2005: Business - Hybrid mania shows no sign of waning

The hybrid boom continues.

The statistics speak for themselves: During March, on- and off-course retailers combined to sell 66,460 hybrid clubs, up 255 percent from 18,700 sold in the same month a year ago, according to research firm Golf Datatech LLC. And dollar sales for the user-friendly hybrid soared to $8.8 million from $1.4 million.

“They’re here to stay,” said Dale Robbins, owner of Dale’s Winning Edge, a retailer in Knoxville, Tenn.

Not everyone however is convinced that hybrids will command such sales long term, which explains why Golf Datatech measures hybrid sales as part of the metalwoods category, which includes fairway woods and drivers.

But in the interim, the category certainly is feeling the impact of hybrids. For instance, nearly one in five wood sales, or 19.8 percent, was attributable to a hybrid, up from 7.7 percent in March 2004. Meanwhile, irons sales – which some feared might shrink as hybrids increasingly replaced long irons in golfers’ bags – also grew in March.

“So far, (hybrids) haven’t disrupted the set of irons,” said Tom Stine, co-founder of Golf Datatech. “But that could still happen, where people say I just want 5 to pitching wedge.”

Golf Datatech has refrained from breaking out hybrid sales as a separate category and does not plan to do so anytime in the near future.

“We’re still not convinced that it’s going to continue to go up or continue at that pace,” Stine said. “We think it will. But if they fall back to being 5 percent, let’s say, then are they really a category, or are they just a specialty club that had a hot run? It’s still a little too early to say.”

Though other equipment categories couldn’t keep pace with hybrids, several of them also posted gains in March, the most recent reporting period.

“We’re off to a very good start,” Stine said. “If rounds would get up, and therefore ball sales would get up, it would be a really good start.”

Ball sales in March fell 4.6 percent in units and 5.3 percent in dollars compared with the same period one year ago, coinciding with Golf Datatech’s report of an 11.8 percent decline in rounds played for the month.

The following sales activity occurred in major product categories:

Woods sales overall, including hybrids, increased 38.3 percent in units and 15.3 percent in dollars.

The lower cost of hybrids compared with other woods – along with a preponderance of lesser priced drivers in the marketplace – contributed to a drop in average selling price in the woods category. That average selling price fell to $160.33, down from $192.21 in March 2004, according to Golf Datatech.

Unit sales of drivers and fairway woods were 271,460, a 20 percent increase from 225,590; dollar sales for these products, however, were relatively flat: $45.4 million vs. $45.6 million.

Irons sales increased 5.4 percent in units and 4.7 percent in dollars during March, compared with the same period in 2004. The category recorded similar gains of 5 percent and 8 percent, respectively, in February.

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