Getting the Most for Your Money
Golf clubs are getting more expensive. Wedges used to be $100; now $150 is expected and $200 is not unheard of. An iron set over $1,000 used to raise eyebrows, now it’s commonplace.
With the ceiling on club prices going up, we’re also seeing more room for manufacturers to focus on lower-priced options. Whether it’s through a direct to consumer model, a “value” sub-brand, or an entire OEM devoted to budget-minded golfers, price is a major part of the pitch for some companies.
In this lesson, I’m going to discuss what value in golf clubs is objectively, and also how subjective elements work their way into the equation. I hope it will help you think more clearly about your club buying.
If you want to get deeper into the weeds, there’s a podcast version of this lesson HERE.
This Lesson Is For You If:
You want to get the best clubs for your money
You have a limited budget for golf
An Objective Definition of Value
In its simplest form, a golf club is a tool. It’s the thing we swing to make the golf ball go a particular distance, fly at a certain height, roll a specific way, etc. With this in mind, we can create a very straightforward definition of value: how well does a club do it’s job relative to how much it costs.
Let’s consider a selection of drivers. We’ll assume that all drivers in this conversation are equally accurate. Driver A costs $500 and sends the ball 250 yards. Driver B costs $400 and send the ball 260 yards. Driver C costs $550 and sends the ball 265 yards. We can discard Driver A – it’s more expensive and shorter than Driver B. Driver B costs about $1.54/yard. Driver C costs over $2.05/yard. Driver B is delivering the most value.
We could repeat this example with other types of clubs, but you probably get the idea. In every category, there are a lot of clubs that are really good. Going from very good to extraordinary often costs a lot of money and may not change your game significantly.
It’s Never That Simple…
Of course, if things were that simple, this website (and half the golf OEMs) wouldn’t exist. In addition to the objective performance of a club, there are subjective elements. How does a club look? How does it feel?
These subjective elements are, by definition, less quantifiable. If one club feels fine at impact but another is so good that it makes me want to hit balls until my hands bleed, what’s that worth? In addition to being unquantifiable, there’s no right or wrong in this space.
A Final Wrinkle
The last complication is the perception of brands and the value they provide. Humans have limited brain power and attention, so we come up with heuristics to help us make complex choices easier. One example is the assumption that things that cost more are better. If I don’t know much about purses, I will trust that a Coach purse is good because it costs a lot. Even in an arena where one has good knowledge, it’s hard to break with the idea that a more expensive option is better and a less expensive option is worse.
Leaving aside the issue of better or worse – which we should have overcome by evaluating performance – there’s the issue of how a particular club or brand makes us feel. As much as some people swear up and down that performance is all that matters, millions of dollars is spent on marketing because it works. We want to play the same clubs as our favorite golfer or avoid those played by golfers we dislike. Just as with looks and feel, there’s no right or wrong here, just personal preference. Whether we give brand names much weight in our final decision is up to us, but we should acknowledge that they have some importance.
Part 1: What Do You Need?
This whole lesson was spurred by a reader asking if they needed to “upgrade” from one club to a more expensive one. My response was to ask if the current club was somehow inadequate.
An analogy came to mind. A massive pickup truck costs more than a small sedan. However, if all you need is a daily commuter to get to work, the pickup truck is not an upgrade over the sedan, it’s just more expensive. The task is already being accomplished by the sedan.
When you’re buying a club or considering an upgrade, the first question to ask is, “What do I need?” Are you looking for more distance off the tee? More consistency in your irons? More spin in your wedges? Start the process with the objective performance upgrade that you’re looking for.
Part 2: What Do You Want?
After you’ve figured out what you need, ask yourself what you want. As a quick aside, it’s ok to skip the first part. You may recognize that your bag is perfectly functional and simply want new toys.
When you ask yourself what you want, consider all those subjective elements that I mentioned. How do you want the club to look? Is there a feel or sound you’re seeking? Do you want to have a particular brand or model in your bag?
There is nothing wrong with preferring one brand to another. If you don’t want to have Brand X in your bag anymore because you perceive that to be a “beginner” brand or a “value” brand, that’s ok. I would only advise that you be honest with yourself so you can go through the buying process with clear eyes rather than trying to convince yourself that you’re buying a higher priced club for objective reasons.
Part 3: Where is the Value?
Finally, we return to that original question of what is value in a golf club. Leaving aside the purely objective definition, my answer is that finding good value is about spending money in a way that will help you enjoy the game more. The more enjoyment you can get out of each dollar, the better the value.
To return to the commenter’s example, I got the sense that he really wanted a “better” FW in his bag. Assuming he has the money to buy that club that he wants and that it will put a smile on his face every time that he pulls it out of the bag, I’d say that’s money well spent, even if it’s not objectively better than his current option.
Thinking about the driver example, would it bother you more to “waste” $150 or to leave 5 yards on the table? The answer will be different for everyone. I would suggest that the better value is in the decision you won’t regret a month down the road.
Though there is no single, simple definition of value, if you take an honest accounting of your needs and wants, you’ll be on the path to a solid decision.