A welcome return

With the news that Cleveland Golf are getting back into the long game market Andy Brown took a trip to Srixon and Cleveland’s offices to chat about this, the brand’s new wedges and Srixon’s continuing golf ball success with Dean Cracknell, Brand & Marketing Manager, UK & Ireland for Srixon Sports Europe Ltd.

When Cleveland Golf recently announced a new wedge there was little surprise; the brand have forged a reputation as short game specialists and so it was as much a shock as getting overcharged for a drink in central London. What did take people aback was when they revealed that they are also introducing a new line of irons and metal woods. The brand are launching the new products as they believe there is still a lot of equity in the Cleveland Golf brand and because they have identified a price point which they feel will be appealing to the ‘normal’ golfer, the mid-range handicapper who plays on the weekend.

“We underestimated just how much equity there is in the Cleveland Golf brand outside of wedges and putters. It is interesting when a retail partner presents a consumer survey which suggests that there is more awareness of the Cleveland Golf brand in hardware than some brands which have had full ranges in the industry for the last few years,” comments Dean Cracknell, Brand & Marketing Manager, UK & Ireland for Srixon Sports Europe Ltd. “We get feedback from our sales team telling us that people are often asking if we have any dead stock, any old Cleveland irons and woods, so there is an appetite for the product.”

Cracknell reveals that the company have been working on the new line for a number of years and that getting the products positioned at the right price point was vital. “The key was to be able to present to trade that we have positioned the price point at a competitive basis. We were never going to go up against some brands who have drivers sitting at £300 plus. We are excited to come to market with some real innovation for what we classify as weekend golfers looking to improve, possibly through purchase.

“We feel that we can occupy some vacated price points in the market – one of the things that we have identified, particularly in the metalwoods category, is that the number of units year to date is static but value is up. Drivers are becoming more expensive and, as a consequence, golfers aren’t repurchasing as regularly and we may well see fall out from that in the next six to 12 months. We identified a major decrease in the sub £299 category which is often filled with third year clear outs.”

The driver is coming to market cheaper partly because it doesn’t have an adjustable hosel, which also means that weight is reduced. The brand have also brought back some of their most popular technology, such as the High Bore Crown. There’s no denying that drivers have become more expensive and it will be interesting to see if Cleveland Golf have correctly identified a space in the market for the average player who just wants to hit it straight and long and isn’t worried about extra technology. “The question is; are golfers really getting value from what they are spending on drivers right now?” asks Cracknell. “The golfer we are targeting isn’t insistent on being able to adjust the driver to shape shots, that golfer we target with Srixon. We are targeted to the golfer who wants to hit it high and straight, they will typically sit in double digit handicaps, and the driver has an SRP of £279.”

The CBX and Launcher HB irons are based around the same fundamental principle – they have been designed to complement a wide selection of golfers. The CBX wedge was conceived out of this desire to service the ‘game improver’ segment. “This wedge was born out of the fairly obvious insight that approximately 84 per cent of the market play cavity back irons, game improvement irons. We see the CBX as the first wedge that is 100 per cent designed for cavity back iron golfers. We are looking to recruit a fairly broad selection of golfers,” explains Cracknell. “The big USP is the dual V Sole which means that there is more versatility for shots. The wider sole in the toe is where we position more weight, so the centre of gravity is further away from the hosel and more towards the centre of the face. It is a considerably lighter swing weight and, as a series, they don’t look too different as you go through the range.”

Cracknell first joined the company – which is owned by Dunlop Sports Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd – in 2008 from TaylorMade where part of his role was custom fitting tour players. Due to his experience he initially looked after custom fit for Srixon and Cleveland but moved into a marketing role dealing with numerous European countries and so had to deal with different languages and currencies. Cracknell left the company to work for Action Sports and worked specifically in the skateboarding market – he says that there are actually similarities between this and golf and learned a lot from stepping out of the industry – before returning in August 2016 and taking up his current role.

It wouldn’t be a proper conversation with someone from Cleveland Golf and Srixon if we didn’t mention golf balls. Srixon recently celebrated their 11th year running as the biggest 2-piece golf ball in the UK with the AD333, and Cracknell refers to it as the ‘bread and butter’ of the firm’s business. The latest iteration of the ball will have improvements – they have effectively taken what works in the premium Z-Star and upgraded the spin skin regarding the elasticity of the cover, improved the EGG core and have introduced a revised dimple configuration.

There’s plenty of new products being launched in 2017 but the company have also got something up their sleeve for the first quarter of 2018 – the TFI 2135 putter in satin. Cracknell, who identifies himself as a ‘golf product obsessed person’ says that out of all of the new technology on offer it is actually this which he is personally most excited about. “We’ve considered the face a lot with this range and we have merged some technology as we know that putters with a radical shaping have a higher moment of inertia and are more resistant to losses of ball speed with a miss-hit,” he comments. “We offer a wide range of shapes but it would have been remiss to simply apply the same pattern of milling across the face in every shape, so we have an optimised milling pattern which complements each individual shape. Once we optimised the pattern for the shape we saw there was no drop off in speed so you can pretty much hit the ball anywhere on the face and still get an almost identical amount of roll out.”

By having Cleveland, Srixon and XXIO all bases are covered; the full range of good, better and best is catered for and means that, in theory, they have an offering for every pro shop in the UK and Ireland. From chatting to Cracknell it is clear that the pro is very important to the brand due to their expertise. “On course pros are the window to the golfer. The green grass guys service not only their members but play and pay visitors and societies and so they are incredibly important. Often their unique point of difference versus the on course guys is their qualification, the skills that they have and their service. They can give time to give that person, give them the attention that they need to make the right decision and we will always service them in a way that helps them.”

Srixon and Cleveland are brands which tend to stick to two-year product cycles, so the world of golf can expect some new Srixon hardware in 2018 given that Z65 was launched over a year ago and when it comes to new products the brand’s owner, Summanto, is a big help. “The great thing about our parent company is the investment; they put in a fortune and the companies that they own often share technology,” says Cracknell.

“When we look at wedges we are looking at spin control and friction and Summato also own a number of tyre brands so they look at friction with the way the tyre interacts with the road so you can bet your life we will be improving the way our wedge performs moving forwards. We won’t come to market with a product which isn’t superior to its predecessor – that is a value that we have. We always look to make the game more enjoyable and improve performance.”