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Gear & Equipment

TaylorMade to debut R15 drivers tonight

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In the era of the global marketplace, there are no secrets anymore, and news embargoes of product launches seem to be about as effective as leaving a bowl of chocolate-chip cookies in a room full of kindergarteners and asking them to wait.

Hence, it comes as no surprise to anyone that TaylorMade will be unveiling a new driver tonight at a special New York City media event at Golf & Body in Manhattan. The R15, which from all previously published accounts and leaked details from TaylorMade’s Japan website, appears to feature movable weights in the familiar sole track made famous by the company's highly popular SLDR driver, which was launched in 2013. 

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The weights appear to slide in a track towards the front of the sole. The SLDR driver emphasized a “low forward” center-of-gravity location aimed at reducing spin and improving the efficiency of energy transfer at impact by placing the center of gravity more in line with both the center of the clubface and the club’s loft. 

Based on the images, the club will be offered in both black and white head styles. TaylorMade first introduced its drivers in white in 2011 with the R11 and RBZ models. It moved off that color in mid-2013 with SLDR, but returned to special limited edition white versions of the SLDR this summer. 

Tom Kroll, TaylorMade product evangelist, described the company's position on white this way last summer: "We still as a company strongly believe in the performance and technology of white and the contrast of a white crown with a black face, and how it aids alignment and the entire aspect that white represents. I think we’re definitely standing behind that. It’s a part of our culture, and people have come to associate TaylorMade with white." 

More details on TaylorMade’s plans with R15 are expected from tonight’s event. Stay tuned. 
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Business

Nike Golf names Jordan Brand exec new president

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Nike announced today that Daric Ashford will become President of Nike Golf.

Ashford is currently vice president, general manager of Jordan Brand for North America and is a 21-year Nike veteran. Daric has held senior management positions across retail and sales within the Nike brand. Jordan Brand is a subsidiary of Nike dealing primarily in basketball shoes and athletic apparel. PGA Tour player Keegan Bradley has famously been testing and helping design a Jordan Brand golf shoe, in consultation with the company's namesake and founder, one-time basketball player and full-time current golfer Michael Jordan.

There were no details about Ashford’s golf expertise, although those familiar with him call him an avid player. One example: He was listed as a participant in the 2014 Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational Pro-Am.

“Daric’s leadership has helped to deliver strong revenue growth and expand the Jordan Brand. His proven track record, along with his experience in global categories, makes him ideally suited to leading the golf business,” said Jayme Martin, Nike’s vice president and general manager of global categories.

Ashford takes the helm of a golf brand whose two preeminent endorsees Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are regarded as two of the top three favorite golfers in the game, according to a recent survey by industry research firm Golf Datatech. McIlroy is currently the No. 1-ranked player in the world. The Nike brand also counts 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie in its stable.

Over the last six years, sales for Nike Golf have remained steady while still trailing top brands like TaylorMade-adidas Golf, Callaway Golf and Acushnet. Sales were $725 million in May of 2008, and $789 million through the fiscal year ended May 2014. The 2014 numbers were about equal to 2013’s figure of $792 million. 

Ashford replaces Cindy Davis, 52, who announced her retirement in October. Davis had led Nike Golf since 2008.

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Business

Watch The Caddy Girls get turned down on ABC's "Shark Tank"

For the second time in a month, golf played a large role in ABC's "Shark Tank." This time, however, there wasn't as happy of an ending.

Meghan Tarmey went on Friday's episode to pitch her business, The Caddy Girls, which she started while she was still a cheerleader at Costal Carolina University in 2005. As you can probably gather from the name, it's a group of female caddies that golfers can hire to make their rounds more entertaining.

Related: Watch a putter company's emotional sales pitch on "Shark Tank"

Tarmey came on the show asking for $100,000 for a 20-percent stake in her company. However, she did not walk away with a deal, getting turned down and then turning down a $100,000 counter offer for half of her business. Here's the clip:


It wasn't all bad, though. Tarmey was praised by the Sharks, even by the show's tough guy, Kevin O'Leary, for her pitch. And the appearance on the show has already sparked a lot of interest in her company. Tarmey told Myrtlebeachonline.com she had received about 50 independent investment offers by noon on Saturday.

In the season premier of the show, putter manufacturer Kronos Golf struck a deal after an emotional presentation. But The Caddy Girls still have Kronos Golf beat in one area: calendars.

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Courses & Travel

Florida Historic Golf Trail features 'important chapters to our golf story,' Nicklaus says

It began several years ago, as a challenge within the Division of Historical Resources at Florida’s Department of State, to find creative ways to promote preservation and history.

