2004: Titleist casts out DCIs, forges new strategy

By John Steinbreder

Titleist’s DCI franchise, the backbone of its iron business for more than a decade, is no more.

With the April debut of its Forged Stainless 704.CB and 804.OS, the company not only is dropping its storied franchise, but making a fundamental shift in product strategy by offering forged irons exclusively.

Titleist’s lineup now consists of five forged models. The latest offerings, the 704.CB (cavity back) and 804.OS (oversize), join three models introduced a year ago: the 670, 690.CB and 690.MB (muscleback).

“We have gone to all forged for a number of reasons,” said Chris McGinley, vice president of golf club marketing for Titleist. “The vast majority of the touring and club pros we work with prefer forging to casting for the feel they get and the ability to better control their shots. They want to be able to work their balls more often to tight pins, and the response has been a greater move to forged.”

But the elimination of cast products, generally perceived as more forgiving and more suitable for less-skilled players, does not mean Titleist is narrowing its target audience, McGinley said.

“The goal with creating these latest products is to allow the more serious and aspiring golfers to experience the benefits of forging, giving them enhanced performance as well as the chance to have that better-player-preferred forged-iron construction in their equipment,” he said. “These are forged irons in every sense of the word, but as playable, if not more so, as our last DCI offerings.”

Nevertheless, discontinuing the successful DCI “sub-brand” raises questions. After all, at its peak in March 2001, DCI irons attained unit market share of 20.8 percent in the on-course distribution channel, and a high of 8.8 percent for combined on- and off-course market share in June 1999, according to Golf Datatech LLC, a Kissimmee, Fla.-based research firm.

But declining sales performance of late indicated that DCI’s extended run was nearing an end.

“In recent years, DCI had become pretty much a secondary name,” said Ken Morton Jr., director of retail at Haggin Oaks Super Store in Sacramento, Calif. “Titleist was beginning to identify its irons more by numbers, like 690 and 762, and more and more, that’s how our customers were asking for them.”

Furthermore, the strength of the DCI brand has been waning among Titleist’s target audience, the passionate, highly skilled golfers who sit atop the “pyramid of influence.”

Although the marketplace now is crowded with forged irons, Titleist officials said their 704 and 804 models will stand out because of their enhanced attributes.

“Until now, all production forgings in the marketplace, including the models in our 600 Series, utilized mild carbon steel with chrome plating,” McGinley said. “What we have done with the 704s and 804s is develop a stainless steel product that has all the feel characteristics of forging but won’t rust. So we didn’t need the chrome, and that gives us more custom-fitting options because chrome cannot be ground and bent as much (because such procedures will damage its finish).

“Plus, stainless steel is a tougher alloy. We can forge it into more detailed shapes and also attain a thinner face that buys us some important weight distribution opportunities.”

Such features should make the Titleist brand resonate again with its core audience in the irons category, company officials said.

“They should be able to do that, and then some, with these latest offerings,” said Dennis Satyshur, director of golf operations at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. “The clubs look terrific, and I expect the 704s will do well with the single-digit handicappers, and the 804s with the golfer at 10 or above.”

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