As 2011 comes to an end, it’s time to look back on the year in golf equipment. But let’s do something a little different. Let’s look ahead to 2012. Here are four things that will bear watching in 2012, each of which could have a significant
impact on the equipment industry over the next 12 months.
The Belly Putter: Is it a trend or a fad? Belly putters have been around for years, but this could be the tell-tale year for the long stick in regards to greater acceptance on the PGA Tour and with the masses. Six players won with belly putters in 2011, including Keegan Bradley at the PGA Championship. It wasn’t unusual to see a dozen or more in play at any Tour event – that would include Phil Mickelson, who briefly played with an Odyssey Sabertooth Belly Putter before going back to his standard length putter. Lefty is expected to begin 2012 with a standard length putter.
Many belly putter critics complain that players who pin the handle against their chests or wrap the grip in their shirts are “building a stance,” thus violating the Rules of Golf. Too many complaints (and too much success) and the USGA might feel forced to make a rule outlawing the long putters or at least outlawing the putter touching any part of the body except the hands.
The Golf Ball: Did Ping Golf Chairman John Solheim know something when he recently proposed a “Ball Distance Rating?” Solheim is one of the industry’s best and brightest, so his proposal shouldn’t have been dismissed as cavalierly as it apparently was by USGA boss Mike Davis. Solheim’s proposal makes sense on several levels but will never be adopted by the USGA, which has been reluctant to reign in golf ball the overall distance of today’s golf balls, but at the same time complains that equipment technology is helping create more distance and obsoleting golf courses.
The USGA has for some time been quietly been testing balls that don’t fly as far as today’s balls, but has given no indication when it might seek to put in a new overall distance standard for golf balls. If the USGA was ever going to do such a thing, 2012 might be the year as the 2013 U.S. Open will be at venerable Merion Golf Club, which for years was believed to be too short to handle the length of today’s players. Okay, it was too short to handle all the corporate tents, but that’s a different issue.
Solheim’s proposal could be viewed as a pre-emptive strike – or at the very least a trial balloon – in anticipation of some kind of USGA action regarding the ball in 2012.
Callaway Golf Company: Suffering huge losses to its bottom line and a stock price that hadn’t significantly increased in a few years, the equipment company’s board of directors in June 2011 tossed out president and CEO George Fellows after six years of leadership. When it announced Fellows dismissal, the company said the board would look for a successor. It begins 2012 still looking and doesn’t appear to be any closer now than six months ago.
Nike Golf: The company that nearly everyone feared when it first entered the equipment business a decade ago still has yet to make a major dent in any product category. That’s despite having Tiger Woods as its marquee athlete. Nike Golf basically acted as if Eldrick didn’t exist the past couple of years in terms of his brand visibility (we all know why) but now that the Striped One has won again – albeit in a limited field tournament – it will be interesting to see how the company uses him in its 2012 marketing campaigns.