Fuzzy Thinking

Fuzzy thinking, even by well-known and respected people is still fuzzy thinking and when the topic is the distance the golf ball goes, fuzzy thinking easily results in a call to “doing something before the game is ruined.”

Respected icons of the game such as Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin have said more than once the problem with golf is the ball goes too far.

Maybe by taking a look at the facts we can sweep away the fuzziness concerning golf ball distance because if we don’t, sure as heck, the fuzzy thinking will eventually prevail.

First, this controversy over technological advancement is not new. It was essentially the same in the nineteen century and rears its head with every major advancement in balls and clubs. If you have some time, look up the evolution of the feathery ball to the gutta percha and then to the rubber-core ball or the story of the Schenectady center-shafted mallet putter being outlawed after Walter Travis used one to win the British Amateur.

The cry was all the fine old courses would be made obsolete because they were too short and no longer challenging or simply improvements in equipment meant the game was becoming too easy. Sound familiar?

Today the distance the golf ball goes is due to vastly improved launch conditions. This began with the introduction of metalwoods and then the development of graphite shafts allowing an increase in size of driver club heads. When titanium heads were introduced makers were able to almost double driver clubhead size again and driver shafts could be made much longer. All of these plus an immense improvement in ball aerodynamics added significant distance with all clubs.

Professionals—the ones fuzzy thinkers believe hit the ball too far—have also benefitted from intensive computer-aided instruction, better physical training and the simple fact a large number of them are taller and bigger than in the past.

Improved equipment and better agronomy have resulted in courses, especially on Tour, playing firmer and faster. Plus we must recognize the desire of operators to have the longest, toughest layout so they can boast of the difficulty for professionals rather than the playability for recreational golfers.

The number of golf courses is steadily decreasing so overall use of the land is not an issue. It is true some “fine old courses” may not have the land to be stretched in order to accommodate the modern professionals but that’s OK. For the average player not every course needs to be like this year’s US Open venue Erin Hills and have the capability to be played to over 8,000 yards.

However, the fact is in 2017 the average driving distance on the PGA Tour is 291.20 yards, an increase of about one yard in the preceding ten years so there’s been no “distance explosion” in more than a decade.

For recreational players titanium-headed-graphite-shafted drivers and solid-core-low-spinning urethane cover balls have not produced anywhere near the gains in yardage achieved by professionals. Technology has not caused golf handicaps to plummet and the typical male golfer still isn’t hitting the ball over 200 yards–if that.

The rulers of our game don’t seem to understand the problem in terms of the average golfer who occasionally makes a par and buys a celebratory beer when he makes a birdie. Additionally the USGA continues with the idea the ball goes should be reduced while telling weekend warriors to play from a shorter tee set. That’s illogical and a nonstarter.

Of course the culprit most often cited is the Titleist Pro V1 which debuted in the fall 2000 and at once became the most played ball on Tour. Every manufacturer now makes similar balls that are low spinning with urethane covers and solid cores.

The PGA Tour is in the entertainment business and the business model should be what its customers, i.e., golf fans, want. There’s no question we want to see birdies and eagles and drivable par-4s not to mention DJ smoking one 340. In 2007 the scoring average on Tour was 71.34 and this season it is 72.00. In fact going back 20 years the average was 71.77 showing courses aren’t getting easier despite what some would like you to believe.

As Frank Thomas former technical director of the USGA and current golf industry consultant has often said, driving distance has gone as far as it can go because the physics involved are maxed out. Or put another way, you can’t argue with Mother Nature.

Finally, part of the fuzzy thinking can be laid at the doorstep of the media because it’s easy to write that a well-known player, ex-player or some administrator is decrying the state of the game. One headline trumpeted “Great Balls of Fire!” referring to today’s low-spin golf balls. This is a cheap shot displaying a lack of knowledge not to mention an abuse of journalistic standards.

The inescapable conclusion there’s no horrific problem with the distance the golf ball travels. That’s just plain old fuzzy thinking.

And the solution is easy. Do nothing.

The crisis in golf technology or golf ball distance is only in the minds of fuzzy thinkers.

Come Back Tiger


For a lot of reasons besides the thrill of watching him play this madding game we need a healthy Tiger Woods back on Tour.

He draws attention regardless of his score. TV ratings take a big bump whenever he tees it up not to mention how much they increase when he is in contention. Companies get more “eyeballs” on their advertisements resulting in more sales and more return on their investment. In the case of the golf equipment OEMs such as TaylorMade Golf and Bridgestone Golf who pay Woods to endorse their products that can be significant.

