Potential ban damages sales of long, belly putters

The Boccieri Golf Heavy Putter K4-M.

While the U.S. Golf Association and R&A are in the midst of what they call a 90-day period of feedback regarding the proposed anchoring ban (Rule 14-1b), the damage to sales of long and belly putters already has been done.

“What’s less than a screeching halt?” said David Lowe, vice president of product development and sourcing for retailer Golfsmith International, when asked to describe the effect of the Nov. 28 announcement on sales.

Even though the rule wouldn’t go into effect until 2016 and the putters themselves still would be considered legal, at the PGA Merchandise Show, long and belly putters were scarce at booths of equipment makers and on the practice putting green. From all appearances, it seems equipment makers have accepted “the inevitability” that an anchoring ban is forthcoming.

“I have stores all across the country that haven’t sold one since,” said Chris Koske, global director of Odyssey Golf.

It’s a far cry from a year ago. Based on a long-putter sales spike in late 2011, Koske estimated that Odyssey would sell 80,000 units in 2012, and said 100,000 units was within reach as the putters gained widespread appeal. But once rumors spread about an anchoring ban, sales stalled.

“We sold closer to 25,000 to 30,000,” Koske said.

Still, sales of alternative putters invigorated a category that had recorded declining sales for nine consecutive years, sliding from approximately $200 million at on- and off-course shops in 2003 to $137 million in 2011. According to research firm Golf Datatech, that trend likely ended last year, as putter sales rose 2.6 percent in unit sales and 11 percent in dollar sales through November.

Puttermakers may be cutting back forecasts for long and belly putters, but they are responding with a host of products to help consumers adjust to the potential new reality.

“We don’t agree with (the proposed rule), but we’ll accept it,” said Austie Rollinson, Odyssey’s principal designer. “We see it as an opportunity to innovate within the new conforming standards being imposed.”

Just days after the sport’s ruling bodies announced the proposed ban, Odyssey introduced the Metal-X arm-lock putter, a product that conforms to the anticipated ruling and offers another stabilizing method through a natural-feeling extension of the golfer’s leading arm.

That appears to be just the beginning. Many companies at the PGA Show promoted their short sticks as an alternative to anchoring. Signage for Axis, the upstart maker of a torque-free putter, read “No Anchor Required,” while SeeMore Putter CEO Jim Grundberg called the company’s RifleScope system “an invisible anchor.” Heavy Putter founder Steve Boccieri said the anchoring ban could give his line of putters – aimed at promoting a pendulum stroke by disengaging smaller wrist muscles and engaging larger shoulder muscles – a fresh start. “I’ve always said, ‘My Heavy Putter is the belly beater,’ ” Boccieri said. “We provide stability without connection.”

Boccieri has plenty of company. At the PGA Show, Odyssey debuted The Tank, which weighs in at 600 grams – 400 grams in the head, a 150-gram shaft and a 50-gram counter-balance weight in the butt-end of the grip. This spring, TaylorMade plans to promote the stability of the Daddy Long Legs, the next iteration in the Spider family of putters, as its highest MOI putter yet.

If the anchoring ban goes through, puttermakers hope that it will launch a period of experimentation for users searching for the next best thing.

“It’s going to be a dynamic time, during which a new category might emerge or might fizzle out,” said Alan Hocknell, Callaway’s senior vice president of research and development. “Either way, we want to be part of the conversation.”

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