Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Nike Golf

Had a fascinating meeting with the fine folks at Nike Golf in Canada this morning.
I only follow golf equipment in the periphery, but have spent a lot of time lately talking to some clubmakers. Not sure why they are all of a sudden interested in me -- but it probably has something to do with my role at the National Post.
For the record, I play clubs from a company called Swing Sync -- based in Pinehurst, N.C., but with a big Canadian connection. The technology for frequency matching was developed by an engineer in Ottawa and PGA Tour player Steve Flesch is quietly playing the clubs. You can check out Swing Sync here. By the way, I was skeptical of the concept, but have lowered my handicap by five strokes since playing the clubs. I find their driver (I play an early prototype) particularly strong, and its really improved my lengthy, but often erratic, driving. I'll write an entire post on Swing Sync at some other point.
Anyway, back to Nike. After appearing to stumble out of the box, even with Tiger as their pitchman, Nike seems to be in the midst of quite the comeback. Today the company added Justin Leonard to its endorsement list, a big break for them considering the demise of David Duval over the past couple of years. And the Slingshot irons have been successful, both with reviewers and reviewers.
The most interesting facet of Nike's golf strategy is their move to buck the trend of bringing out new products every four months, a problem that has been plaguing pro shops and has been common at companies like TaylorMade.
The issue for pro shops is that they take a company's stock, price it according to suggested retail prices, only to see a company, like TaylorMade, bring out a new club months or even weeks later, forcing the earlier stock to be discounted.
Nike's Mike Francis (general manager of Nike Golf in Canada) says this is leading some competitors (can you say Callaway?) to run out of ideas. Simply put, with the restrictions on drivers these days, what more can Callaway do to improve your game? I've never played Callaway clubs, though the company's new driver, the Big Bertha 454, should be in my hands soon. After giving it a go in the spring, I'll report back. Do I expect it to outdrive my three year old Swing Sync driver? I doubt it, but I did have a carry distance of 270 yards using it on the simulator at Callaway.
Anyway, Nike isn't bothering with the tact of launching new drivers every few weeks, and is aiming at growing its products and brand more gradually. It is a bit surprising considering Nike's reputation as a marketing machine.
I haven't hit Nike's Ignite driver (though Stephen Ames raved about it during an interview with me last summer) , but I like the message I received from the company. I'm not putting my Swing Sync clubs in the closet yet, but Nike's message is appealing.

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