(Written By: Tony Covey)
Callaway Golf screwed me.
It’s probably my fault. Journalists (a designation for which I may or may not qualify), particularly golf equipment journalists aren’t immune to bouts of laziness. Mine is a profession (again…if you can call it that) where we’re often hammered, even overwhelmed with specs, technical details, and the more-than-occasional quote about why this new face technology is so much better than the old one.
You want more yards? We’ve got ‘em.
Buy now! Or be left behind.
And very often - in the equipment world anyway - the story isn’t what you hunt; it’s what you’re fed. You’ll eat, you’ll like it, and most importantly you’ll print it.
In retrospect I’m not proud that I, along with four of my colleagues, arrived at the Ely Callaway Performance Center more or less expecting to be spoon fed the story of Callaway Golf in 2013. As far as my golf stories go; this trip…it was supposed to be a gimme.
To my own credit (and I’ll take as much as you’d like to give me), I didn’t need to be fed a story when I visited with Cobra-PUMA. I found one. And the most compelling storyline that came from my recent visit with Nike; I found that one too (even if Nike gave me some great quotes along the way).
But Callaway was different. I had specific expectations. That was my mistake.
Things Are Different Now
For those who haven’t been paying attention lately, Callaway has generated an unexpected amount of buzz since new CEO Chip Brewer took over. The X-Utility hybrid already has a cult following. Last fall’s Tweet To Unleash Campaign at its peak was the #1 trending topic on Twitter, and it’s abundantly clear that Callaway is making every attempt to position the new XHot as the IT fairway wood of 2013. And all of that is before we start talking about the RAZR XTREME Driver, the new PGA Tour Staff, and Jaime Sadlowski.
Did somebody say XBomb? No? Ok…give it a minute.
It’s also before we start talking about Harry Arnett.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention (and seriously…start paying attention); if the new Callaway Golf has a face, that face belongs to Harry Arnett. A quirky, animated sort with thick-framed glasses, Harry is the guy some of you might remember seeing in last fall’s “Office Golf Tips” video series, and Harry is the guy you see week in and week out in the #CallawayTalks series as well.
Harry Arnett is everywhere.
Harry is the energetic, if not charismatic, personality who led the Twitter charge declaring a #fiveyearwar on …well…we’ll get to that in a bit, boasting that the RAZR EXTREME is the #longestdriveringolf, and dropping #XBombs whenever and wherever possible.
Like almost everyone else in the golf industry today, Harry Arnett loves him a #hashtag.
And even if you haven’t been paying copious attention to any of that, but still yet for reasons you can’t completely put your finger on, find yourself suddenly feeling like Callaway for the first time in years is relevant, and their equipment is compelling; well there’s a decent chance that Harry, along with Social Media Manager, Chad Coleman could be behind that too.
The Callaway guys – all of them ...#teamcallaway…the #zoocrew as Harry calls them - have been keeping busy.
So with everything we’d seen from Callaway in the weeks and months leading up to our visit last November, I suppose it was only reasonable that we expected that the majority of our visit would be spent with Harry as he hammered home the new marketing message. That stuff about the longest driver in golf, his five year war, and the blueprint for how exactly Callaway plans to set out about the business of kicking TaylorMade’s ass; that’s what I expected to hear.
It didn’t happen.
As these OEM visits often do, our trip to Callaway kicked off with a dinner with members of Callaway’s communication, iron and woods, and ball teams on hand. While GolfSpy Frank sat wide-eyed watching us drink margaritas and beer (or cervezas as they’re know at El Callejon), the rest of us got acquainted and talked a bit about the 2013 product line.
As we talked I tried to pry out some golden nuggets of information; the ones that can make the most skeptical among us get excited about new products. I was desperately hoping to find a red-crown moment, or an all-lofts-in-a-single-head driver, or perhaps a cavity in a new and unusual place. Failing that…trash talk the competition. That always makes for good copy. But no matter how deep I dug, the guys gave me almost nothing. I couldn’t find anything resembling an actual story.
Callaway wasn’t talking about making golf easy and fun, becoming the most desirable, or overthrowing The Kingdom. Instead, the Callaway guys…the ball guy, the club guy, even the PR guy – to a man, all fell back on a single word:
…and nothing but.
And each and every time that word came up the confident team at Callaway spoke as if performance is the only thing that matters.
They’re not new at this. They must know different, right? Maybe not.
If performance was the thing…the only thing, Wilson would be #1 or #2 in irons year after year. PING might have the #1 driver, and Callaway might very well produce the #1 ball in golf.
But performance isn’t the thing…at least it’s not the only thing, not even close. Wilson isn’t, PING doesn’t, and Callaway doesn’t either.
Don’t get me wrong, performance is great. Who doesn’t want more performance? Whether it from our golf clubs, our cars, or a bottle of little blue pills, performance is the what that we all want. It should be the thing, maybe the only thing, but in today’s reality, it isn’t. Not even close.
It’s not enough to tell the golfing consumer what he needs; you’ve got to tell him why he needs it.
And the why of it…that’s the story.
