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Home Callaway appears to be making more putts!

Callaway Golf still has a long way to go to be the company it once was. However, one key category is showing signs that its business is starting to roll. Weather has been a prevailing theme early on in the season both domestically and internationally. But golfers worldwide are a hearty group by nature and latent demand for play isn’t likely going to evaporate completely. The good and bad of it is that it’s early!

Nevertheless, putter sales for the first quarter of the calendar year for Callaway’s Odyssey brand were up an impressive 35% ($32.6 million compared to $24.1 million) despite the backdrop of a slow start thanks to Mother Nature. The key to the early success is Versus, a line that incorporates visual aids that are black and white to help players. “It’s been a bright, shining light for us,” said Chris Koske, Director of Odyssey. “The feedback we’ve received is that it could be the next 2-ball model for us. It’s been phenomenal. In its second month of availability (March) its overall market share has already reach 10%,” Koske said. “I was in Japan recently and its reached a 20% share there within a couple of weeks. We’ve had Ryo Ishikawa using it early on and the Japanese response has also been phenomenal.”

According to Koske, the initial forecasting (black/white/black versus white/black/white) was challenging but its currently running at a 50/50 sell through rate. “There are not many back orders so we are able to deliver on time,” he said. However, the putter business is by nature can be a little funky.

Its believed that the putter market was off in terms of sales by 8 or 9% in March, due to the weather, which makes Callaway’s putter results even more impressive. The first quarter sales were somewhat surprising since the proposed anchoring ban announced at the end of November, remains a dominant topic of conversation within the putter category. Callaway introduced within days of the ruling bodies’ announcement Metal-X Arm Lock Putters which it considers an alternative to anchoring. It didn’t ship to retail until February 15th, which fell within the first quarter reporting period. “It hasn’t really picked up for us,” said Koske. “We didn’t really forecast a lot of it,” he added. A quick step back in the first quarter of 2012, belly and long putters were 9% of Odyssey’s sales, Koske said, compared to .6% in q1 2013. The announcement by the ruling body may or may not have impacted future sales of the products, yet it seems as if consumers were trending away from anchoring style products.

In March, the company introduced a high-MOI, counterbalanced Tank Putter, which offers a different feel for players. “It has caught some interest with consumers as it’s close to an anchoring style,” he said. “It feels like a traditional putter only heavier.” Koske said Tank was the #1 selling item at one major retailer in Japan already. But Versa has become the star within the category for the brand, as it is currently the #1 selling family within Odyssey.

Its been seen on the PGA TOUR in the hands of Callaway staff players and even a few that are contracted with its competitors. Phil Mickelson gets a lot of attention and often for very good reasons. He been known to gush over his driver or fairway metals, but his #9 WBW model (34 inches with 3.5° loft, and 75° lie) is often how he finishes each hole, which is typically shown on television. According to the company, nearly one-third of the Odyssey putters in play at the Wells Fargo were Versa models. Odyssey also won the count on the Web.com tour (with 58 putters in play), powered by 20 Versa models.

One week doesn’t necessitate a trend but looking out over a greater period in fact does. According to Odyssey, its products have been in the hands of players more often than any other putter brand on the six major worldwide tours. Odyssey's usage, according to the company, on the European PGA Tour year-to-date is 45.5%, on the JGTO (Japan) Tour 45.9% and more than 30% on the LPGA Tour. On the JLPGA Tour, Odyssey putter usage has been over 70% for five weeks in a row. It won the putter count at both WGC events this year and also The Masters. Odyssey already has 20 worldwide wins (PGA, Champions, LPGA, Web.com, EPGA, JGTO).

The company is optimistic not only for what its putter brand has accomplished but what its future looks like. “Typically in the life cycle of a putter, its market share doesn’t peak until 15-20 months,” said Koske. It represents quite a contrast to the driver market that often sees frequent turn over. “Research indicates the buying cycle for a putter is 5.1 years for many golfers where as a driver is 3.4 years,” Koske said. “For a low handicapper (under 5) its 4.9 years and a 20+ player its 5.7 years. So the worse your handicap is the more likely you are to stick with your putter,” he added. Meanwhile the factors influencing a future putter sale are somewhat inconclusive. “Our research shows 82% of golfers receive no recommendation to buy for a putter,” said Koske. In the real world, players are attracted to the appearance, which can lead to a few practice strokes to confirm feel. After rolling a few putts at a retail facility a thumbs up or down verdict can be reached in the prospective buyer’s mind. “The average player owns five putters,” Koske added.

Armed with its proprietary research, professional usage and worldwide results, Odyssey by virtue of its Versa line in particular remains optimistic the best is still yet to come for its putter sales. Its alignment aid on the Versa is both eye catching but helpful in delivering results. “One degrees, open or closed, on a 12 foot putt can be the difference between making or missing,” Koske pointed out.

In a world where attention spans don’t always last more than a fleeting moment, the company has designed May as Odyssey Month. It has some promotions planned including soliciting consumers to send in videos of their craziest putts made, while at the office, in an effort to draw greater attention to the flat stick. TOUR players will have their caddies carrying Versa bags to try and catch consumers’ eyes. It’s still early in the year, but Odyssey’s putter business looks like it’s already in mid season form.