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“Me being a golfer, I try to incorporate that into anything I do work-related,” Scott Edwards said. “So I proposed the idea and it got accepted.”

The idea has come to fruition with the launch of the Florida Historic Golf Trail, 50 publicly accessible courses built before 1946 and stretching from Pensacola on the Florida panhandle (A.C. Read Golf Course and Osceola Municipal Golf Course) to Key West at the southern tip of the state (Key West Golf Club).

“We wanted to make sure all the courses are open to the public, that anybody could walk up and play any time,” Edwards said. “We chose the time frame from the turn of the century through World War II because that was a big part of Florida’s development and its national development.”

The objective, Edwards said, “is to promote these historic golf courses, but also telling Florida history through these golf courses.”

Arnold Palmer, who resides part of the year in Orlando, was enlisted to do a commercial for the project. Jack Nicklaus, a North Palm Beach resident, also provided an endorsement. “As a proud Floridian for close to 50 years, I know the state of Florida has its own storied history in our game,” he said. “The Florida Historic Golf Trail included important chapters to our golf story.”

A potential incidental benefit is bringing new players into the game, Edwards said. “That’s what the golf industry people have latched onto, that it’s a new way to grow the game. And if you’re a golfer and have been around the game, you love the history, and this is a great source of history.”

A scorecard has been developed, allowing players setting out to play all 50 to check off the courses they’ve played and input a score.

“Groups of people already want to go out and start playing these,” Edwards said. “It’s gone beyond what I thought it would. That’s what we want. We hope it drives tourism for them and get exposure they’ve never had.”

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Business

Ian Poulter's Lake Nona home can be yours for a reasonable $1.3 million

Earlier this week, Ian Poulter took to Twitter to help sell his "old family home" in the Lake Nona development outside of Orlando. Perhaps, he's looking for a piece of the commission.

Related: LeBron James tops Tiger Woods as most valuable sports brand

The beautiful 3,700-square-foot home has four bedrooms, 4.5 bathrooms, a pool with a hot tub and a sweet looking entertainment room (If that pool table comes with the house, then the buyer is really getting a steal). Check out the video tour that includes soothing music that could have been taken straight from the "Friday Night Lights" soundtrack:

9743 Covent Garden Drive from Lake Nona on Vimeo.

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Celebrity

LeBron James tops Tiger Woods on Forbes' list of most valuable sports brands

Tiger Woods has lost his No. 1 ranking in another category.

On Tuesday, Forbes Magazine released its list of the world's most valuable sports brands and Woods slipped to No. 2 -- the first time he hasn't been No. 1 since 2007. LeBron James replaced Woods in the top spot with his brand valued at $37 million to Woods' $36 million.

Related: Golf Digest's list of the top 50 earners in golf

This list is different from Forbes' ranking of highest-paid athletes. Woods fell to No. 6 on that list earlier this year (Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. is No. 1) after holding the top spot from 2001 to 2011 and again in 2013. In the list Forbes released Tuesday, the magazine tries to evaluate how much a player's brand is worth by calculating how much more he makes off the court than the average of the top 10 in his sport.

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While James' value increased $10 million in the past year, Woods' went down that amount, thanks in large part to the end of a 14-year relationship with EA Sports. Roger Federer ($32 million) is ranked No. 3 and Phil Mickelson ($29 million) takes the fourth spot.

Forbes ranked the top 10 brand values in four categories: businesses, events, teams and athletes. Woods' biggest endorsor, Nike, is the world's most valuable sports-business brand at $19 billion.

Related: Tiger's business ventures keeping him busy

James, like Woods, is a fellow Nike pitchman. He also happens to share a birthday (Dec. 30) with the 14-time major champion, although James is nine years younger. When they exchange gifts this year, we now expect LeBron to splurge more.

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Business

Nike Golf president Cindy Davis retires

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Cindy Davis, the first woman to be named president of a major golf equipment company and still the highest ranking female executive in the game, announced her retirement as president of Nike Golf Tuesday afternoon.

Nike announced that a successor to Davis, 52, will be named at a later date.

"We thank Cindy for her leadership throughout the years as she has led the development and growth of Nike's golf business worldwide. Under Cindy’s direction, Nike Golf has steadily delivered profitable growth year after year since 2009," said Jayme Martin, vice president and general manager of Global Categories, in a news release.

