I have really enjoyed reading this topic, and it is one that I have thought about a lot. I particularly enjoyed "grumpy's" comment, how true. I think that much of it is about skill. I have done some competition shooting in the past, both IPSC and USPSA. I started out with a stock Colt Government model and saw many shooting with custom guns in the thousands. For me the limiting factor was always myself (i.e. the gun I was shooting was always more accurate than me the shooter!). Having said that I eventually bought a Wilson Combat Pistol and man have I enjoyed that gun. Fly fishing is the same way. Here is what I have come to over time when talking to a new fly fisherman.
My thoughts would be to get some casting instruction first, get the correct technique down, and then once you have developed your casting style cast several rods/brands to find which you like the most. If you are just starting out, keep in mind that you may want a rod that you can grow into some. In my own personal experience, I start with an inexpensive rod, then end up wanting and getting one of the better rods. I have had great experiences with both Sage and Orvis rods. My first Orvis rod was purchased in 1990, and Orvis has replaced that rod due to me breaking it 4 times and it still works great. Sage makes some really nice rods, but their repairs have really been a little problematic lately. I have not thrown a lot of TFO rods, I fished a 12 wt a couple of times for cobia several years back and it worked just fine, but I do not have much experience with them. Get a rod that you cast well and that is in your price range, you can go inexpensive on the reel for a trout rod, but do not skimp on the fly line. Cheap fly line can make the best rod hard to cast.