Are golf magazines little more than shills for major advertisers? Don't make me single one out.
Okay. Golf Digest.
Golf may be more intimately linked with expensive equipment than any other recreational sport but it sure seems like Golf Digest goes above and beyond the call in pushing stories and projects that make certain major gear makers - and major Golf Digest advertisers - look great.
Sometimes it does more than that. Sometimes it waves you through the front door and introduces you to a salesman.
Take Try and Buy a new feature in Golf for Women, one of the magazines under the Golf Digest umbrella. "Try and Buy" is aimed at women the magazine says are put off buying game-improvement gear designed specifically for them if it means going to male-dominated pro shops.
The idea is that golf manufacturers, after years of nagging, are finally making good equipment for women but women aren't taking advantage.
"What we're trying to do is encourage women to try asking for things," Golf for Women equipment editor Stina Sternberg told TravelGolf.com. "We have been hiding behind this complaint that we're treated like second-class citizens for too long. That's not true in some places. That beef is no longer legitimate."
Sternberg has a slightly messianic quality when she talks about the program and it does indeed seem like a great idea, one that could potentially benefit thousands of women golfers.
But is it crossing a line when the magazine prominently publishes a list of "Golf for Women-recommended retailers"? Isn't this a little like holding down readers while advertisers rifle their purses?
"We're trying to be the matchmaker between retailers and consumers," Sternberg said. "We're trying to get women the same respect guys get when they walk into a pro shop wanting to buy new clubs.
"That also means [women] have to start spending a little more. We have to start buying these products."
As Sternberg acknowledged, women are not such timid shoppers in other types of stores. "Why is that?" she asked. "My dollar's worth the same as Joe's."
According to the magazine, the program has been a success. Retailers are calling to make sure they're on the "approved" list, and women are writing in to share their experiences with golf retailers, good and bad.
"Even in a tent full of men he made me feel very comfortable," one reader says.
"The staff treated me like I was an idiot and were no help at all," notes another.
It's one thing to have a forum where people can share their experiences. It's quite another for a magazine to tell its readers where to go to buy, buy, buy - or to provide retailers with a stamp of approval they can show to potential customers.
"We send out packages to every manufacturer on our list, to help drive traffic into these places," Sternberg said.
How do retailers earn this coveted Golf for Women imprimatur? That part is a little vague.
"We haven't been able to visit all of them," Sternberg said. "We started with around 600, and now there are over 1,000. We did our research in different ways. We talked to a lot of people, but also placed a lot of phone calls to these places. That's really what you have to do.
"We're looking for places that are going to treat consumers the way we want to get treated."
Sternberg and other Golf for Women officials insist the "Try and Buy" series was conceived by the editorial side of the magazine, not the advertising side. Still, I'm betting the business side is doing cartwheels.
Golf Digest also gets accused of shilling every year with its Hot List. Most of the brands that make that ultra-coveted list are major manufacturers that also advertise heavily with the magazine. Smaller and emerging companies seldom make it.
TravelGolf.com's own equipment guru, Kiel Christiansen, thinks that may be because of "confirmatory bias" - the panel of testers expects Titleist and Callaway to make great drivers.
"I'm inclined to believe there is not a big effort to raise up the big advertisers and squelch the little guys," Christiansen said.
I'm not so sure. And the magazine has surely heard this criticism. So why not "blind test" the equipment, as Christiansen suggests?
We need a Consumer Reports for golfers. What's Ralph Nader's handicap?
April 23, 2007
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