There are more than 10,000 members of the Columbus District Golf Association, and that just accounts for people who belong to private clubs in Franklin and contiguous counties. Many thousands more saunter the fairways and rough of the area’s public and semi-private courses.
No wonder, then, that local merchants and entrepreneurs are in the groove with products catering to the game’s fanatics.
Consider a newly introduced invention, “The Cap,” that is designed to reduce head and another movement detrimental to a good golf swing.
The concept for the device began in 1988 when Patrick Phillips, a local real estate agent with 35 years of golfing experience, noticed that older golfers’ game suffered because they couldn’t keep steady.
“In a good golf swing, there is not a whole lot of movement,” he said.
The Cap, Phillips says, reduces this movement by employing a motion sensor that sounds an alarm when the golfer’s swing goes awry.
“A lot of movement can cause a junkiness, a non-flow movement that will sound an alarm when the Cap is properly adjusted,” Phillips says.
“A lot of golfers, if they don’t constantly practice or see a professional, they develop bad habits,” he says. “This is an instrument to keep those habits in check.”
Phillips’s concept didn’t get off the ground until friend Dick Holstein suggested that electronics be used. Fred Hoyle invented the electronic device, which operates off mercury switches.
After the Cap was invented, golf professional Gary Taylor became “enthusiastic” about it. “He has total confidence in it,” Phillips says.
“At that point, we decided to advertise on television,” Phillips says. The advertisement for the Cap, with a pitch from Taylor. 12 during the Bob Hope Desert Classic.
Phillips says he has received hundreds of orders but isn’t getting rich off the invention.
“We all thought we’d be lying on the beach by now, but our confidence is still high,” Phillips says.
Improving the Game
Taking golfing lessons is another way to improve the game.
Great Golf Learning Centers teaches people how to improve their game using the laws of physics, explains Jeff Pombert, the store’s manager and head professional.
Great Golf as a franchisee of a New Jersey-based company with 14 other stores across the country.
Students at Great Golf receive a one-hour introductory analysis in which they are videotaped to see what needs improvement.
Great Golf also uses the “Pathfinder,” a unique laser-equipped golf club invented and patented by PGA professional Robert N. Freer, co-founder of Great Golf Learning Centers. The laser projects from the club handle, helping golfers to identify and correct the path of their swing.
After being videotaped to capture their swing with regular golf clubs and with the Pathfinder club, students are given personalized instruction and are offered various training packages.
“We explain to them, based on the laws of physics, what they need to work on,” Pombert says.
Customized golf clubs are another way golfers can improve their game, says Don Fate, owner, and manager of National Trail House of Golf Inc.
In January 1992, Fate brought into a shop owned by the late Roger Jividen, a local golf pro and customized club maker who started the company in 1969.
“We’ve done quite well,” he says. Fate emphasizes that he learned how to make, repair and refinish golf clubs from Jividen. “I’ve got a pretty good reputation, but Roger taught me a lot,” he says.
Why customized clubs? Fate says customized clubs can significantly improve a golfer’s game.
“The average golfer will walk out of a store with golf clubs that look nice and have a nice name, but they aren’t right for them,” he explains. “Most people walk out with the wrong set of clubs.
“We try to match up a set of clubs to the golfer’s game,” he explains. “Some want to be a pro, some want to have a good time.”
“I can build a club for a 75-year-old woman or a John Daly,” he says, explaining that someone like the long-hitting touring pro would have stiffer shafts and lower-lofted clubs. The 75-year-old woman would have lighter shafts, which make for a more flexible club.
Fate says more than 1,000 types of shafts and clubs are available. Graphite, steel, and titanium shafts are the most common.
“I try to match them with a set that they’ll enjoy and play a good game with,” Fate says.
Customers at National Trail are analyzed to see which kind of shaft is right for them. Part of this entails using a unit to determine the speed of their swing.
They are also asked what kind of game they are shooting, their age and their body size. For a taller person, Fate will change the “lie” of the club, which determines how the club head sits on the ground. Arm length is also an important factor.
Customized clubs are actually less expensive than a general set of clubs, Fate says. “Most people think customized clubs are out of their price range,” he says.
A general set of customized clubs, with eight irons and three kinds of wood, costs about $375. A similar pre-made set costs about $670, Fate says.
Unique Golf Memorabilia and Equipment
Greater Columbus’s golfing obsession has also fueled the need for unique golf memorabilia and equipment.
Joanie Johnson, owner, and manager of the Wooden Putter, says she and her husband came up with the idea for the company when they had a difficult time finding unique gifts for their golfing friends.
“We realized there wasn’t a shop where you could find a unique gift for golfers unless you belong to a country club,” she explains.
The Wooden Putter has been open almost three years. It offers distinctive lines of golf apparel, golf-related items, and golf art and photos — framed and unframed.
“People are doing their entire room with a golf theme,” she says. “People who are decorating their offices or home and want golf prints or accessories like lamps and chairs. A lot of manufacturers are realizing that golf is a hot seller now.”
Johnson’s shop, for example, had a set of director-style chairs made from golf clubs. The frame was made of clubs, with the arms made from the grips of golf clubs. The chairs sold for $600 each.
The store currently has a chess set with pewter pieces in the shape of knicker-clad golfers and a marble board for $495.
The Wooden Putter also offers antique clubs and golf memorabilia from the late 1800s to 1920. “People are interested in collecting antique golf clubs,” she says.
But her best-selling items are not big-ticket. Golf gifts from $5 to $200 make up her “number one category for sales.”
Marble and brass coasters with a golfer doing different poses on each coaster are popular, as are golf ball display racks for people who collect golf balls from places they have played. Also hot are how-to books and videos.
Johnson’s shop sells Pringle of Scotland apparel, and golf-themed clothing, including knickers — “plus fours.”
She estimates that there are about 10 to 20 shops like hers in the nation.
While the Cap, Great Golf Learning Center, National Trail House of Golf Inc. and the Wooden Putter are newer additions to local golf merchandising, Thorn Apple Country Club has been selling golf merchandise for 26 years.
Thorn Apple, is owned and managed by golf professional John Whittle. He isn’t surprised by the increased demand for golf-related items.
“I think the interest has been on the upswing for a number of years,” Whittle says. “We’ve been fortunate with the type of economy we’ve had in central Ohio, and it’s helped support golf.”
Whittle’s store, which was expanded a year ago to be three times the size of his previous shop, offers “anything to do with golf equipment.”
The store was expanded because of the increased demand, Whittle says, and because of “our wanting to display the merchandise we carry in a more attractive way.”
Golf merchandising veteran Whittle concedes that while the demand has increased, client needs have changed.
“We used to sell a lot of complete sets of woods and irons,” he says. Now people are “more apt to buy an individual driver.”
Golf technology has also improved, he says, with the most improvement coming from oversized golf clubs with graphite shafts.
“A lot of people have tried those out in the last couple years,” he says. “Most people find that they are hitting the balls longer.
“The oversized golf club expands the sweet spot, it makes the club a little larger,” he further explains. “Graphite shaft technology is tremendous with what they can do with it. It’s an excellent shaft.”
Whittle also notices that like a retailing business in general, his business is affected by the economic climate.
“I think people, on the larger-ticket items, have been a little more cautious, not knowing what the economy will do,” he says. “They are reluctant, and made do and put off those purchases.
“They are treating themselves with the small items and holding off on the bigger, more expensive items,” he says. “We’ve continued to sell a lot of golf shirts.”
Whittle says that improved technology will help golfers, but nothing helps like plenty of practice.
“The real answer to becoming a better golfer doesn’t rely on how much money you spend on golf equipment,” he says.