Here’s some trivia for you: while the golf ball is one of the smallest sports balls, the golf industry is a large operation, bringing in around $550 million in annual sales. Indeed, over 850 million golf balls and over 800 different models that conform to industry standards are manufactured and shipped around the country every year.
Golf ball manufacturers rely on distinct processes to create two types of balls: one for general use, and one designated for use by pro golfers. The balls used by casual golfers are “two-piece” balls. So named because they’re made in two parts, these balls typically last longer than the “three-piece” balls that are manufactured for professional players. Accounting for 70% of all golf balls, the two-piece balls consist of a rubber core and a plastic outer shell. In contrast, the three-piece balls have a liquid or gel core that’s surrounded by rubber and encased in plastic. Both balls, however, have that characteristic dimpled casing for improved aerodynamics.
Because professionals use the more complex three-piece ball, suppliers have to be fully stocked and prepared well in advance of major tournaments like the Masters. The three-piece balls are more difficult to make, with the manufacturing process entailing more than 80 distinct steps and over 30 rounds of inspections. As a result, it can take as long as a month to make and test a single three-piece ball. A two-piece ball, in contrast, can be produced in just one day.
Call the Caddie
Golf balls aren’t the only contributor to the $2 billion golf equipment industry. As you might expect, clubs and apparel also play a vital role. During a round of golf, a player is allowed to carry up to 14 clubs of varying shapes, sizes, and lengths, each one designed for a specific purpose. Since the United States Golf Association doesn’t have many regulations regarding clubs, golf club manufacturers have a great deal of independence in how they design and manufacture their clubs. Indeed, many advertise their unique characteristics to differentiate their products from the competition.
And what would a golfer be without a fashionable polo and khakis to sport on the course? Major brands like Nike are often spotted on the green, but as demand for golf apparel options has increased, upstart “golf casual” brands have emerged to fill those needs.
Not Just Your Grandpa’s Game
Today, there are 23.8 million golfers in the United States who generate almost $70 billion in revenue every year — but golf’s overall popularity has dwindled in recent years. Manufacturers have adjusted their production processes accordingly, turning their efforts towards longer production cycles and a focus on custom fitting.
The golf industry is hoping to keep its sport — which has traditionally been the domain of retirees — alive and well by appealing more to millennials, with better and more accessible equipment, shorter courses, and even pay-by-hole options for beginners or busy 9 to 5ers. Although the industry may see some upheaval in coming years, boomers across the country can rest assured they’ll still get their Saturday tee-time.