Top Ten Stories of 2018

Year of the Tiger
Perhaps Ben Hogan’s come back to win six majors after a head-on collision with a bus was more amazing but Tiger Woods’ return from four back surgeries and other well publicized problems to win the Tour Championship is by any measure remarkable. Towards the end of 2017 the prognosis was he might never be able to play professional golf again much less at a championship level. However, he did come back competing in 18 tournaments and the Ryder Cup this year. Many fans are pulling for the soon to be 43-year old to continue his run at Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, Woods has 14. However, even if he never wins another tournament, 2018 will always be known as the year of the Tiger. Continue reading

Bridgestone’s TOUR B JGR Family

After a three-year absence Dan Murphy is back at Bridgestone Golf taking over as president and CEO and he needs to not only bring Bridgestone back from its slide in ball sales but also effectively market the new TOUR B JGR line of clubs. Before leaving in 2015 Murphy helped create the plan promoting ball-fitting for recreational golfers that produced a 250% increase in sales. This gave Bridgestone an almost 20% market share and a comfortable number two spot behind Acushnet. Continue reading

‘Tis the Season–Gifts for Golfers 2018

 

Perplexed what to buy for a golfer on your gift list? Here are a few suggestions of items we like and hope to find in our Christmas stocking. They cover a range of prices and each will be a welcomed expression of your feelings this season.
Continue reading

Driver vs. Driver Season 2

In the view of some it took courage for Wilson Golf to subject themselves to another round of potential ridicule by investing in a second season of Driver vs. Driver on the Golf Channel. Season one two years ago not only seemed to lack focus, but the winning design had not been passed by the USGA for conformance to the Rules of Golf and so had to be delayed getting to retail. Continue reading

Big Bertha Irons & Hybrids

Since Callaway Golf came out with the first Big Bertha irons back in the mid-90s the name has been resurrected several times including in 2014 with irons having the very well thought of 360 Face Cup construction. These Big Berthas helped push Callaway into the top spot in iron sales and made Big Bertha the bestselling iron model.

The 360 Face Cup provides flex to the face at impact and helps energy transfer to the ball so there is more ball speed and distance. Continue reading

Good News Third Quarter Equipment

Some observers forget there’s a danger in reading too much into the financial results of a company over the short term especially a publicly traded company whose management is very aware they are being judged on interim results. Add to that if the company is in a stagnant or slow grow industry such as golf equipment, growth only comes from “eating the other guy’s lunch.” In other words, in today’s equipment market you can figure increases in sales often come from a corresponding decrease in sales by another company. Continue reading

A Golf Purist


Played golf the other day with a good friend who brought along a gentleman I had never met. After the usual exchange of pleasant inanities my friend mentioned I wrote about golf and the new guy said without any prompting, “Well, I can’t see all this new equipment. Why they just don’t go back to persimmon drivers and a wound ball like the old Titleist Professional.” Continue reading

Titleist TS-What You Need to Know


Titleist is the number one ball company and will remain in the top spot for the foreseeable future. The company says sales of the new softer AVX ball are “off to a fast start” and iron sales have been a bright spot as well, making up a large part of the almost 25% increase in club sales through the second quarter of 2018. The new 718 AP3 players-distance irons leapt to the best-selling slot in the 718 family complimenting the game-improvement 718 AP1s and players model 718 AP2s. Continue reading

Why Not Just Give Everyone a Trophy?


Michael Breed on his Sirius XM PGA Tour radio show A New Breed of Golf has proposed players missing the cut in PGA Tour events should be paid.

If I understand his premise correctly Breed feels these players have expenses and by their presence they contribute to the entertainment value of the tournament. Continue reading

USGA Shoots Themselves in the Foot…Again

USGA has again taken a position that gives the impression they like embarrassing themselves and enforcing the feeling of many the organization is irrelevant to golf in the real world.

The latest is the announcement by the USGA (and R&A) citing they “are proposing regulations regarding the use of green-reading materials, reaffirming the need for a player to read greens based on their own judgment, skill and ability. Continue reading

PGA Tour Schedule “These Guys Are Busy”

It was interesting the revamped PGA Tour schedule for the 2018-2019 season received so little play by the press and social media due no doubt to the buzz concerning the prospect of a head to head match between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. After all they are the “needle movers” for sports fans and certainly for diehard golf fans but at this writing no deal has been firmed up.

During the week we also were treated to coverage and comment, in and out of the legitimate press, of Lefty’s two-shot penalty at the Greenbrier plus the USGA ruling Bryson DeChambeau’s drawing compass was out of bounds.

However, should you define golf news by the impact on fans the PGA Tour announcement of a shortened 2018-2019 tournament schedule was the most important. As PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan put it in the press release, “It’s been our stated objective for several years to create better sequencing of our tournaments that golf fans around the world can engage in from start to finish. And by concluding at the end of August, the FedExCup Playoffs no longer have the challenge of sharing the stage with college and professional football. This will enhance the visibility of the FedExCup Playoffs and overall fan engagement with the PGA TOUR and the game as a whole.”

