Today begins a 3 part series on Wilson Golf from MyGolfSpy’s Forum Director, John Barba.
In Part I John examines the mistakes and missteps that led to the decline of the Wilson Golf brand. In Part II John will look at what Wilson is doing on the R&D side as well as the company’s overall equipment strategy. Finally, in Part III, John will look at the perception golfers have of Wilson, and how the company plans to improve it.
Written By: John Barba
Imagine if you will a golf manufacturer starting 2007 with less than nothing. Over the course of 7 years, sales for that company reach the mid-$120 million mark and the company finally starts turning a profit.
Oh, and along the way their equipment is used to win 3 majors and cop 2nd place in a fourth. Did I mention their tour staff has 3 wins worldwide this year?
Not bad for a 7-year old company, wouldn’t you say?
I bet you’d think reaching that level of accomplishment in only 7 years is borderline amazing. You’d probably think these guys must be making pretty good stuff, and you might even say, “bully for the little guy showing those big OEM’s a thing or two!”
What if this company follows 2-year product release cycles, doesn’t come out with a new driver every six months, doesn’t promise you 17 more yards every year and doesn’t go over-the-top-crazy signing Tour staff to big money deals. They preach fiscal responsibility and provide you, the consumer, with gear priced well below TaylorMade, Callaway and the gang?
And what if I told you this little company had some of the better performing drivers and fairway woods in the MGS Most Wanted reviews in both 2013 and 2014? And one of the best performing irons MGS has ever reviewed?
Wouldn’t you be the tiniest bit intrigued?
I bet you would.
But more than anything, I’m guessing you really want to know who this Cinderella-story-outta-nowhere company is.
“Whoa, hold on cowboy. Wilson? They’re old people’s club. They’re the – yeccchhh – boxed-set-Wal-Mart company. That can’t be right.”
Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
Re-Booting Wilson Golf
Okay, so maybe that “starting in 2007” line may have thrown you, but there’s a very compelling argument to be made that 2007 was the year that separates the Tale of Two Wilson’s. The first Tale serves as a Harvard Business School-level case study on how to drive a legendary global brand into the ground and damn near kill it. The second Tale can’t really be called a rebirth or resurrection (not yet, anyway), but it can be called a re-boot. Wilson 2.0, if you will.
Today we’ll look at just what did happen to Wilson and how, through a series of ownership changes, an evolving golf landscape and, as today’s Wilson leadership freely admits, poor management and really, really bad decisions steered this once-proud market leader to the edge of doom and worse: irrelevance.
A bit later we’ll discuss what’s happened since the 2007 re-boot, how Wilson is trying to get back in the game and assess whether they’re succeeding. And lastly we’ll look at Wilson’s equipment, their philosophy and what their brand is trying to be.
So, just what the hell did happen to Wilson Golf?
To understand, we need some background.
We all know the old Wilson: iconic forged irons; Snead, Palmer, Stewart, Caspar, Irwin, et al; more majors than any other brand. And we all know that Wilson seemingly fell of a cliff somewhere along the way and slipped into virtual irrelevancy.
“With any 100-year old brand there are ebbs and flows that happen,” said Wilson Golf General Manager Tim Clarke, in an interview earlier this month in Arizona.
Now there’s an understatement.
So when did the ebbing start for Wilson Golf? The answer can be found in 5 watershed years: 1970, 1985, 1993, 1997 and 2006, and it starts with the taste of a new generation…
The Boxed Sets of the Pepsi Era
PepsiCo bought Wilson in 1970, and its stewardship of the brand ran through 1985. During that time the seeds were planted that would ultimately send Wilson Golf tumbling from the top of the mountain to beneath the bottom of the heap.
Back then Wilson was the name in golf: world-class irons and the tour’s best players on staff. But in the 70s PepsiCo management started taking over various Wilson business units, including golf.
“Everybody wants to make their mark,” said Clarke. “A new person comes in and he’s gonna tell you how it’s gonna be done, because the way you’ve been doing it is wrong.”
The new Pepsi people started doing what Pepsi did best – package stuff and sell large quantities of it – hence the birth of Wilson’s “boxed sets.”
Boxed sets became high dollar volume, low margin, low service SKUs sold through department stores. Wilson sold a ton of them over the decades, creating cash flow. But the damage to the brand, the notion that Wilson was a “department store brand,” had begun.
