Last week we used our 2016 Irons Study data to take a closer look at what clubs are in the bag of players of differing ability levels. Today we’re taking another look at the data to see what it can tell us about what those same players looked for, and the considerations they made, during the process of purchasing their most recent set of irons.

Before we dig into the data, allow me to take a moment to clarify exactly what this data represents.

The question we asked was simple:

Why did you buy your irons?

Study participants were given the opportunity to select from 17 different options (18 if you count other) and were allowed choose as many of the answers as they liked. The numbers referenced in the charts and observations below refer to the percentage of golfers within each handicap range that selected the specified option.

With the details out of the way, let’s look at a breakdown of what we learned from the just less than 4400 responses we received.

aeshetics

We can debate performance implications later, but it’s clear that looks, sound, and feel factor significantly in the purchasing decision for a majority of golfers.

  • The relative importance of aesthetic considerations declines as handicap increases.
  • Though the two are closely related, if not the same, golfers give significantly greater consideration to feel than sound.

Performance

The following charts provide a breakdown the various aspects of performance. The relative weighting of these performance categories across handicap ranges is particularly interesting as it reveals what players of different ability levels are looking for from strictly a performance perspective.

Distance

performance-distance

  • While manufacturers heavily market distance in GI designs, it’s interesting that less than 40% of golfers across all ability levels listed it as among the reasons why they purchased their last set of irons.
  • Distance was a higher motivating factor among golfers with handicaps between 11 to 20.
  • Not surprisingly, only 27.0 percent of handicaps of 3 and below report that distance was a factor in their decision.
  • More surprisingly, our highest handicap golfer group (30+) reports being the least motivated by distance.

Accuracy and Control

performance-accuracy-control

Accuracy

  • Accuracy matters to all golfers, but our data suggests that better players are more motivated by accuracy, while higher handicap golfers are less concerned with precision.
  • 49.7 percent of respondents with handicaps of 3 and below report that accuracy factored into their purchasing decision, compared to only 32.10% of 21 to 29 handicap golfers and 20% of 30+.

Control/Workability

  • The best players in our survey listed control and workability as a more significant contributing factor in their buying decision than accuracy.
  • For 4 to 10 handicap golfers, Accuracy and Control/Workability factored identically (both 44.8%) in the buying decision.
  • The above helps to explain why manufacturers frequently list workability among the features of their player’s irons.
  • As handicaps increase above 10, interest in control and workability diminishes significantly, falling to a low point of 17% among 21-29 handicap golfers.
  • Perhaps of some interest, 20% of the highest handicap golfers surveyed listed workability as a factor in their purchasing decision. This is a higher percentage than both the 21 to 29 handicap group (17%) and the 16 to 20 group (18.8%).

Forgiveness and Easy to Hit

While these two elements are closely related, we think it’s important to distinguish between the two. In our minds, forgiveness speaks to what happens when you don’t make perfect (or even close to perfect) contact.

Easy to Hit speaks isn’t about correcting mishits, it’s about making solid contact and getting the ball in the air.

performance-forgivness-easy-to-hit

Forgiveness

  • The data suggests exactly what most would expect.
  • As handicap increases, so too does the relative importance of forgiveness in the buying decision.
  • For golfers with handicaps above 11, Forgiveness was either the most important factor or the second most important factor in the buying decision.
  • 68% of 30+ handicap golfers listed forgiveness as a motivating factor, compared to only 39% of golfers with handicaps below 3.

Easy to Hit

  • Similarly, Easy to Hit, factors more significantly in the buying decisions of higher handicap golfers.
  • For golfers with handicaps between 21 and 20, Easy to Hit was listed as the most significant factor in the buying decisions.
  • For handicaps from 16 to 20 and 30+, Easy to Hit was listed only slightly less often than forgiveness.
  • For lower handicap golfers (15 and below), the data suggests Accuracy (previous chart) factors more heavily in the buying decision.

Other Considerations

Our final chart shows how other non-performance and non-aesthetic considerations factored into the iron buying decision.

otherconsiderations

Brand/Model – Across all handicaps, the data suggests that the brand itself plays a significant role in the buying decision (42.25% average across all groups).

Shaft Options – Having a multitude of no charge shaft upgrades is practically a business requirement these days. While having options is more important to lower handicap golfers, we suspect the weighted importance will continue to grow across all handicaps.

Loft/Lie Bendability – Frankly, I can’t say this is anything I’ve ever personally considered, but we’re not surprised to find that it’s a more significant consideration among better golfers. What’s interesting is that 30+ handicaps are nearly as concerned about we’d categorize as a fitting consideration as golfers in the 11 to 15 range.

Sales Person/Local Pro Recommendation – The one speaks to the changing nature of the pyramid of influence. The bottom line: it ain’t what it used to be.

With the emergence of modern media, launch monitors, online communities, and an increasingly informed consumer, recommendations from local pros and retailers carry less weight. We suspect that brands that remain heavily invested in the old model will see their sales decline as a more educated consumer emerges.

Price – We know that price matters to everyone. We hear about it in nearly every equipment story we post. That said, our data suggests that price concerns increase with handicap and spike once handicaps reach 30.

What our data doesn’t tell is whether price is less of a consideration because better players tend to keep their equipment longer.

It also makes us wonder how this information factors into retail pricing strategies. Do player’s irons really cost significantly more to make (often $400 or more than game-improvement models) or are manufacturers keenly aware that better players are less concerned about cost, and price accordingly?

Stay Tuned

Next week will take a final look at the data from the Iron Buying Study and reveal which brands are most popular among our various handicap groups.