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Business

Think you can design a driver? Wilson Golf wants you in its game show

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It’s no secret that every golf equipment company is making a more concentrated effort to engage its potential customers through social media and other forms of direct and indirect communication.

Wilson’s golf brand seems intent on taking that connectivity to another level. Not only is the company engaging with its audience directly, it’s now asking its customers to design one of its next drivers.

The company announced today a call for entries in a “Driver vs. Driver” contest, a reality show-type competition that solicits ideas for a new driver that will be part of Wilson Golf’s 2017 line. The show will be broadcast on Golf Channel with the eventual winner receiving $500,000.

“As we push golf innovation into new territories, we recognize that new ideas, materials, design elements and concepts can come from the most unexpected places, industries and people,” says Wilson Golf President Tim Clarke. “This new television show is designed to celebrate the entrepreneurial and inventive spirit that is so important to our brand and mine the country for driver ideas that the Wilson Labs team can turn into reality.”

The deadline for entries is Aug. 15 with the show expected to air on Golf Channel in the Fall of 2016. The “Driver vs. Driver” show will be a series of seven episodes where judges and the Wilson Golf design team will evaluate each of the top entries, eliminating candidates each week. The eventual winner’s design will be a Wilson Staff-branded product in 2017.

More information is available at www.wilson.com/drivervsdriver.  

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Celebrity

Former NBA star Allan Houston's mansion is on the market, and it has a pretty sweet golf practice area (among everything else)

Allan Houston was a very good basketball player before a knee injury curtailed his career with the New York Knicks. Fortunately for him, that happened after the Knicks gave him an ill-advised six-year $100 million contract.

As you can imagine, that kind of money can buy you a pretty nice house. And now Houston, currently an assistant general manager for the Knicks, has put his custom-built mansion in Armonk, N.Y. on the market.

Related: The best backyard golf holes in the U.S.

The price? A cool $19.9 million because not listing it at an even $20 mill is a trick real estate agents use. Clever. Take a look at these photos, though, and you'll see that the property, which includes a basketball court and a golf practice area in the backyard (among everything else), is worth it:

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Houston plays out of Hudson National Golf Club and has a 7.7 handicap index according to GHIN, but he hasn't posted a score in nearly eight years. Probably because he's been so busy making the Knicks a championship contender. . . kidding!

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(h/t Wall Street Journal)

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Business

Report: Tiger Woods is no longer the highest-paid golfer

Even during a rocky past few years in the Official World Golf Ranking, you could always count on Tiger Woods to hold the No. 1 spot on the list of golf's top earners.

Not anymore.

According to Forbes' latest ranking of the world's highest-paid athletes, Woods was passed by Phil Mickelson. This is the first time in Tiger's pro career that he hasn't been the most well-compensated golfer.

Forbes has Mickelson at $50.8 million edging Woods by a nose at $50.6 million. Neither player made his usual amount of money on the course last year, but Phil's $2.8 million proved to be the difference versus an oft-injured Woods' paltry $0.6 million.

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

On the overall list of athletes, Mickelson ranks eighth and Woods is ninth. Boxer Floyd Mayweather leads by far with a whopping $300 million in earnings, followed by Manny Pacquiao at $160 million (so much for boxing being a dying sport). A pair of soccer players, Cristiano Ronaldo ($79.6M) and Lionel Messi ($73.8M) check in next, followed by Roger Federer ($67M), LeBron James ($64.8M) and Kevin Durant ($54.1M).

Just behind Tiger and Phil is Rory McIlroy, whose $48.3 million places him 12th overall. No other golfer made the top 100.

Earlier this year, the Golf Digest 50 still had Woods holding down the top spot at $55.1 million, but Mickelson and McIlroy were closing in. Woods made $121.9M at his peak in 2009 before his scandal.

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Equipment

Best ever April in golf ball sales, the one category that drives the whole industry

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The April monthly sales reports from golf industry researcher Golf Datatech show positive signs for revenue, especially in the one category that might best reflect the health of the game: golf balls.

