Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

HOT ON THE MARKET -- What's hot and selling in the shop
by Terry Jacoby

The old line says, "If you don't like Michigan weather, wait a day."

But this past winter redefined mild, and the high temperatures in March got people thinking golf a month earlier than usual. For sure, David Duvall and Tiger Woods, an exciting final round Masters, new Michigan courses, winter golf shows, and innovative equipment didn't hurt the enthusiasm level either.

It's all added up to big sales at cash registers all over Michigan. New drivers, irons, shoes and other golf merchandise have sales clerks scrambling, trying to fill orders and service customers.

"Let's put it this way, I don't think anyone is hurting. Everything is selling," said Tim Mathews at Indian Run Golf Club in Kalamazoo. "It's been such a good spring that everything is moving. I don't think it's been slow for anyone."

It certainly hasn't been slow at King Par in Flint. Rated as one of the top 50 pro shops in the country, King Par has had a royal start to the 1998 golf season. And there is no let up in sight. "The combination of a mild winter and great spring put everyone in a golfing mood," said Cliff Hobson, manager of King Par. "I can't pinpoint one thing that's been selling great because everything is selling well."

One item that is setting course records all over the state is the Adams Tight Lies fairway wood. The club, designed with a lower center of gravity, enables the player to get the ball airborne from lies that would ordinarily require an iron.

"Normally, a player would have to use a 3-iron or a 4-iron on such a shot, but this club is easier to use and the results are much better," said Rick Quellman, head pro at Bay Valley Golf Club. "They are selling very fast." And the reasonable price (suggested retail is $239 with a filament-wound graphite shaft or $175 with a steel shaft), doesn't hurt either.

Another club similar to the Adams Tight Lies is the Orlimar Tri-Metal. And that's also being commandeered around the state. "It has a thinner face design (than Adams) and it just came out at the golf show in Florida," said Mike Fogarty, manager at Carl's Golfland in Bloomfield Hills. "We are selling the Adams for $199 and the Orlimar for $269. Both are selling well." Fogarty also said drivers like the Callaway Big Bertha Titanium, the new Titleist Titanium and Top-Flite are popular. The new Ti Bubble 2 driver by Taylor-Made also is a hit. With Taylor-Made's largest club head ever, the driver's shaft is 45.5-inches long and is wider and more stable from bubble to hosel. And even though it's 20-percent larger, it's as much as 15 grams lighter. With the added competition, some shops have seen the Big Bertha's popularity level off. Even the Biggest Big Bertha Driver, which is lighter but 15 percent bigger than its predecessor the Great Big Bertha, isn't flying off the shelves anymore. Why? Believe it or not, some golfers are getting cost conscious. The stereotypical golfer has deep pockets, but the price tag is starting to become a factor for some. "We are selling a lot of the new Titleist Titanium Drivers and one reason is cost," Mathews said. "The Titleist is around $385 while the Callaways go from $600 to $900. And there isn't much difference on the course."

On the other hand, in Grand Rapids, at the Golf USA store, Rich Williams reports that Callaway is still the leader in his clubhouse. "The Biggest Big Bertha Titanium driver and the new Callaway X-12 irons are still the big favorites with our customers," said Williams whose price spread between the Biggest Big Bertha driver and Titleist is only $60 ($459 for Big Bertha and $399 for Titleist.)

In drivers, the Titleist is running second with Taylor-Made a close third. On the ladies side, Williams says Square Two's Light and Easy line of clubs are very popular. "We're receiving some good feedback from our female customers on Square Two," said Williams. As far as putters, Odyssey and PING's Isopur are doing well as is STX, Inc., the soft-face line of putters out of Maryland. "I love the STX line," said Williams. "In fact, I'm carrying in my bag the new STX 641 putter that offers optional inserts for different greens."

And what ball are most people teeing up these days? That's an easy one. "I don't think any ball will ever replace Titleist as the most popular," Quellman said. "It's the top ball without a doubt. It's what Titleist does best. The golf ball is what made them what they are and they won't ever forget that." The same can be said at Indian Run. "Titleist is No. 1 right across the board," Mathews said. "It easily outsells the second best by a 3-1 margin. It might even be 4-1." Other popular golf balls include the Precepts-EV Spin, Wilson Titanium and the Top-Flite Strata. And what are people wearing? "The nice weather got people in the mood and people got prepared early with golf clothing," Fogarty said. Carl's Golfland is selling a lot of Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Ashworth. At Bay Valley, golfers are dressing in Cutter & Buck shirts, sweaters and shorts. Popular shoes include Foot Joy, the new Florsheim Frogs and Dexter Liberty. Also, the Lady Fairway line of shoes are selling well at Carl's, Garland, and Ladies Day Golf.

The economy is booming. Golf courses are being built at an incredible pace. Tee times are heavy. And golfers are spending money on everything from drivers to irons to shirts and shoes.

Sounds like it's going to be a great summer for sellers and buyers alike.

Terry Moore contributed some additional reporting for this article.

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