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Wholesaler in one - Golfsmith Europe
July 2011

Club pros and other retailers looking for a one-stop shop for exciting new brands, components and repairs are increasingly turning to Golfsmith Europe, who also specialise in high-quality custom fitting for club golfers. Dominic Pedler visited their new premises and spoke to managing director Doug Poole

Multi-tasking is a modern day reality for most of us but the demands on today’s golf club professional provides a perfect example in metaphorical plate spinning. Coaching, playing, selling, repairing, custom fitting and marketing are just some of his daily responsibilities, while also liaising with manufacturers and keeping the pro shop stocked with the latest cutting edge equipment. That’s when they’re not dealing with tax, Health & Safety and the full time pressures of internal club politics.

For many retailers that daunting challenge is made a lot easier by their relationship with Golfsmith Europe, all-round golf industry experts offering everything from wholesale distribution of new equipment and accessories through to club assembly, repairs and custom fitting, as well as educational seminars to help club pros master all aspect of their trade.

While many club golfers may not have heard directly of Golfsmith, their influence is increasingly evident from the growing popularity of top brands such as Snake Eyes, Bettinardi, Nike Golf Vision, Ogio bags and Sonocaddie GPS, as well as the rise in premium custom fitting which players of all standards can experience for themselves by referral. The comprehensive sessions are conducted at Golfsmith’s vast new premises in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, using the latest launch monitor technology, while the adjoining workshop is also in constant demand as a repair centre to which club pros send their clients’ damaged clubs, or those requiring a component upgrade.

“We stock 900 different models of shafts, some 400 grips – and every workshop tool for repair and fitting, if the pro wants to carry out the work himself,” explains Managing Director, Doug Poole, as we tour the warehouse storing some 1,300 pallets containing all types of golf equipment.

But it’s quality rather than quantity that pre-occupies Poole. “Whether it’s Snake Eyes pure forgings, hand-milled Bettinardi putters or the latest lightweight Ogio bags, we want to be associated with the very best branded products,” he says. “The same with our components – be it True Temper or FM Precision shafts, or Golf Pride, Lamkin and Winn grips.” As we summarise in our sidebar of selected products, Golfsmith has extended its equipment portfolio to provide more options for every standard of player while diversifying into new categories of hardware and apparel such as trolleys, distance measuring devices, training aids, clothing and even the funky Golfdotz ball-marking graphics that are currently all the rage.

Complementing the business is the custom-assembly operation that covers Golfsmith’s own Snake Eyes brand and also MacGregor Golf that has recently been licensed for distribution in the UK and European markets to Worldwide Golf Brands.

Discerning golfers familiar with Snake Eyes’ cult reputation may have noticed the smart custom fitting case (pictured right) on display at some 150 retailers who carry out fitting locally using a system of interchangeable hosels that allow for the instant demoing of the various combinations of six driver heads/nine shafts and six iron designs/12 shafts, before your perfect permutation is then made-to-order back at Golfsmith HQ.

That’s not counting the growing stream of private custom fitting referrals covering a variety of independent brands, with all clubs then assembled to the ideal specifications before being shipped back to the local retailer for the player to collect. “Playing with clubs matched to your swing typically leads to a 25% improvement in performance,” suggests Poole, who has seen custom fitting steadily increase from 8% to 14% of the premium club market in the last five years. “And given that Harvey Penick famously said ‘It takes 10,000 repetitions to change your swing’, what is the easiest thing to do? Change your swing to suit your clubs….or change your clubs to suit your swing?!”

Pressed on the source of that 25%, Poole explains that the benefits can come from various elements of the set and its specifications: everything from the correct lofts and lies to the appropriate weight distribution in the clubheads and the right gapping for the wedges. Not forgetting that crucial choice of shafts.

