Sure, the economy is in the dumper. Or, at the very least, it's climbing its way out of the doldrums, depending on your point of view -- and your portfolio. That won't stop us from giving you the lowdown on how to play our game for the least amount of capital investment possible.
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The more equipment companies debut new clubs, the better the bargains on used clubs. They may not be as shiny as their counterparts, but they probably won't need much more than new grips.
To take advantage of these bargains, start with the Web sites, such as www.golfclubexchange.com, www.ibuygolfclubs.com, and www.tradergolf.com, that buy and sell used clubs. Most allow buyers to inspect and try the clubs for a couple of days before committing.
The used-club market has become so big that even Callaway has devoted an entire sub-business to it (www.CallawayGolfPreowned.com), where golfers can trade up their old Callaways or buy "certified" used Berthas. And you should check out Jon's Golf Shop in San Antonio, Texas (800-749-6207), which has the most extensive collection of used clubs we've seen under one roof. It's also a great place to call if you can't find that missing 4-iron for your old set.
Closeouts and Overstocks
As product lifecycles become shorter due to the many new clubs hitting the market each year, popularity wanes on yesterday's models, sometimes prematurely. Inevitably, many clubs appear in the closeouts section of shops and catalogs. But that's not to say that their effectiveness has diminished. For example, Tommy Armour 845 irons have withstood the test of time for most of the past decade and remain a popular request (more than 700,000 sets have been sold since their early 1990s debut); you can still find new sets for less than $300 (3-iron to pitching wedge, steel shaft). You can visit most online golf retailers and search by the word "closeout" for deals, and to establish a comparison price. You may even find some deals on new clubs, particularly in markets where the weather hasn't been good enough to allow much play; fewer rounds played means fewer sales in golf shops, so they offer discounts on overstocked items to keep sales alive.
Nine Ways to Make Your Equipment Last Longer
1. Clubs: Tip the club attendant to clean your clubs. If your course doesn't have attendants, spend a few minutes at home scrubbing iron and metalwood faces and soles with a wire brush, soap, and hot water, then towel dry.
2. Grips: To restore tackiness, wipe grips vigorously with a wash cloth, dish soap, and warm water. Rinse well and towel dry. This will also slow glove deterioration.
3. Shoes: If your golf shoes get wet from rain, stuff them with crumpled newspaper, leave for 10 hours to absorb moisture, then replace the paper with cedar shoe trees. Use a mild household cleaner to remove dirt and scuffs (but test a tiny portion first, making sure it won't ruin the finish). Then shine with shoe polish.
4. Balls: Fill a small bucket with soapy warm water, drop all filthy golf balls in, dip in a toothbrush, then pull each ball out and scrub.
5. Pants: Wash khaki pants as per the instructions on the label, put them in the dryer, removing about 10 minutes before they are completely dry; then hang-dry from the cuffs. If they aren't truly wrinkle-free, after drying, line up the seams and iron. Or put a tiny amount of starch in a small water bottle, fill with water, shake, and with your pants hanging -- wet or dry -- from the cuffs, spray with a light mist and don't iron. Most wrinkles will disappear as the pants air-dry.
6. Cleats: To remove dirt from cleats, scrub with a toothbrush, mild soap, and warm water, then towel dry. Manufacturers suggest changing cleats every 30 rounds.
7. Shirts: Wash most cotton or cotton-blend shirts in cold or warm water, then dry over a drying rack. If you must use a dryer, make sure it's set to a 15-minute light cycle on the "warm" setting. Then hang to dry completely.
8. Caps: Machine-wash baseball-style golf caps in cold water, then sun dry. Or fit the cap over a cereal bowl and place in a dishwasher. Run one normal cycle (not with your dishes), then sun-dry with the bowl inside to prevent shrinkage. Remove the bowl, flip the cap over, and let the inside dry.
9. Bags: Clean dirt off with a toothbrush and warm water, or a mild household cleaner. Then let dry in the sun.
The ball market is so competitive that there's no reason to rifle through your bag for a beat-up ball when stepping up to a water hole. Less than eight dollars will buy you a dozen X-Outs at many golf shops. Better yet, several ball manufacturers have debuted new models with very low street prices: Look for Top Flite's XL3000, Precept's Laddie, and Maxfli's Noodle at most golf shops. Also, value brands such as Pinnacle, Ram, and Dunlop are perpetually priced to move. For closeouts on last year's models, shop around at golf Web sites, warehouse stores (Costco, Sam's Club, etc.), or your local sporting-goods store or golf discount shop for deals that are easy on the wallet.
What to Wear
For a good deal on golf clothes or shoes, head for the outlets. Nike has 90-some factory stores (each with a golf section), Dexter boasts 68 outlets, and Ashworth has eight company shops. Other big brands -- such as Greg Norman Collection and Izod -- can be found at many outlet malls, where prices are roughly 25 to 40 percent less than regular retail. Of course, much of the outlet merchandise is closeouts that also will be on sale at off-course golf shops. If your timing is right, though, you might get additional discounts on items out of season. For example, as summer approaches, rain jackets may go on sale; as the season winds down, sandals will cost less.
Also try performing a quick Internet search to check prices; some online shops don't charge for shipping. Just remember, the most expensive prices for golfwear are at resorts, where you'll pay full boat for just about everything (even their sale prices tend to be high). If you insist on a course logo, check out a local consumer golf exposition (typically held early in the year; ask a local pro), as many courses unload pro-shop leftovers at a substantial discount.