It’s that story that makes us pull a club off the rack and take those precious few swings that will ultimately determine if we’re able to see what the manufacturer tells us we’re going to see. The story is what makes performance matter.
I’m not saying performance is inconsequential. What I’m saying is that the market doesn’t want you to lead with it. It’s not front page material. Performance is what chapter 2 of every golf club’s story should be about, but without some filler, performance itself is not nearly as compelling as it should be.
Performance alone, my friends, is not a story.
Like I said, Callaway Golf screwed me.
And We're Still Talking About Performance
Day two – our visit to the Ely Callaway Performance Center – was basically all about the new clubs in the 2013 lineup.
After a bit of unseemly paperwork (queue the ominous music – the NDA - aka: Non-Disclosure Agreement), we did the facility tour (there’s always a tour), and then sat down with Evan Gibbs (Manager of Performance Analysis and Club Configuration), and Luke Williams (Sr. Director Global Woods and Irons Category) to talk about the new lineup.
I don’t want to get bogged down with spec and other monotonous technical details – and truthfully I probably found myself getting too wrapped up in the UDesign options available on the new RAZR Fit XTREME (9 colors, mix and match, both sole and crown), but there are some pretty compelling nuggets about the RAZR Fit Extreme Driver.
Gibbs told us that most players will see a 200-300 RPM reduction in spin over last year’s model. As you might expect, that reduction in spin comes from a relocated the center of gravity, which always results from being able to save weight in other places. In this case Callaway designed a thinner crown, which in addition to relocating the COG also created a head that is lighter overall (5 grams), and, at D4, 2 swingweight points lighter than last year’s RAZR Fit.
Getting the Shaft
The shaft will certainly be a major talking point for Callaway this season. Unlike years past where Callaway has leveraged made for shafts as their stock offerings, the company has done a complete 180, and is offering two premium aftermarket shafts as the only stock offerings in the RAZR Fit Xtreme.
The new Aldila Trinity is the shaft Callaway expects will provide the best fit for the majority of players. It’s the first shaft to combine all 3 of Aldila’s patented technologies (RIP, S-Core, and Microlaminate).
What some may find interesting is that Callaway’s version of the Trinity will feature Aldila’s tour graphics, while the aftermarket will feature a 360° pattern. The two shafts are otherwise identical, and I suspect the gearheads will appreciate Callaway’s decision to roll with the tour graphics.
Without understanding the big picture, one might think Callaway’s decision to offer the Matrix 7m3 as a stock (zero cost) alternative to the Trinity, is at best curious, and at worst a mistake.
If you read the article I wrote for the release of TaylorMade’s R1 driver (if you haven’t, you should), you may remember that I wrote this:
Yes. I really did just quote myself.
Anyone paying close attention likely saw that line as, at best, a semi-polite jab into Callaway’s ribs, and at worst, a very impolite, very public middle finger from that MyGolfSpy guy with the reputation for stick-poking the occasional hornet’s nest.
It was neither. It was merely a setup for this article…admittedly done without the requisite context. But seriously…what fun is context…especially when there are hornets…and you’ve got a stick?
The larger point is that while TaylorMade has a proven model for deciding what shafts go in their woods, the New Callaway has a calculated philosophy of its own…and it’s pretty damn good one, I think.
By Callaway’s own admission, the Matrix “Black Tie” 7m3 (designed for higher speed players looking to cut spin) is a good fit for less than 10% of all golfers, but as Evan Gibbs explained, Callaway felt it was important to have an offering for the best players in the world across all their product lines:
Callaway’s designers understand the Matrix m3 is not a shaft for everyone, but not only does the it satisfy their goal of having an offering for the best players in the world, for the guy it fits, it’s bar none, the most compelling stock offering on the market today.
That emphasis on providing a stock offering good enough to satisfy the best players in the world…it’s true of nearly everything in Callaway’s 2013 lineup.
Unlike years past where Callaway has used made for shafts to take cost out of the product, Gibbs explained that this season the shaft is being used to add value for the consumer.
While I didn’t realize it at the time, that one little fragment of a sentence suggesting a renewed emphasis on the golfer illustrates what has emerged as the centerpiece of the new Callaway Golf. It’s one of the ways things are different now at Callaway Golf.
Just Hit the Damn Things
Apart from some time spent with the Odyssey guys, we spent the better part of the day hitting balls on the range at the Ely Callaway Performance Center.
As you can imagine, when you’re hitting golf balls – particularly when you’re hitting them with clubs that most of the rest of the world hasn’t seen yet – it’s easy to forget you’re working. Toss in some one on one time with Roger Cleveland, and for real…is this even a job?
I got my gripped fixed, Matt and Tim got short game lessons, and Frank…well…Frank had the experience of a lifetime.
Each of us had his very own MasterCard Moment.
Roger Cleveland fixing your slice on the range at the Ely Callaway Performance Center: Priceless.
Along the way we found a fairway (the XHot) that appears to be everything Callaway says that it is, a driver (RAZR Fit Extreme) that makes you smile when you hit it, hybrids (XHot again) that launch high, and 3 sets of clearly differentiated (finally) irons plus a utility club that are enough to make you think the world might just start talking Callaway Golf seriously again…
You know…provided they tell a good story.
