2000: Callaway Golf’s rivals take their shots

Callaway’s decision to sell nonconforming drivers in the United States raised the hopes of retailers seeking a sales spike and drew hisses from competitors.

Several of Callaway’s rivals said they wouldn’t follow the No. 1 clubmaker’s lead, and painted Callaway as an enemy of the game.

Taylor Made Golf executives, in an inelegant news conference organized to ridicule its Carlsbad, Calif.-based neighbor, said its archrival’s launch of a nonconforming driver showed a lack of respect toward the golfing community and the game’s rich traditions.

“We look forward to seeing the ERC II line extensions, such as . . . Callaway-branded mulligan and 9-foot gimme certificates,” said Robert Erb, Taylor Made’s vice president of global marketing.

Ping also indicated it would not sell nonconforming drivers in the United States. Company chairman John Solheim blamed Callaway for chasing profits at the game’s expense: “There are a few people who will do anything to win. Ely (Callaway) is the best marketer in golf. He realizes that he’s lacking kick in the marketplace, and he knows he can use this to get a boost. He’s taking advantage of the split between the USGA and the R&A.”

Many observers expect Callaway will prosper from an ERC II sales spike, but Solheim questioned how long such a windfall will last. “Golf is known for fads,” he said. “I believe this will be relatively short-lived.”

Some major retail chains such as Edwin Watts and Golfsmith International, however, are predicting robust sales of the new Callaway product.

But others aren’t convinced the ERC II will be a sales blockbuster and even expressed reservations about selling it.

“My crystal ball is a little fuzzy on this one,” said Pete Line, vice president and general manger of Carl’s Golfland in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “There certainly will be a number of consumers who will just have to have this driver. But it can’t be used in tournaments, and even in some regular, friendly foursomes, I think some will say to their buddy, ‘Take it back to the car.’

“And there’s where I see a potential problem. For a product like this to sell long-term, it needs word of mouth, and if guys don’t use it, people can’t talk about it.”

While some rules-abiding, low handicappers might shun the product, Line said another demographic audience is a likely candidate for the ERC II: affluent, country-club hackers.

“There’s a sizable population of avid golfers who are not very good, but have a lot of money,” he said.

Such consumers could place PGA professionals – who not only run pro shops but are charged to uphold USGA rules – in an awkward situation.

“I do think some of my members will want them, but I personally do not want to sell anything that violates USGA rules,” said Bob Ford, head professional at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club and Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach, Fla.

Michael Kernicki, who spent 13 years on the PGA Rules Committee and is director of golf at Wuskowhan Players Club in West Olive, Mich., said he’s leaning toward not selling the clubs, but he fears his peers will be forced to carry them because of consumer demand.

Jim Awtrey, PGA of America’s chief executive officer, issued a rebuke against Callaway.

“While the marketplace eventually will decide whether or not a manufacturer can be successful skirting the Rules of Golf for the sake of generating profit, it is our belief that any change in the parameters of manufacturing products should be sanctioned by the acknowledged rules-making organization of our nation,” Awtrey said.

Line also expressed concern that other companies might start selling an assortment of nonconforming clubs, including putters and irons. If a wave of popularity for nonconforming clubs builds, retailers could find themselves struggling to determine the proper inventory mix.

“Callaway is creating a precedent and things could become really messy,” Line said. “I can’t be the moral police. If my consumers want the club, then we have to carry it. But this whole situation makes me worry, not just about Carl’s Golfland or Callaway Golf, but about the entire game.”
















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