SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Weeks of writing about new product introductions were interrupted briefly by a few days in this golfing paradise in the Sonoran Desert, where one of the stops was Hot Stix Golf.
This location in Scottsdale is one of several across the United States from California to New York and down to Florida, where Hot Stix puts customers through thorough fitting sessions in order to put them into clubs that best suit their individual games.
A big part of Hot Stix is the independent testing it does on products from various manufacturers in order to ensure that the clubs the company is putting into customers’ hands are going to perform to expectations.
That brought up a question as I toured the Hot Stix facility with vice president of golf operations Mike Helfrich, who heard all about the press releases I had consumed in the weeks leading up to this trip. The spin that these releases dished out was more about hyperbole than the ideal shot off a new wedge.
If there’s one thing you learn after years of writing from press releases about new products is that flowery adjectives are plentiful when it comes to the benefits that golfers achieve with the latest and greatest clubs or golf balls.
For example, how many years can you hear that golfers will get maximum distance out of a golf club or golf ball? Doesn’t maximum mean the greatest possible amount? If that’s the case, how does a new driver come out the next year with the manufacturer saying that gives you the maximum distance?
“They do a great job of marketing their products and creating buzz,” admitted Helfrich. “I think that’s good and healthy for the golf industry. If they’re not creating excitement and buzz about new products, then what’s the point?”
He’s correct, of course. The best research and development team in the world isn’t going to do a manufacturer much good if the stories of the products that they produce aren’t told to consumers, but sometimes you wonder if marketing departments aren’t getting too enthusiastic when they tell those stories.
For one thing, says Helfrich, there is a reason that his company puts its customers into products from the major manufacturers. “They invest millions in R&D and it shows. They’ve pushed the cutting edge of performance,” he said.
We can therefore assume that manufacturers are being straight with us, despite all the hyperbole?
“I would say yes,” said Helfrich. “I think what we’ve found in the last couple of years in our testing is that not only is what they’re saying accurate, but they’ve gotten a lot better at it.”
Helfrich adds that sometimes there are discrepancies between what his company finds and what manufacturers are saying, but adds that the differences are minimal and usually because of different testing methods.
“There are still some discrepancies because, in certain categories, there are no benchmarks in how you test things,” he said. “While what we find may not be exactly what they’re reporting, we find that it is probably in line with everything else that we test and, therefore, it’s all relative.
“Launch, spin, ball speed, distance – things like that – are tests that they conduct under certain conditions and then, we conduct those tests with their clubs or a competitor’s under static conditions that we create, where we test them all the same.
“Our test results may not be the same as theirs, but once you reference those to all other clubs that you’ve tested, you get a very good understanding of where they rank in the market and whether or not their claim of lowest spinning drives or this or that are mostly true.”
Helfrich adds that there are several reasons that major manufacturers are called major manufacturers and it doesn’t stop with crack marketing teams.
“All the manufacturers, especially the big ones, they do a tremendous amount of testing and they are very good at what they do,” he said.
“Everything that we ever test will be tested the same way under the same conditions for every manufacturer, whereas the manufacturer may pick themselves and several competitors and test them in a certain way to test for ball speed or launch angle or forgiveness.”
So, it all boils down to various testing methods, but the stories being told are about bang on, according to an independent equipment tester. That news tends to take the edge off a cynic who has been dealing with the flowery adjectives for more years than he cares to admit.