Swing help for sale: the training aid

At one of the first PGA Teaching & Coaching Summits in the early 1990s, the irreverent Mac O'Grady listened to a presentation on training aids by Gary Wiren and Wally Armstrong, then announced, "These guys ought to be arrested."

O’Grady was no fan of training aids.

In the past decade, the popularity of training aids has grown substantially. Commercials and infomercials for training aids are omnipresent. Leading golf instructors, recognizing a steady stream of income, endorse these products almost beyond the point of believability.

But, as Wiren points out today: “Training aids wouldn’t be accepted by the golfing public
if they didn’t work.”

Wiren had a lot to do with the growth of the product category. A little more than 15 years ago, he moved his small training-aids distributorship, called Golf Around the World, from his home to a warehouse in West Palm Beach, Fla. His son Dane came aboard as CEO. Together they established the first major training-aids company (www.golfaroundtheworld.com) and offer about 200 products.

Gary Wiren, a noted golf teacher, served 13 years as director of research and learning for the PGA of America. It was then, in the 1970s and early 1980s, that Wiren began creating his own training aids, such as the venerable Impact Bag, as well as paying attention to the inventions of others.

“We sell wholesale to teaching pros and retail to golfers all over the world,” Dane Wiren said. “We ship internationally every
day. This is definitely the golden age of training aids. Everything is flourishing.”

Flourishing so much that Golfsmith, one of golf’s retail giants, unveiled its own proprietary line of training aids in November. Called the Hank Haney Training System, the line includes 18 training aids and, according to David Lowe, vice president of brands and golf instruction, “We see it growing to 30 to 36 products in the next 12 to 18 months.”

One thing that attracted Golfsmith to the field, Lowe said, is a “continuing move by golfers to set up their own at-home training areas.” Golfsmith (www.golfsmith.com) will use the Haney name on all its training-aid products, which are sold online and in many of the chain’s retail stores.

The heroes of the training-aids world have gained attention through infomercials – Medicus, Momentus, Speed Stik and
others. One rule of thumb: To be successful, these products have to be endorsed by well-known instructors or players.

“Before Vijay Singh endorsed the Speed Stik,” Dane Wiren said, “we sold four of them. Now we’ve got hundreds on back order.”

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the longest lasting. The $39.95 Impact Bag, for example, is nothing more than a durable vinyl bag that is designed to be filled with old towels or apparel. A golfer swings his club into the bag, simulating impact with a ball.

The Power Swing Fan, at $54.95, is a multibladed fan with a handle. Adopted from baseball to golf, the fan creates wind resistance when swung manually.

Dane Wiren offered what could be a soliloquy to Mac O’Grady.

“What I learned from my dad,” he said, “is to evaluate products carefully and sell only the ones that really work. I learned to have an open mind, that there’s no one way to do things in golf. I learned about the importance of regarding golf as a game and having fun.”

Fun, fun, fun.

“I actually had somebody send me a training aid made of beer cans,” Dane recalled. “It was Olympia beer. What you ended up with was a strip of beer cans stuck to the clubface (with Velcro). I had to tell the guy it would be very hard to sell.”

Hard to sell, easy to drink. That’s no training aid.

What is a training aid?

It can be as elementary as an alignment mat or aiming device. It can be as straightforward as a diagnostic club that is swung by a golfer. It can be as complex as a mechanical apparatus that aids a player in achieving a prescribed swing or body movement. Anything that can be used during practice to help a golfer is a training aid.

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