How fewer tournaments help “the game as a whole” is not clear but the I’m sure quibbling is beneath us.

The first eight tournaments of the split schedule take place prior to the hiatus from Thanksgiving to New Years as they did this season, but the significant fact is these events are now a bigger part of the year. With the new schedule having three fewer tournaments you can expect more of the big names more of time rather than just the WGC-HSBC in Shanghai and one of the other two in the Asian swing. This could be good news particularly for two well thought of event, one in Las Vegas (Shriners Hospitals for Children) and the other in Georgia (RSM Classic).

Accomplishing the goal of having the Tour Championship before Labor Day when football takes over meant one of the year-end FedExCup playoff events would have to go. Sacrificed for the good of the game (or at least to beat out the NFL) was the Dell Technologies Championship at the TPC Boston which has fans in New England more than a little unhappy.

Previously we knew about The Players Championship (Ponte Vedra Beach) moving from May to March and in 2019 the date is preceded by the Arnold Palmer Invitational (Bay Hill) followed by the Valspar Championship in Tampa. Combined with the Honda Classic the week before Arnie’s tournament there’s a reborn Florida swing.

The other major move was also by a major, the PGA Championship, which went from being the final major of the year in August to being put in The Player Championship’s old slot in May. The season’s majors then will be spread from the Masters April 11 – 14 to the PGA May 16 – 19 to the U.S. Open June 13 – 16 and finishing with the British Open July 18 – 21. That’s five weeks between the Masters and the PGA, four weeks from the PGA to the U.S. Open and four from the U.S. Open to the British Open.

Add in The Players, three WGC championships from January to July and “must-play” events such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Memorial, the AT&T Byron Nelson and the…well you get the idea. Many if not most players rarely play more than three tournaments in a row, so the new Tour schedule could result in two situations. First, they may find it difficult to fit in some time off and secondly some very good tournaments may have a problem attracting players in the top 50. The Valspar tucked in between The Players and the WGC-Dell Technology Match Play is obviously on that list as is the RBC Canadian falling the week between the Memorial and the U.S. Open.

It’s ironic the Tour’s slogan was changed because if it was still “These guys are good” it might be more appropriate to say, “These guys are busy.”

Wanna Bet?

So, let’s say you’ve found the time, endured the travel and spent the money to go a U.S. Open or Ryder Cup or Masters or for that matter any PGA Tour event. It’s the 72nd hole and Jordan Spieth is lining up an 8-footer. And, as long as we are supposing, it isn’t just any 8-footer but to win the U.S. Open or Ryder Cup or Masters, etc.

Just as Spieth starts his stroke someone tosses a cup of beer on to the green, the young Texan flinches and the ball doesn’t even touch the cup. Terrible right? Throw him or her out—preferably not gently. Or perhaps it’s just another example of why event security should be increased to curb such boorish and probably intoxicated behavior.

But what if it isn’t. What if it is someone wanting to influence the outcome of the tournament?

It is not beyond reason we may see examples such as this or worse when wagering on golf comes out of the back alleys and cross-continent Internet connections. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Congress does not have the right to legislate against sports gambling and only the individual states may allow or disallow wagering of that type.

Our society no longer considers gambling a moral issue…certainly it goes on legally and illegally and arguments against sports gambling on that basis are nonstarters.

Unquestionably at least some of the individual states will approve sports wagering in some form and the PGA Tour has already said it will enhance the fan experience and attract more interest to their events and golf in general.

Golf is one of the few sports where the gallery is literally part of the action, not confined in bleachers nor behind barriers or steel mesh. There is just a piece of rope delineating the playing ground. This is one of golf’s charms and attractions putting it in a special category but also offers lots of opportunities for those wagering large sums of money to be a factor in the outcome of a tournament.

For fans this is not a pleasant prospect and though my crystal ball hasn’t worked in years, it’s not hard to imagine even a whiff of someone influencing play for reasons having to do with large amounts of wagered money will work to our game’s detriment. Why hasn’t it happened until now with some legal and lots of illegal wagering? I don’t know but a reasonable guess would be the amount of money wasn’t worth the risk. Also, our English friends have been golf gambling for years with even kiosks onsite to place your bets.

Let’s be very clear. It’s about the money. In search of added revenue without raising taxes some states will approve wagering on golf and the lessons of 50 years of state sponsored lotteries is about to be replayed The PGA Tour has been candid about the potential of a new income stream. One can only hope golf will avoid a scandal.

PGA TOUR Superstore – Managed Growth in a Difficult Market

PGA TOUR Superstore hasn’t bought into all the doom and gloom used by some to describe the golf equipment industry. For them the glass isn’t half empty and in fact the Atlanta-based chain has been following a controlled plan of expansion to manage growth for the long term.

