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The Year in Golf

Surfing the Net Can Yield a Sweet Deal

Callaway Golf has taken thousands of its clubs in trade, from new lines to clubs introduced years ago, and offers them for sale on the Internet.

November 20, 2003|John Weyler | Special to The Times

Lots of golfers with less-than-top-of-the-line clubs and less-than-six-figure salaries have been there, sniffing around EBay looking for a good deal on the newest golf technology. And they've probably hit on an ad that went something like this:

"Almost new set of [brand-name] irons, right-handed, regular flex, graphite shafts that Grandpa used only a few times before he suddenly passed away. Grandpa hardly ever missed a fairway, so we know they hit the ball straight. And he had a half-dozen holes in one in his life, so surely some of his good luck rubbed off."

The price isn't bad, the little picture on your computer looks pretty good -- assuming that it's actually a picture of the clubs you're considering buying -- but still you're hesitant to send almost $1,000 across the country and then hold your breath until the package arrives.

Surely there must be a better way to buy used golf clubs, right?

You can always stop by your local pro shop or golf discount outlet -- the Roger Dunn stores, for example, accept trade-ins and sell used clubs -- but it's usually hit-and-miss when it comes to selection at any given location.

In the last year, however, another option has become available.

Callaway Golf, which doesn't make a low-end line of clubs, was exploring ways to attract golfers who say they can't afford their equipment and www.callawaygolfpreowned.com was born.

The company, which also sponsors a trade-in program for customers moving up to the latest designs, has taken thousands of Callaway clubs in trade -- drivers, woods, iron sets, individual irons, wedges and putters, everything from new lines to clubs introduced decades ago -- and offers them for sale on the Internet.

All the clubs are examined first. The shafts are tested for the correct flexibility and the length, lie and loft are checked according to factory specifications. The ones that pass the test are polished, sometimes painted or otherwise refurbished -- the faces of the irons are sandblasted -- and equipped with new grips. Then they're rated "Like New," "Very Good," "Good" or "Average."

"We meticulously rate the clubs, and we go overboard in favor of the customer because we know people are buying these clubs sight unseen," said Brian Henley, chief marketing officer for Trade Up Commerce, the company in Austin, Texas, that runs the Web business for Callaway.

The clubs can be returned within 15 days for a full refund and buyers also can return them for a 90% in-store credit after trying them for 30 days, 80% after 60 days and 70% after 90 days.

"I looked on Ebay, but I was leery because I know people who have gotten burned," said Ronald Horowitz, executive vice president and general manager of Victory Wire and Cable in Los Angeles. "I bought Big Bertha irons and Hawk Eye [VFT Pro Series] fairway woods with graphite shafts, and I can't tell you how happy I am with the clubs and the experience.

"I saved hundreds of dollars over new clubs and they look brand-new."

Callaway is the only major club manufacturer with a nationwide program like this, Henley said.

A spokesman for Taylor Made said his company is considering entering into a similar deal to sell used clubs over the Internet, but spokesmen for three other major clubmakers -- all declining to comment on a competitor as a matter of policy -- indicated that their companies had no plans to expand into the used-club business.

"We rolled out the program nationally this year after a short trial trade-in program," Henley said, "and Callaway doesn't want to give out numbers, but we have 2,000 retailers participating in our Trade In, Trade Up program and they've taken in tens of thousands of clubs, which has meant millions of dollars in discounts to new-club buyers and millions in savings for the used-club buyers."

The Callaway Web site does not provide pictures of most of the clubs, only representations, but after the refurbishment process, most of the clubs in the "Like New" and "Very Good" category appear almost new.

And although the cosmetic factor may be important when it comes to sales, it's of very little importance once the clubs hit the fairway.

If you're guessing that not much can go wrong with a golf club -- short of its having been wrapped around a tree -- it's a very good guess.

"We've done lots of tests," Henley said, "and clubs that have been played with regularly for four or five years have the exact same playing characteristics as a brand new version of the same model."

Before you toss the newspaper over your head and run to your computer, it's only fair to say that the prices of these clubs are far from rock-bottom.

For example, a set of Big Bertha 2002 irons with graphite shafts -- which retail for about $900 but can sometimes be found on sale for about $700 at a discount golf outlet -- will go for about $600 in "Very Good" condition. The price drops significantly for "Good" and "Average" (about $470), but with the newer lines, there are fewer of them available.

The site has a "New This Week" tab, however, so if you're diligent and want to check often, you might be able to locate the club or clubs you want at a price you can afford. And, if you're willing to wait, you can put your name on the site's "Wish List" and you'll be notified if the specific club or clubs in the condition you want become available.

Henley says his company's sales surveys show that "95% of our customers are very satisfied."

The surveys also reveal that a significant part of the market that Callaway had been missing out on falls into three categories.

"There's the obvious group that would love to have the best brand out there but just couldn't afford to buy new clubs," he said. "But there also seems to be a group of golfers who have plenty of money but just don't play that often.

"And then there's another group that plays golf all the time, spends tons of money on the sport, but likes the idea of getting the best technology at an affordable price."

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