We spoke to a number of industry leaders to find out just why golf clubs are taking so long to arrive in the hands of golfers.
Why Are My New Clubs Taking So Long To Arrive?
The onset of the global pandemic has brought with it an unprecedented upturn in golf participation.
The visible increase in participation since the outbreak of the pandemic has seen new and returning golfers seek the relative safety and sanctuary of the golf course, with the healthy, outdoor and social aspects of the game helping its popularity soar across the world.
With this spike in new and returning golfers has come an increased demand for golf equipment, and manufacturers are desperately trying to keep up with what has been a sudden increase across the industry.
Lead times for custom golf clubs have reached 12 weeks in places, after previously being as quick as 10 days at some retailers.
Some key components are now unavailable until late January 2022 at the earliest and consumers who have already placed an order are becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation.
“It’s an incredible level of unprecedented demand,” says Nigel Freemantle, Managing Director of Brand Fusion – Europe’s leading distributor and wholesaler of golf equipment, including Sun Mountain bags and Volvik golf balls.
July 2020 set a new record for equipment sales in the UK – £41.2 million – and the US market saw sales increase by 42% year on year.
Participation numbers in the UK are at levels not seen this century with 5.7 million people playing at least one round of golf in the last year.
Driving ranges saw 2 million new people come through their doors and 25% of all female players in 2020 were new to golf.
Most importantly, research from the R&A has shown that 95% of new golfers see themselves playing golf for years to come.
That demand has poured into 2021 and manufacturers who released new equipment to much fanfare are struggling to supply it before the year is done.
“Most of the delays are down to the unimaginable consumer demand worldwide,” Freemantle explained.
“It’s not that any company doesn’t want to supply product or hasn’t done its proper forecasting. And while you can say, yes there have been boats stuck in the North Sea, yes there have been boats stuck in the Suez Canal and yes there are a lack of shipping containers around the world, it’s all ultimately been fuelled by an unbelievable demand worldwide for golf products.”
“It’s an enormous frustration for everybody. The supply chain is simply not capable of producing what it needs, certainly in the short term.”
Shipping Issues And Factory Closures
Leslie Hepsworth, Managing Director for UK & Ireland at Duca del Cosma, agrees incredible demand started the delays, but he was keen to emphasise that issues with shipping and factory closures during the pandemic have compounded the problems in the industry.
“I think initially it was demand and it’s safe to say this unprecedented demand we’re seeing now would’ve caused real problems to the supply chain even without Covid.”
“When we consider the pandemic, the secondary issue was shipping and an issue that has got worse is the factory’s ability to make the products because many of the ones used in the Far East have had countless Covid problems.”
“While companies have wanted more and more product, factories have had skeleton staff or have been locked down altogether. I think there’s been a whole host of knock on events.”
Duca del Cosma, an Italian shoe brand based out of the Netherlands, make all their components and source materials themselves.
With its materials being sourced in Italy and most of its manufacturing taking place in Portugal, Duca del Cosma has been able to avoid the main strains of the delays, but it has not been invincible.
“The only thing that caught us out this year was the Suez Canal problem where our boxes and rice paper, which we source from China, got stuck,” Hepsworth explained. “We’ve since started sourcing them from the UK which is a little more expensive but keeps our supply chain in the same continent.”
When we consider other brands – club manufacturers in particular – who have multiple different components being made in multiple locations across the world, it’s easy to see how the delays have mounted up to unprecedented levels.
While the incredible demand was the first link in this chain of unfortunate events, factory closures and global shipping problems have contributed to the “perfect storm” of long delays.
The Global Supply Issue
It is important to note that issues with supplying goods is not exclusive to the golf industry.
“We’ve got to reiterate as an industry that it’s not just golf that is experiencing these issues,” Nigel Freemantle was keen to stress.
“It’s absolutely everything that is experiencing demand and there has been exponential demand for everything on a global scale.”
Indeed, raw materials that create golf clubs – steel for shafts, rubber for grips, resin for golf balls – are in shortage across the world, no matter what products they’re being used to create.
Freemantle explained that at Brand Fusion, grips have been the most difficult to source.
“We could sell four times the amount of grips than we are actually getting. Let’s say there’s 50 million grips that need to be manufactured out there now, well that’s a lot of rubber out of trees and you can’t just turn the tap on for that kind of material.”
“Shafts take quite a long time to make, steel or graphite, and it’s precision engineering at the end of the day. Even if you could open 48 hours a day, manufacturers haven’t got either the raw materials or the staff or everything else to make this product.”
What Should You Do If You’re Buying Soon?
For consumers who may be concerned about investing in custom clubs or other golf equipment this year, what is the answer to this problem?
Lead times for custom clubs have only been increasing since retailers and pro shops reopened in 2020 – will these lead times get back to ‘normal’ by 2022?
Well, it depends on a number of factors. Will demand remain high? How many of the new and returning pandemic golfers will stay in the game? Will the supply chain be able to unclog itself?
Lee Farrar, Head of Golf for Wilson UK and Ireland, is wary and suggests that lead times for custom fit golf clubs in particular won’t be getting shorter any time soon.
“There is no sign yet of this slowing down, in fact it’s continuing to grow,” Farrar explained. “There’s no use in delaying and I would suggest that people who want product go and get their fits.”
“People’s specifications won’t change into next year, so it’s important to get yourself in the queue now and not expect that queue to be shorter come March next year.”
“If you get custom fit now, you’ll still get new products but it’s worth checking with retailers to see if the product you want is carrying over to next year.”
While Leslie Hepsworth agrees that custom clubs will continue to see long delays, he believes the online buzz around golf equipment is already dipping and demand for certain items should return to normal levels by 2022.
“I think the initial demand we have seen will diminish. You can see that golf courses are not as busy as they were and I think the crazy period has passed because people can do other things now.”
“I think the crazy online sales that we have seen in the last year have already started to dip and I don’t think they’re going to come roaring back.”
While pandemic has both helped and hindered the golf industry, 2022 looks to be equally as challenging amid a wave of demand that would have brought the supply chain to its knees without a global pandemic to deal with.
It’s impossible to foresee how many of the 2 million new UK golfers will stay in the sport, but for the time being it seems that getting in the queue for equipment as soon as possible is the best tactic for consumers.
As manufacturers and suppliers across the globe jostle to meet demand, perhaps it is time for us as consumers to reassess our expectations for the speed at which golf equipment can be supplied.
In a world where next day delivery is the norm, perhaps we should see custom golf clubs more as the luxury items that they are – hand-crafted, meticulously specced, precisely designed – and patiently wait for the payoff in the process.