The Strangest Bubble
The world of golf is a fairly small bubble, but inside of it are dozens of smaller bubbles. One of my favorites – largely for the way it makes outsiders scratch their heads – is the world of putter cover collectors. What compels people to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars, not to mention hours of time, on a putter cover? I talked to over a dozen collectors to find out.
Listen to some of the collectors in their own words HERE
“What Got You Started?”
The collectors I talked to varied widely in nearly every way, but their origin stories were almost identical. They saw one cover that piqued their interest, and the snowball has been rolling downhill ever since.
What was fun about listening to these stories was the wide range of covers that triggered the obsession. Kyle started collecting Nike stuff when they exited the hard goods world. Jeff started with a driver cover of a dog smoking a cigar. Most of the Swag collectors I spoke with can point to a specific Swag cover: the original Chicago Deep Dish, the Defaced Franklin, or Swagnum PI.
Another thing that was consistent among the Swag collectors I spoke with is the uninterrupted excitement for collecting. Many are several years into collecting, but none of them talked about any breaks in the past or on the horizon.
“What Brands Do You Collect?”
Some collectors I spoke with are ride-or-die for one brand alone – Swag Golf. Others take a more universal approach. Other brands I heard discussed were Hatch, Sugar Skull, Chicago Golf, Sugarloaf Social Club, and Epitome.
When asked why they collect certain brands, it was primarily about the designs. Collectors felt the pop culture references of Swag resonated with them. The quality of the product was also cited as a major factor.
I found it equally interesting to learn what keeps collectors away from other brands. Most of the people I spoke with had at least one brand that they collected in the past and have turned away from. One collector mentioned a brand “misleading [their] customer base” as the reason for dumping them. Velcro closures were another source of ire. The most common reason was that the designs just got boring.
Collection Sizes, Themes, Limits, and Grails
One of the things that really gets outsiders’ eyes to pop is the size of some of these collections. Admittedly, I was talking to people who are deep in the game, but collections well over 100 covers are still staggering.
When it came to limits, most of the collectors I spoke with shook their heads. Some spoke of practical limits – how many covers they could fit into their golf room – but most weren’t thinking of capping their collections.
The discussion of themes shows the range of interest among collectors – and Swag’s brilliance in making something for everyone. A number of collectors love Swag’s money covers. The “Royals” (playing cards) are also big favorites. The collector’s demographics matter too, as 80’s and 90’s kid gravitate toward the 8-bit, Game Over, and Street Fighter covers. There are also collectors who hew to no theme at all, simply collecting the covers that they enjoy looking at.
When I asked about a “Grail” item, most collectors tied back to the theme of their collection. A player who collects royals mentioned one of the rarest royals – the Suicide King blade cover. Kyle, whose collection is above, is still looking for the OG Jefferson and even has the space left open on his shelf. Completing “sets” was a major theme among these collectors.
The Collecting Community
You might think that collecting is a solitary pursuit, but no one that I spoke with attributed less than 40% of their interest in this hobby to the community that goes along with collecting. Facebook groups are a major driver of that community, though brands like Swag and Bettinardi have also created Discord groups where collectors can chat. According to Jeff, “Without a community…there is no success.”
In talking with these collectors, I found that most have used the large Facebook groups to forge a small handful of close friendships. The groups definitely have their warts, and most collectors lurk in the groups but converse with a smaller cohort.
The collecting community meets the real world in collectors outings – both official and unofficial. Official outings tend to draw the “whales” – the collectors who spend the most money – and, as such, they are held at high end courses and include amazing gear. While these get the headlines, it was cool to learn that many more meet ups are happening unofficially. Sometimes this is simply a foursome of people who have met through a Facebook group, but it can grow to a city-wide event taking over an entire course.
In all the many words that were spoken about this crazy hobby, none rung quite as true as this, from Jeff Cox:
“At its core I think collecting headcovers is a way for us in an individualistic sport to connect with others in a way that may have not been possible. We all suck anyway, might as well look good doing it.”