Then, let’s not forget tournament ticket sales, merchandise sales, refreshments and pro-am fees. The more money raised the more can go to charity. Plus, though his turning professional in 1996 may not have resulted in a permanent increase in the number of golfers, there’s no denying a healthy Tiger attracts attention and bolsters the sport’s image which doesn’t hurt participation.

Whether Woods is the greatest player of all time or not, the truth is he still brings an interest and excitement to any event he enters. Insiders would say, “He moves the needle.” Is his career over? Who knows and it seems that even he doesn’t know.

Maligned, sometimes unfairly, and praised, sometimes undeservedly, but whatever the circumstances he has been the face of professional golf and for the past two decades has been the most talked about and written about golfer on Tour.

Dealing with just the facts, rather than what sometimes passes for news and is actually opinion, Woods is a forty-something athlete who has a bad back and there’s always a big question mark with that type of injury. Three surgeries put him on the sidelines beginning in August 2015. The layoff ended with his ballyhooed return in early December 2016 at a 17-player charity exhibition and no cut. He finished 15th.

Next in late January this year he teed it up at Torrey Pines Golf Club less than an hour from where he grew up. His rounds of 76 and 72 missed the cut by four strokes. Then he flew commercially to Dubai (Really? It’s hard to believe he would go commercial) where, after smoothing it around for a 77, Woods was hit by back spasms forcing his withdrawal.

Though had planned to, he did not play at Riviera (his charity is a primary beneficiary) nor the Honda near his home in South Florida revealing on TigerWoods.com his doctors had ordered no activity to let his “back calm down.”

And those are the facts. With the Masters five weeks away and his often voiced determination to win more major championships it will be interesting to see if he is able to play. Or even if his back is OK Woods may feel his game isn’t ready for prime time, that he can’t be competitive and decide against going to Augusta.

It’s important to not get carried away with speculation, guessing and wishful thinking. Woods doesn’t need the money but does, from all reports, still want to win more majors, i.e., continue chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record.

Besides, there’s one other salient fact about the former world number one who held that spot for a total of over 13 years. In less than nine years Woods will be eligible for the Champions Tour.

Review: “Back On Course-A Return on Investment”

The new book “Back On Course” has the subtitle “Drive Business Performance Through Golf” and it discusses some interesting points beginning with the natural matchup between the social and competitive aspects of golf and business.

Authors Connie Charles and Dave Bisbee do a masterful job of explaining the why and how any business can achieve a positive return on investment by using golf the game and golf the experience to further relationships with customers, vendors and employees.

Formerly golf was recognized as a tool for business. It was played by top and would-be top executives and viewed as an integral part of business relationship building. However, times change. Activist investor scrutiny of corporations followed by the economic downturn of the past ten years gave business golf a negative connotation. “Elitist” being one of the common descriptions and corporate leaders came to no longer look at the game as an opportunity for advancing the interests of their companies.

It was something that could be ditched to offset increasing expenses and as a sop to those characterizing golf as something only rich white-guys did.

The concept of return on investment seemingly took a back seat to being politically correct or at least seeming to be sensitive to public opinion as represented by commentators and corporate critics.

Charles and Bisbee recognized the decline of golf as a tool in the corporate arena often makes relationship building more difficult and puts up barriers to communication between companies, their customers and prospects. In addition, today golf can certainly use increased corporate participation at several levels including charitable giving and additional revenue for golf courses.

Having known Bisbee and Charles for a number of years, it is evident they are serious business people, knowledgeable in what it takes to advance a company’s interests and receive a commensurate return on invest.

“Back On Course” stresses return on investment for both corporations and individuals.

Charles is CEO of Strategic Solutions International in Newark, Del. and an expert in corporate team building. Bisbee is the general manager and director of golf at Seven Canyons Golf Club in Sedona, Ariz. and a well-respected instructor. They have an online portal, imapGolf.co, for individuals to improve their performance on and off the course using the same tools Charles has on her corporate site imapMyTeam.

One of the most intriguing ideas in “Back On Course” is that of the five hour meeting or interview, i.e., taking a prospective customer or employee to play golf which with a bit of the 19th hole neatly takes up half a day. From personal experience I know of no way to learn about the true character of someone more quickly than playing a round of golf. Insights into personality, character and attitude are evident and easily observable. They also get to know you, the basis of building a mutually beneficial relationship.

