What makes Titleist tick?

At the recent Golf Show Titleist unveiled its new 915 series of drivers, fairway metals and hybrids. Matthew Johnson, Titleist Brand Director took time out to talk about Titleist’s golf balls, clubs and the company’s approach to the market with Glyn Pritchard.

Matthew JohnsonMost staff on the stands at the show are dressed in golf attire of one sort or another. Only on the Titleist stand are staff members turned-out in ties and very distinguished white jackets. What’s the origin of this Titleist tradition?

It goes back to the early days at tour events in the States when Tour trucks didn’t exist. The players were allocated three dozen Titleist balls per week and needed to find the Titleist sales representative to get their golf balls. To be easily recognised the Titleist representative would wear a white jacket, he would then give the player a voucher for his Titleist balls which could be exchanged in the local pro shop for the product. This is how the white jacket became a symbol of excellence for our sales team and has remained the case for over 50 years.

Titleist entered the golf ball market in 1935 and was one of the first manufacturers to sell its products through pro shops rather than general sports shops. Why was that?

The whole point about the original Titleist golf balls was that they used new manufacturing methods and x-ray technology to ensure a higher quality and consistency in the product, than previously available. To communicate those benefits it was decided to sell through on-course outlets where there was professional advice rather than general sports stores. That strong affiliation with PGA professionals and on course stores continues to this day.

The company launched its first clubs in 1984 and at the Golf Show it’s unveiled the latest 915 range of drivers, fairway metals and hybrids. This is the first updated range since the 913 series was launched in 2012. With some manufacturers launching replacement ranges far more frequently, why does Titleist have a lead time of at least two years between launches?

We do not launch any new products until there is a discernible benefit for golfers, and we feel that this requires a minimum of two years to ensure adequate research and design can be conducted. We want to ensure that the loyal Titleist customer knows that what they’re being offered gives a genuine performance improvement and I think that trust in the brand is really important. We feel that’s a fair business model for our customers investing in new equipment.

Titleist claims a unique design advantage for drivers, fairway metals and hybrids based on the 915 series Active Recoil Channel (ARC), which the company says launches the ball off the face with higher speed and lower spin. With so many manufacturers claiming a special technological advantage for their new equipment, how can golf retailers advise customers on the competing claims?

It can be confusing, and I think that confusion is one of the reasons the market has become so tough. Every brand has its own marketing story, uses its own terminology and measurement, with some using robots and others using player testing at a variety of swing/ball speeds. Whilst product validation is critical to Titleist, our solution is simply to educate our retailers with seminars and training sessions to make sure they can offer the best fitting and product advice available. We like to let our products do the talking and provide Titleist stockists with the right custom fitting tools and advice to help golfers of all abilities to shoot their best scores.

Many equipment manufacturers have segmented the market offering ‘improver’ economy ranges and high-end clubs for the more talented players. Titleist has always been known to make clubs for better players, so why not introduce an improvers range?

I would rather say that Titleist makes clubs for serious players and that can be anybody, regardless of handicap, who takes the game seriously and wants to invest time and money in their game, this includes using the most high performance equipment available. Handicap however is not an index of this and they definitely don’t have to be a single figure or scratch player to benefit from using Titleist clubs, as a mid-handicap golfer I can personally attest to this. If we brought out a budget range, it would compromise our philosophy of offering customers the best performance equipment they can buy.

The new 915 drivers have the SureFit Tour hosel to adjust loft and lie. How does this help Titleist 915 metals to stand out from the competition?

We developed the SureFit Tour hosel through our experience of custom fitting tour professionals, so it’s a tour validated technology, which is now available for all golfers. The SureFit Tour hosel is in its third generation with the 915 series, meaning its benefits are proven and like any of our products we only bring something new to market when it offers significant improvement to its predecessor. In total there are 16 settings, each creating a unique loft and lie combination. A Titleist authorised fitter will utilise the SureFit Tour hosel, coupled with interchangeable shafts and SureFit Tour weights, to determine a player’s optimal setup so they are playing a 915 driver, fairway or hybrid fit precisely to their game.

Screen-Shot-2014-11-05-at-15.49As well as ARC technology and the SureFit Tour hosel, the new 915 series drivers, fairway metals and hybrids have Radial Speed Face, a high-speed forged face insert with a radially thinner perimeter in the heel and toe to increase ball speed on off-centre hits. The 915 series also has a high-MOI design with a low and deep centre of gravity location delivering stability and forgiveness by preserving off-centre ball speed.

We believe these four technologies give the player distance without compromise, because we have a fast, low-spin product combined with forgiveness.

Moving to golf balls, as the number one supplier, what do you say to the suggestion that there should be a standardised ball used on tour to limit ball flight distance?

We do not see a need for that. The golf ball is the most regulated piece of equipment, The R&A and USGA have very clear compliance rules and we work within those rules. Personally I would use the example of the 2013 US Open played on the East Course at Merion which was designed in 1910 and is well under 7,000 yards. But it produced one of the most exciting US Open’s in recent years which was won with a score of one over par, so the course wasn’t overwhelmed by long hitting.

How much further can the envelope be pushed in terms of ball and equipment technology?

The Pro V1 and Pro V1x golf balls have been phenomenally successful, since the original Pro V1 was launched 13 years ago. This year tour players using Titleist golf balls have won more than 150 tournaments worldwide, over four times the nearest competitor. But we’re always looking to improve within the compliance rules of the governing bodies. One of the improvements in the 2013 generation of Pro V1 and Pro V1x is durability based on new paint processes perfected by our R&D teams to offer even more value to golfers choosing the number-one ball in golf.

Our R&D and manufacturing facility for golf balls is in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. We design and make all of our golf balls and most importantly we don’t do that for anybody else. We highlighted this recently in an advertising campaign showing that there is a difference between a golf ball and the number-one ball in golf.

Can you share with our readers how you see the golf market evolving over the next couple of years?

I think we need to focus on the positives. Golf is a major participation sport and the number of avid golfers who play more than 24 rounds a year is still significant. The challenge is to get casual golfers re-engaged so they play more often and are more involved with the sport. I think the success of the Ryder Cup shows that golf has a positive public image and we need to build on that as an industry. As a golfer I would also like to see more par 3 courses to offer a quicker game that is fun, challenging and perhaps help golfers improve their short game skills.