In 1985, PepsiCo sold Wilson to a highly leveraged private equity group, and 4 years later the equity group sold out to Amer Sports, a Finnish holding company (which at the time also owned MacGregor, buying controlling interest from Jack Nicklaus in 1986). Amer still owns Wilson today.
“During that period of time there was a clump of three ownership changes in a period of 4 years,” said Clarke. “It affects your business and it affects what you stand for.”
But as I learned during my visit with Wilson management, bad business decisions didn’t end with new ownership.
“If you think back, in 1993 Wilson was on top of the mountain in irons,” said Clarke. “We had multiple tour players but we were losing market share even though we made great stuff. We were the forging darling back then. We couldn’t make any money, but we were number one! The perception was we were great. The reality was fiscally we were a disaster.”
Wilson’s long run at the top was about to take a sharp right turn. They were still selling tons of irons, but Callaway was making Big Bertha-sized waves. The King Cobra oversized irons came out, and TaylorMade was prepping its Bubble Burner shaft. The new girls in town were starting to turn heads.
And Wilson Golf was swimming in red ink.
So what do businesses do when they start losing both money and market share? They tend to make shortsighted decisions that haunt them for decades. Wilson started trimming its Tour staff and, much to the chagrin of Pro Shops (who still sold most of the balls and equipment back then. Ask your Dad), jumped in bed with Wal-Mart. At that time Wilson’s Ultra was one of the best selling balls in golf, giving Titleist a run for its money. In a quest to meet sales goals and secure end-of-year cash bonuses, management cut a huge deal with Wal-Mart for the Ultra. Wal-Mart could sell the balls for roughly a dollar more than what the Pros could buy them for.
Reaction from the pros was about what you’d expect.
Now let’s fast forward to 1997. Wilson’s sales are still strong at a round $350 million but, according to Clarke, the division is still losing money by the barrel. MacGregor, doing even worse, is dumped by Amer Sports.
In ’97 Tiger makes history at the Masters with a hot new Cobra driver and later bags Titleist irons. Adidas buys Taylormade, and TM staffer Ernie Els wins the US Open. Ping and Callaway are still flexing, and what does Wilson come out with?
“Fat Shaft worked – there’s no doubt about it,” said Clarke. “The consumer didn’t vote for it as well as we hoped because it was polarizing. Some people would just set that thing down and they were used to something tapered and were like, ‘uh-uh, I’m not gonna play it.’
It was also around this time Wilson Golf started riding the General Manager merry-go-round: 6 new GM’s in a period of 10 years, with each trying to fix what the guy before him messed up.
“That’s a lot of change,” said Clarke. “I saw us go here, I saw us go here…I’ve seen a lot of it. We just kept changing direction…whether it’s ownership changes or general manager changes, it affects your business and it affects what you stand for.
“Golf consumers are very educated. The elite followers are exceptionally knowledgeable, so you gotta stand for something.”
By the early 2000’s Wilson started standing for Game Improvement irons, with premium irons taking a back seat. Wilson continued to cut back on Tour staff and TV advertising, market share kept dwindling and the losses kept mounting. The cash flow from the low-margin, high-volume boxed-set sales, one would think, was critical. Revolving-door management teams kept making the types of decisions that downward-spiraling businesses tend to make – bad ones. The sales force was downsized, the marketing budget was slashed and R&D was at a standstill.
“And when you do that,” said Clarke, “sales disappear and things go south.”
Hitting Rock Bottom
2006 may have been rock bottom for Wilson Golf. From ’97 to ’06 sales nosedived nearly 55%, to roughly $153 million and the losses kept mounting, to the tune of around $15 million per year. Was there a concern that Wilson would go the way of MacGregor?
“Oh yeah, for sure,” said Clarke. “There are lots of sleepless nights when you’re in a business unit that’s losing millions of dollars. When I first got the position (Clarke was named Wilson Golf GM in late ’06) people would say ‘you need Amer Sport to investment-spend in you!’ And I’m like, they are! They’re covering our $15 million in losses. What do you want me to do, tell them to give me another 15?”
Wilson didn’t fall down this rabbit hole overnight. The downward tumble started gradually, but soon turned into a 22-year long landslide and rumors started swirling that Wilson Golf could be sold off. By Clarke’s estimate, Wilson’s market share in irons bottomed out at roughly 0.6% by 2007.
Read that again. The brand that had, for decades, been the standard in golf and had won more majors than any other brand, was now only selling roughly 1 out of every 200 golf clubs sold in the U.S.
