Mike, I've been fly fishing since the mid 70s and I can do all the trout, bass, and pan fishing that I'll ever want to with an 8' 7wt.
I always encourage new folks to look at similar mid-weight rigs (5-7wt) in medium lengths that don't stay up in the tree tops and you can reach the end of, and suggest a price of $100-200 tops. My thoughts are that the great majority of new buyers won't stay in the sport long and the high priced stuff will live in a closet or ... If and when the newbie decides he/she wants to specialize or upgrade, he should have the acquired knowledge to make informed decisions.
What drives the price up on some top name rods is the guarantee that they will replace it 2,3 or 10 times if you are careless and break it, no free lunch- just raise the door charge. And then there is a class of fly fisher that has to pay more for every thing as part of his personality; doesn't matter to those guys which thing is best, only which one cost more.
You are correct. I have made several posts about the late great former fishing editor, Jason Lucas, and how he always preached that the only fly rod one needs for ALL fly fishing, from small sunfish up to large tarpon, was a rod 8 feet or even several inches shorter with a medium action, a floating line, a leader about as long as the rod, and a single action reel. I pretty much agree with ole Jason, and the only reason I fish with lots of different rods is because I am a collector and I like to fish with the stuff I collect. I only fish the small streams of the GSMNP in eastern Tennessee for small trout, so by rights I should only need a 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 foot 4 or 5 weight rod for most traditional fishing situations and a 10 foot 3 weight rod for high stick nymph fishing. But lately I have been using my 8 footers with 5, 6, and 7 weight lines and am doing quite well with them and having a lot of fun in the process. Maybe it is an unconscious tribute to my childhood idol, Jason Lucas.