Nike's chief club designer retires; remains as consultant

The new Nike Covert driver.

The new Nike Covert driver.

Tom Stites, Nike Golf's chief club designer, has retired but will remain with the company in a consultant's role, Golfweek has learned.

“Officially Tom has retired,” confirmed Rob Arluna, Nike Golf’s global golf club business director. “Realistically he has embraced a new challenge at Nike Golf. He is moving into a consultant’s role, and we call him the Chief Imagineer. He will be working on future projects. These are our biggest ideas. Personally I think Tom’s best work is in front of him. All of us are excited about Tom’s role.”

Stites, who officially served as director of product innovation, has been with Nike since 2001, when Nike purchased Impact Golf Technologies – owned by Stites and headquartered near Fort Worth, Texas. Before starting Impact Golf, Stites designed clubs for several golf manufacturers, including Ben Hogan Golf.

“All along Tom was very upfront about this change,” Arluna said. “We planned very carefully for it. He wants to spend more time with his family, and he wants to concentrate on all our important projects moving forward.”

Stites will maintain an office at Nike's research and development center in Forth Worth, nicknamed "The Oven," but will not be involved in its day-to-day operations. Anticipating such changes, Nike hired Nate Radcliffe as director of engineering for golf clubs in December 2012. Radcliffe spent the previous 11 years with Cleveland Golf.

In addition, Mario Lafortune, director of the Nike Sport Research Laboratory for the past 15 years, will move from Nike’s Beaverton, Ore., headquarters to the Fort Worth facility. Arluna said Lafortune has devoted his activities solely to golf for the past three years.

Stites, contacted at his home, said he was excited to focus entirely on long-range projects. He cited the current VR_S Covert line of metalwoods as an example of what Nike can bring to the golf marketplace.

Perimeter-weighted, red-headed VR_S Covert drivers, fairway woods and hybrids have gained wide acceptance with Nike’s touring staff, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

“I worked closely with Cindy (Davis, president of Nike Golf) on Covert,” Stites said. “Give her credit for having the vision to clear the way for these clubs.”

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