Nike hopes to remain No. 1 in golf despite leaving the clubs behind

By Drew Farmer

In August 2016, Nike announced it would be leaving golf; at least leaving the world of golf hard goods behind.

The illustrious sports brand which had contracts with major stars Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie, had invested heavily in the game and new technology. However, the company decided that changing its primary focus back to footwear and apparel was necessary.

Nike entered golf in 1984, just as the sportswear company was taking over other sports. Baseball, basketball, football and soccer were all up for grabs, and Nike tried to dominate each like it had running. Golf was not just another sport, it was a chance to reach a demographic different than those in basketball or football. It was time to step on to the country clubs of America and the rest of the world.

The sports company started out slowly by producing shoes the first year. It followed up year one by signing golfers Seve Ballesteros and Curtis Strange to endorsement deals; and things continued to grow throughout the 80s and early 90s. However, it wouldn’t be until 1996 that Nike made major waves, signing an upstart by the name of Tiger Woods to an endorsement deal.

As the face of the brand, Woods made Nike a household name to golf fans and vice versa. The two are intricately linked, and when Nike decided to end its foray into the hard goods portion of the sport, it left Woods needing a new equipment supplier.

According to reports, Nike’s reason behind leaving the golf arena was partly due to sales. The company reportedly made more than $700 million in annual sales in the two years prior to closing the division. That number included golf clothing and footwear.

It seems just a few years ago, however, that Nike was pushing the boundaries of golf clubs and balls. The company’s innovation like the Nike Forged Blades irons where massive money makers for the brand. It also gave Nike an unconventional edge in a traditional game.

Nike’s two biggest golf athletes, Woods and McIlroy, were left in search of new equipment deals after 2016’s announcement that the company would discontinue hard goods. Although the pair, and other golfers, continue to wear Nike apparel and shoes, they have had to move on to new equipment sponsors.

Woods has signed with TaylorMade for most of his clubs. Although it appears he has kept a few of his Nike irons in his golf bag. McIlroy is now using Callaway clubs along with Titleist balls as he seeks another PGA Championship.

Woods and McIlroy are two of the biggest names in golf – if not the two biggest names. It isn’t often that a sports equipment brand leaves two of game’s most well-known athletes in the lurch. While neither Woods nor McIlroy had difficulty finding suitors looking to ink their names to sponsorship contracts, it is a headache both golfers could have done without in the offseason. Both will have had to work during the winter to become comfortable with their new clubs.

This season will see Nike will still support its tour players with equipment. However, it is a way to phase out their involvement and this will be the last year of the brand’s tour truck.

Nike’s decision to leave the hard goods side of golf doesn’t mean it won’t be a major player in the sport. The company hopes to dominate in apparel and shoes, much like it does in other sports.

Despite Nike’s investment in golf changing, the company hopes to be number one in the sport for years to come.

Drew Farmer is a freelance writer and Better Birdies contributor. Follow him on Twitter @DrewMFarmer

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