Golf’s ruling bodies announced the long awaited and highly anticipated decision on Rule 14-1b, prohibiting the anchoring of a club in making a stroke. As what comes as no surprise belly-length and long putters remain conforming clubs to the rules of the game, however the way in which they are used must change. The R&A and the United States Golf Association (USGA), golf’s governing bodies, today announced the adoption of Rule 14-1b of the Rules of Golf that prohibits anchoring the club in making a stroke. The new Rule will take effect on January 1, 2016 in accordance with the regular four-year cycle for changes to the Rules of Golf. Rule 14-1b, which was proposed on November 28, 2012, has now been given final approval by The R&A and the USGA.
“We took a great deal of time to consider this issue and received a variety of contributions from individuals and organizations at all levels of the game. The report published today gives a comprehensive account of the reasons for taking the decision to adopt the new Rule and addresses the concerns that have been raised. We recognize this has been a divisive issue but after thorough consideration we remain convinced that this is the right decision for golf,” stated Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A.
“Having considered all of the input that we received, both before and after the proposed Rule was announced, our best judgment is that Rule 14-1b is necessary to preserve one of the important traditions and challenges of the game – that the player freely swing the entire club,” said USGA President Glen D. Nager. “The new Rule upholds the essential nature of the traditional method of stroke and eliminates the possible advantage that anchoring provides, ensuring that players of all skill levels face the same challenge inherent in the game of golf.”
David Rickman, Executive Director of Rules and Equipment Standards at The R&A, said, “This Rule change addresses the future and not the past. Everyone who has used an anchored stroke in the past, or who does so between now and 1 January 2016, will have played entirely within the Rules and their achievements will in no way be diminished.”
“The discussion around the Rule has been very helpful, and we appreciate that so many different perspectives were offered,” said USGA Executive Director Mike Davis. “We know that not everyone will agree with the new Rule, but it is our hope that all golfers will accept that this decision is reasoned and motivated by our best judgment in defining the sport and serving the best interests of the game.”
Sometime this year, Cobra Golf will turn 40 years old. Also along the way COBRA PUMA GOLF will celebrate its third birthday. Three years ago, Cobra was acquired by Puma and its parent company (more on that in a moment) from Fortune Brands, which was beginning the divestiture of its golf business. Several golf companies have attempted multi-brand management, but few have succeeded. On the surface it seems as if cohabitation should be symbiotic, yet history has shown it hasn’t been the case. A competitive overlap in various product categories (driver, irons, wedges, putters or balls) can make the new union one of potential cannibalization versus incremental sales growth.
While turning 40 and 3 all in the same year represents an interesting dynamic that could easily be dysfunctional given the track record for some entities joined together. Cobra Golf had a rich history, personified by Greg Norman. The Great White Shark parlayed a $2 million stake into $40 million when the company was taken out and acquired by American Brands, which later changed its name to Fortune Brands. However, 1996 is a long time ago and the world still works in mysterious ways, even if it is a different place than it was before.
Under its previous owner, Cobra enjoyed a strong infrastructure, which it borrowed from Titleist. However, once Kering, a $12 billion business that owns Puma, acquired it the golf business had only 24 employees. In its three years as COBRA PUMA, it has grown to 140+ employees and activity does business in over 40 countries. The economy, in general, hasn’t seen much in the way of new hire in the past three years, but COBRA PUMA was able rebuild itself. “The challenges in the marketplace have helped,” said Bob Philion, President of COBRA PUMA GOLF. “Our position has been helped since the brand is about enjoying golf. It’s become a rally cry within the industry in recent years and it’s helped us.” Philion pointed to COBRA PUMA’s custom business, which now boasts two-day turnarounds and the majority happens in one day, he said. “Our custom business was up over 50% in the first quarter,” Philion revealed.
“We have focused on revitalizing Cobra with products like our AMP CELL line up,” he said. “We’ve expanded in categories and added Tour players such as Rickie Fowler, Jonas Blixt, Jespar Parnevik and Lexi Thompson, who was out first 360-degree athlete,” he continued. “After several years of declining sales, we grew in 2012.”
Philion said the company has used limited edition products to create desirability. Last year it partnered with Ferrari SpA to create the Ferrari Golf Collection, which Philion said was designed to generate a halo effect back on the brand. It has also incorporated color into its product offerings, which indirectly infuses energy through its appearance. “The acquisition happened for a reason and that was because Cobra was a top brand in the past,” said Philion.
