2002: Business - Retailers cautious of high-COR drivers

By SCOTT GODLEY

If the proposal for a higher coefficient of restitution limit becomes a statute, retailers expect a smorgasbord of “hot” drivers to be introduced.

Whether such clubs will sell, however, remains a question.

Retailers’ skepticism abounds for several reasons. For starters, many are being cautious because it is unknown whether local clubs and tournaments will adopt the proposed changes. If they forbid usage of .860 drivers, the pool of potential buyers shrinks.

Retailers also worry about stocking drivers that could become outlawed in five years. The proposal drafted by the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, calls for a return to a .830 limit for drivers in 2008.

Some retailers also question the performance value of COR, and more troubling, wonder if most golfers understand – or even care – what it is.

Regardless, it is unlikely equipment companies will pass on the opportunity to introduce “hot” drivers.

“I think all the manufacturers at some point in time will have the clubs available with that COR,” said Kerry Kabase, sales director for Edwin Watts Golf Shops, referencing the proposed 5-year agreement between the USGA and the R&A to increase COR from .830 to .860 on Jan. 1.

But he added: “I think the jury is still out on how much better they’re going to be.”

Some club manufacturers contemplating high-COR drivers are evaluating its benefits as well as monitoring the actions of golf’s governing bodies before making definitive plans. Zevo Golf is holding back manufacturing dollars until the proposal becomes a statute, and MacGregor Golf will incorporate the technology only if it proves to upgrade the company’s current product line.

“We will bring out a new driver when we develop one that outperforms our current 340cc VIP model,” said Barry Schneider, owner and CEO of MacGregor Golf.

Even if the clubs come to market, retailers question whether they can sell them and are having a difficult time gauging consumer appetite.

The best measuring stick is Callaway’s ERC II driver. Rick Ventura, head professional at Cypress Ridge Golf Course in Arroyo Grande, Calif., said the drivers generated a lot of interest at demo days, but were not sold in his club’s golf shop because of their nonconforming COR.

Even so, some retailers aren’t so quick to call the ERC II’s COR technology revolutionary.

“I think it’s a great driver, but there are some drivers on the marketplace I hit just as good as that with a lesser COR,” Kabase said.

The 5-year lifespan of the agreement also causes concern. “I think there is a lot of confusion in the short term on what it means,” said Randy Zanatta, president/ CEO of Golf Galaxy. “What happens after five years?”

In the meantime, executives like Zanatta have no plans to mark down or reduce their current inventory of drivers, in part because they are skeptical that the new COR regulations will create a huge demand for “hot” drivers.

Many retailers say the success of these clubs ultimately depends on communication between retailers and manufacturers and their ability to educate consumers on the benefits of a higher COR.

“We will market it in kind with how our OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) determine how they market it,” said Thompson. “It’s not an easy-to-disseminate message in practical terms.”

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