Update: Cleveland Golf/Srixon announced they named Hideki Sano as Chairman of the company. This will take effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
(Written By: GolfSpy T) Full disclosure before I say anything else... MyGolfSpy does not have the best relationship with Clevleand Golf, and at the time of these keystrokes, Cleveland remains the only OEM of consequence that is unwilling to work with us in any capacity. Their representatives also happen to be the only ones from any golf company of any size to question my character and offend me on a personal level (bygones...no hard feelings...I'm over it), so some of what I write could be construed as coming from a place of bias.
Yesterday the golf equipment world breathed a sigh of nearly complete indifference as it was announced that Cleveland Golf CEO Greg Hopkins had resigned his position effective immediately. In less than 24 hours since the announcement was made, the news has already worked its way off the front page at both Golf.com and GolfDigest.com. As much as anything else, the almost total lack of response and commentary reflects the new reality of Cleveland Golf as it struggles to find an identity it what many would agree is a rapidly changing golf equipment landscape.
We can all be certain that if Mark King had stepped down at TaylorMade, or Chip Brewer were to leave his new post at Callaway, their news cycle would have Miranda Kerr long legs. Articles would be written...Panic would be induced. Where does TaylorMade go from here? What's next for Callaway?
But Cleveland isn't TaylorMade. They're not even Callaway. For the last several years, perhaps beginning with their acquisition by Japanese company SRI Sport, Cleveland simply hasn't been running with the big dogs.
Whether Mr.Hopkins stepped down of his own volition or did so at the behest of his employers is largely irrelevant. It was time to go.
For the last several years, Cleveland as a brand has been slowly losing its identity, and despite some pretty solid products, and perhaps the most appealing marketing plan I've ever seen from the consumer perspective, they're basically lost in the shuffle. You can only cling to a single product (the wedge) for so long. Ol' Roger has been gone for quite awhile now. A wedge can't sustain you if your goal is to be a competitive full line company. That's not to say Cleveland hasn't had some great products, but the legacy of Roger's wedge remains the thing.
Japanese companies are notorious for being difficult to work with, and no doubt equally as difficult to work for. Maybe Mr. Hopkins did everything he could with the resources he was given. While there were absolutely some bright years for Cleveland, the recent past, however, is at best checkered.
Looking at recent history:
- The Classic Driver has made some positive noise with consumers. By nearly all accounts it's a fantastic driver in a unique package, but it's doubtful it made enough noise in the marketplace to be considered a runaway success.
- The partnership with Miyzazki has provided Cleveland with some of the best stock shafts on the market today, but those type of details remain lost on the average golfer.
- Less than 2 years ago Cleveland revived the Never Compromise line. They turned a $30 bargain bin product into a class offering; one truly competitive with Cameron and Bettinardi. Less than a year later, the entire lineup was gone. Continuity matters.
- With the possible exception of the Hi-Bore, Cleveland has released zero truly buzzworthy irons in recent memory. That's not to say they don't have a very good, even excellent product. It just means they have what one might call call quiet products. In today's marketplace, being good isn't enough. You have to figure out how to make a little noise.
- The Mashie hybrid had potential (even if we hated it). Some loved it, but NOBODY makes any real noise with a hybrid.
- You simply can't build a successful full-line company around a wedge. It can't be done - and that's the unfortunate situation Cleveland finds itself in right now (just my opinion). Quality lineup aside, the marketplace as a whole still views Cleveland as a wedge company first.
- The trade-up program (buy irons now, trade them in for a new set at zero cost later) was brilliant. For my money it's the best incentive program ever offer to the golfing consumer, but...the sex appeal with the iron lineup wasn't there, which made the offer less appealing than it could have been.
As I said...it was time.
So...what's next? We put in a call to Cleveland (not returned), but I'll speculate anyway.
As most every other high profile resignation, indications are Mr. Hopkins would like spend more time with his family, and pursue other interests.
“I’ve been with Cleveland for sixteen years and have seen tremendous growth for the company during that time,” Hopkins said. “Now I’m at a point in my life where I want to do some things and explore some ideas that I’ve always wanted to pursue".
So what could those other interests be? The cynical wise-ass in me wonders if he plans to enter the apparel market with his own line of argyle sweaters. Safe bet, that one isn't going to happen.
Perhaps worth a mention, Mr. Hopkins currently sits on the Board of Directors of the fledgling Back9 Network. If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed a good bit of talent (both pretty faces, and actual golf people) have been jumping whatever ship they're on, and trying to make the most out of the lofty titles being tossed around over at the upstart. It's entirely possible Greg Hopkins could assume a more active role in trying to get that project truly up and running as a real competitor to The Golf Channel instead of what it is today; just another golf media outlet that also serves as the semi-official Anna Rawson Twitter photo feed.
This is all exactly what I said it is; speculation, and nothing more. Time will tell.