Overall sales of golf balls in April at on- and off-course shops were up 4.9 percent in units and nearly 10.9 percent in dollars, compared to April 2014. According to Golf Datatech, it was the best April for golf ball sales in terms of dollars (just over $48.5 million) since the research firm began publishing monthly sales figures in 1997. Part of the reason is an ever-increasing shift by golfers to play the more expensive, multilayer urethane construction ball preferred by tour players. The average selling price for a dozen golf balls broke the $30-a-dozen barrier for the first time ever. Still, a little more than half of the top 20 selling golf balls retail for less than $25 a dozen.


Balls is an obvious indicator of interest in the game because you’re not buying golf balls if you’re not also playing. Although rounds played data is not available for April, the numbers were up in March by 5 percent and were also up for the year (4.1 percent). According to PGA Performance Trak, 26 states had reported positive year-over-year growth through March. 

Other categories showed mixed signs but clearly positive interest in new products as compared to discounted, older products. Sales of metalwoods were down in units (-3.2 percent) but up in dollars (4.7 percent) compared to last April, while irons were flat in revenue and down in units (-7.6 percent). In both woods and irons, the average selling price is markedly higher, up $10 per iron since April 2013 and $15 per metalwood since last April. 
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Equipment

Titleist to start exclusive equipment program

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In an era of increasing specialization and customization in golf equipment, Titleist announced today a program called "made only to order," or MOTO. Although no details were made available, an email from the company to those signing up for the service indicates it will be about a "classification for Titleist metals and irons with specialized performance characteristics." 

An email sent to those signing up for the offer suggests the program will provide details on multiple products in the future. It is also not clear how or if these products will be made available to the general public.

That said, the announcement of the program today on Twitter was accompanied by a photograph of the Titleist 915D4 driver. The club debuted on tour in March but has not been introduced to the retail market. A line extension of the 915 driver family, the D4 moves its sole weight closer to the face for a lower more forward center of gravity to further reduce spin. The 450cc head features more curve in the crown for a rounder overall appearance. It has a similar face height as the 915D3, and also employs the 915’s platform technologies of a sole channel for enhancing face rebound and 16-way loft and lie adjustability. 

Among the handful of players who have used the 915D4 are Justin Thomas, 19th in driving distance at 300.6 yards. Thomas also currently ranks 7th lowest in spin rate (2,281 rpm), about 12 percent below the tour average. 

It is not clear whether the clubs will be exclusively available directly through Titleist’s website. The company does have a long tradition of custom fitting through its network of retailers and club professionals. It also isn't clear if these clubs will be available in a limited capacity prior to being released wide scale. The 915 line did not appear at retail until late fall, but drivers were in player's bags as early as June. 
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Business

Jordan Spieth 'is a guy you want to pile into from a marketing standpoint'

Jordan Spieth’s victory in the Masters was staggeringly good for his personal brand, according to Repucom and its CelebrityDBI, a global index that quantifies consumer perceptions of celebrities.

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Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes reported that in March only 19 percent of Americans could identify Spieth by name or image. After his Masters victory, that number jumped to 36 percent, an increase of 85 percent.

“Repucom measures individual attributes as part of its polling and Spieth is now the highest-ranked athlete in five of the eight attributes it tracks,” Badenhausen wrote. “He tops the charts for aspiration, breakthrough, endorsement, trendsetter and trust.”

In the aspiration attribute, Spieth ranks fourth among the thousands of celebrities that Repucom tracks, behind only Tom Hanks, Bill Gates and Kate Middleton.

“These numbers, while impressive and meteoric, will fall off over time,” Repucom executive Peter Laatz told Badenhausen. “The attribute scores will come back a little, but I don’t think they will fall dramatically.”

The bottom line is, well, his bottom line. His financial future, already flourishing with a portfolio that includes AT&T and Under Armour, is at least as bright as his future in golf.

“Brands want to keep their risk low and have as high an upside as possible when they are looking to put their mark on people,” Laatz said. “This is a guy you want to pile into from a marketing standpoint.”

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Business

Number of golfers steady, more beginners coming from millennials

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While the National Golf Foundation’s yearly study on participation may not be as statistically rigorous as a Fortune 500 company’s annual report, it is as powerful an indication of the game’s health -- and hope -- as any Presidential State of the Union speech. 

And the review of 2014, despite indications from several quarters to the contrary during the year, seems to suggest the state of golf’s union is at the very least stable, and may be trending in a surprisingly positive direction.

