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Buying a game


Golf Things Considered column by John Rogers
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In a world where golf-club manufacturers daydream about things like coefficient of restitution and moment of inertia to make clubs that hit the ball farther and straighter; in a world where golf balls are engineered with two-piece construction and made of mysterious stuff like surlyn so that they fly unheard-of distances; in a world where people spend the equivalent of a college tuition to be properly outfitted for a round of golf; in a world where all this is true and yet the average male golfer shoots almost 100 and the average female shoots over 110 – somebody needs to take a look at golfers’ priorities. But then again, I am biased.

While flipping through one of those glossy colorful golf merchandise catalogues, I’m amazed at the cost of loading up on top-of-the-line equipment. Between the Taylor Made driver ($399.99) and the Odyssey putter ($169.99), we might need to pick up a couple Ping fairway woods ($219.99 each), a couple Cobra hybrids (a bargain at $179.99 each), a set of Calloway irons ($699.99, if we settle for steel shafts), and a few Cleveland wedges ($119.99 each). We could easily drop over $2,300. And that’s before I have a bag to put them in, some Dry Joys on my feet, a Foot Joy for my left hand (which really makes no sense), a few dozen high-tech balls, some ungodly designer plaid pants, a straw hat, and of course, a couple of those magnetic or copper bracelets.

And if I’m a typical golfer, I still need to spend a few hundred on instructional books, videos and training aids. Then a few more thousand on a club membership and greens fees. One of those nice three-wheel push carts, or maybe an electric one, and I’m ready to play golf. Ready to lose five balls and shoot 98, with a liberal drop on the seventh hole.

This is where I’m going to sound a little bitter. You see, I’m like a starving artist. I’m a teaching professional. You can see where I’m going with this: The average golfer drops thousands of dollars to be properly outfitted with equipment he doesn’t know how to use. I have in mind the image of a new army recruit loaded down with a rifle, knife, grenades, rocket launcher, rounds of ammo, night-vision goggles, and a fancy Bushnell rangefinder to figure out the distance to the target. Face painted and ready to go. A slap on the rear from the drill sergeant, and “Have at ’em, boy!”

I remember getting started, too. I remember wanting that new driver, and a better putter. I couldn’t afford all those things back then, which is part of the reason I got into the golf business to begin with. Now I really can’t afford those things.

I’m kidding. I feel very lucky that I’ve spent the past decade teaching people to play golf, and I’ve done well enough to go full-time with instruction in 2002. But I do wonder about golfers’ priorities sometimes.

Here’s another possible way to disperse the $2,300 mentioned above. Go to Costco, spend the $300 on a complete set of clubs, bag included (which was not true with all the big brands listed above). Then give the $2,000 to your local teaching pro and tell him or her not to stop until you can play the game.

I teach in a somewhat rural area, and have purposefully kept prices down so that I could work with a high number of people, without pricing golfers out of the market. It would be different in metropolitan and resort areas, where golf lessons often cost between $60 and $100 per hour. But $2,000 would buy roughly 60 lessons at my driving range, by the time package discounts kicked in, and closer to 80 lessons for junior golfers. That’s a lesson a week, through the warmer months, for over two years. Which makes me think of a science experiment.

I need two twins, neither of whom have ever played golf. One gets all the top equipment and just starts playing without instruction, other than the free advice of playing partners, as in “keep your head down” and “your front arm straight.” The second twin gets the Costco set and two seasons worth of lessons. Then the twins play a match. If the twin with the fancy clubs won, I would pay for the clubs and a season ticket at the golf course.

It really is interesting that handicaps and scoring averages have stagnated for decades while golf equipment has improved drastically. Perhaps golfers ought to reconsider how they spend their golf budgets. Even when they do buy top equipment, how many golfers get properly fitted for their clubs? Why do we pay $400 for a big-headed titanium club that we’ll only use 14 times per round (at most), and then replace with a new model every year? Even if we seek instruction, why is it from magazines that can’t talk to us, that give us conflicting information, and distract us with drills that have nothing to do with our problems? But I digress.

So this year at Christmas, maybe the average golfer, instead of paying for more glossy catalogues from the behemoth club retailers, should invest in the future of his game by purchasing a large package of lessons. Like Jerry McGuire said, “Help me to help you.”



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