Controlling the Message of Golf Equipment Reviews

January 15, 2018

Blogs have long been used as an outlet for golf equipment manufacturers to get the word out on new products through the eyes of amateur testers. While websites like Golf.com and Golf Digest continue to be the mainstream sources for equipment reviews, others like The Hackers Paradise, Plugged In Golf and My Golf Spy have established themselves as trusted alternatives.

However, as with any industry, times are changing in the golf equipment space.

Availability of new product to review is becoming scarce for many websites, GU notwithstanding. This is not a criticism as much as an observation in today’s industry as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are choosing to be more strategic to whom they send new product. Reactions to this shift have been mixed, to say the least, but looking at things from the viewpoint of an OEM, anything that can be done to control a message is probably a good thing for their brand.

Of course, there are always two sides to any story.

When popular golf YouTuber Mark Crossfield recently published a vlog entitled “TAYLORMADE HATE ME” in response to that company’s decision to no longer send him equipment, Crossfield caused ripples across the independent media landscape. In his vlog, Crossfield references an email from TaylorMade which provides more than adequate reasoning for their decision. Of course, Crossfield disagreed and proceeded to record himself coming to terms with this gross injustice for nearly 20 minutes.

This isn’t rocket science: when you sign a sponsorship contract with an equipment brand (Titleist), don’t be surprised when competing brands choose to no longer send you free stuff.

Regardless, this is yet another example of a freelance journalist showcasing a false sense of entitlement to an audience who is only hearing one side of the story.

Golf equipment reviews are the most popular articles on our website. For whatever reason, followers of GU and our podcast like to read our thoughts on new golf equipment. This is true for everything from golf instruction books to accessories for your golf cart. As a result, I’ve had the privilege of trying out some really cool stuff over the years and have connected with a number of awesome marketing and PR contacts.

At no point does any of that guarantee me anything in terms of new products to review. Ever.

During a recent text exchange with a marketing director from a well known brand, the topic of new product reviews came up. My contact explained that his company recently decided that the practice of sending products out for review was becoming stale. There was nothing more frustrating to him than to see their brand featured on a blog’s front page today, only to be replaced by an entirely different brand tomorrow.

The return on investment for an OEM has dwindled, especially if no correlation between a product review and sales of that product are seen.

As was discussed in a recent GU podcast episode, there is nothing “free” about receiving golf equipment to review. Shipping costs alone can cost larger companies tens of thousands of dollars a year on top of the cost to actually make the equipment. While a drop in a bucket for some, this can become a significant budget line item for others.

In addition, golf is one of the very few industries that does not require media to sign a contract or lending agreement to review a new product. Ninety percent of the items I’ve reviewed, for example, I’ve been able to keep or give away in a contest. The rest I have to ship back to the manufacturer on my own dime.

Is that inconvenient? At times. Am I entitled to being able to keep anything? Absolutely not.

Everything is strategic in business. Golf OEMs have to make hundreds of important decisions a week in order to stay ahead of competition in a space that still falls under a luxury category. While independent media can be vitally important contributors to spreading the word on new products, companies have every right to have input on how that message is conveyed. Some choose to be more involved than others.

Out of the sake of transparency, many of you know that I’ve partnered with Cleveland/Srixon Golf. While the details of this partnership will remain private, theirs was always a brand I preferred compared to others. Their products help my game throughout the bag more so than any other brand, period. Our mutual respect and trust in one another made this an easy decision for everyone involved.

Does that mean that my opinions on other brands will become biased overnight? Of course not. But I also know that perception is reality, and this decision will likely cause other brands to look the other way.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and frankly, shame on me if I thought anything different.

Golf is a game first and a business second. Playing this game requires certain resources, equipment included. But when a media outlet or personality takes the stance to discount the credibility of a brand simply because they chose to not participate in a review, that accomplishes nothing.

Instead, you come across looking childish and ignorant to how business works.