How we will buy golf clubs in 2027
Internet has arrived, big brands struggle and new habits are coming. How will golf club purchase look like in ten years from now? I’ve tried to figure it out
The way golf clubs are purchased is changing.
The old model where big manufacturers produce several sets per year and invest billions in Marketing does not work anymore. Proof of that trend (if needed) is Nike leaving the equipment game, Adidas selling TaylorMade because of its margins, Golfsmith on the way to bankruptcy and many more going out of business.
If the way things are doesn’t work, how is going to be the golf club purchasing experience in ten years from now? How will we get our new set for christmas 2027?
As a golf club manufacturer with a deep involvement in the startup industry I’ll base my assumptions on my knowledge of the market and the actual trends but also on what other industries have shown in terms of digital and technological transformation.
For those who don’t have time there is TL;DR: at the end ;)
THREE PURCHASING EXPERIENCES
There are three main types of golf club purchasing. They have been in place since decades and are likely to stay the way they are. What will change is their significance compared to each others and how the offer is supplied. So what are these 3 ways?
The retail: Manufacturers put off the rack golf clubs in stores (physical and online)
The second hand: Buying previously-owned equipment
The custom-made: Clubfitters and Clubmakers analyse golfer’s need and build unique clubs
How was it in 2007?
To guess how it will be lets have a look at how it was.
Back in the early 2000, the retail was the uncontested leading way to put your hands on your new set of clubs. The business was flourishing at the time, both for manufacturers and retailers. Online purchasing was not yet the norm and marketing endorsement was still a winning strategy.
The second-hand market was already a thing, powered by the huge level of production from manufacturers and mostly happened in stores at the time.
The custom-made golf clubs were marginal. It was mainly developed in the US (around 20% market shares) because of a larger number of clubfitters/clubmakers but was almost inexistant in many other countries. At the time golfers were only receiving the manufacturer’s message (through top players endorsement and distribution network) and were not really aware of custom-making’s benefits.
How is it now? (2017)
Retail has lost much of its supremacy. While it is still the number one worldwide seller, the second-hand and the custom-made markets are becoming more and more importants.
Internet has a major impact in that change. Not only it provides a new way to sell old golf clubs to other golfers (on second-hand websites or Facebook groups), it is also a new way for golfers to collect information.
With this new access to information golfers of the world have transparent data about what exists on the market, what makes a good golf club and how it should be customized. With this common knowledge golfers are able to find exactly what they want on the second-hand market and are more incentivized to visit their local clubfitter/clubmaker for a custom-made set of clubs.
The second-hand market has expended a lot with the rise of internet especially last years with facebook golf communities growing. It is now easier than ever to find almost any existing club at a fair price on these platforms.
On the other hand the custom-made option has grown but is still reserved to an elite of golfers due to the relative low number of talented clubfitters/clubmakers and the high prices. Many parts of the world still don’t have proper clubfitting and clubmaking facilities.
How will it be? (2027)
The retail’s crash
Today’s trends in golf equipment are clearly not in favor of traditional retail. In golf even more than in any other industry people are looking for exclusiveness and singularity. Off the rack retail may still exist, specially for new golfers, but will become marginal as all golfers will have access to the right equipment (which can’t be standardized).
This wider access to right equipment will come from the rise of the second-hand and custom-making markets.
The second-hand sophistication
The second-hand market is already big today because of the supply available and the online trading platforms among golfers. The supply will continue to grow but will find its peak quite soon. Indeed as the manufacturers are in bad shape the production volumes will much likely decrease in the upcoming years.
However these volume are so big that there will still be a lot of supply by 2027. And by this time the online trading platforms will be even more efficient (worldwide trading, better control of the quality, easy shipping). This will make it easier than ever to find any golf club at a very good price.
Custom-Making at scale
Two technologies will make it possible: 3D printing and robotic. 3D printing is perfect to build the clubheads with a unique weight distribution in every piece. Robotic on the other hand can easily assemble the clubs (shaft, head and grip) faster, better and (in the end) cheaper than humans.
Custom-making also requires the fitting science (analyzing a golfer and defining his needs) which might be harder but not impossible to robotize. Future evolutions in launch monitoring will make it possible for small and cheap connected devices to get precise information and then send it to the custom-manufacture for production.
This is great for us golfers. The communication among us has never been better and will continue to grow. Buying golf clubs will always keep a part of irrationality and spontaneity, we love the brands, we love the design and quite often we act with our hearts more than our heads. Still the increased consciousness among us will kill the bullshit (I don’t even have to describe it) and manufacturers will focus their efforts on sharing real stories and creating stunning designs if they want to convince us.
It is also good for business. The rise of the second-hand and custom-making markets will create new opportunities for business to start and grow.
On the second-hand market for example there could be a high-end platform (Vestiaire Collective like) that gathers the used golf clubs, controls the quality (can even re-chrome some clubs) and ensure the shipping. It may even offer fitting service to study one golfer’s need and find in its base the exact club needed. Such a premium second-hand platform will reassure golfers on quality of previously-owned equipment and get a lot of value on this growing market.
The other opportunity is for the clubfitters and clubmakers. There is a lot of room for young ones to play the game. In places like Russia and Middle-East for example, where there are a lot of high contribution golfers there are almost no fitting facility. Even in places where there are fitters and clubmakers, many of them don’t communicate much on their activity and there is an opportunity for business people to help the tech guys grow.
All the troubles today in the golf club industry are very exciting and predict a fascinating battle. In my opinion the challenge is to master the new technologies at scale to make custom golf clubs available to the mass. This requires to change almost everything in the way traditional manufacturers are operating. This is why I believe it is a new entrant, start-up style, who will disrupt this entire industry.
Shopping off-the-rack golf clubs will become marginal (mainly for very new golfers) — The second-hand market will provide all existing golf clubs at a very good price — Custom-fitting and custom-making will be the norm, much more accessible (location and price) thanks to 3D printing and Robotisation.
What is your vision on the future for golf equipment purchases? What business opportunity do you imagine? Please share with me your ideas, I would love to edit this article in the light of your comments!