R&D, discipline pay dividends for Wilson Golf

Wilson Golf's FG Tour wedges

Wilson Golf's FG Tour wedges

For 2010, Wilson Golf reported sales of $107 million, a double-digit percentage increase from the previous year. It’s no small feat, considering the tough economy and the fact that the nearly century-old club brand had been struggling.

Asked to explain the turnaround, Wilson’s general manager Tim Clarke says succinctly: “We organized our chaos.”

Clarke acknowledges that during its down years Wilson launched new clubs in an undisciplined fashion, trying to keep up with the industry’s accelerating pace of product launches. But Wilson has since committed to two-year product life cycles in an effort to better assess golfers’ needs and create equipment that addresses them.

A greater investment in research and development also has made that possible. According to Clarke, Wilson spent $4 million on R&D in 2010, five times what it spent about five years ago.

The last piece of the turnaround came in the form of a simplified marketing message. In its press releases, brochures and advertisements, Wilson repeatedly has touted just one selling point for its irons that no competitor could claim: More majors won than any other brand. (Since 1914, Wilson irons have won 61 major championships.)

The company also has recruited a supporting cast for marquee endorser Padraig Harrington, re-signing PGA Tour player Ricky Barnes and adding fellow pro Kevin Streelman, who hails from Wilson’s hometown of Chicago. The equipment maker also mined its backyard to sign local legend Mike Small, a three-time PGA Professional national champion and the University of Illinois men’s golf coach.

Clarke is counting on Small to increase the brand’s profile among PGA pros and help develop new products. Small is under a multiyear contract to play Wilson Staff FG62 irons and the new FG Tour wedges. The wedges’ milled face features micro-grooves that are designed to deliver greater control, especially on open-face shots, according to Wilson.

Also new this year is Wilson’s Di11 irons. Designed for golfers with 10-plus handicaps who crave distance, the clubs feature a wide sole and wide-tip shaft technology to minimize twisting on off-center hits. Clarke says, “It’s the most powerful club you can play that doesn’t look like a sledgehammer.”

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