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Wilson Golf’s Tim Clarke – PODCAST EXCLUSIVE

Padraig Harrington of Ireland (center) aalongside Doug Wright, Business Director Europe Wilson Golf (left) and Tim Clarke, General Manager of Wilson Golf, (right) during a press conference to announce that he has re-signed with Wilson

What better way to start the 2016 golf season than by talking with an industry executive who is ecstatic about launching a new line of clubs?

That executive is Tim Clarke, president of Wilson Golf, and he was kind enough to join us on our GolfBetter podcast to talk a little shop.

He gave us a brief history of this 100+ year old company with 61 major championships to its credit.

And their commitment to the game.

But also, he talked with us about the brand new line of irons hitting the shelves as we speak, the Wilson C200.

Tim gives us an insight into the FLX Face Technology that is changing iron innovation, the reaction to the irons on Tour and much more.

Take a listen for yourself.  We’re sure you’ll enjoy our time with Clarke on this inaugural podcast of 2016.  You can listen below on Soundcloud, by the podcast player on our website or by subscribing free on iTunes.

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WGS-BOTTOM-LOCK-UP

Tom Brassell:                         Welcome to “Golf Better” at Worldwide Golf Shops Episode 187. Hello everyone, my name is Tom Brassell and happy new year! Happy 2016 to you. With the absolute incredible year we had last year in golf, we can’t wait to get this one started and here to kick it off this year with us is our good friend. He is the president of Wilson Golf up in Chicago, Illinois, Mr. Tim Clarke. Tim, thanks so much for joining us, man. It’s great to have you.

Tim Clarke:                             Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Tom Brassell:                         It has been a long time since you and I’ve caught up, and we’ve never had you on with our listeners, Tim. Before we get into what’s going on with Wilson staff and Wilson Golf right now, because a big deal is happening right now, talk a little bit about the history of Wilson Golf. I’m not sure that all of our listeners … I’m sure many of them know … but about the heritage and the 60 plus majors championships and all.

Tim Clarke:                             Yeah, Tom. I think when you talk about a storied brand, I don’t think there’s any brand in golf that has the authenticity as Wilson when you think back. It’s a hundred-year-old brand. We’re the last one of the original golf brands, the oldest golf brand still thriving. MacGregor was a little older than Wilson. We’re 1914. MacGregor was, I think, 1894. Then obviously Spalding, another brand, Top Flite and all that was a little bit older than us also. Clearly times have changed and those brands no longer compete in the golf spaces as national, global-type companies but we’re excited to be where we’re at. We have 61 major championships and irons, which is more than any other brand in golf. Something we’re very proud of and something that we want to build on. That’s been kind of the work the last 5, 6 years is getting our tour staff and getting some players like Troy Merritt and Brendan Steele, some younger players that we feel can step up and fill those shoes of a Pádraig Harrington, who obviously won 3 majors for us back in 2008.

Tom Brassell:                         Yeah, Pádraig was kind of your first out there on tour and then suddenly, like you said, Brendan and the others. It’s really been a good thing.

Tim Clarke:                             Yeah, we had … and, again, I can always go back. The thing that’s interesting is people talk about Wilson Golf, they talk about the heritage of it. You go back to we started the advisory staff in sports in Wilson Golf and one of our first endorsees was Mr. Gene Sarazen, who had a lifetime contract with us. The way we work, we still work our advisory staff similar today where we use those players to give us input and direction in what they’re looking for and what they feel they need to play better, whether that be an irons or … Kevin [Spielman 00:02:53] had a lot of input on the latest metal wood.

A lot of exciting things going back. I always look back to when you think back to 1934, Gene Sarazen invented the sand wedge. It was his idea and he brought that idea to us. We made it for him and it was a wedge that he ended up going out winning 8 tournaments with, a couple majors. The fun thing about that story was he would take the wedge out of his bag so that no competitors could see it. Those are the things that we expect and hope to do with our advisory staff. You can go back to the 8802 Putter, which was originally called the Arnold Palmer Putter because it was built directly for Mr. Palmer. He wanted a played style putter and those specs that we used in that putter were really around his vision. Hence the 8802 Putter, the Arnold Palmer original, was changed to the 8802 when we no longer had affiliation with him but that’s another historic product that went on to win many majors on its own.

Tom Brassell:                         You touched on 2 things in the past that are near and dear to me that I’ll never get rid of. One is my Wilson 8802 Putter from the 9th grade and the other was a Christmas present I kind of gave myself 2 years ago, Tim. It’s kind of funny. I had the old Wilson Dyna-Power sand wedge and I sent it off to get it redone, completely redone. I still haven’t hit it. It’s so beautiful I don’t want to touch it.

Tim Clarke:                             That’s where, I think, the authenticity and craftsmanship, that’s what’s exciting about getting ourselves back into the right order. We really put a lot of effort into reconnecting with the craftsmanship and workmanship in our products. If you look at our irons, and our wedges, and our metal woods, we really, really spent the last 5-7 years not only elevating performance and engineering but also the industrial design, to make them look desirable. That’s been a big part of our cultural change here at Wilson and I think it’s been a big part of our success, not only great performance in the products that we put out in recent history but also clearly very nice aesthetics.

