Companies look to push colored golf balls in U.S.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Paula Creamer chasing a pink Bridgestone golf ball down the fairway is one thing, but a platoon of LPGA players using Volvik balls in a rainbow of colors?
Volvik, a South Korean golf ball manufacturer, hopes that such a spectacle will help generate greater recognition – and business – in the United States.
At last week's U.S. Women’s Open, nine players used Volvik colored balls: Birdie Kim, Pornanong Phallum and Elena Robles with pink; Ilhee Lee, Meena Lee and Christine Song with yellow; Chella Choi, Alice Kim and Lindsey Wright with orange.
Already in 2013, Ilhee Lee won the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic and Song captured the Guardian Retirement Championship on the Symetra Tour. Both played yellow Volviks.
Creamer has attracted plenty of attention with her pink Bridgestone RX ball, but colored golf balls for the most part have remained an anomaly on the LPGA.
However, Volvik is betting that greater exposure on the women's circuit can ignite consumer demand, particularly in the U.S., for colored balls. Worldwide demand for such products is significant.
According to Corey Consuegra, Bridgestone’s golf ball marketing manager in the U.S., “In the overall market in Japan, where we are based, colored balls make up about 40 percent of the golf balls sold. We own about 60 percent of that total business, so we are very pleased with what has happened.”
Consuegra added, “The figure here in the U.S. is probably 12 to 15 percent, but it’s been going on in the Asian market for a longer time than it has here. It’s also important to remember that these are not putt-putt balls we’re talking about. These are high-performance golf balls.”
Jon Claffey, Volvik’s national director of sales and marketing, is bullish on colored balls. “I think the global share for colored balls could be as high as 25 percent, and it’s going up,” he said.
Meanwhile, Creamer, the Bridgestone endorser and self-proclaimed Pink Panther of women’s golf, is supporting the color movement, too.
“You know, it’s possible to have fun with a golf ball and play great golf at the same time,” Creamer said.
Volvik has been selling golf balls in the United States for several years, but an accelerated sales and marketing campaign, focusing on colored balls, was announced in January at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.
Many golfers say colored balls are more visible in the air and on the ground. There also appears to be a playful, almost mischievous element to the use of colored balls. Grown women and men acting something like kids again, if you will.
Bridgestone’s Consuegra, however, added: “Colored golf balls are not a whim. There is science behind this. Just look at what is happening with fire trucks. Many fire stations are changing their trucks from red to yellow. It increases visibility, and it’s no different than the golf ball.”
Except for the color of the cover, colored balls are identical in construction and performance to white balls of the same model. Volvik does sell white golf balls in the U.S., but colored balls account for more than 90 percent of its business here.
Among colored balls, the most popular color is yellow, which is available in several different shades from different manufacturers. Srixon offers all its tour-caliber balls in yellow as well as white. Titleist, the golf ball category’s dominant leader, introduced yellow balls in the NXT Tour S and DT SoLo models.
Volvik is aggressively promoting color to distinguish its brand in the U.S. The company makes an array of products to address golfers of varying skill levels. (It recently hired Mike Gorton as a tour representative on the Web.com Tour. The veteran Gorton is well known not only for his tenure as a tour rep but also for his past victory in the World Long Drive Championship.)
Volvik’s top-of-the-line balls feature either 3-piece or 4-piece design, depending on the ball’s intended audience.
The Vista iV, a 4-piece ball, is popular among Volvik touring pros. Meanwhile, the ProBismuth and Crystal models are 3-piece balls: ProBismuth is made for players with higher swing speeds, while Crystal is aimed at golfers with slower swing speeds.
The 4 pieces of the Vista iV ball are a rubber core, a control layer, an inner cover and an outer cover.
The Vista iV outer cover – which Volvik touts heavily – is made with a zirconium compound. Zirconium is a metal, resembling titanium, that is placed by Volvik in the outer cover to provide spin control and durability.
On the consumer level, a rainbow dozen is sold with three balls each of pink, orange, yellow and green. The cost is $47.99 per dozen for Vista iV and $32.99 for ProBismuth and Crystal.
Bridgestone’s colored balls in the U.S. include the B330-RX ($44.99), e6 ($29.99) and Lady Precept ($19.99).
Volvik’s Claffey points out that color is permeating golf in a variety of ways, changing the sport’s environment, and hopefully, the buying habits of its participants.
“Whether it’s Bubba (Watson) and the pink driver, or Rickie (Fowler) and the orange outfit, golfers are making color part of their new identity for golf fashion,” Claffey said. “The popularity will keep growing. Color isn’t going away. When it comes to golf balls, people like to see the golf ball in the air and color is making the game more fun to play. It is bringing some personality back to the golf ball market.”