In Davis’s six-plus years at the helm, Nike Golf has seen its sales hold relatively steady and the company remain one of the game’s leading brands yet still trail TaylorMade-adidas Golf, Callaway Golf and Acushnet. Sales were $725 million in May 2008, and $789 million through the fiscal year ended May 2014. The 2014 numbers were about equal to 2013’s figure of $792 million.

Named president of Nike Golf in 2008, Davis has overseen Nike’s golf division through a transition between two of the game’s dominant players. When she started as president, flagship Nike endorser Tiger Woods was the No. 1 player in the world. Upon her departure, the company’s other leading endorser, Rory McIlroy, was the game’s top golfer. It was Davis who presided over the signing of McIlroy, announcing the sponsorship deal with McIlroy during a memorable event in Abu Dhabi in early 2013 that included rock music, bright lights and fireworks.

Davis told the Portland Business Journal then, "Rory is joining us at a different time in our evolution and at a time when we are beginning, in a sense, to becoming, as we should ultimately be, the global leader in golf.”

Since 2008, the year Davis took over, Nike staffers have won more majors than any other company with seven. The list includes Trevor Immelman (2008 Masters), Woods (2008 U.S. Open), Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open), Stewart Cink (2009 British Open), Charl Schwartzel (2011 Masters), McIlroy (2014 British, 2014 PGA Championship).

Davis previously served as Nike’s general manager, starting in 2005. Before Nike, she served as senior vice president at Golf Channel. She also was CEO at The Arnold Palmer Golf Company, helping to take the company private before its sale to Callaway Golf in 2000. She was named to Sports Illustrated’s 50 Most Powerful People in Sports in 2013.

Davis played collegiate golf with LPGA major champion Dottie Pepper at Furman, where she was an All-American and runner-up at the NCAA Championships in 1983.
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Business

Haggin Oaks: A golf course success story as measured by the foot

A beleaguered game takes its success stories however they come these days, and this one comes with a soccer ball.

In July of 2013, Haggin Oaks, a popular golf facility in Sacramento, Calif., began offering footgolf, a soccer/golf hybrid, though without any expectations or marketing.

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It extended invitations to soccer teams to come out and experience it, and “it took on a life of its own,” one of Haggin Oaks’ owners, Ken Morton Jr., said. “It was all word of mouth. Sacramento has four television stations and they all came out. The Sacramento Bee did a front-page story on it.”

The rounds of footgolf exceeded 13,000 the first year, at the same price as nine holes of golf, Morton said, and the number is steadily, even rapidly growing.

“We’ve been surprised every step of the way. The reception has been nothing sort of remarkable. We certainly had some of the old guards ticked off that there are soccer players out on their golf course. However, at the end of the day positive reaction has been far greater than any negative reaction. And we have only touched the surface.”

Morton said that “we’re quite confident we could play 50,000 rounds” given the time to pursue it. It now employs a director of footgolf who is reaching out to soccer clubs in the Sacramento area. “Our junior soccer program in the greater Sacramento region is the largest anywhere in the continental United States,” Morton said. “Soccer teams come out [to Haggin Oaks] and use it for practice, and have birthday parties for kids.”

Related: We call it golf

Haggin Oaks features two golf courses, one of them the MacKenzie course designed by Alister MacKenzie. The 18-hole footgolf course has been set up on the front nine of the Arcade Creek course and features its own tee boxes and greens that are situated adjacent to the golf course’s fairways and greens.

It now hosts several footgolf tournaments, as well as dual-sports tournaments in which contestants play nine holes of footgolf and nine holes of regular golf. Morton said the footgolf tournament fields fill up faster than its regular golf tournaments.

The question, of course, is whether footgolfers can be converted to regular golf. “We’re seeing some of that,” Morton said. “As we begin to figure this out more, that’s our job to make that conversion. But it’s not uncommon now to see on the range somebody’s golf bag with a soccer ball sitting next to it.

Related: 17 GIFs that explain how footgolf works

“It is a different sport altogether, but we’re trying to encourage as many as we can to play in the dual-sports tournaments. It’s been an absolute blast for the one=s who have done it.”

Morton is following the example of his father, Ken Morton Sr., a PGA of America professional who has been associated with Haggin Oaks in one form or another since 1958 and is now one of its owners as well as the CEO of Morton Golf.

“Growth of the game initiatives have been at the forefront of everything he’s done throughout his career,” Morton Jr. said. “We’ve tried to take that baton.”

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Business

Get ready for Mickelson National Golf Club

Now that the Ryder Cup is behind him (save for the Tom Watson controversy), it’s back to the drawing board, more or less, for Phil Mickelson: The design of a golf course that will carry his name.

