Company launching new educational initiative at Pinehurst headquarters to better understand the impact of grips on a player's game
PINEHURST, North Carolina — A lot of guys and gals buy new shoes for the golf season or stock up on balls, but grips … not so much.
Most golfers quite honestly treat golf grips like auto parts, stretching the wear and life expectancy of the product to the bitter end before replacing it. And when a grip or two wear thin, those are the clubs getting new threads, not the necessarily the entire set.
But is that smart? According to the longtime industry leader in grips — Golf Pride — no it’s not the prudent behavior, but frankly is what the attitude of the majority of the golfing public has carried out for decades.
"People will drive tires until they are bald and safety metrics be damned," says Eric Gibson, global head of marketing for Golf Pride. "Getting new grips on a regular basis doesn’t resonate with them because people are used to having products until they fail, not replacing them with a percentage of life left."
A recent tour of Golf Pride’s world headquarters at the gates of Pinehurst Resort's No. 8 Course revealed a new initiative by the company that has been around since 1949, to tie new grips — with real data — to improved performance on the golf course.
"We believe that grips are the most under-studied, under-developed, under-appreciated equipment category in golf, so we have a positive chip on our shoulder. We want golfers to understand that grips aren’t just handles for their clubs, they are equipment to help them play better," says Golf Pride president Jamie Ledford. "We have a responsibility to show that, prove it."
To that end, Golf Pride’s new Retail Lab is having soft opening in the 36,000-square-foot headquarters during this week's U.S. Women’s Open down the road at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club. A ribbon cutting is planned for late June, but development engineer Sara Bryant is currently hard at work crunching numbers in the firm’s Test Lab.
"As a market leader we probably haven’t done as good a job in the past as we could of helping people understand how to help them (with grips) so it’s not surprising in some ways that golfers don’t see right away the performance gains that come from new grips," Ledford says. "Golfers know they need grips for their clubs but maybe they always saw them being too integrated into the club. We even have changed our mentality a little bit because we have often focused on market share. We asked ourselves: ‘What if we focus on all the people who aren’t in that category of getting new grips every year and try to find easier ways to talk to them about how grips matter?’ It’s not like these golfers reject the notion, they don’t even think about it."
Ledford said the Test Lab will conduct rigorous testing akin to what golf club or ball companies might do.
"We want to let golfers know what exactly the performance gains for certain grips are," he says. "Things like fresh grips vs. worn grips, or if you should be in mid-size grips or what happens if you play jumbo grips. We want golfers to really understand the performance differences."
So, over the next year Bryant will be building the largest ever database of grip performance metrics at Golf Pride, which itself produces more than 200 different shapes, sizes and colors of grips and is the preferred grip by a majority of PGA Tour players.
"We already have a few nuggets that have come out of our studies but we’re not ready to release them yet," Ledford says. "There will be performance claims coming out of Golf Pride that we believe are real. They are not going to be Big Bertha-style changes where all of the sudden you’re in a completely different part of the fairway, but there are real gains to get from your grips being on point."
"What numbers am I going to be looking at?" Bryant says. "I’m not sure yet, that’s what we’re trying to look at. There is a wide variety of questions to be answered, and that’s also the challenge we see because there are so many questions that are meaningful and so many different types of customers and so many layers."
Ledford says one main focus will be on a golfer’s hand size in relationship to which grip he or she should be fitted in.
"We had seen ourselves more in the past as a grip company and now we see ourselves equally as a hands and grip company," he says. "It’s interesting to see when you start looking really closely there are a lot of parallels between grips and footwear. Everybody’s feet are different and everybody’s hands are different. There is a performance element to footwear and there is a performance element to grips. You want them to give you the traction that you want, but how you want your shoes to feel may be different than how I want my shoes to feel. I might want a tight fit and you may want a loose fit. And at the end of the day style does play into it.”
The number crunching may produce a "dose of reality" for Ledford’s company and the grip industry in general.
"Nobody has studied grips this hard, so, in some ways, parts of the golf industry like clubs and balls are ahead of us and we’re playing catch up," Ledford says. "There are things people say about grips all the time but where is the data to back it up? We expect to have that data. And we may even find that we debunk some common thoughts about grips as we do the testing."