Meanwhile, Puma never competed with Cobra in terms of product offerings or directly in specific categories. With Cobra coming on board it allowed Puma some room to grow, Philion explained. “In the beginning accounts tested Puma products but its now gotten much deeper. Puma had a great business back in 2006, but we’ve increased the range and depth by more than 20%,” he said. Invariably the one item that stands out more than anything else and in a way personifies COBRA PUMA GOLF is the infamous orange hat popularized by Rickie Fowler. “We’ve sold more than one million hats,” said Philion. “It’s been a global monster for us. It’s generated brand visibility and is one of the best selling items in golf. We capitalized on distribution to bleed down the body to our other product offerings.” He said footwear was up more than 80% in 2012 and with the help of a new product coming this summer, he is confident there is still more room for even more upside in the category.
“We believe color is the music of the golf industry,” he explained. “Everyone wants to be younger, it’s a marketing message. But it isn’t an age thing. We think everyone who plays golf has a youthful mind, so it isn’t just for juniors. We fish where the fish are,” he explained. “At times it can get edgy. We don’t always play from the fairway and we don’t want to go out of bounds so we sometimes play from the rough.”
Rickie Fowler is the poster boy for the company, which Philion said has generated nothing but positives. “His background, his a southern Cal boy who’s into motor sports, a quarter Japanese and known for his style. He’s a perfect fit for us. But we have other pros too. We’ve expanded our Tour staff and it ranges from 17 to 48 (in age) and that’s a nice demographic spread. The reality is an introduction to Cobra’s new generation. Puma has helped. We are not trying to alienate the core base of consumers,” he said. “ A lot of success is rooted in innovation in the game as well as enjoyment. Cobra created the Baffler, which is the first hybrid in golf. Its help a lot of players enjoy the game over the years.”
The revitalized COBRA PUMA GOLF saw sales improve by more than 20% in the first quarter, Philion said. In the three years since it acquired the brand, business has doubled, he added. Philion wouldn’t divulge actual sales citing company policy but added that future open orders are trending up more than 40%, provided warmer weather invades North America and Europe.
The last three years haven’t been the friendliest for many businesses. Golf enjoyed a better than expected year in 2012, thanks to Mother Nature. While its been somewhat of a slow start in 2013, Philion and company appear to be more than on track with their own plans and progress despite the ups and downs of the golf industry.
As stated earlier this week, Callaway Golf’s turn around is still a work in progress. However, it quite likely is tied to a couple of specific product categories. Its putter business enjoyed a very strong start in the first quarter. Where the company really needs to make a difference is the metal woods category, which is where it made its considerable reputation in the good, old days of the brand.
A sluggish economy and heightened competition, especially from its friends at TaylorMade has made the category challenging to state it nicely. The driver category in particular has been very difficult lately for all companies unless you’re TaylorMade. According to Golf Datatech, a U.S.-based organization that charts golf industry sales, TaylorMade’s metalwood market share, measured in terms of dollars spent at on and off course locations for the month of December 2011 was 42.36%, fueled then by the fully adjustable, white R11. According to TaylorMade, citing Golf Datatech research, the R11 was the #1 selling driver in 2011 based off on unit and dollar market share in the combined On and Off Course channels. The momentum spilled into last year as TaylorMade reported it would sell over one million white metalwoods by end of the first quarter. It said that it accomplished the feat in the second quarter in 2011. As revealed in the May 6th edition of the Web Street Golf Report, TaylorMade’s sales appear to be slowing down, according to its corporate parent. Backing out the aid of foreign exchange rates and the addition of Adams Golf (acquired in 2012), TMaG’s sales grew by 5% versus the 13% it reported in the first quarter of 2013. It may mean an opening for other equipment companies or it may not. Time, as they saw, will tell.
Callaway Golf still has a long way to go to be the company it once was. However, one key category is showing signs that its business is starting to roll. Weather has been a prevailing theme early on in the season both domestically and internationally. But golfers worldwide are a hearty group by nature and latent demand for play isn’t likely going to evaporate completely. The good and bad of it is that it’s early!