Mickelson National Golf Club of Canada is his latest design project, in rolling terrain west of the city of Calgary and scheduled to open in 2017.

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The project began seven years ago and was to be a Johnny Miller design, when a downturn in the economy put the project on hold.

“When we kickstarted it again, I thought, ‘If I can be associated with one individual or brand, who would it be?’” Barry Ehlert, managing partner of the Windmill Golf Group, said. “Phil Mickelson was the first name to come to mind, not just for his design work, but what he brings to golf. He was my first call.

“What you see on television with Phil is what you get. Everybody likes Phil. That’s how he came across when we met face to face. It was a friendly, engaging, easy conversation to have with him. After quite a long time getting to know them and them getting to know us, it seemed like a perfect fit for both of us.”

The course originally was going to be known as Copithorne Club, named for the original landowners of the property. But people had trouble spelling Copithorne, Ehlert said, which made it problematic on the branding front.

“We thought it would be much easier having a name that people could find,” Ehlert said. “We were talking to Phil’s team and said, ‘what if Phil’s name was associated with it?’ They contemplated it and agreed to it. We believe there will only be one Mickelson National in Canada.” Or likely anywhere else, for that matter.

The course will be built in anticipation of the Canadian Open being played there one day. “We’d love to do that,” Ehlert said. “Calgary has never had a PGA Tour event. The Canadian Open has never been to Calgary. But we know Calgary would support it. Probably all of Albert would support it.”

Related: Why does Phil want to be a Rancho Santa Fe country club?

Mickelson has not yet seen the property — the course layout shown above, measuring nearly 8,000 yards (the altitude is 3,500 to 4,000 feet), loosely follows the original routing — but is expected to travel to Calgary in the next month to get his first look. Meanwhile, his design team has visited the property on a couple of occasions.

“We’re not set on 8,000 yards,” Ehlert said. “When Phil gets on site, cit ould end up being 7,600 yards. The original routing ended up being almost 8,000 yards. But whether it’s 7,600, 7,700 or 7.800 yards, whatever it is, first and foremost it will be a course that the members play every day.”

Mickelson Design includes Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., a renovation of the North Course at Torrey Pines, and two courses in China.

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Business

Back9Network launches today; is there room for two golf networks?

Four years after it was founded, Back9Network finally begins broadcasting today, and will do so not without some uncertainty. Is there room for a second golf network?

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"I wouldn't have left a nice safe career at ESPN if I didn't think so," Charles Cox, CEO of Back9 Network, said. Cox was Director of International Finance and Business Development at ESPN before joining Back9Network.

"I think it's a no-brainer channel offering. You've got the only sport you can play until you die. You've got a 70-billion dollars annual consumer spend around the lifestyle. Look at other [sports] genres that have a lifestyle around it. There's only one, outdoors, hunting and fishing, and they've got several channels."

The network bills itself as "the world's first multi-platform lifestyle network for golf lovers," featuring wine, food, cars, travel, nightlife and, of course, golf.

"I''ve got the best demographic in golf, the male golfer," Cox said. "Eighty percent of golfers are male. [We're focused on] entertaining the male golfer in prime time."

Related: Back9Network founder Jamie Bosworth is out of the picture

Ahmad Rashad is the executive producer and a host for Back9. He also is close to Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, which figures to give Back9Network some access to both.

It plans to air more than 1,000 hours of original programming in its first year, including a trio of studio shows.

  • "The Turn," hosted by Shane Bacon and Erica Bachelor, will feature golf, pop culture and debate.

  • "Off Par," hosted by actor Marty Blake and model Caite Upton, will be "an inventive look at the world of golf and entertainment, with a comedic twist," a network news release said.

  • Former PGA Tour player John Maginnes, along with long-time Golfweek writer Jeff Rude will host "The Clubhouse," designed to replicate 19th-hole golf conversation.

One early challenge for Back9Network is that initially it will only be available to those with DirecTV.

"We're going to try to get 40, 50, 60 million homes as quickly as possible," Cox said, "and really get some hard-core data on what programs are working. We probably can't exist by having only 20 million homes in the long term. We need to get the other big boys involved."

It has made it easy for potential viewers to lobby cable outlets for inclusion. On the top of its website homepage, it features a link, "I want Back9Network," that has forms to either email or Tweet cable operators requesting that the network be added.

Meanwhile, it will begin with cautious optimism. "It's been a long time coming, but there's still plenty of work to be done," Cox said. "We've got to make sure it's good stuff. It's hard to launch a network in this landscape."

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