2002: Here’s a great place to fiddle around
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
A few years ago, employees at Fiddler’s Green Golf Center were shocked to see Clyde Drexler of the Portland Trail Blazers walk through the front door. After all, Drexler lived 100 miles north on Interstate 5.
“I know you aren’t here because you need to save money,” said Alan Whalen, one of four Whalen brothers who have turned Fiddler’s Green into one of America’s largest single-site retail golf operations. The Whalens decline to reveal exact numbers, but an educated guess would project 2002 sales for Fiddler’s Green at $9 million to $10 million.
But let’s talk fun, not business. Drexler’s reply: “I don’t want to visit five or six stories to find everything I need. Here it’s all in one place.”
What an unusual place it is. Isolated in the middle of thousands of acres of agricultural fields, it includes a barn-like retail store, an 18-hole par-3 course and a lighted range.
But here’s the best thing: Fiddler’s Green is the ultimate candy store because anybody who walks in the front door of the 14,000-square-foot main facility can try any of the 3,500 woods or 2,500 irons on display. Choose your equipment, take it to the range – there is no obligation to buy it.
I have never seen anything quite like this. Every club in the store is, in effect, a demo club (although Fiddler’s does not use this term). Such a retail philosophy reflects something that savvy golfers have known for a long time: Buying a club without first trying it can be dangerous to anyone’s golfing health.
“But what about golfers who want to buy a club that has never been hit?” I asked Whalen.
“We have plenty of those,” he replied. “I would say that half our customers really don’t care if a club has been hit a few times on the range. To them, the important thing is that they can find exactly what works best for them. We try to be honest about the whole process – our sales guys are not on commission.”
There’s more. Fiddler’s Green does something else that avid golfers will appreciate. It stocks a huge number of overlength clubs. There are upright irons. And flat irons. There is a huge collection of left-handed clubs, even left-handed ladies’ clubs. Using Mitchell loft and lie machines, irons are bent at no extra charge. There is no charge to use the Achiever launch monitor or the True Temper Shaft Lab.
I wanted to try a set of MacGregor V-Foil irons, 1 inch over and two degrees up. No problem. MacGregor irons are hot, Whalen confirmed. So are Cobra woods.
Fiddler’s Green is a discount operation and proud of it. “When our parents (Dan and Gerri) bought this place in 1976,” said Tim Whalen, “there was no golf equipment sold here. There was just this original little building where they collected greens fees and sold concessions.”
When Dan Whalen realized he could make money selling clubs, he decided that a $50 profit on a set was just fine.
Over the years, new buildings were constructed. There are two indoor putting greens. There is a large amount of apparel. The Whalens also have entered the arena of custom embroidery. Golf clubs, though, are the nucleus of the main structure that looks a lot like a big barn in a cow pasture.
Bottom line: In an emerging era of better-educated golfers and a “try before you buy” attitude, Fiddler’s Green offers a glimpse into the future of golf equipment sales. Ill-fitting clubs, after all, are about as useful as ill-fitting shoes.