A breathless email landed the other day. “Push Carts to Change Your Game” was the tag line. Golf is a game of many complexities, none of which are dumbed down for the likes of you and me. But of all the things that might impact your score did you ever consider the contraption that’s carrying your golf bag?
The email doubled as a glossy brochure for all of the most desirable models on the market: manual, electric, four wheel, three wheel, even a funky two-wheel electric attachment for your analogue push buggy. How many pouches do you need? Bottle holders? Ball compartments? A place for your pencil? Your banana? Your scorecard? Do you want to ride business class?
The author of this consumer report/advertorial discussed the options on the market under a staggering 12 different headings, making recommendations in each class, as if they were cars, from Minis to Mercs. But he never returned to the tag line. How exactly can your fantasy push cart change your game?
It doesn’t matter. Every golf superstore is selling a feeling. In that universe, every day is Black Friday and every shop floor is the set from the Late Late Toy show. You can imagine who the children are.
The dimensions of the market are astonishing now. According to a report conducted by Grand View Research the global golf equipment market was valued at $7.48 billion in 2022, a jump of nearly $900 million in just four years. During the pandemic golf club membership spiked, which in turn adrenalised spending in golf’s vast retail hinterland.
For the broad base of the game at the foot of the pyramid, golf’s engagement with technology has had a cascade effect. For the top players it has impacted mostly on distance and control, which are two legs of the stool. The other leg is putting. In my local golf superstore there is a horseshoe display of more than 60 putters, arranged around a small putting green. The prices range from a Black Friday bargain of €89 to a Black Friday bargain of €479.
This is the part of the game that blows everyone’s fuse box. More than 50 years after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, modern science is still searching for solutions on the putting green. Since 2019, for example, Odyssey has been using Artificial Intelligence to devise a putter with a more intuitive face.
They finally came up with something that, they claimed, would improve putting from distance, resulting in lag putts that would finish, on average, “21 per cent” closer to the hole. Jon Rahm put one in his bag for the Ryder Cup after Odyssey convinced him that their new putter could have reduced his three-putt statistics by nearly 50 per cent this season and added about $2.5 million to his prize money.
For the likes of you and me, there are putters on the market with grooved faces, chunky grips, square backsides, crescent-shaped backsides, and weights in the base. Everything for a reason. I tried a few, and after a couple of minutes, the kind shop assistant told me I was standing too far away from the ball. Forty years of anguish on the greens reduced to a free tip.
Will any of those putters improve your performance on the green if you can’t read the line, judge the pace, or keep the putter face square through contact? No. Every season there are stories of touring professionals excavating a discarded putter from the garage in search of a feeling they had lost. And under a variety of guises that is what the golf industry is trying to sell us: a feeling. How does that new driver feel? Does it feel like €600? Every inch.
Everybody’s golf game is unwell and every golf shop offers over-the-counter remedies. At the back of most golf shops there is a practice area where you can hit balls into a souped-up screen and have your swing stripped bare by computers that specialise in blunt feedback.
If you hook or slice there are golf clubs now that are designed for greater forgiveness. If you don’t hit the ball very far but have no desire to make your hands bleed at the driving range, they have developed shafts that can offer you 10 or 20 yards of extra distance without greater swing speed.
Teaching professionals take a sceptical view of the shortcuts on general sale, and it is hard to argue. If everyone could buy a golf game off the rack, why would the good players practice?
But the golf industry is banking on our laziness and our wide-eyed wonder and our credulous nature. It is integral to the business plan. We’re suckers for a prestige label or a famous brand or something we saw on telly. Golf balls? Titleist Pro V1s are one of the best sellers despite being one of the most expensive on the market.
But those balls were designed for optimal performance with swing speeds of over 100 miles an hour. Do you know your swing speed? Are you sure they’re the right ball for you? Does it still feel good to tee up a new Pro V1 on the first?
If golf is your thing, golf shops are wondrous places now. Golf wear has crossed over into leisure wear, with a mesmerising range of stuff. Once upon a time golf shoes were mostly black or white, but now you can choose from a colour card. Mainstream shoemakers such as Sketchers and Ecco have entered the market because they can read the numbers too.
The days when distances to the green were calculated from a wooden stake in the rough or a coloured disc in the fairway – and a guess – are long gone. Everyone has a bespoke watch now or a gadget hanging from their golf bag, or a rangefinder, glued to their good eye, like an engineer. Do you still come up short? Me too.
Doesn’t matter. It is all part of golf’s great confidence trick. One of these days I will find the golf cart that will change my game. You will too.