The perfect club for the perfect swing
WHO are the world's most emotionally driven and gullible shoppers? Golfers. Yes, they even oust women in pursuit of eternal youth, as I've discovered after spending time with Dale Hayes, Pro Shop director Darryl Egdes and Dainfern Country Club PGA professional Ed Holding.
"The thing about golf," says Hayes from his desk in the memorabilia-festooned offices of Dale Hayes Golf Events, "is that the guys believe they can buy a better game. But they would rather spend R1 500 on a driver, which may or may not make a difference, than R150 on a golf lesson, which will make a difference."
To underline his point, Hayes flips through the five pages devoted to companies selling irons - and irons alone - in an international catalogue. California-based Callaway Golf - maker of Big Bertha clubs - is the hottest golf company in the world and has made a fortune for its founder on the lofty aspirations of the average golfer.
I manage to pin Egdes down at the Brazilian coffee shop inside the landmark Pro Shop in Woodmead. The emporium is in a frenzy of promotional activity: "It's R3.99 a ball and R10 a glove … grab them, take them, get them out of my hair." Egdes tells me the scene is par for the course at this time of the year. The place is teeming with the very shoppers Hayes is referring to - as well as their partners, sons and daughters.
"The wonderful thing about golfers," says Egdes, "is that they are always pursuing a dream. A golfer will rarely walk off the course without saying, 'If I hadn't missed that putt at three, I would've been one shot better,' or, 'If I can hit the ball 300 metres, I can hit it 305 metres.' And whereas tennis players will blame themselves for a bad game, golfers are forever blaming their equipment. In other words, they will go to the the end of the earth to hit the ball once less often and that much further."
But what is baffling is that the end of the earth is usually the Pro Shop and not the club professional.
"It doesn't matter how many thousands of rands you spend on equipment," says Ed Holding, who has been the Dainfern pro for seven years and who makes use of video equipment R100-a-half-hour lessons. "If you make a bad swing, you're going to make a bad shot."
He reckons most golfers "would be far better off investing in a few lessons with a PGA pro who can determine all the different aspects of their play - what's wrong and right with the swing, for starters - and then help them pick the correct clubs for their style of play, height, grip … PGA pros are best qualified to advise on equipment requirements."
Holding says most club pro shops will attempt to match the prices of the big discount shops.
Egdes argues that top-of-the-range golf equipment, correctly fitted, may not cure a poor swing, but that it "certainly will enable a golfer to play to his best ability". He says the four Pro Shops - the others are in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban - have turned over more than R150-million this year. He says the shops are "personalised supermarkets", offering a high level of service. Indeed, there were at least 25 distinctively attired salesmen on the floor when I was there and many of them were custom-fitting men, women and children with sets of clubs.
"The buzzword at the moment is titanium," says Egdes, "whether it's simply an insert in the club or the main component. Titanium allows the manufacturer to increase the size of the sweet spot, which results in greater consistency for the user. And because it's all about the wonderful emotive things a golfer is looking for, it's even filtered through into balls - in the core or in the cover - for better spin and more distance."
When it comes to the club shaft, he says, "graphite is becoming increasingly popular as it becomes more affordable. The premium of about R1 000 a set of irons has come down to between R300 and R400."
The Pro Shop also expects continued growth from its niche markets.
"Our business has expanded through greater commitment to women golfers, seniors, left-handers and juniors," says Egdes.
He confirms that it is practically every golfer's ambition to own a set of Callaway Big Berthas. "But remember that this will set you back about R8 000 to R10 000 for woods, R10 500 for irons, R1 000-odd for a putter and about R2 000 for a bag - a total of almost R25 000."
And then, of course, golf being golf, the first day you take them out you may go like this, and here I paraphrase the anecdote of a friend and colleague, Sunday Times rugby and golf writer Dan Retief: You may fresh-air your first drive, top the next, hit your opponent, lose 15 balls and fall in a water hazard - and then the next day you will go out and play really terribly. ý Linda Stafford is a senior editor of the Financial Mail