To the end of the COR confusion that had stifled their business for nearly three months, retailers uttered a collective good riddance.
But most weren’t grateful to the USGA, which finally abandoned an .860 ceiling and instead made crystal clear that .830 is the game’s official COR limit.
From retailers’ perspective, it was only proper that the USGA restored order. After all, they said, the game’s “blue coats” had created the chaos in the first place. Since May 9, when the USGA first floated its high-COR proposal, knowledgeable golf consumers abstained from buying drivers because they were uncertain whether their new purchases would remain legal or if they could be used in local competitions.
“It puts some normalcy back into the market,” said Jerry Offerdahl, owner of Golf Headquarters in Portland, Ore.
Though some retailers expressed disappointment about losing an opportunity to sell “hot” drivers, many others said they have little doubt that manufacturers quickly will develop other new technologies – if they haven’t already – to pique the interest of the golfing public.
But it also is inevitable that the USGA’s reversal will create a host of new problems that retailers must resolve in coming weeks. Retailers will have to prepare for irate golfers who purchased “hot” drivers and now want to return them. Likewise, they will have to make arrangements to send back their inventory of .860 drivers to various manufacturers.
Regardless, the past few months delivered an unneeded – and potentially avoidable – blow to golf’s retail and manufacturing sectors, which already were suffering from a beleaguered economy, a decline in rounds played and weak consumer confidence.
Though difficult to quantify, it is safe to say sales were lost. And, at the very least, retailers and manufacturers alike wasted time and resources creating and stocking “hot” drivers that now have lost nearly all commercial value – at least in the United States.
Little surprise the USGA isn’t receiving a vote of confidence from many in the retail constituency.
“We think the USGA has really, really messed up big time here,” said Edwin Watts, co-owner of one of the nation’s largest retail chains, Edwin Watts Golf Shops. “They should have never ever come out a few months ago and said, ‘We’re thinking about doing something.’ In business you don’t do that. And if you’re a leader of an industry, you should have your act better together than that. If you’re thinking about doing something, don’t come out and do a press release to the masses, confuse them, and then come back several months later and contradict that.
“To me, that says that organization is in disarray. They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Watts also was one of the few retailers who felt the USGA compounded its mistake by reversing course and outlawing .860 drivers that potentially could benefit the game’s countless duffers.
“The No. 1 reason why people are quitting is they’re frustrated,” he said. “The game is very hard. The average golfer cannot hit a 440-yard, par 4 in two with two best career shots. The USGA is supposed to be an organization that is governing golf for the masses, but it seems to me they’ve narrowed it down to just 400 of the world’s best players.”
Other retailers weren’t as married to either an .830 or .860 benchmark. But they said the USGA’s May 9 proposal had too many flaws in it to be implemented. Some, like Leigh Bader, owner of Joe & Leigh’s Discount Golf Pro Shop in South Easton, Mass., said the USGA’s reversal offers “the good and the bad.”
“I’m not one of those who feels this was the next best thing since sliced bread, and that this is the worst thing that could have happened because I was looking forward to new technology,” Bader said. “I actually think it’s good because it adds clarity to the marketplace.”
But Bader said he’s concerned about the possibility that consumer excitement has been deflated.
“It’s almost as if COR was looked at by golfers as if it was the technology in and of itself,” he said. Citing TaylorMade’s hot R500 driver as an example, Bader said the club, in addition to a high-COR face, featured other technological improvements such as “inverted cone technology” and an innovative weight cartridge in the clubhead. Though TaylorMade’s conforming 500 driver will showcase the same advances, Bader said it’s possible that without a high-COR component, the club could lose some panache.
“I don’t know if that story is going to sell now on Main Street, USA,” he said. “I’m not saying it won’t. I just don’t know.”
Now that the high-COR chapter has ended, Bader hopes manufacturers will work on advances that have far more value for average golfers. That’s one way to begin a much-needed retail recovery, he said.
“I hope they (manufacturers) go toward more-forgiving irons and more-forgiving woods, kind of like the Cobra driver story – hit it all over the face, and you’ll be OK,” he said. “That’s really where mainstream America is at.”