What Is Value In a Golf Club?

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.

The following two tabs change content below.

Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

Latest posts by Matt Saternus (see all)

10 Comments

  1. Really interesting post, Matt. I spent years going the value route and trying to “buy and try” on ebay and other used-club sources, reasoning that I would rather spend $75 or $100 on a used Driver from 5 years ago than pony up for a new one that costs 5x more or more. Same thing with golf balls – I played Kirklands for years because they were/are the cheapest urethane cover you can buy. In general, I found this approach was just fine. As I got better, though, my “wants” from my equipment became more clear – I want to know that my equipment is not holding back my improvement. Fitting and custom built clubs soon followed and, despite the significantly higher costs (My last driver cost $950 yeesh) I have no regrets. I know it’s a lot of $$ but until I stop trying to improve, it’s worth it.

    • Matt Saternus

      Jim,

      Thanks for sharing. As you well know, we’re huge advocates of custom fitting. In my opinion, most players in your shoes (trying their best to improve) will find the most value there.

      Best,

      Matt

  2. Eddie Pabon

    Fascinating look at this subject. I think the direct to consumer brands are tackling this very question. A company like Sub70 for example in my backyard has quality equipment and under testing conditions has demonstrated strong performance against the usual suspects. In most cases at around 50% of the cost. The more these brands become a part of the conversation, they can play a larger role in helping to grow the game for the New or Budget minded golfer. I play PXG irons. The 0311 P Gen 3 set. I would never have considered them until I learned as a veteran they would give me a discount that ultimately led to paying less than I would have for every other major brand. And by the way, after reading your review of this set. Thanks for all you do.

  3. Great article on this subject. We all want to get better and most of us try through equipment changes. The best line in the article is “it will put a smile on his face every time he pulls it out of the bag” and that says it all. Just enjoying hitting certain clubs is a great stride in improvement.
    Thanks for the article.

  4. I built two bags, finally bought new after 27 years and age, shoulder and knee surgeries, kinda changed my swing so the first bag was the full price one, the second was bargain hunting but good quality for guests who didn’t have to get stuck with the total crap when we’d play. Bargain bag turned into primary bag, not by design, and I spent much less money. I learned about fitting much more after both bags bought so I tested out my clubs, reshafted my F9 driver and 3 wood, got fitted for some 0211 dc2s, PXG wedges also, good to go plus the price was right. Now I have to get rid of a set of G400s.

  5. great article – be interesting to see how much more people enjoyed golf if they invested in lessons rather than new kit. Totally agree though that value is in the eye of the beholder.

  6. frank cichon

    76 years old and my best is behind me but have shot my age several times in the last 7 years. Just bought a set of irons last week at Value Village for $3.99 each re gripped (Golfsmith Matrix} and am hitting the ball as solidly as I have since 1992. DISTANCE! DISTANCE! DISTANCE! is ALL you hear from the golf industry…NEVER about lessons.MOST golfers are FOOLS……I am not a Golf Pro…just a guy that loves the game and has some common sense…….check the lofts on irons today and what they were back in the late 70’s most wedges were 50 degrees not 42 or 44.

  7. Pablo Miller

    Value is what you believe it is worth.
    I play with several sets throughout the year. Clubs from the 1950’s to 2020 SGI. I like to rescue clubs from thrift stores and give them a new life. I’m about 10/12 Hcp regardless of what I use. One course I play was built in 1968 and still has the original Bermuda greens and fairways. Snead and Hogan would be at home there. Sharp edged blades actually work better during a drought there than hi bounce SGIs do. Play with what works best for you.

  8. Matt, as usual, a well written and interesting topic. In my personal experience spending time with lessons, before a custom fitting, is the way to go. Believing new clubs would have me breaking 90 more often, I succumbed to the marketing hype and went for a fitting. Had the fitter been frank he would have strongly supported my learning how to swing a club before returning. As it was, I spent $2,000+ on new metal woods plus 5i-pw yet continued to get the same results as with my stock off-the-shelf (Calloway X2 Hot) sticks.
    I understand my swing now but will not pony up more dollars for another fitting. Can break 90 now with either old or new clubs but figure I’m too old to chase lower scores.
    Thanks for the continued interesting topics!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*