SUMMER BALL BONANZA CONTINUES: New golf balls from Titleist and FootJoy Worldwide, Maxfli Golf and Wilson Golf will reach stores soon as the games major brands jockey for midseason position.
The Titleist NXT will direct parent company Acushnets focus into the middle price stratum, but with a large-core, thin-cover product similar in basic engineering to the popular (and more expensive) Pro V1. The suggested retail price will be under $34 per dozen. The Pro V1 is $54 per dozen suggested retail.
With the NXT Tour and NXT Distance, Titleist promises a low-spin, long-distance ball that will eventually replace its HP Tour and HP Distance models. (The HP microbrand will be recast as the HVC line, which will come in at about $26 per dozen suggested retail.)
From a market point of view, the company sees an opportunity in this lower price tier, where wholesale prices range between $14 and $20 per dozen and retail is at about $20 and $34. About a quarter of the 38 million dozen golf balls sold every year in the United States are in this tier, says Titleist. But the company admits that although it owns about 60 percent of the premium level golf ball market, it holds just more than a third of the tier on which the NXT will compete with Spalding Sports Worldwides Strata Professional, Precept Golfs MC Lady, and Callaway Golfs CB2.
Titleist also hopes some new customers will be waiting in this part of the market, golfers who arent traditionally seen as Titleist players.
With the NXT family, we plan to convert 10 plus handicap players of competitive products to the Titleist brand, said George Sine, Titleists vice President of golf ball marketing and strategic planning.
This is where the volume is, said Acushnet president and CEO Wally Uihlein. Its an extension of the counterattack begun with the Pro V1.
The attack Uihlein is countering comes mainly from Nike. The sporting goods giants success with its Tour Accuracy ball, used by Tiger Woods and David Duval, both former Titleist endorsers, has at least made a great deal of market noise, if not a serious challenge to Titleists market dominance. Nike has worked to preserve the Tour Accuracy momentum with the Power Distance Line, which is supported by an ad campaign with the intentionally Cro-Magnon tag line, Ball Go Far. The Power Distance line has been selling well, according to Nike, at a street price of about $16 per dozen.
Although their products wont likely be seen as participating in the same counterattack, lower-market-share players Maxfli and Wilson refuse to be deterred by whats going on above them. Maxflis new A10 ball, a solid-core, multi-layer entry, got plenty of attention as staffer Ian Woosnam hung around the leaderboard at the British Open. By that time, the ball already had eight tour wins, and Se Ri Pak just added another with the Weetabix Womens British Open. If tour exposure is the currency of the golf ball market, Maxfli started this battle with a fat wallet.
But consumers may need a big wallet too. Maxfli has positioned the A10 in that $52 suggested retail zone occupied by the Pro V1, Callaways Rule 35 and the Tour Accuracy.
Wilsons latest golf ball under its Staff brand boasts a urethane cover and a new core mixture, leading to more distance with soft feel, the company says. Suggested retail will be about $25. Unlike the other companies, Wilson wont rely on tour pros to tell their story. The company changed strategy in the late 1990s, choosing to focus instead on an advisory staff of more than 3,000 club pros and the needs of their golf students.
With the second half of the season underway, its still too early to say with any confidence how the year will turn out for the golf ball manufacturers. But rounds played is the statistic that drives golf ball sales, and with those numbers down this year overall (see Business Edge for August 7), things could get tough for all but the richest. Does that mean a Titleist-Nike war? Stay tuned.