By Adam Schupak
On Memorial Day 2018, Adam Beach was chilling at the beach with friends in a circle of chairs when someone asked if anyone had played with a little-known golf ball sold at Costco under its Kirkland house brand that had beaten the best-selling golf balls on the market in independent testing conducted by MyGolfSpy.com in late 2017.
Beach couldn’t help but smile when one of his friends pointed at him and said, “You know that is the guy who did the test?”
“They didn’t look like golfers,” remembers Beach, who founded MyGolfSpy 10 years ago and claims to have more than nine million unique visitors to the site. “That was the one that transcended our little circle. It made the front page of The Wall Street Journal, was picked up all over TV and reached the masses.”
With its independent testing and refusal to accept advertising dollars from original equipment manufacturers, MyGolfSpy is a growing force in the golf equipment media space. It has the laudable goal of becoming the Consumer Reports of golf equipment by breaking through the marketing claims and providing consumers with unbiased, objective testing of products to help golfers make more informed purchasing decisions and get the most out of their game. In doing so, Beach and his colleagues haven’t been afraid to ruffle a few feathers along the way, even if it means engaging in Twitter wars with OEMs and acquiring a persona-non-grata reputation with several of them who question its test procedures and rankings.
“People are brand-washed,” Beach says. “I want to shift the industry so it’s all about performance and not about marketing. That’s the mission.”
Beach, who had launched and sold one of the earliest golf equipment e-commerce sites, created MyGolfSpy after conducting a focus group that revealed golfers were seeking honest reviews of equipment. After all, trying to figure out what golf ball to buy at the golf course can be as complicated as determining what toothpaste to buy at the supermarket. He noticed that as the golf equipment market consolidated and advertising dollars waned, the media covering the space pandered more and more to the OEMs.
“We call it ‘the golf mafia’ because the manufacturers really try to control the message,” Beach says. “It’s a fight not many people want to fight.”
Much of the coverage he found consisted of re-written press releases and lists where every company got a trophy, making it difficult to decipher the best products because of a fear of hurting the feelings of potential advertisers. That’s why from Day One, MyGolfSpy, which touts 1.2 million balls hit, 13,000 tests completed, 131 companies trialed, and 4.8 coffees per day, accepts zero advertising dollars from any of the major golf manufacturers.
“Our currency is trust,” Beach says. “We are beholden to nobody but our readers. We only care what the data reveals. If you take money from advertisers you become like everybody else.”
However, the website makes a curious distinction of taking advertising from the so-called little guys when the performance data supports one of its products as best in class in a particular category.
“We want to put those products in people’s bags. The only way to level the playing field is to shine a light on those products that perform the best and don’t have the bigger budgets to do so,” Beach explains.
But some see this as a double standard. Recent testing determined the Tommy Armour Impact Series No. 3 Alignment Putter topped the list for mallet putters. An ad on the site links visitors directly to a site where the club can be purchased. While the brand is largely considered a bit player with marginal sales in the category compared to the likes of Odyssey, Ping, and Scotty Cameron, Tommy Armour is the house brand for big-box retailers Dicks Sporting Goods and Golf Galaxy, and part of a business with a $3.5 billion market cap that dwarfs any of the major OEMs.
Others claim that the only way MyGolfSpy can carve out space in a competitive landscape and attract eye balls to its site is to make a case for alternative equipment that sits outside the mainstream.
“If their answer was Titleist’s Pro V1 ball and Callaway’s Epic driver were the best no one would care,” says Casey Alexander, a longtime industry observer and senior vice president and research analyst at Compass Point. “Too often the answer is this meaningless alternative company has a superior product. It’s nonsense and frankly I don’t trust the results.”
MyGolfSpy’s latest round of ball testing in late May caused a big stir on social media when it gave high marks to the Snell MTB-X golf ball—“the ultimate high-performance value ball”—and bashed the Callaway Chrome Soft. To the delight of Snell, its website, which sells direct-to-consumer, sold out of its existing inventory within six hours of the story being published and went on back order until it was able to ship more product, while Callaway was none too happy, blocking MyGolfSpy on Instagram. The company’s initial reaction was to ignore the MyGolfSpy test results, but after reviewing reader comments and social media messages it issued a company statement.
“In short, MyGolfSpy’s test protocol, data, and analysis of that data is not statistically robust enough to support the claims they are making,” the statement read. “Moreover, we believe much of the analysis is flawed or incomplete. Neither the data nor their analysis should be viewed as conclusive by people who play golf and buy golf balls, much less by those of us who design, test, or manufacture them.”
Neither Callaway’s cries nor the cease and desist letters Beach says he’s received from Acushnet, maker of Titleist golf balls, is going to slow down plans for MyGolfSpy to build new applications and programming that Beach predicts will “flip the game on its head from a retail standpoint.”
“The industry has tried to shut us up, shut us down and push us out,” Beach says. “We’re still in the ring after 10 years and I’m pretty proud of that.”