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Opinion: Retail Therapy - Australian Golf Digest Opinion: Retail Therapy - Australian Golf Digest

There is an art to being a good golf shopper

Do trout laugh? That such an absurd question should trouble the minds of readers even for a moment requires a decent apology, but it occurred to this columnist that the question is, indirectly, related to golf.

Not long ago, one of Australia’s most incompetent though enthusiastic fly fishermen wandered into a fly-fishing shop and staggered out with, among other things, a pair of woollen socks with images of trout woven into their fabric. Somehow, in his delirium, he fancied he’d catch more trout – any trout – if his socks had small trout embroidered within them. When the trout see this man coming, surely they laugh. He’s back, they joke among themselves. This’ll be fun.

I know this story is true because it was me who bought the socks.

Some golfers wear socks with golf icons visible, usually flagsticks or tiny clubs. If I saw some socks whose imagery represented a hole-in-one (perhaps a fellow dancing around a flagstick), I’d be tempted to buy them. The tragic golf shopper – we all know a few.

Playing golf is one thing, but shopping in between rounds is another matter entirely. For the industry that lives off the sport – manufacturing, retailing, golf tours and certainly golf tuition – what golfers buy is very important. Clubs, bags, balls, clothing, shoes, hats, and the occasional training aid, are the plasma of the industry, as much as club golf is the plasma of the game.

Being a hickory golf devotee, my idea of a decent bit of golf shopping is finding a sturdy mashie or a useable brassie in a country antique bazaar. But I do occasionally lapse into buying balls or gloves or tee pegs in a pro shop. Very rarely, clothing, too. In this respect I’m no different to the average punter: basically, it’s the brand that matters. Do I search up which brands my favourite professional players wear and go straight for that shelf or rack? To be honest, no. I used to buy Dunlop as a habit until, sadly, they gave up the Maxfli brand, so I switched to Mizuno because I like their quality and, I confess, I like their chairman, one of Japan’s true gentlemen.

When Australian golfers buy a new driver or a set of irons, what enters their mind? When they buy a new golf shirt, what logo – apart from that of their golf club – catches their fancy? Do golfers buy clothing with logos that suggest they generally play good golf? After all, we play in front of others, so appearances matter.

(The fellow with the trout-embroidered socks usually fishes alone, a sort of leper of fly fishing. Nobody else is present to witness his string of failures.)

When puzzled by a question, it’s best to ask the experts. It’d be helpful if our various governments followed this rule, but the trouble is governments tend to assume an expertise they entirely lack, and democracy seems unable to provide a cure for this disease. We golfers, however, are different. We know who the experts are because they wouldn’t be in business unless they’re experts. They don’t seek election on wild, irresponsible promises. It’s the cash register that determines their fate.

But what is it within the swirling river of language in golf advertising that makes a customer reach a decision? Greater length off the tee, more accurate approach shots, more short putts holed? These are positive things, and let’s be frank: most big brands claim exactly the same magical qualities. Plainly, champion professional players are lodestars for many average golfers in choosing their equipment because we assume they know what they’re doing when choosing their own clubs. But does anyone recall what brand of clubs Seve Ballesteros used? Or Karrie Webb? Many brands come and go as the era changes.

These days golf-club manufacturing is a precision process, but this was not always the case. Go back to the 1950s and 1960s and it often depended on what was going on in the factory the day a particular club was being made. My father often remarked that half the battle in winning tournaments was finding clubs that felt good – and that was within the one brand.

Henry Cussell runs the ATT Golf shop in suburban Melbourne together with the Rembrandt of hickory clubs, Ross Baker. So piercing are his observations about all aspects of golf, Henry is essentially the Socrates of the Sandbelt. Asked about how golfers decide what to buy, he says simply, “Golf evokes dreams.” He points to a range of factors in attracting the golfer’s attention, such as colour schemes, the sound of a ball being struck, historic reputations for quality and names of clubs (Rogue, Big Bertha, etc.).

Names must be important. In an edition of the Rules of Golf published in Sydney in 1950, you can find an ad for ‘Stamina Trousers’. Now there’s a catchy name. Feeling weary after only 12 holes? Get yourself some Stamina Trousers!

Another noteworthy remark was heard in the pro shop at Box Hill Golf Club. Young Tom Audley, the assistant pro, was firm in his opinion: “If something works out on the course, the golfer will stick to that brand. It’s all about performance. They buy what works for them.”

Golf shoppers are as practical as they are given to seeing themselves as the next Cam Smith or Minjee Lee.

I think Henry hit the nail on the head – we golfers are addicted to dreaming, and that’s a fine thing. If anyone spots a pair of socks evoking a hole-in-one, please contact this column at your earliest convenience. 

Getty images: Kevin C. Cox