For the third straight year, the NGF reports the number of golfers in 2014 was near 25 million. This number (24.7 million) matches the figure for 2013, but is down from 2010 (26 million) and 17 percent off the peak in 2005 of 30 million. It also matches the pre-Tiger Woods number of 24.7 million in 1995. According to the report, that number has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 875,000 golfers. 

Under the NGF’s methodology, the participation rate number is based on the estimated number of people ages 6 and over who played golf, on a golf course, at least once during the survey year. The survey is part of a larger survey of 40,000 Americans conducted by the Physical Activity Council regarding their participation in over 100 sports and fitness activities. 

According to the NGF, 8.5 percent of those surveyed indicated they played golf in 2014, but while participation rates have remained steady, the NGF cites data from PGA PerformanceTrak that says golfers played more often when conditions were playable. Rounds played per “playable day” were up nearly 1 percent in 2014 vs. 2013. The NGF says core golfers -- those who play eight rounds per year -- played two more rounds per year (32) than they did in 2005 when golf participation (in terms of numbers of golfers) was at its peak.

While the number of core golfers, occasional golfers and junior golfers all stayed relatively the same, the survey also tracked the number of golfers who played golf for the first time ever in 2014 at approximately 2 million, consistent with 2013. According to the report, the largest percentage of beginning golfers was in the 18-39 age group, accounting for more than half of all beginning golfers. The report says that roughly 4 million people began or returned to the game in 2014. 

But the NGF report also tracked interest in the game among these latent golfers, what it calls “individuals who did not play golf during the survey year but expressed interest in playing golf now.” The number of latent golfers (32 million) has grown every year since 2011, when it was 27 million. 

Among other highlights of the NGF study:

-- The highest percentage of core golfers came in the 30-39 age group (18.8 percent of all golfers), followed by the 40-49 (17.6) group. There were a larger percentage of  golfers under the age of 40 than there were over the age of 50 (47 percent to 35 percent).

-- The household income for the average golfer is $93,000, but nearly 40 percent have a household income less than $75,000. Still, the largest percentage of all golfers (27 percent) have a household income over $125,000.

-- Participation rates in New England and the Midwest regions (Ohio to North Dakota) were the highest. The lowest were in the South Central (Kentucky to Texas).
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Business

You'll be amazed by how many people are paying to play FootGolf

You may be surprised to learn that FootGolf, a sport that combines soccer with golf (sort of), is thriving at certain golf courses in the U.S. This, according to a Reuters story detailing the growth of the game.

If you don't know what FootGolf is, check out our helpful explainer. Basically, you play a shortened golf course with enlarged holes by kicking a soccer ball and keeping score like you would in golf. And apparently, people are digging it, especially that "M-word" sect the golf industry is desperately trying to reach.

Related: 17 GIFs that explain how FootGolf works

"Then it dawned on me that we are struggling so much to bring the millennial generation into the game of golf," Mike Woods, PGA director at Haggin Oaks in Sacramento told Reuters. "Yet that's the absolute target market for soccer."

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After initially finding FootGolf silly, Woods had it added at Haggin Oaks in 2013 to become the fifth certified FootGolf course in the country. And the golf complex has been reaping the benefits since.

Woods said Haggin Oaks booked 9,120 rounds that first year. That number has stayed consistent despite eight other local courses joining the FootGolf fray. Woods said Haggin Oaks netted $186,000 in revenue from just FootGolf in 2014.

For course operators, the beauty of adding FootGolf is that it doesn't cost much. Reuters says the investment can be as low as $5,000 and that there are currently more than 400 certified FootGolf courses in the U.S. 

"FootGolf is to the golf industry what snowboarding was to the ski industry," said Laura Balestrini, president of the American FootGolf League.

If you've tried it, that's a pretty good comparison. FootGolf doesn't have much appeal for serious golfers, but it seems to be a popular activity for bachelor parties, and it can be a way for a parent to play golf while spending time with their kid (A FootGolf course is usually part of a regular golf course). And yes, it's also just an excuse to go crazy with your best goal-scoring celebration.

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Golf pads

Check out this $200 million Florida listing that includes multiple practice greens and a miniature golf course

Sorry, make that "just under $200 million." That's what the Wall Street Journal reports a Florida island estate owned by the Ziff family is being listed at. Maybe that will change your tune about making an offer?