If you are in a corporate decision-making position or simply want to improve your interpersonal skills to further your career using golf, buy this book. In fact, you’ll probably buy copies for colleagues.

“Back On Course—Drive Business Performance Through Golf” by Connie Charles and Dave Bisbee is available on Amazon for $24.99.

PGA TOUR Superstore – Bucking the Trend

In addition to a soft demand particularly for hard goods, golf retailing has had to endure some difficult times typified by the bankruptcy of Golfsmith, Sports Authority and Ben Hogan Golf plus Nike Golf’s decision to close its club and ball business.

PGA TOUR Superstores however, are bucking the trend. The Atlanta-based retailer is profitable and showing strong sales growth with an active program for adding new locations to the current 28. Three more stores are scheduled to open this year.

The company is privately-held by AMB Group, one of the family businesses of Arthur Blank that own the Atlanta Falcons football team, Atlanta United of Major League Soccer Team and the soon to be completed Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. Blank was cofounder of Home Depot, retiring in 2001 as co-chairman.

In an interview at the PGA Merchandise Show Dick Sullivan president and CEO of PGA TOUR Superstores talked about their success and plans for the future. Sullivan joined the company in 2008 after successful stints at both Home Depot and the Atlanta Falcons.

Brand identity is a must, especially in the competitive business of selling retail golf equipment, so we began by asking about the use of perhaps the best know name in golf, PGA TOUR. Sullivan responded, “We have a 50 year license with the PGA TOUR for the name and are very happy with the association with the Tour and in fact handle the e-commerce for them off their website. We want people to feel the link between us and the Tour as being real and important.”

Sullivan continued by saying he wants his stores to be high in wow-factor so when a golf consumer walks in the first time their reaction is “WOW!” because of the large amount of floor space, the interactive and brightly lit open layouts and well-stocked shelves.

With stores averaging over 45,000 square feet a big part of the growth has been realized by maximizing revenue whether in sales of clubs, apparel or services. We questioned how the revenue per square foot compared with other retailers and though he was reluctant to share specifics Sullivan did say that, “Revenue per square foot is up to double of other golf retailers.”

Experiential is the word the company uses to describe a visit and Sullivan said sales mix in a given store depends on the local market but, “Last year (2016) we gave 45-50,000 lessons so we have a strong presence in helping golfers get better.” Also interesting and somewhat unexpected is some locations sell more ladies’ apparel than men’s.

In 2016 PGA TOUR Superstores had over seven million customers and that will presumably grow in 2017 not only from same store growth but from increasing the number of locations. Sullivan expects to have 50 stores in five years so the rate of openings will be steady but not spectacular.

Realistically the growth into new markets and opening of new locations in existing markets is driven often by the cost of real estate. “It has to make sense for us and some areas [commercial real estate] are pretty expensive and it’s hard to make the numbers work,” Sullivan told me.

The almost mystical reputation of Home Depot’s customer service is a benchmark for Sullivan and the employees of PGA TOUR Superstores and this starts with knowing golfers and what they want and need. The connection is made through store employees.

According to Sullivan, “The employees on the floor who are closest to the customers are at the top of the PGA TOUR Superstore pyramid and the CEO is at the bottom. Employees tell us what we need to do.” They are the ones dealing with the golfers so they understand what the customer wants and needs.

He followed that comment quickly with, “If you do the right thing the numbers will follow,” which certainly is a refreshing change from the bean-counter orientation of some other operations.

Anecdotally, on a recent visit to the Orlando store to purchase some golf gloves the display rack had none in my size. When I asked a store associate if they had any he ran…ran mind you, to the back and returned almost immediately with what I needed.

I don’t recall ever experiencing that level of enthusiastic service much less physical exertion ever in any golf store, big box retailer or green grass shop.

On average PGA TOUR Superstores have 14 hitting bays with the latest swing analysis software and graphics along with custom fitting of clubs, club repair, re-gripping. “We run Saturday clinics for juniors to build the interest of youngsters in the game hopefully making them lifelong participants but also to engage the parents in a meaningful way with their children, the game of golf and our stores.”

So how is it working? As noted previously PGA TOUR Superstores is bucking the trend with continued growth and profitability and for example, “Some snowbound locations have to use beepers like in restaurants to notify when a practice bay is available which have swing analysis software. Each location has PGA Professionals on staff.”

