Talking high-tech from tee to green Golf manufacturers show off new lines

September 26, 1990|By John W. Stewart

The idea is to build a better mousetrap.

The adage about doing that and the world will beat a path to your door certainly applies to the golf industry.

This was evident during the first Golf Merchandise Show of the Eastern United States, which ended a three-day run at the Convention Center yesterday.

The key words seemed to be high-tech and aerodynamics.

There is a Hi-Tech Golf Co., and salesmen of a variety of products, including clubs and balls, can't get through their pitches without using the terms.

There are some 80 manufacturers of golf clubs, and 65 were among the more than 250 exhibitors displaying merchandise of all sizes, shapes and descriptions. And, almost without exception, they say their clubs will make balls go farther and straighter.

It may be true that their new lines are better than their old ones, but basically the clubs do the same thing, and it is a matter of marketing. Realistically, however, it comes down to having a good swing.

A recent magazine piece figured if a golfer got the results manufacturers said he should -- from clubs, balls, even tees -- he would hit the ball more than 600 yards! High-tech to the nth degree.

Still, the marketplace is loaded, from the large, longtime companies such as Wilson, Spalding and Dunlop, through the more recent ones like Ram, Callaway and Taylor Made, to the new ones like Founders Club, and -- on a smaller scale -- names like Affluent, Zett and STX, the local firm better known for its lacrosse sticks but in less than a year starting to make a merchandising dent with its putters.

From a random survey, the newest product that could have an impact on the market will be titanium heads. Jim McKeighen, who came up with shafts made of titanium, a light metal, will add titanium heads. The shafts are said to help straighten the drives of bad players; the heads are said to have a sophisticated weight distribution that, among other things, will not penalize mis-hits so much.

Such terms as perimeter weighting and low-kick shafts punctuate conversations, and the layman had better be an engineer or an aerophysicist to understand them.

Gary Adams, president of Founders Club, says: "A great deal of research [and money] has gone into the development of these products. You can't lie about the product. Either it performs or it doesn't."

Or, in the words of a sales representative: "What we say our product does -- it does. You can't distort the truth."

Previously, Adams had management success with PGA Golf. He developed metal woods, the concept that launched Taylor Made in 1979. He left Taylor Made as president and has started what may be the newest impact company.

Touring professionals will provide hype for a product, and right away even the worst duffer believes that club or that ball will do wonders for his game. It probably won't help the hacker, but such weapons as Taylor Made's drivers, Bridgestone's "J-Club," Callaway's "S2H2" or Adams' metal woods that use new theories of aerodynamics, likely will become popular simply because of publicity generated by the tour players.

Harvey McLean, president of Dallas-based Affluent Golf Clubs, says one problem with the golf industry is that manufacturers are looking for an edge.

"The best thing for golfers to do," he said, "is read the literature, try the clubs [or other merchandise] and select a set with which they believe they will be comfortable."

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