It takes a great product,
some well-targeted marketing and a little good fortune to make serious inroads in the golf equipment industry these days. Just ask the people at Nickent Golf, one of the hottest companies in the industry.
The California-based firm has made a name for itself with its line of revolutionary hybrids that took the Nationwide Tour by storm and are now doing the same on the PGA Tour, led by former U.S. Amateur champ Jeff Quinney, who enjoyed a torrid start to the 2007 season.
The Tour’s hottest rookie, Quinney continued his amazing play at the Nissan Open, earning his 4th Top 10 finish in his last 5 events. Quinney is Nickent’s only fully endorsed staff player on the PGA Tour, and so far he leads the PGA Tour in Top 10 finishes and in total eagles. At the time this article was written, Quinney was ranked 8th on the PGA Tour money list and 9th in the FedEx Cup point standings.
To further establish itself in the hearts and minds of Tour players, Nickent has signed Ryan Armour from the PGA Tour, 11 players on the Nationwide Tour and two LPGA Tour players to endorsement contracts. For additional visibility on the tour they consider “home,” Nickent entered into a three-year exclusive OEM series sponsorship of the Golf Channel’s Nationwide Tour coverage.
In addition to its sleek high-performance hybrids, which, by the way, was the most popular choice among Nationwide Tour players over the last few seasons, Nickent has also launched a new driver, two new fairway woods and a new wedge that join the company’s full line up that also includes state-of-the-art irons and putters. But it remains Nickent’s hybrids that lead the way, helping the company grow over 250 percent over the past three years.
“Hybrids have been around 70 percent of our sales,” says Jon Claffey, director of marketing for the company. “We nailed the technology right away, and we were third to market with the hybrids. The players were starving for a hybrid that set up better with no pronounced top-line and that didn’t have a tendency to hook. And we made ours in increments of 1.5 degrees from 14 degrees to 29 degrees so players had a club that did exactly what they wanted it to do. That’s how we became the number one hybrid on the Nationwide Tour and knew that we were the premier hybrid manufacturer in the business.”
Nickent’s customer demographics, Claffey says, have changed during the past few years, pretty much all due to the company’s amazing acceptance on the PGA Tour.
“We had over 200 players use our clubs without being paid or sponsored. The best players in the world were choosing to use our club because of its performance benefits. This all started with the Nationwide Tour and moved to the PGA Tour in its own. Now, we have an extreme youth movement on our hands.”
“We used to be known as a club for the older, higher handicap player. Now we are one of the most popular brands for the younger, lower handicap market. We thrive in both markets now actually, and we take pride in the fact that our line is suited for every type of player. We have a golf club for everyone, from the super game improvement longest irons in the world to the tour player only 3DX Pro FW. We have been attracting a lot of players that are pretty picky when it comes to what brand they play. It has really been amazing to see how much the tour affects things.”
In addition to Quinney and Armour, who scored a Top 10 for Nickent in only his third start on this year’s PGA Tour, other PGA Tour players not endorsed to wear a Nickent hat or carry a Nickent bag or club have been using the company’s clubs with great success. In fact, Nickent led the PGA Tour in hybrid Top Five and Top 10 finishes through the first two months of the 2007 season.
Helping Nickent in this category is the number two-ranked player in the world, who continued his dominant play in 2007 with his third Top 10 of the season at the Nissan Open. Jim Furyk experienced a career year last year with a Nickent hybrid in the bag, earning 13 Top 10 finishes and over $7 million in earnings. He currently ranks third in overall scoring average on the PGA Tour with a 69.06 average, with Quinney following closely behind in 5th at 69.41.
Claffey said Nickent’s relationship with Quinney proved perfect timing and gave Nickent significant branding exposure.
“When Jeff blew up at the start of 2007, it got our name all over television and the newspapers and gave us great exposure. Jeff hit a hole in one on the 17th hole of the final round at the Bob Hope, competed for the win with Tiger in San Diego and was all over the media. It was always our plan to go out and sign tour players, but we didn’t expect this much action right out of the gate. We have gone with Jeff and Ryan on the PGA Tour and invested in the young guns on the Nationwide Tour for 2007. We think the Nationwide Tour is perfect place to get to know the future stars of the game. We also believe our sponsorship with The Golf Channel will get us great exposure and will highlight us as the next big up-and-coming golf company.”
Quinney, who finished sixth on Nationwide Tour with over $300,000 in earnings last year, is a different player than he was when he won the U.S. Amateur in 2000. After attending Arizona State, the 28-year-old played on the Canadian Tour in 2002, finishing second in earnings. After suffering a nagging back injury at the end of that year, he spent five years on the Nationwide Tour earning his stripes and mastering the trade.
Quinney claims he’s a “different person” now. “When I won the Amateur in 1999 I was only 21. I got hot in match play that summer. I felt that I was a decent player then. Now, I know I’m a much more complete player.”
Quinney credits instructor Mike LaBauve for his current stellar play. LaBauve is a proponent of the one-plane swing, which simplifies the takeaway and downswing to produce a free-flowing movement to the ball and repetitive solid contact with the ball.
“Mike simplifies things for me. I’m more consistent now, which is the most important thing to doing well on the PGA Tour.”
He adds, “It’s a battle I’m going to have to not put that much pressure on myself and just play the game. I’m proud of the fact that I have been in contention because the more times you get there, the more comfortable you get. I know that’s the way it was with the Nationwide Tour. You don’t know what its like until you get there.”
Claffey and Quinney filmed several commercials for Nickent that will appear on various golf telecasts this year.
Despite having John Hoeflich, one of the best designers in the business and the man who helped produce such breakthrough clubs as the Tommy Armour 845 iron, Titleist’s DCI irons and the TaylorMade RAC irons and wedges, Nickent for the time being will continue to focus most of its marketing attention on its hybrids.
“Our tagline for the past few years has been `King of the Hybrids,’” says Claffey. “John has designed some amazing new products, but we aren’t changing the focus of our marketing efforts right now. We have made the switch from niche product marketing to brand marketing, but we still need to get our other products introduced through grass roots initiatives. We will be doing lots of demo days, so people will have the chance to figure it out for themselves just how good our drivers, wedges and irons are.”
As an example of what Hoeflich brings to the table as far as technology and innovation is concerned, Nickent points to its brand new 4DX fairway wood. It incorporates a unique patented brazing technology, an innovation that fuses steel and titanium without using epoxy. By replacing the former crown with “super thin titanium technology,” resulting in a crown that is five times lighter than steel, Nickent was able to significantly raise the moment of inertia (MOI) and create a larger sweet spot on the clubface for greater forgiveness and straighter shots.
The 4DX also comes equipped with “XW” inserts, which provide 16 grams of weight that can be adjusted in 2-gram increments by the manufacturer for directional control and swing weight purposes without relying on screws that can add a harsh feel at impact.
Despite such advanced technology, Nickent is dedicated to keeping its clubs affordable.
“We have always been viewed as a value brand, the best bang for your buck so to speak,” says Claffey. “Because our quality is rising, so are our prices. But where the 800 pound gorillas of the industry factor their multi-million dollar Tour sponsorship and R&D costs into the price of their clubs, we don’t have those extreme costs, so we are still under everybody else in price for technology that is as advanced as anything else available.” For more information on Nickent Golf visit www.nickentgolf.com or call 888-642-5368