Keeping the Balls Under-Wraps
With our hands (well mine anyway) blistered and bleeding (turns out I swing at a rate of about 3 to 1 compared to Matt) we headed back to Callaway HQ for find out more about the golf ball, and to wrap things up.
We took a tour of the golf ball R&D facilities, and while I wish I could share more with you, it turns out it’s all pretty top secret, no-cameras-allowed kind of stuff. As far as the machinery and test facilities go, it’s easily the coolest thing I’ve seen at any golf company to date, which is why it’s a shame I don’t have any pictures to share. Sorry.
Quick side note: I’ve got the best damned idea for marketing a golf ball. If only I could find someone to pay me for it.
Seriously…Things are Really Different Now
As we sat in a conference room to wrap up our visit, Callaway’s Senior Director of Global Communications, Scott Goryl, reiterated what we had heard so many times during our visit.
Without being too specific, Goryl talked about a new vibe, a fresh approach, and a 180° change in what some have described as a stuffy corporate culture. Chip Brewer’s influence, they all say, is strong, and it can be seen in everything Callaway has done since he took over.
When Harry Arnett (remember Harry?) walked into the conference room, I thought, “finally, here comes the story”.
Harry talked, but only briefly, about bringing the swagger back to Callaway, and introducing a little bit of a Howard Stern approach to Callaway’s product marketing. Harry too was infinitely non-specific.
While that Stern reference left me with a horrifying image of Phil Mickelson riding a sybian etched into my retinas, I still didn’t have much of a story.
And so the story, whatever it would turn out to be, would have to wait.
Fortunately, in the months that have passed since the MyGolfSpy staff left Callaway, we’ve come to understand what this new Callaway Golf is all about.
Rebuilding the Tour Staff
In the time since we left the Ely Callaway Performance Center, the company has revamped its tour staff; adding big hitters Gary Woodland, Andres Gonzales, and Nicolas Coelsarts. They added long drive star Jamie Sadlowski, and signed on to be the exclusive club sponsor and official driver of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship and Long Drivers of America.
Callaway has started awarding XBomb bag patches for every drive over 325. The move, inspired by the helmet stickers awarded by some college football programs, or the stars on the old-school Pittsburgh Pirates painter’s caps, is arguably a little campy.
I suspect it will rub some people the wrong way – especially the traditionalists - but they’re sure to get Johnny Miller talking on Sunday, and that means more air time spent talking about long drives with Callaway clubs.
A new Callaway doesn’t mean a stupid Callaway. They haven’t forgotten that distance sells.
One Golfer At A Time
At the recent PGA Show I finally had a chance to catch up with Harry Arnett. When I asked Harry about the changes at Callaway and the need for things to be different, he described a company that had become “slow” and “stale”. Most significantly he described a company that had become so self-obsessed it had largely forgotten about the golfer. Those days are over.
The new mantra at Callaway is “One golfer at a time”.
Declaring War on Itself
While we had mistakenly inferred that Callaway’s Five Year War signaled the beginning of the company’s fight to overtake TaylorMade, Harry explained that the war is with the ways of the past.
The key piece of the new Callaway Golf’s strategy is to acknowledge and leverage what’s already taking place in golf. According to Arnett, the traditional influence model, what’s commonly referred to as the pyramid of influence, doesn’t really exist anymore.
While the stakeholders, PGA Tour Pros, Club Professionals, Top amateurs, etc. remain unchanged, Social Media and golf forums have made it possible for the consumer to have a one on one conversation not only with guys like Harry and others on the Callaway team, but PGA Professionals as well.
What Arnett calls the "Sphere of Influence" is about better engagement between Callaway (its employees and its Professional staff) and the golfing consumer. It’s about being part of the larger community of golfers. The sphere of influence, Arnett says, is more transparent, more connecting, less packaged, and more energetic, lively, and entertaining.
None of this should suggest that Callaway wouldn’t like to overtake TaylorMade. When I asked Arnett where he sees Callaway in five years. His initial response was simple and to the point.
I think we’re going to be #1. – Harry Arnett, Senior VP of Marketing, Callaway Golf
#1 the Callaway Way
Don’t expect Callaway to follow the TaylorMade playbook, or Nike’s playbook, or even the playbook from outside the golf industry. Harry Arnett made it clear that Callaway’s only chance to succeed is by finding a unique approach that works for Callaway.
While it’s far too early to say if the new direction Callaway has taken will ultimately prove to be as successful as the company hopes it will, Callaway’s new brand of consumer-focused engagement does appear to be picking up some traction – at least inside of forum and social media circles.
Ultimately success, failure, or stagnation will be determined by Callaway’s ability to sustain and grow their current online efforts, and more importantly by their ability to leverage their sphere of influence to somehow reach the offline consumer. It also doesn’t hurt to have product that performs.
It’s no easy task.
Would the old Callaway Golf have a puncher’s chance? No way. The odds are better that Chris Brown will be named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year. The new Callaway…the not-your-grandpa’s-Callaway…these guys might just have a shot.
Things really are that different at Callaway.