As far as Tour equipment news goes, an equipment deal for the 518th ranked player in the world barely merits a mention anywhere but in that player’s Facebook feed. But PGA Tour vet J.J. Henry’s new deal for 2018 is worth noting for one reason and one reason only: his new deal is with….wait for it….the Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company.
Yep, the very same Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company that, at this time last year, let go virtually its entire workforce and filed for bankruptcy.
Yeah, I know.
Back From The Dead
Last January it certainly looked like Hogan, which rejoined the golfing world to considerable fanfare in 2015, was not long for this world. The company laid off nearly its entire workforce, and by the end of January had filed for Chapter 11. It certainly looked like the end of the road.
By spring, however, Hogan was back in business - sort of - selling off discounted inventory to, as CEO Scott White told us at the time, build up some working capital to get back in business. A few months later the news came that Hogan was back, under new ownership (its largest creditor had been given custody of the company in bankruptcy court) with a new, factory-direct business model. It would appear the new model is clicking.
“We’ve been really excited about what we’ve seen over the past four or five months,” White tells MyGolfSpy. “We’ve exceeded our very modest sales expectations, and we’ve run out of product in some areas and had to place reorders. Things have gone really well.”
It would seem, with the company on such precarious footing, that bringing on Tour staff would be a tad risky, even if it is only one guy. And while it’s not the only reason, White says Tour use does offer a degree of credibility and validation with golfers.
“Customers have been asking if anyone plays our stuff on tour,” says White. “We would have loved to have done something with J.J. much earlier, but the reality is the company was going through a reorganization, and we weren’t able to do that.”
“As we’ve reintroduced the Ben Hogan brand under our factory-direct strategy, our operating costs have changed, we’re much better funded, we have great support from our ownership group, and we thought this was the logical next step for us.”
Henry and Company?
White says Henry’s deal with Hogan isn’t your normal Tour equipment sponsorship deal. Henry was a Hogan staffer back in the Spalding Days and makes his home in Fort Worth.
“J.J. is involved in strategic decisions we’re making as a company,” says White. “He's certainly involved in our R&D and new product development efforts. When he hasn’t been out on Tour, he’s spent quite a bit of time in the office, helping out with lots of different things. So it’s a much broader than most traditional endorsement agreements.”
White would not comment on whether part of the deal is an ownership stake for Henry, but he does confirm there will be a few more additions to the Hogan Tour staff, and fairly soon.
“I can tell you there will be another announcement in the next few weeks, and there may be some others, too,” he says. “We’re not going to have a gigantic staff, and we’re not going to increase our costs to the extent that we’ll have to pass that cost on to the consumer. That’s just not our goal.”
“We want to bring on guys that will be helpful to us, more than just exposure on TV or in our marketing efforts. We need guys – and women, potentially – that are going to be part of our organization on a much broader level.” - Scott White, Ben Hogan CEO
Henry's website says he has sponsorship deals with TaylorMade (he's been playing a TaylorMade driver for several years) and Titleist.
What Does It All Mean?
So in the short term, this whole deal means that for the first time in a long time, you’ll see the Hogan name on Tour. Henry, who is playing in his 500th career Tour event this weekend at the Sony Open in Hawaii, is carrying a Hogan Staff bag and will most likely have the Hogan logo on his headwear and shirts. He's bagging the Hogan PTx short- and mid-irons, along with the Ft. Worth Hi utility irons.
In the bigger picture, the deal does seem to settle, at least for the time being, the question of whether Hogan will survive. Along with plans to add more Tour staff, White says Hogan will be introducing some accessories within the next few weeks and will be releasing some new equipment – most likely something in the iron and/or wedge categories - in time for spring.
“We’re rocking here,” says White. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re not going to get anyone at Callaway, TaylorMade or Titleist worried, but we have a really nice, tight, focused business right now.”
For Hogan, success is, of course, relative. But adding Tour staff – even if it is the world’s 518th ranked player – has to be considered a win after spending months inside a Texas bankruptcy court.
“It was almost exactly a year ago that we weren’t even sure there was going to be a Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company,” says White. “To see this complete turnaround where we’re not only back in business, but to some extent thriving, we’re in a great place.”
White does admit the word thriving may be a tad too optimistic or positive, but when you’ve brink of death as many times as Hogan has, sometimes upright and breathing feels like winning the Masters.
And as Mr. Hogan himself used to say, "the most important shot in golf is the next one."