The Scientific Origins of Golf Equipment Fanboy Culture
Written By: Jay Baker
3 THINGS THAT CREATE GOLF FANBOYS
We have all experienced an Internet troll at one time or another. For those who are unfamiliar with the term “troll”, consider yourself lucky, but also know that it refers to someone who relentlessly posts messages online (forums, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) with the intent to inspire outrage. The trolls are the guys who write what’s very often ill-informed nonsense, and they do it with the sole objective of pissing otherwise reasonable people off.
It is believed that the majority of Internet trolls live in their mom’s basement.
The troll isn’t always dissimilar from the fanboy. In the golf world, fanboys love the brands they play deeply, and they support them whole-heartedly, passionately, and very often aggressively. If you don’t share that same sense of deep affection for <insert brand name here> because they or their products <insert marketing tagline here>, then you sir are a moran (outrage and spelling seldom play well together).
There is at least an argument (a polite one, of course) to be made that golf companies actively cultivate fanboy culture. Sometimes it just happens by accident. At a minimum, every golf company wants you to be passionate about their products because a passionate fan is often a loyal customer. Every golf company wants loyal customers.
You are cordially invited to join #TEAM<insert company name here…and make sure it’s in ALL CAPS>.
Unfortunately, sometimes passion and loyalty cross a line and things get a little weird, plenty vitriolic, and very often downright hateful.
No company is immune from fanboys (except maybe for Warrior Golf – don’t call them, they’ll call you). Fanboy culture is pervasive enough to make one wonder how it is exactly that companies like TaylorMade, Titleist, Ping, and Callaway can reduce the behavior of grown men to that of petulant children arguing over which Disney princess is best?
FYI, it’s Cinderella.
Would it surprise you to learn that there’s an actual science behind your disdain of anything Nike?
Choice Supportive Bias
The first expensive driver I ever bought was a Callaway Big Bertha War Bird with an RCH 90 shaft. The driver was almost too pretty to hit. The dull industrial gray finish gave it a blue-collar look. Every detail was designed to do real work.
The first time I put it in play, I was joined by a friend who had also just purchased a new war stick, the TaylorMade Burner Bubble. Could you imagine if TaylorMade relied on paint to sell clubs today? All day we compared the performance of our drivers. As he hit mine, I could see a certain level of buyer’s remorse beginning to set in. Big Bertha was clearly winning the battle.
After the round, however, he raved about his Burner. He went so far as to recommend it to the other golfers in clubhouse. My friend was trying to satisfy a post purchase rationalization. He stuck to his guns despite the contrary reality. He certainly wasn’t going to admit to himself that he’d just made a very expensive mistake. My buddy experienced what’s called Confirmatory Bias, and it’s in play every time we buy something.
Think about the last time you purchased a new car. After you drove it off the lot, you probably went online to check out other personal reviews of the car. Chances are you enjoyed reading the reviews that supported your decision, and looked for fault with those that suggested that your new Pontiac Aztek was an outhouse on wheels. We focus on what’s good while dismissing the negatives.
As buyers, we look for like-minded reviews and people to justify and support our purchases. Golf equipment is expensive, especially for something none of us really need. Your brain’s concept of this discretionary expense feeds on justification.
As golfers we defend our purchases. We’ll argue that the technology justifies the cost. We’ll point to like-minded reviews, and the facts as dictated by the golf companies that created them, as proof that we made the right decision. No matter how compelling the evidence to the contrary, we cling to our beliefs. These bouts of Cognitive Dissonance are a large part of the reason why a golfer might feel inclined to act out and occasionally rage against anything and anyone who even hints that his shiny new driver isn’t everything he believes it to be.
Companies Listen To Crazy
In 2002, Joss Whedon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, decided to piggyback on his TV success by creating a new show known as Firefly. It was basically a TV version of Star Wars, which would make you think it would have been successful. The reality, however, was that the ratings sucked. The show was canceled after just 14 episodes.
So what did all the Firefly fanboys and girls do? They took to Internet forums to let the television execs know what a crappy multi-million dollar decision they had made. That coupled with strong DVD sales lead to a Firefly based major motion picture called Serenity.
Fanboys had once again proven that a mob mentality can achieve the desired results
The same situation plays out to some degree in golf retail more often than you think. Remember the Taylormade R1 when it came out? If your reaction was “Not another white driver!”, you probably do. So what happened? While most of you cried like a sorority girl after a positive E.P.T., some of you took to your golf forum of choice and expressed the frustration via a CAPS LOCKED diatribe for the ages.
“GIVE ME THE BLACK DRIVER I’M ENTITLED TO!“
What did that get you? You got a black R1 driver of course.
The R1 isn’t an isolated example. Elite Scotty Cameron fans clamored for a black putter production model from 2008 until 2011. In 2012 Mr. Cameron finally caved to fanboys and introduced the Select line.
Nike released an all red Covert driver last year that was close to perfect in every way with the exception that it was red. Never mind that an all-red driver named Covert is as ironic as a wrinkled ironing board; by the time summer rolled around Nike had an all-black version on shelves.