When asked for a description of their ideal target customer Sullivan responded, “The avid golfer is of course first for us. We want them to find everything they want and for them to come back.”

From my experience it would seem a lot of golfers will be doing just that.

Images courtesy PGA TOUR Superstore

Another PGA Show in the Books

After covering the PGA Merchandise Show for more than 20 years the variety of products still amazes me and particularly the new items from the latest in tech gadgets to ways to more efficiently attach things to your golf bag.

The 64th industry-only Show concluded last Friday its three day run in the Orange County Convention Center located in suburban Orlando. As always it was preceded by the Demo Day to beat all demo days for PGA Professionals and the media at the Orange County National Golf Center’s immense range.

For the week the event that grabbed the most attention was the announcement by TaylorMade-adidas Golf CEO David Abeles just after Show doors opened the first day of the signing of Tiger Woods to an endorsement contract. It created a buzz overshadowing a later announcement by Callaway Golf that Michelle Wie had become a part of their staff.

Reed Expositions, who run the Show, have not released attendance yet but many old timers felt the numbers may have been down from the last couple of years. However, with 1 million square feet of exhibit space and 10 miles of aisles not counting the dozens of off floor meeting rooms, it’s hard to tell. What is for sure is the number of exhibitors remained approximately the same as the past three years—around 1,000—with 271 first time exhibitors. Reed said the number of PGA Professional in attendance increased three percent to more than 7,500.

This is the largest meeting of the golf industry or as they say, the “Major of the Golf Business” and this is certainly true though some well-known companies were absent, in a couple of cases conspicuously absent. Nike Golf of course was not exhibiting clubs since they have closed their club and ball business to concentrate on golf apparel but Nike apparel was a no show as well. Ben Hogan Golf, after an effort to reinvigorate the iconic brand was not present and this week declared bankruptcy.

Less surprising was the absence of PXG owned by Bob Parsons who has said publicly the buyers and PGA Professionals coming to Orlando are not the target market for his ultra-expensive clubs with a set listing at over $5,000. Also among the missing were Mizuno Golf, Bridgestone, True Temper and Aldila.

Among the major items attracting attention were drivers from Wilson Golf (Triton), Callaway (Great Big Bertha Epic), TaylorMade (M1 and M2), Cobra (King F7 and F7+) and Titleist (917 D2 and D3). New golf balls included the Callaway Chrome Soft X, TaylorMade TP5 and TP5x, Volvik S4 White, Srixon Z-Star/Z-Star XV and Titleist’s latest Pro V1 and Pro V1x.

There were 423 companies in the apparel category, a number that continues to grow along with the size of their displays. Services plus accessories seem to be about the same, perhaps with slight growth, which means the club company portion of the Show is declining since the total number of exhibitors remains the same. However, the club category includes companies from the largest multi-line manufacturers to grip, shaft and ferrule makers and one-of putter producers.

Besides the Woods/TMaG announcement often heard discussed on the floor, in the media center and after hours was the non-sale of TMaG which has been on the block since last May. Parent adidas hasn’t said a word and no buyers have been forthcoming though a rumor that Woods and Michael Jordan were interested was thoroughly discredited. With business a little better and a Tiger in the stable might adidas consider keeping the top metal wood maker?

Another oft heard comment there has been no superhot-must-have product introduced and there are a couple of reasons why. Club companies all use top flight technology already so the spread in club performance has narrowed plus restrictions on allowable performance by the USGA has definitely put a damper on innovation. But probably the biggest reason, and golf club designers have known this for some time, products were reaching both the USGA limits and limits imposed by the laws of physics. Change therefore is more incremental rather than a “breakthrough.”

Individual golfers still will gain the most benefit and better performance for them by using custom fitted clubs.

In the golf business orders are often written before the Show so the purchase cycle is not as dependent on face to face meetings as once was the case with possibly the exception of soft goods. The focus of the Show has changed to placing a major emphasis on the continuing education courses for PGA Professionals.

For most attendees though it is a worldwide and industrywide meet-and-greet with a sprinkling of deal making. Costs of attending are high, booth space is expensive and even large companies must figure how to get the most return from the expense. This is not a negative but something that needs to be continually acknowledged and improved by the PGA and Reed Expositions.

“Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated”

“Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.” So said Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company President and CEO Scott Walker in a press release announcing a company restructuring. The voluntary action aimed at cutting costs and streamlining operations included the layoff of most of the company employees, approximately 30, according to a copyrighted story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram by Steve Kaskovich.

