Editor's note: Donald Hein is market research analyst at Phoenix-based golf equipment maker Ping. Jon Last is president
of Sports and Leisure Research Group, White Plains, N.Y.

From the days of “feathery” golf balls and hickory-wood shafts on golf clubs, the manufacturers and marketers of golf equipment have sought to better understand the motivations behind customer purchase behavior. There’s been an abundance of proprietary research conducted over the years to gauge the impact of various sources of influence, from the tens of millions of dollars spent on traditional advertising to visual merchandising and in-store promotional programs, as well as endorsement deals and the pursuit of those better players deemed to be at the top of golf’s “pyramid of influence.”

In a groundbreaking Driver Purchase Process study conducted by Sports and Leisure Research Group (SLRG) and Sports Illustrated Golf Group, distinct stages in the purchase cycle were identified and defined to resemble a “purchase fairway,” where, unlike traditional purchase funnels, the consideration set actually widened somewhat in the final stages of decision-making.

This study and other ongoing proprietary brand perception research conducted by Phoenix-based golf equipment maker Ping and SLRG, White Plains, N.Y., raised a series of important questions among Ping’s executive management team. First and foremost among these questions was what, specifically, was happening at the moment of truth – that instant where a golfer made the ultimate decision regarding which brand and model of driver they were going to buy? This included a need to gain a better, real-life understanding of how golfers behaved at retail and determine to what extent product trial, retailer recommendations and existing brand loyalties dictated the ultimate decision.

The hypothesis that the specific experience at retail could radically shift the purchase decision dr...