2006: Hybrid surge creates a new mix
Dana Quigley, with winnings of more than $13 million, ranks fourth on the all-time Champions Tour money list.
At the Wal-Mart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach in early September, Quigley proudly pointed to his golf bag, which contained four hybrid clubs.
“That’s my secret,” he said, touching the hybrids.
“A 7-iron is the longest iron in your bag,” blurted an incredulous spectator.
“Yeah, and if you check next week, my 8-iron will be the longest iron,” Quigley replied. “I’ve got an Adams 7-hybrid in the trunk of my car, but I haven’t had a chance to practice with it yet. When they get around to making the 8 and 9, you’ll see them in there, too.
“Anybody over 50 who doesn’t have hybrids in the bag is nuts. These things are unbelievably easy to hit.”
In July, Allen Doyle, Quigley’s good friend, won his second consecutive U.S. Senior Open.
He carried three hybrids, a 6-iron being his longest iron.
From touring pros to ordinary players, a revolution is occurring in the configuration of golf bags. More golfers are using more hybrids, or utility clubs, that look like beefed-up irons or resemble mini-fairway woods.
This hybrid explosion has affected the way some golf club manufacturers package and market hybrid clubs. Increasingly, companies are offering integrated sets that include traditional irons and hybrid clubs, with hybrids replacing the long irons. The trend is becoming so prevalent it’s quite possible these mixed sets will become the norm, replacing the longtime industry standard of 3-PW iron sets.
“This is the future of golf,” predicted Chip Brewer, CEO of Adams Golf, a company that has played a pivotal role in redefining the modern set.
Said John Hoeflich, club designer and Nickent’s senior vice president: “This time next year, every manufacturer will offer hybrid sets.”
The bold forecasts are based on the sustained growth of hybrids, which have exploded in popularity in recent years.
Golf Datatech LLC, in a 2006 report called “The Hybrid Club Market: Golf’s Fastest Growing Segment,” estimates that hybrid iron sets account for 6 percent to 8 percent of all iron sales.
Brewer guesses slightly higher. “I think hybrid iron sets are about 10 percent of the iron market,” he said. “If they aren’t there yet, they will be soon.”
Combined on-course and off-course hybrid sales, bolstered by the demand for individual hybrids that are not part of hybrid iron sets, reflect a remarkable growth spurt in the Golf Datatech report – from 400,000 units sold in 2004 to 1 million in ’05 to an estimated 1.5 million to 1.6 million this year.
Most hybrids are sold as individual clubs. Total 2006 retail sales for individual hybrids (not sets) are projected by Golf Datatech to reach $180 million to $200 million.
If Golf Datatech is correct, the sale of individual hybrid clubs will begin to diminish somewhat in 2007 as golfers satisfy their hybrid needs. At that point, Adams and other manufacturers expect that hybrid iron sets will become a fixture on the equipment landscape.
It is no coincidence that Nike Golf will begin to ship a new hybrid iron set, the Ignite Hybrid, in October.
“We think we are part of a growing trend in the way you will see iron sets configured in the game improvement zone,” said Stan Grissinger, Nike’s business director of golf clubs and golf balls.
One of the biggest hybrid splashes is being made by Mizuno Golf, which is about to introduce two new hybrids – the iron-like MP Fli-Hi and the wood-like CLK Fli-Hi – that will fit seamlessly into full Mizuno sets of clubs.
“From the tour player to the amateur with a 20-plus handicap, hybrids are providing some solutions for all those levels of players,” said Dick Lyons, vice president and general manager of Mizuno’s golf division. “In some cases, especially for the better players, a hybrid actually can replace two clubs.”
Mizuno has matched these clubs for shaft length, loft and lie, allowing consumers to order sets with as many replacement hybrids as they desire.
Ping is doing much the same thing with its new Rapture line, encouraging customers to substitute hybrids for long irons when they order new clubs.
In a category that has mostly focused on game improvement, Adams recently announced the release of an Idea Pro forged hybrid iron set that targets skilled players. The set, which will begin shipping Oct. 1, includes a 3 iWood and a 4 iWood to go with 5-PW forged irons.
“In hybrid sets, I think we are the lead dog,” said Brewer, whose company sells four different hybrid iron sets. “I think we are ahead of the curve.”
Hybrid iron sets are nothing new for Nickent and Tour Edge, two companies that hitched their wagons to the hybrid concept shortly after TaylorMade introduced the original Rescue hybrid in 1998.
“This is the big story in golf equipment,” Hoeflich said. “If you ask me, 3-irons and 4-irons will end in the garages of golfers.”
Nickent has promoted its hybrids heavily on the Nationwide Tour, and this success has enhanced the credibility of the relatively young company. Nickent offers a 3DX Hybrid set in which a 5-iron is the longest iron.
Tour Edge introduced its original Iron-Wood hybrid in 1999. The company now offers an entire set of hybrids, including hybrid wedges, or a combo set of irons and hybrids.
One of the earliest promoters of an all-hybrid set was Vulcan Golf, which sells a complete set of hybrids (2-hybrid through pitching wedge) in its Backfire line.
All surveys show that the TaylorMade Rescue, sold separately in a variety of lofts and head designs, continues to be the most popular hybrid among PGA Tour players as well as consumers. So far TaylorMade has declined to introduce a hybrid iron set.
Cobra, with its Baffler utility club, has been successful in selling hybrids to contemporary golfers.
Titleist, Cobra’s sister company, has voiced the most articulate concern about prepackaged hybrid sets.
“We would never presume to package this (any combination of irons and hybrids) in a set,” said Chris McGinley, Titleist’s vice president of golf club marketing. “We would rather the player go get fit to determine which club needs to be an iron and which club needs to be a utility. We’re a big believer in mixing up sets, but we want each golfer to have the perfect combination. This requires a professional fitting.”
McGinley points out that hybrids are more expensive than irons, so any set containing both hybrids and irons will cost more than an entire set of irons. Callaway Golf and Cleveland Golf also have stuck with individual hybrid sales rather than hybrid sets.
But Brewer of Adams Golf is confident that he has bet correctly on the hybrid trend.
“When we launched our first hybrid set in 2003, I wasn’t sure. Now I am steadfast in my beliefs. Golf is changing right in front of our eyes.
“Dana Quigley is our poster boy for hybrids, and he represents a movement that is going to touch most golfers out there. We think the hybrid set is here to stay.