Walker continued in the press release, “While our organization does not look the same today as it did in 2016, we are confident that the changes we are making will make us a stronger and better company in the future.”

The release stated that at present Ben Hogan has not declared bankruptcy nor have any lenders foreclosed on outstanding debt.

In 2015 the iconic Ben Hogan brand was reintroduced at the PGA Merchandise Show with a new iron model, the Ft. Worth 15, by the new Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company LLC after having been off the market since 2008 with Terry Koehler as president and CEO. Koehler had negotiated a licensing agreement for the name with clothier Perry Ellis who had purchased the brand from Callaway Golf in 2012. Perry Ellis continues to make and market apparel under the Ben Hogan name. Koehler formerly worked for Ben Hogan in his original company was also president and CEO of Eidolon Wedge Company.

Walker replaced Koehler as president and CEO of the Fort Worth, Tex. based operation in August 2016.

Three different iron models, one wedge model and one hybrid model are currently in their catalog.

A check of OEM’s scheduled to exhibit at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando starting Jan. 24 showed Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company as not having contracted for display booth space but meeting room space off the main floor has been reserved.

The original Ben Hogan Company was started by Ben Hogan in 1953 to manufacture clubs to his exacting specifications and quickly gained the reputation of the ultimate “player’s irons.” Hogan died in 1997 at the age of 84 having sold his interest in the manufacturer some years earlier.

PGA Show – Looking for Answers

25088715185_ccc20fb3ba_z

At this writing we are just over two months to the opening of the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show—in fact we are within 75 days. Open only to members of the golf industry it is the most important annual meeting in the business. Next year it runs from January 24th with a Demo Day held at the Orange County National Golf Center and ends on January 27th after three days of exhibits in Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.

In particular those making and selling golf equipment will be looking for answers to the direction that part of the industry is taking.

Changes to the equipment OEMs and retailers have been coming at a rapid pace.

Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS) owner of Golf Galaxy has purchased bankrupt competitor Golfsmith and will leave just 30 of the Golfsmith locations open which clearly changes big-box retailing of equipment. At the same time aggressive competitors such as PGA Tour Superstore and Worldwide Golf Shops (owners of Roger Dunn Golf, Edwin Watts Golf, The Golf Mart, Golfers’ Warehouse, Van’s Golf and Unita Golf) are working hard to increase their share of the approximately $4.0 billion U.S. market.pga-merchandise-show-logo_2017

So one question is, how will the reduction in golf retail space with the closing of Golfsmith effect golf consumers, club OEM’s and the retailers themselves? Will the expansion in the number of locations by competitors compensate for Golfsmith’s loss and how will club pricing to golfers be affected?

Sales of clubs, balls, merchandise, greens fees, golf related travel and golf-front real estate values are all impacted by the number of golfers but with that number at best holding its own the business is not expanding.

Nike Golf’s exit from the club business has been projected to have minimal impact on the other OEMs but having said that Callaway Golf (NYSE:ELY) under CEO Chip Brewer has been very aggressive and is introducing attractive new products for the 2017 season. They reported a 6.9 percent increase in sales for the third quarter this year and project a substantial increase in earnings for the full year.

The other publically traded OEM Acushnet (NYSE:GOLF), makers of the best-selling Titleist golf balls, has just had its initial public offering of stock and said sales increased slightly (under 3 percent) in the quarter ending June 30 accompanied by increased profit. Acushnet also has a new line of drivers and fairway woods that are receiving good reviews.

The second largest OEM, after Acushnet, TaylorMade Golf is up for sale and has been for the past six months, evidentially with no takers. Owner adidas (OTC:ADDYY) said TMaG sales have been higher and for the first nine months of 2016 club and ball sales showed “double-digit increases” sales with higher profitability.

Other manufacturers such as Tour Edge Golf, Cobra Puma Golf and Srixon are also pressing to gain market share, albeit in a stagnant market, which means any increased sales will have to be at the expensive of another company rather than from market growth.

So the question is what will the future bring and the answer could be coming at the PGA Show. Not only will all of the new clubs and balls be available for evaluation but as significantly, industry insiders may be able to forecast which direction the market is moving. Millions of dollars ride on the decisions made.

The Times They Are A-Changin’—Bob Dylan

dyaln_640x400Though Bob Dylan sang the lyrics to The Times They Are A-Changin’ in 1964 to reflect the social unrest of the time he could have been singing about the golf equipment business today.