Nevertheless, putter sales for the first quarter of the calendar year for Callaway’s Odyssey brand were up an impressive 35% ($32.6 million compared to $24.1 million) despite the backdrop of a slow start thanks to Mother Nature. The key to the early success is Versus, a line that incorporates visual aids that are black and white to help players. “It’s been a bright, shining light for us,” said Chris Koske, Director of Odyssey. “The feedback we’ve received is that it could be the next 2-ball model for us. It’s been phenomenal. In its second month of availability (March) its overall market share has already reach 10%,” Koske said. “I was in Japan recently and its reached a 20% share there within a couple of weeks. We’ve had Ryo Ishikawa using it early on and the Japanese response has also been phenomenal.”
According to Koske, the initial forecasting (black/white/black versus white/black/white) was challenging but its currently running at a 50/50 sell through rate. “There are not many back orders so we are able to deliver on time,” he said. However, the putter business is by nature can be a little funky.
TaylorMade-adidas Golf (TMaG), reported strong first quarter 2013 results of $559 million (€423 million), representing an increase of 13% on a currency-neutral basis. Additionally, TMaG recorded significant currency-neutral (factoring out the effects of foreign exchange rates), year-over-year growth in nearly every category in Q1, including metalwoods (+8%), irons (+35%), balls (+21%), and footwear (+23%). “Last year was our best ever in terms of sales, so to start this year with a 13% increase over last year’s first quarter is very satisfying,” stated Mark King, CEO and President.
Regionally, the U.S., which represents its largest market since it accounts for approximately half of TMaG’s global sales, generated a 21% increase in sales year-over-year. TMaG pointed to its product acceptance for its commercial success at retail. The R1 driver, it said, holds the No.1 position in U.S. sales, according to Golf Datatech research as measured in dollar share. RocketBladez irons, launched to market last November, are the top-selling iron in the U.S., according to Golf Datatech research. It also pointed out the RBZ and RBZ Stage 2 fairway woods and Rescue hybrids currently rank No. 1 and No. 2 in U.S. sales, also according to Golf Datatech. TaylorMade said its the No. 1 driver and fairway wood brand on the world’s six major professional golf tours: PGA, European, Champions, Japan, LPGA and Web.com and its adizero footwear, launched in January, is already the best-selling golf shoe in company history.
It seems the infamous drop by Tiger Woods at the Masters this year has a life of its own. The United States Golf Association (USGA) and The R&A, golf’s governing bodies, today (two and half weeks after it happened) released the following statement to provide guidance to players and Rules officials on the Rules decision involving Tiger Woods at the 2013 Masters Tournament.
The PGA TOUR said it has dropped its case again Vijay Singh. In a Jan. 28, 2013 article that appeared on SI.com, Singh was quoted as admitting to his use of a deer antler spray supplement. Subsequently, Mr. Singh confirmed his use of deer antler spray in a statement he issued. Deer antler spray contains IGF-1, a growth factor listed on both the WADA and PGA TOUR Prohibited Lists, which the TOUR warned players about in August 2011. After the SI.com article came out, WADA also issued a warning about deer antler spray on Feb. 5, 2013.
After confirming the presence of IGF-1 in the deer antler spray product provided to the TOUR by Singh through tests at the WADA-approved UCLA laboratory, the TOUR proceeded with the matter as a violation of the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Policy, and a sanction was issued. The 2000 Masters Champion subsequently appealed the sanction under the PGA TOUR Anti-Doping Program guidelines. During the appeal process, PGA TOUR counsel contacted WADA to confirm a number of technical points. At that time, WADA clarified that it no longer considers the use of deer antler spray to be prohibited unless a positive test results. On April 30, WADA subsequently provided written confirmation to the TOUR that: “In relation to your pending IGF-1 matter, it is the position of WADA, in applying the Prohibited List, that the use of ‘deer antler spray’ (which is known to contain small amounts of IGF-I) is not considered prohibited. On the other hand it should be known that Deer Antler Spray contains small amounts of IGF-1 that may affect anti-doping tests. Players should be warned that in the case of a positive test for IGF-1 or hGH, it would be considered an Adverse Analytical Finding.”
Based on this new information, and given WADA’s lead role in interpreting the Prohibited List, the TOUR deemed it only fair to no longer treat the 1998 and 2004 PGA Champion’s use of deer antler spray as a violation of the TOUR’s anti-doping program.