Why do golfers want everything to be black? I digress…
After 2 years of listening to forum-based moaning, Rory’s coveted putter has found it’s way to the market, albeit in limited quantities.
This community pressure is the same reason we don’t see as many Made For shafts anymore.
Golf companies read forums. That’s not a secret. The power of a community is much greater than a single individual. Golf forums have given a voice to the voiceless.
The consumer doesn’t always get exactly what he wants. For every R1 Black story, there is the unsuccessful call for Tiger’s actual golf ball (and everything else in Tiger’s bag). Still, this perceived influence gives a sense of power to the people. When we get what we want it serves to validate and reinforce the behaviors that we believe made it happen. We get louder, and we get crazier.
We Want To Belong
This is a golf website so I’m not looking to explore the authenticity of evolution as it pertains to man coming from ape, Adam, asteroids, or lizard people that live under ground. You guys can re-try the Scopes Monkey Trial in the comment section if you’d like. What I want to talk about is evolution in regards to passing genes and social traits from one generation to another, which is something I think we can all agree happens. Genes and social traits that were important to human survival 250,000 years ago still exist today, even though we live a very different lifestyle compared to cavemen. For example, your great (great, great, etc., etc.) grandfather needed his Fight or Flight response to survive a bear attack when all he had was a pointy stick. These days, your Fight or Flight response is about as useful as a VCR.
The same thing happened with our need to belong to a group. It evolved out of necessity and still exists today (necessary or not). You can’t stop trolling TaylorMade threads because of the same trait your ancestors relied on to survive. Early man formed groups for survival purposes. These small groups of early man helped keep predators away and food on the table. Once beer and agriculture came along, the groups increased in size and turned into villages. The need to keep track of these large social groups actually furthered our brain’s development. Think about it… equipment discussions on a golf forum will stimulate your brain more than reading the Golf Digest Hot List by yourself.
Cavemen formed groups to survive. The management of groups required increased brain capacity, and a bigger brain lead to more social interactions; the origin of creativity and innovation. The desire by early man to impress his caveman group has led to every breakthrough humans have developed. Essentially, social acceptance spurred the development of problem solving skills in humans. The same force that drives your need to be part of #TEAMTITLEIST put a man on the moon.
Why does this need to belong compel us to attack others who don’t share our love for forward CG in the driver head? The human brain is a social tool that craves companionship to create networks. These networks are sometimes based on a fundamental or idea (like say golf clubs). Once we identify with an ideology, we’ programmed to attack other networks that challenge our fundamental beliefs.
Like any good marketing organizations, golf companies understand these primal needs, and have become increasingly adept at using Social Media to play to our base urges. They interact with us, they bring us into the fold, and in some cases, indoctrinate us into the brand culture. We are no longer a customer, we are one with the brand. We are part of the pack.
We don’t spit venom because we blindly believe in the principles and technology stories our favorite golf companies tell, but rather because we are programmed to defend our pack. Think about this within the context off the offline world. Each of us has likely stood up for a friend…even when we knew he was wrong. It’s really not much different.
Gamergate certainly proved that our online group interactions can snowball out of control. Gamergate was arguably lowest point of online bullying within any community. It’s never that bad in golf. Online golf communities are rather tame when compared to the communities built around video games, choppers, rice rockets, NASCAR, guns, TV shows, or the NFL. Perhaps we can attribute these differences to the gentlemanly nature of the game. Perhaps it’s because, for the most part, golf doesn’t have teams.
Fans of team sports find it easier to identify with a given group. Fans simply choose the team in closest proximity or they choose a frontrunner. Golf is an individual sport, so golfers must fulfill their social needs by aligning with an equipment manufacturer or apparel company. Your need to belong can affect your equipment decisions, choice of ball, what clothes you wear on the course, and many other aspects of your golfing habits.
For many parts of the US, golf is a seasonal sport. In order to get their golf social fix, golfers go online to support their team in forum threads and comment sections. Winter is the leading contributor the rise in fanboy and troll culture. At least in the summer, golfers can step away from their keyboards and actually play golf.
We’re Better Than This
As a new golfer I was immediately initiated into Team Callaway. Team “Hangout With Chicks” happened to be all booked up at the time, and fortunately for me, Team Jacob and Team Edward hadn’t yet been formed. Naturally I gravitated towards other Callaway players and pros that played the company’s wares. I preached the benefits of the S2H2 technology to anyone who would listen. I still have no clue what it really means or what it actually does. The bandwagon effect is very strong in golf.
I have since realized the error of my ways.
The same commitment to hardline ideologies that can take a basic bible study group and convert it into a cult is what drives fanboy culture. The people involved in cults are almost always normal people with above average intelligence. They just want to belong to a group and have purpose. That’s not crazy, even if the behavioral manifestation is.
So the next time you decide to troll the other golf fanboys out there on forums, just remember they are after the same thing you are: the right to belong. Make sure to hear them out and understand where they are coming from. That is, unless they’re from Jonestown (or Carlsbad) and offering you Kool-Aid while you discuss slot technology. In that case, use the fight or flight response to run for your life.