Hybrid Nation – Getting A Grip On Senior Golf
By Tim Cotroneo
The answer is hybrid clubs, graphite shafts, larger grips, and preventive medicine. The question is, “What are the four key growth areas in the senior golf industry?”
Without a doubt, the evolution of the hybrid club over the past two decades has had the single biggest impact on senior golf. The definition for the word “hybrid” denotes a mixture of two different species that combines the most desirable characteristics of both. In the case of a new golf club, this means combining the control advantages of an iron with the more forgiving nature of a wood.
Hybrid is the Word
Ask any golf expert what they see as the most dominant trend in senior golf and the word “hybrid” comes up again and again. Mark Quall, a Territory Manager for Mizuno USA, said, “For most golfers, loft is your friend. A hybrid clubface design that is low and deep means it’s easier to get the ball up in the air.”
Tom Pream, 64, the Club Making and Repair Supervisor at Golfsmith in Roseville, MN, echoed Quall’s observation. “We’re seeing a lot more combo sets, with the long irons being replaced by hybrids. More and more manufacturers are offering hybrids throughout the set, including the short or scoring irons.”
What is the motivation or reason for the growth in hybrid sales? “With aging, a golfer’s club head speed often slows down. That makes it harder to get the ball airborne. The hybrids are a potential solution,” Mickey Soderberg of Golfsmith’s GolfTec training facility explained.
Mark McNaughton is betting the house on the continued success of hybrid clubs. McNaughton is the President of Wedgewood Golf, a Minneapolis-based manufacturer of hybrid golf clubs. Wedgewood’s entire club line features perimeter weighted hybrids with an extended-front leading edge. “Our clubs are a great option for someone looking for an alternative to traditional irons. The Wedgewood clubs get the ball higher, generate more power, and also provide more backspin, so the ball holds on the green,” McNaughton said.
Getting the Shaft
A lightweight shaft is another growing
element in the senior golf bag. In the past decade,
graphite shafts have eclipsed steel for golfers seeking
increased club speed. Another factor in the popularity
of lighter weight shafts is that it lessens the vibration
in a shot.
For golfers considering making the move to graphite, the term for a senior lightweight shaft is “A-flex” or “senior flex.” There are a wide variety of choices and an equal number of price points. “Every shaft in our catalog has a softer flex. You can pay anywhere from $18 to $270 for a senior shaft,” Golfsmith’s Pream said.
Get a Grip
When it comes to senior grips, bigger might be better. “We’re seeing more requests for large grips. Arthritis makes it really hard to grip a club,” Jim Knutson, 64, a Club Technician at Golf Galaxy’s GolfWorks said.
Manufacturers are coming out with grips specifically addressing the needs of senior golfers. “There is actually an arthritis grip. We get 50-50 feedback on these new grips. Some golfers really like it. Others comment that they don’t care for the consistency of the grip,” Knutson said. Golfers can expect to pay two to four dollars more per grip for the oversized.
Too often, the biggest hurdle standing in the way of a senior golfer enjoying 18 holes is a chronic injury. Dr. Tony Hart, of Hart Family Chiropractic in Blaine, MN, is a big believer in preventive medicine. “Many times the problem I’m addressing today is due to an injury that occurred decades ago. Part of my goal is to determine the origin of the injury and then get the patient back to feeling good,” Hart said.
Over the years, Hart has treated injuries ranging from golfer’s elbow to a hip injury that Masters’ champion Ben Crenshaw was experiencing. Hart is an advocate of stretching before and after a round. “For golfers, I recommend stretching exercises from a sitting position. This loosens the lower spine and helps the golfer gain more flexibility.”
Silver Hair Silver Lining
Speak to anyone involved in the golf industry and there seems to be a recurring theme when it comes to discussing golfers on the senior side of 50. It seems that most seniors have a passion for the game and breathing. “I enjoy working with the senior golfers because they are more courteous. Most seniors are happy to still be playing and standing above the grass, rather than lying below it,” Golf Galaxy’s Knutson said with a smile.