The trials and tribulations of golf equipment manufacturers and retailers have been well reported with Dicks Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS) purchasing Golfsmith out of bankruptcy and Nike’s (NYSE:NKE) decision to withdraw from the club market receiving the most attention. At the same time two of the largest club makers are undergoing major changes.

Potentially the sale to the public of Acushnet, makers of the number one ball brand Titleist and the number one golf shoe FootJoy, will have an impact that could be more far reaching.

Owners Fila Korea Ltd. and an investment group led by Mirae Asset Private Funding purchased Acushnet from Fortune Brands in 2011 for $1.23 billion and will not relinquish their entire ownership in the initial public offering only selling roughly one-third of their shares. The prospectus also states the proceeds from the public stock sale will not be used by Acushnet to reduce debt or for product development but retained by Fila and the others.

Fila also has told Pulse News in Korea they have plans to purchase more shares, up to 50 percent, from other current shareholders to keep control of the company.

As a publically traded company Acushnet (NYSE:GOLF) will be making decisions differently than when privately owned. The pressure from investors will place them in the same position as every other public company. Quarterly results will be closely scrutinized and management decisions will be made in light of that attention.

In other publicly-held corporations long-term strategy may be compromised for the sake of short term profits. One of the most obvious areas of change could be the balance of profits retained by the company to fuel growth and the amount distributed to stockholders. It wouldn’t be the first time short term decision making overrode long term product development.

TaylorMade Golf owned by adidas is for sale and after six months no deal has been signed leading some to ask why. Adams Golf and Ashworth brands will likely be included in any deal. Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer said in May, when the possibility of a sale was being investigated, they wanted to concentrate on other divisions of the company with better prospects for growth. A reason essentially the same as that given by Nike in August when they decided to leave the club business.

It may or may not be significant but TMaG has not announced any new models for the 2017 season even though during late summer and fall all the other makers are introducing their latest. TMaG has the leading driver on the PGA Tour and has the largest selling iron model, the M2, on the market so it would be expected new clubs would be introduced at this time or at least an announcement there would not be new club models for 2017.

One interesting possibility is, if the Acushnet IPO is popular with investors, TaylorMade could be seen as a more attractive acquisition.

The Dick’s/Golfsmith deal for a reported $70 million remains to be finalized and as yet unresolved is how many of the Golfsmith stores will remain open and if Dick’s other specialty retailer Golf Galaxy will assume Golfsmith locations. Dick’s bought another competitor, Sports Authority, also in bankruptcy earlier this year.

Stay tuned. The Acushnet IPO is Friday the 28th, more news about TaylorMade’s fate will surely be coming and Dick’s decisions about Golfsmith will to a large degree set the pattern for big box retailers.

intherough_640x480

David Hueber – “In the Rough”
By ED TRAVIS

David Hueber has been around the golf industry for four decades, a lot of the time holding very responsible positions including a stint as president and CEO of the Ben Hogan Company. This gives him a unique vantage point to view and review the industry from course operations to real estate development to the actual manufacture of golf clubs and his book tells some very interesting tales.

“In the Rough: The Business Game of Golf” relates Hueber’s journey in golf beginning as a caddie at the club where his father was the professional and where he learned to play well enough to get a scholarship to Florida State University. He describes his time on the FSU team as, “I played without distinction,” but it was enough to convince him though career as a touring pro may have been out of his reach he wanted to be in the golf industry in some way.

An entry level job with the National Golf Foundation gave him the chance to see the inside of course development, meet Karsten Solheim the founder of Ping and hear the stories of other golf equipment pioneers including Gary Adams of TaylorMade, Tom Crowe of Cobra and Ely Callaway of Callaway Golf.

These incidents are all interesting but when Hueber took a job working for Deane Beman at that time Commissioner of the PGA Tour his experiences become a lens to the changes in the golf industry. Best known as the head of Ben Hogan Company when it was owned by Japanese entrepreneur Minoru Isutani’s Cosmo World, Hueber also ran Pebble Beach as president of Ben Hogan Properties, another of Isutani’s companies.

Isutani preferred to stay behind the scenes but hit the news in an unfortunate way when it was revealed he sold Pebble Beach for $350 million less than he paid.

