You cannot market golf clubs the way you used to. Or at least that's one explanation for why Golfsmith is building a driving range in the middle of a Manhattan street next week.
Golf's leading retail outlet will use its New York store (located at 54th Street) as the site for an event to promote the arrival to the marketplace of TaylorMade's new white drivers, the R11 and the Burner SuperFast 2.0. But this isn't your typical in-store promotion. Instead, the retailer, in cooperation with TaylorMade and most especially the local authorities, will construct a 120-foot-long, 40-foot-high netted driving range and bring in Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia to demonstrate the new products. The plan even calls for players to be decked out in ivory colors and snow (yes, snow) to be trucked in to accentuate the "white out" theme. Given the northeast's winter weather so far, additional white precipitation may not be necessary. The event is planned for February 15.
Construction of the temporary structure will start a 3 a.m. the day of the event, and it is expected the street will be back to normal by 6 p.m. that evening.
The idea for the instant driving range came from Matt Corey, chief marketing officer at Golfsmith. Golfsmith's Manhattan store, which also sells tennis gear, staged a similar event in conjunction with the U.S. Open in August by building a mini tennis court and having Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer play on the street in front of the store.
"Us marketing guys are supposed to be a little crazy," Corey said. "We're supposed to push the edge like that."
But Corey believes golf needs events like this one: "Golf has to change a little bit. Look at things like the 16th hole in Phoenix. That is cool. Everybody is having a good time. They're cheering, they're doing the wave, they're having a blast. That's what golf needs to be more about. It needs to shed some of its old image.
"If people can sit at home and say, 'Wait, what is going on in New York?' and see Sergio and Martin laughing and having a good time even if it's snowing, it's good for the game."
Corey also noted that an event like this makes more sense in today's viral marketing atmosphere, where social media can take a local promotion and turn it global almost instantly.
"Ten years ago, this event wouldn't have had as much impact as it can now in a world of social media," he said. "Certainly, we hope we drive a lot of sales in Manhattan that one day. But we are going to take this event and put it everywhere through social marketing."
As for why TaylorMade and not Adams or Callaway or Cleveland or Nike or Ping or Titleist, all of whom are introducing or have recently introduced new drivers, Corey said it's a matter of timing and interest. Last year, Golfsmith utilized a promotion with Callaway that allowed customers to get a full refund of the price of their Callaway driver if Phil Mickelson won the Masters. He did and Corey said Golfsmith gave away the equivalent of a million dollars in free drivers.
"We're always open to unique things we can do with each of our partners," Corey said. "And it really depends on their ability and willingness to do it, too. Can they bring the right athletes to the event? Is the timing right? And it has to do with the aggressiveness of the brand, too."
"TaylorMade likes to do stuff like this. There are other brands in the golf space where their athletes never do anything with retail. We brought this to TaylorMade and they loved it, and we figured out a way to make it work."
Neither TaylorMade or Golfsmith were willing to discuss the cost of the event. The event also will be used to raise charitable funds for Operation Game On!, a program established for wounded warriors using golf as a rehabilitation tool.
Of course, holding the event in New York with a player (Kaymer) who could be ranked No. 1 in the world makes a difference, too. "New York is not just one of the most exciting cities in the world and one of the biggest media capitals ever, it's also where if you do something unique and different, you have a chance of getting some great exposure for it."
Not that building a driving range in the middle of a Manhattan street was as simple as finding some scaffolding and netting. In addition to working with the Mayor's Office and the 17th Precinct of the New York Police Department, Golfsmith's team even sought out the consent of the church on the corner. They even needed a sound permit to allow for the PA system.
"We didn't ever get the 'No way' attitude at all," Corey said. "The NYPD and the Mayor's office, everybody said, 'Let's figure out a way to make this thing happen. This seems like a pretty fun thing.' "
Corey even is hoping it snows on Tuesday. "These guys play in inclement weather all the time. I'm not sure that includes snow, but if we got a little bit of snow, that would be the perfect backdrop for this event."