players.
 
The rich are different from you and me, the old saw goes. Not much, though, when it comes to golf. Out on the course, I saw a most human range of swings. (The Donald himself, by the bye, has some innate gift for squaring the clubhead at impact. He plays to a 5 handicap, and he admits he almost never practices.)
 
The differences are in the details. One significant example: A fellow came through the par-3 17th and chopped up the hole pretty badly. His playing partner sizzled a 4-iron 196 yards to three feet. Turns out the stick was the other fellows personal pro. Travels with him. Always available. What a gig.
 
The rich are also different in what ' and how ' they buy, as our multiple-wedge-buying friend above demonstrated. They have the means, so more power to them.
 
Elsewhere on the spectrum are the muni players who save all year for one new driver, or who put their change in a jar every day in hopes of gathering enough for a new box of Pro V1s.
 
The industrys task in 2003, as it is every year, will be to appeal to the Palm Beachers and the Rockaway Beachers, and everyone in between. With rounds played essentially flat recently, the mission is becoming more critical.
 
This years PGA Merchandise Show, set for Jan. 23-26 in Orlando, will set the tone for the year. But it will have to weather the notable absences of major powers such as Ping and the Titleist-FootJoy-Cobra empire, as well as Adams Golf. Those companies are planning to redirect former trade show expenses to marketing efforts they consider more effective.
 
Golf is no longer just a rich mans game, or even a mans game. One of the most attractive aspects of golf, as opposed to, say, yachting or fly fishing, is that everyone who wants to play has a claim on its benefits.
 
It will be interesting to see in 2003 how the equipment industry reclaims those players.