Tom Brassell:                         Tim Clarke, president of Wilson Golf joining us. Tim, something hitting right now. I mean, it’s right in stores today, as we speak. The launch of the C200 irons and it’s literally changed iron innovation. Please talk about that a little bit.

Tim Clarke:                             Yeah, I think our innovation team has knocked it out of the park here. We challenged them to make an iron that performed better and as long as anything ever produced in the marketplace. What we did is they came to us with a project about 2 years ago and said this thing, we think, can work. We put a lot of additional r&d and resources in behind fast tracking this concept. It’s really called flex-face technology what it creates is, if you look at the face of the new C200 with flex-face, it basically has through-holes, power holes that go through the perimeter of the head of the iron. When we first started this project through preliminary testing, it was amazing the CT’s or the face speeds we could actually get. Some of them obviously over the legal limit but from a business side, we obviously were able to develop the majority. We got CT’s in the 240’s, which puts it into the fastest iron in the market.

Tom Brassell:                         Developing something like that on the edge so much, I’m sure you had our friends at the USGA and the Royal and Ancient involved a little bit in this. You had to get them in [crosstalk 00:06:14]

Tim Clarke:                             Yeah, we were early with them. Yes. Again, we’ve always believed in the integrity of the game and conformance is a big part of that so we definitely involve them early on, not only in the concept of the iron, and both groups felt it was a very unique iron, a very creative way to address the iron category and we got their conformance and blessing to move forward with it. Bottom line is we have a USGA, R and A conforming iron that really is the fastest iron in the marketplace coming out this week.

Tom Brassell:                         Well Tim, what about the tour players? You got some athletes out there? I’m sure they tested it. What kind of feedback did you get from them?

Tim Clarke:                             Yeah, I think the craziest thing was Brendan Steele was .. I happened to be in California when we brought him the 3-iron and I always liked … I don’t get to see a lot of actual player testing but the C200 with flex-face was so interesting. We were at his club and Brendan starting hitting this thing. You could just tell by his face. He hit the first one and he kind of looked at, looked back, asked for what the yardage was, and our tour guy is like, that went 248 in the air, 263 [inaudible 00:07:25] so he hits another one and then 249/264. It was so funny because Brendan actually stops, he walks back to the screen on TrackMan because I think he honestly thought the numbers were not real. To see a guy hit a new product like that and basically just say this is a game changer for him because it changes how he would approach a golf course because he had such control. One of the things that’s interesting about this iron, Tom, is that because of the through-holes, it really is a very high LOI iron because the weight is actually pulled further back and away from the face. So it’s a really stable iron. That’s what he really liked about it is he was hitting just bullets and, again, 3-irons at 248, 249, way out of my league but clearly for PG tour players, it’s pretty exciting.

Tom Brassell:                         Yeah and you’re not just taking loft off the club and dialing it down. There’s something. This flex-face technology, what do you think, Tim, for iron innovation in the future and maybe hybrids and other categories, you see that going that route?

Tim Clarke:                             Yeah, well it’s a patent-pending technology so clearly, for us, we believe our innovation team has really advanced the game and allowed us to take some products that maybe were hard to innovate and actually take it into different areas and obviously do different things. I would expect to see more flex-face designs from our team here in the next 12-24 months. We believe in the technology. Clearly one thing about golf, and obviously Wilson is a great brand and we compete in so many sports, whether it be the original, the only game ball, the NFL and every Superbowl ever played to the number 1 tennis brand in the world. We’ve got a lot of sister divisions here that are very smart and very bright and so when you see them looking at the technology, trying to figure out how they can use it in some of their products, that’s usually a pretty good sign, Tom, that you’re onto something big.

Tom Brassell:                         Hey Tim, if you would, talk a little bit about your feel crossover distance platform and how this iron fits into that category.

Tim Clarke:                             Yeah and one of the big changes that I kind of pushed hard on when I got this opportunity was to let’s stop thinking like we do in a meeting room and let’s really think about being a consumer and what’s the consumer when he … when the consumer walks into an Edwin Watts or a Roger Dunn and they walk up and they’re getting that first engagement, what are the things that they are going through? We did a lot of study and a lot of consumer research and the big thing was trying to identify most players are confused about what they should be getting. Everyone’s marketing 17 yards longer or 15 yards longer so our theory was let’s first get them into the right category of play.

FCD is very simple. It’s D is for distance so that’s the player that needs to hit the ball as far as possible and that’s about %55 of golfers in the market. Then on the F-side, we call that the feel category. That is the tour player, the lower handicapper, the player that really isn’t looking to hit it further but really is all about finesse and control and feel. The big category, and actually the growing category, is that C category and that’s either a D-player, a distance player, who’s gotten more serious about their game. So the C is a crossover category. It may be a little bigger iron but it still looks like an iron and they’re looking for a little bit more of a players look or it’s the f player that has been a low handicapper and maybe age or lack of time to play the game is starting to effect them and they’re looking for a little technology help.

