Thursday, May 02, 2002

Nike clubs won't turn you into Tiger


New line, used by Woods, won't boost skill of average players

By Neil Schmidt nschmidt@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Stan Bickel knows he will have customers drop by Golf Galaxy and inquire about Nike's new line of clubs. And in some cases, recognizing Tigermania in their eyes, the PGA teaching pro will politely direct them to another manufacturer.

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Ken Trusler, sales manager at Golf Galaxy in Springdale, holds the Nike wood on sale at the store.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        “The average player shouldn't even be thinking about these clubs,” Bickel said of the irons, due in stores later this month. “But it's what Tiger (Woods) plays that people want.”

        Nike's line of eight irons, which retail for $800, are forged-metal “muscle-back” clubs. That style, with a small club face recommended only for low-handicap players, may seem a strange way for Nike to break into the club-making business.

        But it follows the titanium driver ($400) and a line of wedges ($110 each) — out earlier this spring — that are geared for a wider market. And Nike will produce perimeter-weighted “cavity-back” irons (with a bigger sweet spot), other woods and a putter in the coming year or two.

        “People have asked, why would you go after such a small, niche market (with the first line of irons)?” said Chris Mike, Nike's marketing director for golf. “Because we knew we had the best product on the market. We knew because David Duval won the British Open with these clubs last summer, and because other touring pros have given us good feedback.

        “We wanted to establish that credibility, prove we could make the best equipment, and build from there.”

Not all in the clubs

        Nike entered the golf equipment business a couple of years ago with the “TW” ball, made to Woods' specifications, and followed this winter with the “Dou ble D” ball, made for Duval.

        Woods' ascension to the top of the sport and success with a Nike driver made this seem an ideal time to release the clubs to the masses. Mike said Nike contracted several years ago with Tom Stites, who long had designed clubs for the Ben Hogan Company, to create the product for Woods and others to try.

        Mike said 14 touring pros use the Nike driver.

        “Tiger is probably the most demanding athlete on the planet in terms of equipment,” Mike said. “He switched to the driver, he said, because it gives him extra yards and more control. That's a big statement coming from the best player in the world.”

        Pete Nelson, hardlines manager for Golf Galaxy, said the Nike drivers have been “selling every day,” and that callers keep asking when the irons are coming. Gary Roeder, manager of Special Tee Golf in Kenwood, said he has sold “a few” drivers.

        “It's very expensive,” Roeder said. “Some people, when they spend $400, expect a tremendous performance increase. It just doesn't happen that way.”

Finding the best fit

        Nelson cautions that there is no one club that will automatically improve every player.

        “People come in and say, "What's the best out there?'” he said. “It's not what's best. It's what fits you the best.”

        There are two different head sizes on the Nike driver: the 275CC and 350CC. The latter, with a larger head, is more forgiving.

        Other new products out this year: the Odyssey Two-Ball Putter, which Bickel said is Golf Galaxy's hottest-selling item; four new styles of Titleist irons; the Edge Pro clubs from the Ben Hogan line; and a reintroduction of the MacGregor VIP series of clubs.

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