Golf retail stores making a comeback

The retail side of golf was sliced nearly in half by the recession. But the struggling specialty stores -- at least the big ones -- are beginning to make a comeback.

Stacey Vanek Smith: Golf season kicks off this weekend with the Masters tournament in Georgia. The retail side of the sport was sliced nearly in half by the recession. But some golf stores are making a comeback.

From WPLN in Nashville, Blake Farmer reports.


Blake Farmer: Welcome to one of the newest golf stores in the country. It's in Brentwood, Tenn., a wealthy suburb of Nashville.

Matt Bigach: So what brings you in today, you said your woods?

John Faulkner: I want to check the fairway metals and the irons on the shafts.

Retiree John Faulkner is taking advantage of the high-tech swing studios at Golfsmith. They're free to use.

Faulkner's first shot isn't so good but he tees up another. A digital image of the ball streaks across a projection screen. Stats pop up on club speed, shot distance, even the angle of his ball spin. Apparently diehards care about these things.

Golfsmith CEO Marty Hanaka says today's golfer wants those bells and whistles.

Marty Hanaka: We're spending over a million dollars to outfit that store with all the equipment that we want to serve the customer better.

Terry McAndrew: That basically puts pressure on smaller operators.

Terry McAndrew is an editor of golfbiz.net. He points to research that shows 44 percent of specialty golf stores have closed since 2006, most of them independently owned. McAndrew says it's hard for the mom-and-pop retailers to hang with national chains.

McAndrew: In part because they have a more of a presence but also because offer -- in a sense -- a stronger experience all around.

Even with that edge, few of those chains are placing as big a bet as Golfsmith, which plans to open 10 new locations this year. CEO Marty Hanaka says the recession sort of "cleaned the playing field."

Hanaka: There's a lot of markets that are now underserved.

Hanaka hopes playing aggressively pays off for Golfsmith -- maybe with one of those oversized checks that winners get on the 18th green.

In Nashville, I'm Blake Farmer for Marketplace.

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