F, C, and D, feel, crossover, and distance are the categories. When we market products, we basically, from our innovation team, we’re building to fit each of those slots. To me, it keeps things very organized, it makes it easy to talk and articulate the story to the consumer and, most importantly, and I think for all of us in the golf space, it allows us to give the consumer the right products for the game, which hopefully will allow them to have more fun playing, which will get them to play more golf or, more importantly, it will retain them in the game of golf because, as you know, we in the industry are struggling to get our game to a healthy state. We don’t have the growth that we need in play to support this great industry and we got to really work at that as an industry as a whole, not just Wilson but we try to do it through very simplistic ways of talking to consumers.

Tom Brassell:                         I know one of the ways you did it, and I’ll shift gears real quick, was with that golf ball the Wilson DUO. Boy, you guys knocked it out of the park with that a few years ago. Talk about the DUO.

Tim Clarke:                             Yeah, low compression was interesting. Again, as we made the move to consumer research, the one thing we found was that basically 80% of players tested in blind play test would always pick out the softest golf ball. Back when we launched Staff Titanium … we learned that actually first back then because Staff Titanium was about 20 points softer than anything else in the marketplace. With that, we really decided let’s go after this low compression platform because we knew it worked and if you could get a ball that could hold up and be as durable but be a much better feeling ball around the green, we knew it was going to win. That’s hence where DUO came in. The original DUO was basically at 39 points compression, the softest ball in the game, and it has been revived now to where it’s 29 points compression, softest golf ball in the world. We’ve got people chasing low compression now but, again, it’s one of those nice things when you’re the leader and you develop the category that puts you out in front of it. Not only do we have the DUO 2-piece ball, this year we’ll be launching DUO Urethane, which will be the softest Urethane golf ball on the market.

Again, the big thing to get over in this, Tom, is that soft, low compression is not for slow swing speeds, it’s not for seniors, it’s not for women, it’s just a measurement of feel. The realities are the performance characteristics in low or high swing speeds are the same. Now, it does perform slightly better for slower swing speeds and it does perform slightly better in cold conditions but the reality is it’s a great product and it really is for everybody. You’ll see a lot of competitive companies right now chasing our lead trying to get their balls into softer categories.

Tom Brassell:                         If you’re talking about your scoring distance from 120 yards in, you want something that’s soft. You want something that you have feel with. That’s what you’re looking for.

Tim Clarke:                             I think if you talk to tour players, you talk to low handicappers, you talk to [inaudible 00:14:08] … all golf balls are round and white and have dimples so the one thing that they notices is how far does the ball go, number 1, and number 2, how does it sound. We talk about feel but the reality is when you do consumer testing, the people say well it feels soft. Normally it’s not feel, it’s actually what they hear and they hear it off the putter. It’s a much softer sound, which is a direct reflection of compression, but the reality is, to the actual consumer the test is what does it sound like because you really don’t feel it softer, you hear it softer. It’s definitely an area we’re focused on and to be able to bring world class products in all categories, whether it be a 2-piece distance ball, urethane tour caliber ball, or a 3-piece spin ball, DUO family has it all, which is pretty exciting and it’s the lowest compression in each of those categories.

Tom Brassell:                         With the DUO and the C200, I think, again, you not only knocked it out of the park, Tim, you got a grand slam home run. Final words for our listeners here at Worldwide Golf Shops, Edwin Watts and all the brands under the Worldwide Golf family?

Tim Clarke:                             Yeah, I think it’s always great. Worldwide and the family has always been a good partner of ours and we love the opportunity of having our products in the shops and, most importantly, when you go in and you get fitted by your worldwide team, whether it be Roger Dunn, Edwin, Van’s, wherever you’re at in the country, the exciting thing is you’re getting high-quality trained employees that are actually authorized and work with us as far as training and understand our fitting system so that when you’re buying a product, you’re getting a system that really fits your game. In this day and age, the one thing I’ll say to anybody out there listening, go in, see your golf shop, see your expert on the floor, tell them what you’re trying to do, help them … get some time with them to dial your game in because there is no doubt that custom fitting and with all the TrackMan devices and ball speed devices in your shops, you can get a true fitting that will definitely take a few shots off your game and ultimately make it a more enjoyable experience.

Tom Brassell:                         Tim Clarke, thanks so much man. Let’s do it again some time soon.

Tim Clarke:                             Great talk. You have a great year and we’ll talk to you soon. Thanks for the time.

Tom Brassell:                         There you have it, the first interview of the year, first podcast of the year, with the president of Wilson Golf, Mr. Tim Clarke and like Tim said, let’s get out there. There’s no reason to not be custom fit today with everything out there as far TrackMan, launch monitors, everything, to have the right clubs in your bag. Go out and give these C200’s a shot. They are something else and the technology is just off the planet. Special thanks again to Tim for joining us and for you, our listeners, and we will do it again next time, when we have another episode of Golf Better at worldwidegolfshops.com. So long everybody.