“There are now numerous fitting systems on the market to guide golfers into the right shaft from the literally thousands of options,” says Poole. “Almost all of these systems have their merits – whether electronic or manual. But they are only as good as the person operating them. Ultimately, it’s vital that the golfer feels they are in the hands of a custom fitter they can trust – especially as any new spec may not always work for them immediately.” Golfsmith’s credentials are illustrated by their role as an established educator within the golf industry, having for many years offered seminars in all areas of equipment fitting, component analysis and repair. These include developing a training programme for the English Golf Union’s Elite squad at Woodhall Spa and, as corporate partners of the PGAs of Europe, working closely with the Swedish and German PGAs.

Even for the most humble club pro, technical help from the Golfsmith technicians is always at hand whether over the phone or the internet (for example, Neil Cooke’s enlightening online series on wedge fitting) or even through the Golfsmith Europe catalogue – an industry ‘Bible’ covering all the features, benefits and technical specs on every component down to the last head, shaft and grip. Poole himself is currently in the second year of a two-year tenure as chairman of the British Golf Industry Association where he is ideally placed to oversee and advise on the trends and challenges facing the industry.

“Our primary role is to improve the information flow to our retail trade members to help them make the best decisions using the most reliable data,” he says, referring to the key figures for sales by product line and consumer demographic, etc., which the BGIA compiles from primary market research conducted by independent bodies such as Golf Data Tech and Sports Marketing Surveys.

The BGIA’s Quarterly Bulletins form essential reading for the trade being, for example, the first to quantify the shift towards seven-piece sets, the rise in the hybrid category and the popularity of premium branded putters – perhaps surprising trends given the economic downturn.

“The hybrid market, in particular, has been fuelled by a combination of good marketing, consistent exposure on the pro tours and the greater opportunities for demoing clubs which have allowed golfers to confirm for themselves the performance advantages over traditional long irons,” says Poole.

The BGIA now also works closely with the organising bodies giving support to The Golf Show, the annual trade event at Harrogate sponsored by Foremost and TGI Golf in association with the PGA. “The Golf Show has emerged as the leading industry event in the UK. We’re delighted to be working on measures to make it even better, starting this autumn,” says Poole, referring to October 25-27 when Harrogate will again be the scene for top manufacturers such as Callaway, TaylorMade, Ping, Titleist, Nike, Srixon and Cleveland.

But the BGIA’s remit goes well beyond immediate commercial considerations to include various initiatives to develop the game at grass roots. Most notable is the association’s Grow Golf Fund – a charitable vehicle offering financial support to The Golf Foundation’s Golf Roots programme that is responsible for introducing thousands of juniors to the game.

“There was a criticism in the past that golf suppliers weren’t doing enough to put money back into golf to grow the game. That wasn’t justified but certainly this initiative builds on this as positively as possible,” explains Poole, adding that the BGIA is also working on developing a separate Back To Golf initiative for adults – typically in the 30 to 45-year-old bracket, who took up the game as kids but have drifted away in the meantime. And, squaring the circle for the busy club pro, marketing the game of golf is arguably the most important task of all.

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Hot stock

As a major supplier to a national network of pro shops and retailers Golfsmith Europe specialises in all equipment categories from clubs to bags, clothing and gadgets. Following our recent visit to their HQ, Gi picks a selection of top products for 2011.

Snake Eyes 685T Driver

A four-piece titanium construction with a sleek bullet head shape and Dynamically Optimised clubface technology for faster ball speeds and extra distance. The graphite fibre configuration in the UST Proforce XTD shafts are claimed to improve energy transfer as well as featuring ideal tip and torsional properties for a high-launch, low-spin performance, while adjustable weighting allows for further optimisation if needed (comes standard with a 2-gramme weight installed). 9.5°, 10.5° & 11.5° lofts. Guide: £199 (matching stainless steel fairway woods at £109)

Snake Eyes 685X and 685OS irons

Styled for better players, this flagship 685X forging has precision-milled cavities that optimise the face thickness of each head and deliver great forgiveness and trajectory. Fashioned from soft-feeling 8620 carbon steel the irons are then plated with nickel and chrome, and come standard with Black Gold frequency- tuned, stepless shafts. Available 3-PW; Guide £599. Meanwhile, targeted to golfers seeking a bit more forgiveness, the 685OS model is made from the same materials but with a slightly larger face profile, a bit more offset and beefier soles to lower the CG and encourage a higher launching flight. Guide: £499.

