The NGF’s latest Q&A is with Wilson Golf President Tim Clarke, who discusses innovations at an equipment company with more than 100 years of history, how the golf equipment industry continues to evolve, and how crowd-sourcing and a TV show brought a new driver to the marketplace. Clarke has been the president of Chicago-based Wilson Golf since 2006.
Wilson Golf turned 100 just a few years back. What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of having a brand with so much history?
We have always been an equipment company, and the benefit is having 100 plus years of experience in materials, manufacturing and innovation within several sports categories. Many don’t realize the cross‑over benefits of sports equipment development that occurs on a day‑to‑day basis. Our engineers from every sport group are literally sitting side‑by‑side and gaining insights and learnings is not only easy but essential.
The Driver vs. Driver series on the Golf Channel was a completely unique vehicle. What were the expectations for the show in Season 1 and what were your takeaways?
Our expectations for Season 1 were fairly simple. Our main goal was to invite consumers to participate in the innovation process, and show them what exactly goes into bringing a golf product to market. We wanted driver ideas that really pushed industry norms, that had the potential to be true game‑changers. Our goal was — and continues to be — to push golf innovation into new territory. Throughout our 100 plus years of equipment expertise, we’ve never shied away from being opportunistic, creative and strategic, looking for inspiration and ideas outside our walls. That’s what is at the heart of Driver vs Driver and what we got out of that experience definitely exceeded our expectations.
Driver vs. Driver 2 has been greenlit by the Golf Channel for fall 2018; how will the follow‑up be different and how has the Triton DVD driver been received since winning in Season 1?
We expect Season 2 to be even bigger and better. We hope to receive even more ideas that truly push the limitations of the golf industry. We recognize that new ideas, materials, and concepts can come from the most unexpected places, industries and people. The show, from inception, was designed to utilize the power of crowd‑sourcing combined with Wilson LABS’, the innovation hub at Wilson, deep golf experience and expertise to create a world‑class golf driver in a way that had never been done before. Driver vs. Driver also was created to infuse new energy and excitement into the golf equipment conversation, open the game of golf to a broader audience and bring highly innovative products to the marketplace, all while educating golfers on how drivers are designed, developed and manufactured.
Following Season 1, we saw a significant increase in our brand awareness. We’ve met with many consumers who enjoyed the show, and couldn’t wait to get their hands on the Triton DVD to test it out. The most exciting result of Season 1 was our brand affiliation with the younger audience. It’s great to increase our reach with the younger golf generation, and we expect our audience to continue to expand in Season 2.
The Triton DVD driver was strongly received out of the gates. The buzz continued to grow when we unveiled it at PGA Show earlier this year. We were even a little shocked at the sheer amount of people dropping in to test it out at demo day. This was the first real consumer showcase of the club, and we were really pleased with the reaction based on the performance of the club. We haven’t seen this much excitement in a Wilson Staff driver in some time, and we’re confident that as more people test Wilson drivers and clubs, they’re going to really like what they feel and truly see positive results.
When you look at the golf equipment industry, where does it stand and how is it evolving? What are the biggest challenges facing equipment companies today?
We know that technology works and the equipment that we are developing today will help golfers of all skill levels enjoy the game more because it will help them hit more fairways, gain distance and score lower than they ever have. That being said, the golf industry is changing rapidly. We have already seen the movement to where the industry is trying to capture more golfers through experiences in gamification such as simulator golf or Topgolf. Although those are great outlets of entertainment, I truly believe that golf played on a golf course will always be that avenue in which we thrive as a manufacturer. We are obviously seeing in many retail applications that direct‑to‑consumer is how products are sold and we have seen an increase in activity through our e-comm business. Wilson golf is dedicated to those who truly want to enjoy the game through continuous improvement, and we still believe that getting one of our products in your hands through one of numerous in‑store events and experiencing first‑hand the performance benefits is how the majority of equipment is being sold today.
When you look at the golf industry as a whole, are you optimistic?
Yes, we are confident in the future of the golf industry. We’re seeing more kids getting into the game, and that’s huge for the industry. With the success of the PGA Junior League, having grown 300% in 2016 from just three years prior, we’re confident that golf is going in the right direction. In addition, the growth of the LPGA has been incredible. There’s not only more kids getting into the game, but more women and girls as well… that’s undoubtedly great for the game. Golf isn’t going anywhere. And neither is Wilson Golf.