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Business Edge for Tuesday May 22 2001

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PING AROUND THE WORLD: Companies redesign and relaunch their web pages all the time. But there was an eye-catching note in the information Ping just sent around about its redesigned site. Over the remainder of 2001, parts of the site will be translated into Japanese, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Spanish, Korean, Malay, Mandarin and Thai. (I notice Norwegian, the native language of Ping's late founder, Karsten Solheim, is not on the list, at least not yet.)
 
The revamped Ping site focuses on custom fitting of clubs, the company's passion since its early days. An animated, guided fitting function is available. There's also a video factory tour (hope they show the hot steel being poured), a product registration function, and features on Ping history, such as the story of Karsten's Gold Putter Vault.
 
Ping's site, at www.pinggolf.com, had its debut in 1996.
 
SHAFT MAKERS, ARISE: For three or four years, the golf shafts seemed stuck in neutral. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), the prime customers for shafts, almost succeeded in using their power and vendor competition to drive per-shaft prices down to commodity levels. Meanwhile, graphite experts continued to make lighter and stronger shafts with one hand while fending off financial dragons with the other.
 
Then along came the Rifle on the steel side, the EI-70 in graphite, and more recently the BiMatrix and GT steel-graphite hybrids. Now everyone seems interested in shafts again.
 
And they're paying players to use them. Graphite Design International of San Diego has signed PGA Tour pro Franklin Langham to play its graphite alloy technology (GAT) shafts. Actually, he was using them for free in 2000, when he made it to 26th on the money list. GDI claims its low-resin, high-modulus formula makes for more consistent performance shaft to shaft.
 
GDI started in Japan in 1988 and opened its U.S. operation ten years later in San Diego, the western hemisphere's epicenter of golf shaft activity.
 
SHAFTS, PART DEUX: Another San Diego-area shaft operation, Fujikura Composites Inc. of Vista, Ca., hopes to benefit from an alliance between its parent, a major Japanese rubber company, and Taiwanese shaft and clubhead maker Advanced International Multitech Ltd.
 
'The purpose of our alliance is to offer existing and potential customers a complete global resource,' said Pete Sanchez, Fujikura's U.S. chief and an industry veteran.
 
Look for more such positioning in the shaft and clubhead industry throughout 2001.