Wilson poised to unveil 425cc Deep Red driver

As the debate over hot clubs continues, Wilson Golf is set to introduce the newest member of its Deep Red line, an oversized driver that boasts a 425cc head and conforms to current U.S. Golf Association limits for COR (coefficient of restitution).

At the same time, the Chicago-based equipment maker is working on other versions of Deep Red in anticipation of COR limits increasing from .830 to .860 in January when the proposed compromise between the USGA and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, is scheduled to take effect. It would not be surprising to see one of those new models in stores and pro shops by the end of the year.

Wilson’s hope with both product introductions is to continue to grow marketshare in the driver category and further boost a rise in performance club sales that has helped increase company revenues and profits after a disappointing 2001. Given the increasing competitiveness of the overall golf market, and Wilson’s slumping ball business, the developments could not come at a better time.

According to Luke Reese, vice president and general manager of Wilson Golf, the new 425 cc driver will have a suggested retail price of $399 and begin shipping in mid-June.

“The main thing is that the sweet spot is larger, which means it will be very hard to miss with this club,” Reese explained. “We will have the same Deep Red cosmetics and shape, and it will come with a Grafalloy ProLite shaft.

“It is a bulged toe that allows us to create such a forgiving location with the 425 driver. The thinking behind that is that 80 percent of all shots with a standard club are hit from the center line to the toe. So what we have done with this new version of Deep Red is dramatically increased that hitting area.”

Some retailers expect the latest iteration of the Deep Red line to do well.

“First, Wilson came out with the 305cc head, and that sold,” said Alan Whalen, general manager for Fiddler’s Green Golf Center in Eugene, Ore. “Then, we did even better with the 365cc version the company introduced last fall. So I believe the 425 will also sell, especially when you look at the early success of the Cobra 427 cc driver. There has been a positive response to a driver of that size, and I suspect Wilson will see one with its latest offering as well.”

Scott Solem, owner of three Sun Golf shops in the Jacksonville, Fla., area, agrees. “Frankly, I have been surprised at the sell-through of the Deep Red products since we started carrying them,” he said. “It has been a very good line for us, and that’s why it has merited wall space in our stores. As for the introduction of the 425, I think it will only help the line, by giving customers one more choice from Wilson.”

Solem is among those retailers who believe the introduction of the Deep Red line has given new life to Wilson’s club business. “Previously, we did not do a lot with Wilson,” he said. “At least not recently. But Deep Red has changed that. It plays well, it has good cosmetics and the name sounds like something you could hit a long way.”

Reese says recent numbers from Golf Datatech LLC, the Kissimmee, Fla.-based industry research firm, support these retailers’ observations.

“Year-to-date through March, our performance iron share for on- and off-course sales is above 8 percent, and it was just over 2 percent three years ago,” he said. “Our drivers are at 2.5 percent, up from zero percent two years ago. In other words, we have had nice growth in both those categories, and that is being driven by the Deep Red iron family, which came out last fall, and the Deep Red drivers.”

Another indication of the positive impact of Deep Red are the company’s financial reports for the first quarter of 2002. Wilson Golf posted sales of $57.6 million – up 9 percent from the same period a year ago. The golf division also was profitable, according to a company release. Specific figures, however, were not provided. Reese says some of those gains were the result of cost reductions made at the end of 2001, a year in which Wilson Golf saw sales drop 8 percent to $212.3 million and posted operating losses of just under $3 million. But he also attributes the boost to strong performance club sales fueled by Deep Red.

As for future versions of Deep Red drivers, Reese will only say that the company is working on new products that will compete for the piece of the club market that will open up domestically when – and if – COR limits rise to .860.

“Currently, we sell a driver in Japan that actually goes above .860 and has an extra hot face,” he said. “And our R&D department is working on adapting the Deep Red technology of low and deep weighting with that technology we are using in Japan.”

There is no word on when such a product might be launched, but indications are there will be a hotter – and more expensive – version of Deep Red introduced in January.

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