From this reviewer’s perspective there are two extremely interesting parts to “In the Rough” that will attract the attention of most everyone who loves the game. First is Hueber’s description of the comedy of errors and tragic misjudgment from which none of the participants came away unscathed, the “Square Grooves Controversy” between Karsten Solheim and the PGA Tour and the USGA. The offshoot of which almost 30 years later in his view is an ineffectual USGA reacting to changes in technology and struggling to control the performance of today’s golf balls and clubs. An unforeseen result of which are the 7,000 plus yards long real estate development dominated golf courses that are essentially unplayable by the average golfer.

Then there are the many enlightening anecdotes and stories of Hueber’s relationship with Ben Hogan, perhaps the most enigmatic and dominant players of all times, who still came into the office everyday even after selling out to AMF in 1960. Heuber even tackles an explanation of Hogan’s so-called swing “secret” which allowed “The Wee Ice Mon,” as the Scots called him, control like no other player over the distance and trajectory of his shots. This at a time of persimmon headed drivers and of rubber band-wound liquid center golf balls so lacking in quality control a player was fortunate to find three or four in a dozen that were round and would fly properly.

Hueber’s personal history is interesting but what makes “In the Rough: The Business Game of Golf” worth reading is the insight he provides to the events and some the biggest names in the game.

In the Rough: The Business Game of Golf
David Hueber
TCU Press
246 pp.
Paper with flaps. $32.50
eBook. $15.95

 

Tiger’s In – Nike’s Out

woods_2015_wyndham

He hasn’t put his game on display for over a year and his last PGA Tour win was in August of 2013 but the soon to be 41-year old has created lots of attention by saying he will play in a charity event October 10-11 followed by the Safeway Open October 13-16.

And the company whose clubs he has played since 2002 is getting out, out of the club, bag and ball business to concentrate on shoes and apparel.

Tiger Woods and Nike, inseparable in the minds of many, have had an amazing run together. Woods currently has 79 Tour wins with 14 majors (not all using Nike equipment) ranking second all-time in both categories. Nike though, was never able to come up with a category-defining club in spite of having on the payroll Tom Stites, one of the most respected club designers in the business. What they did however, with Woods under the most lucrative contract in golf, was become the number one golf apparel brand.

It’s no wonder, with the equipment business having at best a minimal-growth future, the decision to leave that arena was made.

Woods and other staff members, most notably Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie, will continue to wear Nike Swoosh apparel so they will still have a huge presence in the minds of consumers. Golfers just won’t be able to purchase Nike clubs.

The effect the Nike withdrawal from selling equipment is uncertain but a good estimate is it probably won’t be very large. The golf division never had more than $800 million (last year $706 million) in sales but since the breakdown between hard goods and soft goods was not reported, actual club sales are unknown. They never approached a 10% market share in hard goods.

Some in the media are saying Nike’s problems are because Woods hasn’t been playing and that’s incorrect. Nike didn’t have market leadership or even contend for leadership when Woods was at his best, winning multiple times in a season. His presence on Tour alone never could generate the amount of business Nike wanted to dominant the golf hard goods sector but did help push soft goods to the number one spot.

Golf for Nike was a tiny part of their overall business, less than two percent, and several factors virtually preordained their decision. The small market share plus an industry where product lifecycles are measured often in months with relatively large development costs meant staying just didn’t make sense. It was obvious golf equipment had to go.

With Nike paying more attention to golf performance and lifestyle soft goods, the biggest impact could be seen by competing shoe and apparel brands Acushnet’s FootJoy, adidas and Under Armour. Adidas is also leaving equipment and selling its golf brands TaylorMade Golf and Adams. The other major player Acushnet, owner of Titleist, is in the process of going public which typically can create uncertainly in corporate decision making.

This could mean Callaway picks up the major portion of Nike club sales however large it was and undeniably Callaway has been on an upwards trend since Chip Brewer took over as CEO. Privately-owned Ping and others potentially could see a bump in sales as well.

With all that in mind, which clubs will Woods switch to now that he plans to compete and again chase Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors?

Well, it’s not clear he will switch at all and for sure not right away though Woods has said companies are sending lots of clubs to try out. He hasn’t played a Tour event since August 2015 and it’s unlikely he will make a club change soon. Additionally any equipment company paying the amount of money Woods can demand will want their logo prominently display on his cap and shirt so there’s an immediate conflict with his Nike apparel contract. Nike is worth several millions each year to Woods and the contract doesn’t renew until the end of 2018 so he’s not going to put it in jeopardy.

One thing is for sure, fan interest will continue as will the speculation about Woods as he tries to get back to being top of the Tour.