Ping’s second home

    Ping has recently opened a Performance Research Centre on campus at Loughborough University. We spoke to Ping President John K. Solheim about the new facility and why the UK is so important to Ping.


    How long have you been working on the Performance Research Centre?
    Paul Wood, VP of Engineering, and one of our resident Englishmen, was pitching it for six to nine months. Then we interviewed internally for someone to come and run it. We selected John Shepherd and then as soon as the UK opened up for travel, he moved over here. All in all, it was less than two years from concept to reality. My son came over with them and they all had to quarantine for a week before they could get started! They were being phoned every day to check they were there, and the only time they could leave the house was to mail their covid test. It’s been an interesting time trying to set this facility up. Fingers crossed we’re through the worst of that now.

    How significant is this for Ping?
    Obviously, it’s a substantial financial investment. We have around 70 engineers back in Phoenix. We currently have four here. The significance is that we have a facility in a different country, on the other side of the world. It’s way outside of what we usually do. From an engineering standpoint, we have been very Phoenix-centric, which I think has its pluses and minuses. By doing something in the UK at a small scale we get rid of some of those minuses while keeping some of the pluses.

    How do you quantify the success of the Performance Research Centre?
    We’ve learned innovation is a little hard to measure. All you can do is look at what concepts or ideas make it into equipment that we’re selling. Because a lot of what we will be doing here is testing-based, I think a lot of it will be around what tests did we change, or did we create that now we use to develop better products. We’ll have metrics of what has been transferred to Loughborough. Maybe, more importantly, is that the team in Phoenix is using the research group here as a resource and that their findings are being used. When we know communication between the two sites is strong, we will know that this centre
    is working.

    The time difference should also be a positive from our experience. We have a supply chain team in Asia, and it is really convenient at the end of the day to make a quick call or to send an email asking a question. Then you wake up and you’ve got a response and they’ve been working on it for 8 hours.

    In recent years you’ve broadened your product range, a club like the Blueprint would have been unthinkable from Ping at one point. Is that a change in mindset from your engineering team?

    This ties in with what we are aiming to learn at Loughborough looking at the individual golfer and how they interact with equipment. I actually play the blueprint. I didn’t start playing the blueprint probably till two years after we introduced it I’ve gone to the team led by Paul Wood, and asked why do I miss the blueprint less than our other product? I obviously look at player tests and by far the Blueprint is our least forgiving iron we offer, with wide dispersion and short distance on miss hits. Especially compared to a G425. For me personally it doesn’t work out that way, and our tour players see the same thing.
    It’s us understanding that there are different clubs definitely work better for different types of golfers, the team here can really help us dial in what’s the swing characteristics of someone that’s best suited for a blueprint compared to a G425T.

    These last couple of years have been very challenging for every manufacturer due to supply chain issues. Are Ping getting back to normal?
    It definitely feels like it. However, I guess I’ve learned enough over the last 2 1/2 years to know that anything could still happen. I would say we haven’t had any big supplier issues in over six months. Freight logistics still seem to be troublesome and is our biggest ongoing issue right now. Getting components into us and even getting products out to people.
    Early on we talked about utilising Phoenix to manufacture heads, but that is a five-year project that’s not going to solve our problem right now. We are definitely looking at what can we do to diversify production risks though. Before that we were very focused on finding one key supplier and focus on them. Now we’re saying let’s have that key supplier, but we need a secondary supplier, or the key supplied needs an alternate factory that is in a different place to have the best chance of continuous production.

    Ping is a huge global golf brand, however comparatively, you are more successful in the UK than you are in the US. Why do you think that is?
    You’re right, we have our best market share in the UK. I’ve always felt like we’ve got a great staff here. John Clark, who recently retired, and his successor Lisa. Dave Fanning is another one, the group here is very competent and understands their market and importantly we’ve let them kind of do their thing over here. Trying to manage them from 5000 miles away I don’t think would be very successful. By empowering the group, I think they’ve had a lot of success. And of course, the consumer in the UK s very smart so you can quickly come to realize what the best equipment is…

    Europe and the UK are big markets; they are different markets that are very important to us. The performance research centre will help give us insights into what are some market differences that potentially we can design for or message to our customers. GR

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    As an avid golfer since the age of eleven Dan lives and breathes all things golf.  With a current handicap of eleven he gets out and plays as often as his work life (and girlfriend) allows. Dan confesses to still being like a kid at Christmas when it comes to seeing the latest golf equipment. Having served as GolfPunk’s Deputy Editor, and resident golf geek for the past 13 years and working for golf's oldest brand, John Letters Dan brings to GOLF RETAILING an excellent understanding of the sector.