Related: 7 photos of Jordan Spieth's new Dallas mansion

Probably not, but you might enjoy seeing just how awesome this property is. Named "Gemini" (you know it's a sick property when it has an official name, especially one like Gemini), the family compound encompasses 16 acres on a barrier island just south of Palm Beach.

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The main house measures 62,200 (can't forget that extra 200!) square feet and sits on the Atlantic Ocean. There's also a guest house that faces the Intracoastal and the two structures are connected by an air-conditioned and furnished tunnel. That alone might make this the most jaw-dropping piece of real estate on the market, but there's more.

The compound also includes a seven-bedroom house, two four-bedroom "cottages," a pool, a pier, a basketball court, a tennis court, and a golf practice area with two greens.

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But while we've seen those type of amenities in luxury listings before, here's a new one: A miniature golf course. With a model train set running through it. Amazing.

Related: The best backyard golf holes

The Wall Street Journal describes that last feature as being "for children." Ha. That would be the first thing we'd check out if we ever visited.

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Business

Golf industry holds a hundred meetings on Capitol Hill during National Golf Day

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National Golf Day may not register on every golfer’s radar, especially in the middle of the week. But for Steve Mona, the CEO of World Golf Foundation and administrator of the industry’s We Are Golf coalition, the event that promotes the game on Capitol Hill signalled real progress this year in getting out golf’s message of economic and charitable impact to the nation’s lawmakers. 

About a hundred meetings with lawmakers and staff over the course of one day could have that kind of impact.

“I’m a little weary, but it was well worth it,” said Mona, back in his Florida office after the day-long D.C. whirlwind that included a meeting in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office.

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Mona led a coalition of more than 100 industry representatives that descended on Washington to interact with lawmakers, including a series of events and exhibits in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. The events included presentations by Presidents Cup captains Jay Haas and Nick Price, as well as instant lessons from Michael Breed and Karen Palacios-Jansen. 

While he sensed real support from established friends of golf like South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Mona believes the dialog between lawmakers the golf industry has improved considerably since the first National Golf Day in 2008. He cites the We Are Golf coalition as instrumental and the very public National Golf Day as key elements in leading that change.

“The messaging has gotten much more refined and much more better understood by those we’re seeking to communicate with,” Mona said. “We made a stratetegic decision when we launched We Are Golf to go public and create a profile. Not all industries do that, and I would say that strategic direction wasn’t necessarily thought to be the right strategy in golf. Now that we’ve done it, everyone agrees that it was the right strategy.”

The group sought to make inroads yesterday in a number of specific legislative areas. One interesting item is an effort to get golf included as part of the proposed PHIT (“Personal Health Investment Today”) Act. This legislation would allow the use of pre-tax health spending account funds for “physical activity expenses.” Currently, golf is specifically excluded from the legislation.

Making that change requires adjusting some lawmaker’s perspectives about what golf’s impact is on the nation’s economy. We Are Golf cites a direct economic impact of golf of $68.8 billion and nearly two million jobs. Mona also estimates a charitable impact of nearly $4 billion. He notes the PGA Tour gets more attention for its contributions, but it’s local one-day events at golf courses that constitute the vast majority of those dollars. He estimates there may be as many as 144,000 charity golf events annually. 

“Almost all the money that gets raised from these events goes to causes outside of golf,” he says. “And almost all the money that gets raised locally stays in that area. So golf is really a community asset.”

He also believes real progress has been made in changing perceptions of golf’s role in environmental matters.

“We’re talking a lot about how golf course superintendents have gotten a lot more sophisticated about what acres on their property are intensely maintained,” says Mona, indicating that of the typical 150-acre golf facility only about 35 are intensely maintained. 

Getting those on Capitol Hill to understand golf beyond the lifestyles of the rich and famous perception is the ultimate challenge, he says. 

“The real backbone of the golf industry are people working in everyday kind of jobs,” he says. “It’s the person working on a golf course superintendent’s crew, somebody working for the club manager in the kitchen, or the person pulling bags from trunks for the club professional and shining up your clubs when you’re done. Not to mention, it’s also the people who are providing goods and services to the golf courses. None of those people are getting rich. We’re just trying to change the narrative or the mindset about who it is golf provides a living for. It’s not the 1-percenters.

“I can tell you unequivocally the narrative has changed, and the understanding clearly has changed, too, so we feel on that basis there’s been progress made.”

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