At the PGA Show, GOLF RETAILING was granted an exclusive interview with the second and third generation of the Solheim family and Ping empire. While Ping was founded by the late Karsten Solheim in 1959, his son John is now president and chief executive, and grandson Andy is vice president of business development. John and Andy Solheim spoke to Robin Barwick
2013 was a difficult year across the golf industry. How did it fare for Ping in particular?
We evaluated where the market was and made some changes, to make sure we timed our product introductions to suit the marketplace. 2013 was not the year we wanted it to be and business did not end anywhere close to where we had expected at first, but ultimately we came out of the year very strong and we grew our market share in difficult conditions.
Was early-season weather as much a factor in the United States as it was in the UK?
We had some real weather issues in the United States at the beginning of the season with the majority of golfers.
The winter hung on in the United States, like it did in the UK. Usually you expect everything to kick off around the time of the Masters, but last year it took a good bit of time after the Masters for everything to thaw out. It was a slow start and a slow year altogether.
They were ice fishing in Minnesota in May. Minnesota got hit real hard. Golf clubs can plan indoor events, but a lot of them were having to be cancelled last year because the conditions were so bad that people literally could not get there. When people did get out to the golf courses they were not buying equipment like they had done before.
Did Ping enjoy international growth in 2013?
We are seeing the most international growth in Asia. Our business in Japan grew last year, as it did in many Asian markets, although we are nowhere close to where we want to be in Japan.
Acquisition of Ping Collection
You announced at the beginning of November that Ping Collection apparel was coming in-house. What has been the response from the trade since then?
It has been very good. We have been signing up new accounts that have not wanted to stock Ping Collection in the past, and some accounts have actually been proactively calling us. With Ping Collection in-house it gives us a better opportunity to go out into the market as a unified group, and it enables us to tell one brand story with our marketing, rather than having one story for hard goods and apparel being out there on its own. Anything we can bring from our heritage in hardware will strengthen what we can offer in apparel, and strengthen our brand overall.
Our sales force is selling Fall 2014 right now, and while that is earlier than we are used to, that is the way we need to operate.
The new Typhoon trouser looks like something that could succeed in the UK…
The Typhoon is fully waterproof as the seams are taped, although it looks and feels more like a classic trouser than a rain pant, so golfers will where them without feeling they are going out in their rain gear.
Andy has put together a good, solid team of people together.
Ping Collection has been going for 14 years, and now we have Mike Forsey involved, who has worked in apparel for over 20 years. We are going to be a technology story, whether it is in golf clubs, bags or apparel.
We always look to push back barriers to make absolutely the best products possible. That is the fun part for us, and we are excited about pushing our team to achieve that. These Typhoon pants are really neat because they are a little different to what else is in the market. Golfers are going to look good in them, while staying, warm, dry and comfortable.
I know you recognise the need for golf to attract more youngsters to the game, but a lot of kids are put off by the restrictions on what they can wear to the golf course. Where do you stand on the issue of dress code for kids?
I have mixed feelings on this. We want more kids at golf clubs, but they need to look good too, and they need to learn to dress like a golfer. At the same time they need to be comfortable. Why should a kid have to get a new shirt just to go to a golf club? We have to strike a balance, and as kids get into the game, and start competing, then I think they need to dress like golfers.
There is also looks to be a strong hardware line-up from Ping for 2014.
The i25s are phenomenal clubs for the good golfer, although the average golfer can easily use them too because the clubs are so forgiving. They have that clean blade look. The wedges in that set perform so well that they have gone into tour bags with the rest of the irons. The driver with the alignment feature is a little more traditional looking than in the ‘G’ line. And the alignment feature has been done very subtlely, because we want the golfer’s inner mind to be thinking about alignment; we don’t want to encourage golfers to worry about their alignment too much.
It is a real high-performance club, and the fairway woods come with the same alignment feature.
We are also bringing out a new Rapture 3-wood, which features a Beta Titanium face and a tungsten sole plate. Any club with the Rapture name has some serious technology going into it.
What’s in your bag?
I have just put the new i25s in there, completely through the set, with the exception of the new Rapture 3-wood. I couldn’t resist it, and in fact it surprised me just how well I hit it. Then I have an Anser putter.
I have G25s all the way through – I need all the forgiveness I can get! And I have the Scottsdale Anser TR, with variable depth grooves.
Is this the ultimate 3-wood?
At the PGA Show, Ping launched its new Rapture 3-wood (pictured), a premium, high-octane combination of beta titanium and tungsten, designed for the golfer who is perhaps searching for a compromise between the driver and three-wood off the tee.
The 13˚ Rapture 3-wood comes with an RRP of £395, and the adjustable club features a beta titanium clubface, which should be 30% stronger than standard titanium, and a tungsten sole plate to encourage increased ball speed and lower spin, for improved distance and accuracy.
The weighting properties of titanium and tungsten provide our engineers a lot of opportunities to improve performance, says John Solheim. The high-strength beta-titanium material allowed us to really focus on creating a hotter face that yields ball speeds and distance unlike any we’ve seen in fairway woods. The tungsten positions the weight extremely low so we can optimise the CG position. It has a taller face and deeper head profile, so golfers will have complete confidence with the Rapture. We think golfers will really appreciate this unique combination of technology to improve their performance. It’s extremely long off the tee. We’re excited to get it in golfers hands.
The Rapture club head measures 219cc, and the loft can be adjusted by plus or minus 0.5˚.