The opportunity for additional insight to this golf retailing success story came in an interview with Randy Peitsch, PGA TOUR Superstore’s Senior Vice President of Operations. Peitsch has been in the top spot guiding day-to-day operations for the past two years after a five-year stint as vice president in charge of hard goods prior to which he was in divisional management at Sports Authority.

We questioned Peitsch about how PGATSS can accomplish growth in an unfavorable golf retail environment.

“It begins with hiring really good people, training them and then backing them,” Peitsch responded. “We can then focus on the consumer experience. We are not in the transaction business. We are in the relationship business.”

Well said but it should be pointed out that for the past several years the golf equipment business has euphemistically been called a “difficult market” with several events adversely affecting both the makers and sellers of equipment.

Golf retailers of all sizes have closed including the 463-store Sports Authority plus Golfsmith shuttered most of their locations after being purchased by Dick’s Sporting Goods. Dick’s, the sports retailing behemoth with over 700 locations, has reduced store floor space allocated to golf though recent statements by top management indicate they may be encouraged with the prospects for increases in golf equipment and accessories, particularly their private brands such as Top-Flite.

Manufacturers too have struggled with the largest, Acushnet Holding Corp (NYSE: GOLF), making a tepidly received public stock offering in late 2016. The former Fila Korea subsidiary, maker of several of golf’s top brands including Titleist and FootJoy, reported flat sales in 2017 but an increase in net income of $47 million.

In May 2017 TaylorMade Golf, the third largest equipment maker, was sold by Adidas (OTCMKTS: ADDY) for a bargain-basement price to an investment company and in third quarter 2016 Nike closed its golf equipment division. Niche manufacturer Ben Hogan Golf filed for bankruptcy and during its recovery has opted for a consumer-direct strategy.

On the positive side the second largest equipment manufacturer Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY) finished 2017 with 20% higher sales than the previous year mostly on the strength of its Great Big Bertha Epic line of metalwoods. Midsize manufacturers such as Tour Edge Golf, Bridgestone Golf and Cobra Golf also have said they did appreciably better last year and are looking forward to even more gains in 2018.

Many are saying we are seeing the first signs of some stability in golf retailing and certainly PGA TOUR Superstore is well positioned to take advantage. The company opened three new locations in 2017 for a total of 31 and number 32 opened in February with number 33 set for the Houston, Texas market.

Same store sales last year had a healthy increase of 15 percent plus overall sales increased 23 percent. Digging a little deeper there are even more signs of their expanding market presence:
-Black Friday 2017 same store sales up 20 percent and for the three-day Thanksgiving weekend up 15 percent
-Online sales for Cyber Monday increased an eye-popping 62 percent
-Customer club fittings topped 110,000 in 2017 and lessons hit almost 50,000
-Instore practice bays saw 100,000 participants during the year

Impressive, in fact very impressive, for a year when the number of U.S. golfers continued to decline. Golfer consumers are responding to PGATSS’s extensive inventory, competitive pricing and perhaps even more to the service they receive whether online or in-store.

A trip to PGATSS has been compared with a visit to Home Depot and it should be since the private-held PGATSS is part of the AMB Group one of the Blank family endeavors along with the Atlanta Falcons (NFL), Atlanta United (MLS) and Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Family head Arthur Blank was one of the founders of Home Depot, retiring in 2001 as co-chairman.

Blank said of the success his stores have had in an uncertain retail environment, “At PGA TOUR Superstore we’re using the same philosophy that drove the Home Depot’s success and revolutionized the home improvement industry.  We offer a variety of products at value prices, incredible services and employ the best associates to provide a level of customer service that keeps visitors coming back because they love the experience.”

Most consumers acknowledge a visit to a PGATSS has a different feeling from the usual big box retailer. Employees invariably greet you and then thank you when you leave, an everyday example of customer relationship building. 

Peitsch pointed out, “We focus on the consumer experience. If we do everything the right way, we win out over the competitors.”

True certainly but beating the other guy also takes the proper pricing, inventory and profit margins.

According to Peitsch, “Margins have to be in the first sentence of any discussion and the partnerships with manufacturers are very important.” Then as if anticipating my next question, “The trend in our margins has continued upwards.”

Funds to pay for expansion must come from either borrowing or consistent profitability. Without the proper margins profits soon are nonexistent and discussing the entire business of PGATSS Peitsch made a critical observation, “Pay attention to the process and the results will come.”

Questioned about expansion plans Peitsch then said, “The cost of retail space drives the selection of new locations.” So, in addition to golfer demographics, brick and mortar economics dictate whether a site is viable or if even an entire market is suitable.

Peitsch commented that though they may be “under penetrated in the market we are the fastest growing and expect to open a store every other month, so we will have 50 by 2020.” That would be a 50 percent increase in just three years and average store size at the end of 2017 was 40,000 square feet making them the largest off-course retailer in golf in terms of average space.

It’s plain there is no “secret” to PGATSS success or maybe their secret is the relentless application of good business principles matched to an understanding of their customers.

Refreshing to say the least.