On Tuesday I visited Nike Golf World Headquarters, and while I was on the plane home to Phoenix the news broke that Nike would be ceasing the development of golf equipment including clubs, balls and bags. They would continue the production of apparel and footwear, but effective immediately, Nike Golf equipment was being discontinued.
On hearing the news (which Alan let me know of via text), I was shocked, and to say I was disappointed is an understatement. I took a few days to process the news, which was featured prominently in the golf media, including coverage on Golf Channel, in all the major golf publications and the various golf blogs on the web. It became immediately clear to me that many, if not most or all of the great men and women from Nike Golf on the equipment side no longer had their jobs (it turns out that many were fired on Wednesday afternoon). This included the club designers and craftsmen at The Oven in Fort Worth, the ball design and development staff at The Oven West in Portland, the tour van staff and tour reps, as well as local and regional equipment reps worldwide that represented Nike Golf. I had personally met some of the staff at the Oven, the guys in the tour van, some of the equipment developers who I had met at various Nike Golf events and at the PGA Merchandise show over the years, and several of the local reps here in the Phoenix area. The bottom line is a lot of great men and women who spent their days and nights passionately supporting the brand and developing some of the best golf equipment in the industry were now looking for work. That made me sad.
Then I started to think about what got me interested in Nike Golf equipment in the first place — it goes back to when Nike first introduced the original Pro Combo irons. I already had a blue-crowned Nike T-40 driver in the bag, and I remember seeing the Pro Combos in the golf store and being intrigued by the progressive design. When they introduced the Pro Combo OS irons the following year, I bought a set and was really surprised at how solid they were, and how great they felt at impact. I still have these irons, I play them from time to time and I still feel the same way. Shortly after that I bought the Slingshot irons, followed by a long string of other equipment including the Ignite driver and fairway wood, SQ driver, SQ2 driver, fairway and hybrids, through the VR, VR Pro, VR_S, Covert and Vapor series’ of woods, hybrids and irons. I’ve had 14 Nike Golf clubs in my Nike Golf bag for the last 10+ years, and it bums me out that there will be no new Nike Golf equipment offerings at the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show and beyond.
I also started thinking back to when I started following Nike Golf Athletes on the various tours. It started with Tiger back in 1996, and continued with other players including Michael Campbell, Paul Azinger, David Duval, Chad Campbell, KJ Choi, Trevor Immelman, Paul Casey, Michelle Wie, Suzanne Pettersen and more. I remember following Anthony Kim at the Phoenix Open right after Nike signed him, and there were only a few other people in the gallery following him — that would change soon after. More premier athlete signings would follow, including Charl Schwartzel, Francesco Molinari, Nick Watney, Rory McIlroy, and most recently Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka. To think that Nike Athletes going forward will be wearing Nike footwear and apparel, but using other manufacturers’ clubs, balls and bags just feels weird, and will take some getting used to.
Regarding Nike’s decision to put the brakes on their equipment innovation, design, development and production, here are my thoughts: I know it’s a business decision, and a few years down the road it may be apparent that it made perfect sense. But right now, fresh off the announcement, it is not only very disappointing for Nike Golf equipment fans like myself, but the decision to immediately stop equipment production completely mid-year seems very abrupt. I’m sure a lot of thought was put into this decision, however I don’t want to speculate on what the strategy behind it may have been. I understand that footwear and apparel is Nike’s core business, but I just felt from the beginning that Nike Golf approached golf club design from a different perspective than other equipment manufacturers. I felt that Nike’s club designers and engineers were able to think out of the box and push equipment design further than their competitors. If you look at some of Nike Golf’s patent filings for club designs over the past several years, many of which were not put into production, you can see the innovative design process at work.
The bottom line is I feel that Nike abandoned a truly unique journey of innovation in the golf equipment industry. I’m aware that a lot of people weren’t on board with some of Nike Golf’s more daring club designs over the years, and some thought that Nike’s equipment was “inferior”. However, those of us that have followed Nike Golf’s design journey, and who have played their various clubs over the years, saw a progression of club designs that showed Nike Golf positioning themselves to become a design leader in the industry. I understand that sales were down over the last three years, and their share of the golf equipment market was small. But I felt Nike Golf was on a mission to take golf equipment design to new heights — recent innovations like the Modern Muscle iron design and RZN technology in their line of golf balls attests to this commitment to innovative product design. It just feels like Nike bailed on a business that was doing something unique within its category, perhaps because that business didn’t have sales that compared with some of the other Nike franchises. And to me, as a fan of Nike Golf, and without regard to the business aspect, that is just really disappointing.
I started the NG Nation blog in 2009 because I really felt Nike Golf was on a trajectory to become a category leader in golf equipment design. To see that journey come to an end is a real bummer. NGN will still continue to report on Nike Golf’s ongoing innovation in footwear and apparel, but opportunities to share their new equipment designs and innovations in the future will be sorely missed.
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