Snake Eyes Python XLD woods & irons

With its precision ‘bead’ welding manufacturing process that saves some 8-10 grammes compared with traditional welding, the XLD woods redistribute the weight within the head for optimal launch dynamics and forgiveness. The same Dynamically Optimized CT face technology as the 685 makes for a lively hitting surface ensuring high ball speed of the tee, while the Aerotech Hoop Wind graphite shaft is designed to eliminate unwanted clubhead oscillation during the swing; Guide: £189. Meanwhile the Python XLD irons have deep cavities and extreme heeltoe perimeter weighting to help higher handicappers get the ball in the air. Guide: £399 (4-SW). Both woods and irons are hand- PUREd by Golfsmith before assembly in a special procedure claimed to improve on off-centre hits by some 44%.

Ogio golf bags

Golfsmith has diversified into various accessories and apparel in recent years and their securing of the Ogio bag distribution for the UK and some areas of Europe was a major coup. Already a cult name among discerning golfers, Ogio offers great functional and artistic design, with top-of-the-range materials and in most cases cutting-edge technical features that make the bags stand out in the market. These include the Hoodie Hood, a spring-loaded rain cover that improves cleverly on the usual zip format; special easy-access ball pockets; and even the lightweight breathable straps on the carry bags.

Bettinardi putters

Master craftsman Bob Bettinardi is the original pioneer of one-piece milling, with every putter finished to exceptional tolerances – some with the distinctive honeycomb face pattern that requires 80 separate actions. Over the years his putters have notched many tour victories in the hands of Bernhard Langer, Luke Donald and Jim Furyk (who won the 2003 US Open with a Bettinardi). “The guy has a genuine passion to make the best putters in the world,” says Doug Poole, with Golfsmith now distributing the latest models from the BB, Studio Stock and Signature series which can be special-ordered in any loft, lie and head weight.

Sonocaddie GPS

Golfsmith has been involved for the last five years in the growing market for hand-held Distance Measuring Devices.

The top-ofthe- range Sonocaddie V500 (£325) is a touch-screen model offering instant yardages for some 2,400 UK courses, along with a self-editing feature for mapping your own selected hazards and landmarks and a special flyover visual of holes that are mapped with aerial satellite imaging.

The V300+ is a more basic machine with ‘front, middle and back’ distances, though with visuals upgradeable by subscription. “There’s still a long way to go in this market as some clubs still don’t allow GPS to be used in competition,” says Poole.

“In the long term, I think many will relax this rule, just as the PGA here and in Europe already allow professionals to use them. There’s still a debate about the use of GPS in golf but I believe they help speed up the game and that is an important benefit.”

Eyeline Putting Practice aids

Among the many training products available through Golfsmith are the latest Eyeline putting practice aids as used by some 250 professional golfers on various tours worldwide. “Putting is where the average club golfer can improve quickest,” says Poole. “Most people like to practice their putting but rarely have a specific lesson. Devices like the Edge Putting Rail, the Edge Putting Mirror and the Ball Of Steel – which is hard not to double-hit unless you have a good stroke – can be particularly beneficial.”

Nike Vision Golf Eyewear

As worn by Paul Casey and many others on tour, Nike’s golf sunglasses are engineered for the unique visual challenges of the golf course, establishing them among the leaders in this growing equipment category. “It’s not only the fashion factor, they definitely help you see better on the golf course: to judge distance better and pick out everything from the flag to the contours of the green,” says Poole, referring to the latest Show, SQ and Forge Rimless models that come with interchangeable lenses (allowing you to switch between regular sun lenses and the patented ‘stay sharp’ Nike Max Optics lens designed for golfers). Prices from £76-£142.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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