Last summer TaylorMade launched its SLDR driver at the Scottish Open, promoting the combination of a low, forward centre of gravity (CG) and higher loft as a major innovation in driver and fairway wood technology. One year on Glyn Pritchard spoke to Greg Pearse, European Marketing Director for TaylorMade, about TaylorMade’s campaign to get golfers to ‘loft-up’.
TaylorMade says moving the CG lower and forward promotes more ball speed and less spin allowing golfers of all abilities to loft-up and get closer to the ideal launch conditions of 17 degrees at 1700rpm. It says this fast ball speed, high launch-angle and low spin-rate results in greater distance. A year after launch it’s easier to judge if this amounts to more than marketing hype and is really the ‘game changer’ that the company claims.
“I can assure you that this is definitely not just a gimmick. This is a genuine innovation and a breakthrough technology for golfers” says Greg Pearse, European Marketing Director for TaylorMade. “A succession of industry awards based on independent testing proves that our loft-up message with the SLDR really benefits all players with greater control, more consistency and significant distance gains. When you test it on a launch monitor, the SLDR consistently comes out top. So our message is loft-up with TaylorMade and let the performance of the product be your guide.”
The awards picked up over the last year include Golf Digest 20/20 Stars; Today’s Golfer Gold Award; Golf Magic Golf Award; MyGolfSpy – Most Wanted Driver, Longest Driver on test. Certainly sales have been good. This year to date the SLDR is the best-selling driver in the UK in the £299 and above market sector says TaylorMade, with 50 percent market share in this segment. The SLDR has also proved popular on tour with the SLDR taking the top spot in the driver count at the recent US PGA Championship and also at The Open Championship in July.
Pearse believes the success of the SLDR and the loft-up message has also been good for golf retailers, but acknowledges the company has been criticised in the past for short product lifecycles. “We do want to create more stability with our launch schedules. The SLDR has been in the market now for over a year and will stay on the market for at least the remainder of 2014. We also appreciate that the best launch window for the trade is in the spring and we want to work more closely with our retail partners, and provide them with clearer communication around our plans.”
However, Pearse says TaylorMade is committed to innovation. “When we have a great product like the SLDR we will keep it in the line. But we invest heavily in research and development and if we have a breakthrough we won’t simply sit on it. We had to bring the SLDR to the market as soon as possible because it is so innovative and delivers such great performance.” Going forward Pearse believes the company will strike the right balance for product lifecycles, but emphasises the need to stimulate the market. “We want to excite and inspire golfers buy new products. We feel that this is our responsibility and it’s critical for our retail partners and for us.”
The company believes that endorsement by major tour players such as Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer is important for the TaylorMade brand and its loft-up message. “Tour validation is critical and a core component of our marketing approach. These are the heroes of the game and their commitment is not just about sponsorship funding. At this level they have to understand and believe in the club and the technology behind it, in order to want to use it. Normally the tour players can take a few weeks testing the product before they will put a club in their bag. But our tour players were quick to adopt the SLDR and the loft-up principle. Justin Rose switched from a 8.5 degree R1 driver to the 10.5 degree SLDR at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and has kept it in the bag ever since. Sergio Garcia has also switched from an 8.5 to a 9.5 degree SLDR driver.” In fact since its launch the SLDR has been used in 19 tour wins.
As well as tour pros, PGA pros in the UK have also taken to the SLDR driver, as Pearse confirms. “The SLDR was the top model used at this year’s Glenmuir PGA Professional Championship at Blairgowrie. There were 28 in play, almost a fifth of the entire field. This is the first year that TaylorMade clinched the top spot at this tournament and represents a big turnaround from previous years. In a fiercely competitive field of PGA professionals, we are hugely proud to see that PGA pros are reaping the benefits of ‘lofting-up’. For the SLDR to be the most played driver at the Glenmuir PGA Professional Championship is a fantastic achievement. It further highlights that more professionals at all levels of the game, are putting their trust in TaylorMade and lofting up”.
The message is also getting through to amateurs and making them think about the benefits of changing, as Pearce explains. “Asking players to loft-up can present a challenge, which is why we’re encouraging golfers at every level to go and give it a try. The distance gains we have seen have provided a very powerful message and we have used loft-up boards and other POS material for our retail partners to drive that home.”
For the future Pearse confirms that the loft-up message is central to the TaylorMade brand. “We are at the start of a journey with low forward CG and lofting-up. We believe that loft-up is a true game-changer, and as pivotal as the change from wooden drivers to metal, and that others will be forced to follow our lead because the technology is so compelling. It’s a strong message and we’re totally committed to it.”