At that time, golf industry analyst Casey Alexander wrote, “The public perception is that Wilson no longer makes premium golf clubs. If that perception goes on for two or three season, it will be a daunting task for management to turn the Wilson ship around.”
Is Wilson up to that daunting task, or is the brand too far gone?
“If you think about how long it took us to get the perception of ‘poor’,’’ said Clarke, “it’s going to take us probably just as long, if not longer, to get us back into the world class. We didn’t get there overnight, we’re not getting out overnight.”
Clarke has been the head man at Wilson Golf for over 7 years now – a relative eternity compared to the “Whack-A-Mole” management that preceded him. Since 2006 Wilson Golf’s overall sales have dropped further, down 20% from $153 million to what Clarke estimates to be in the mid-$120 million range this year.
The difference is the color of the ink at the bottom of the ledger. Black has replaced red.
Double-digit growth may sound impressive, but when you’re starting from a 0.6% market share that kind of growth still represents baby steps. In the coming days we’ll look how Wilson is trying to keep the baby stepping while changing its perception; how Wilson spends its money and how important a little “luck of the Irish” was in re-booting Wilson 2.0.
In Case You Missed It
Part II – Wilson 2.0 – Rebuilding the Wilson Staff Brand
Part III – So What Now, Wilson?
Tony Reali2 years ago
I recently purchased a set of Wilson Staff Model Blades and their FG Tour 100’s and these are the BEST irons I have ever played and I have played ALL brands in my 40+ years of playing golf. I also have a set of their V6 irons and they are superb! All I can say is, take the time to check out these clubs and give them a chance. It would be nice if they were sold in pro-shops but find a place where they are being demo’d and try them. Being honest…the Model Blades are the BEST looking blades on the market! Everyone that sees them will say “those are really nice looking clubs, who makes them?” When I say Wilson Staff they say “WOW”, those are nice! Two thumbs up WS!!!
dttruman8 months ago
Always liked the Wilson Staff from the 70’s and 80’s.. I recently bought some Wilson Staff irons at a garage sale 3,4,6,7,9, and PW and hit them pretty good at the driving range.. Does anyone know where I can get others like them to match the set? They are Wilson Staff RG 300
shortside3 years ago
As I run back into this article 6 years later their march back from the brink continues. Including the 2019 US Open. That Staff Blade is still the sexiest stick out there IMHO.
I recall Adam stressing the rebuilding of the brand would take time.. Give them credit. They’re staying the course.
MIKE KAHN3 years ago
I’ve been in golf since the mid-1950s in Toronto. Back then, Wilson Golf Clubs were the Rolls Royce of golf clubs.. When Wilson sold to Pepsico, my teaching pro obtained a personal-use set of ‘Staffs. It was 1973. He played them once, brought them in an measured the set. They were a miss-matched pile of junk.
After the prestige of Top Notch and Staff (remember the reminder grip?), it was a sorry moment for a great company. Mike Kahn, Golfmak, Inc. St. Petersburg, Florida.
Tony Reali4 years ago
I just bought a set of the WS FG V6 irons. I have to say I’m impressed. Don’t overlook these irons! They fell great and look great. For some reason it’s all about the name…If I ask a young player about Wilson clubs he looks at me like “Wilson?” They think they have to play the other big name clubs…NOT TRUE! I hope Wilson can get their clubs in the hands of some more PGA players and you will see Wilson back on top. Kids that watch golf play the brand of clubs the PGA players are playing. You HAVE to get these clubs in the hands of PGA players…period!
Glenn4 years ago
I bought a set of Fat Shaft when they first came out. They were the easiest irons to hit. I loved them. They had great feel and were long. Wish I still had them.
wayne5 years ago
I bought my first Wilson Staff woods in 1962. They were the greatest clubs I ever played. Then in 1967 my dad bought me a set of Haig Ultra irons, a Wilson owned company, and they were pretty much a copy of the forged Wilson Staff irons of the day. Wish I still had them. I play Titleist now, but they don’t compare to those Wilson Staff clubs. Always will be a Wilson fan! They were the best!
William5 years ago
I’ve been playing various models of Wilson’s golf clubs for 30 years. Started with my dads fg-17 irons. Tried some hogan edge irons, didn’t like em, found a set of MacGregor jnp irons. Now I’m back to Wilson as my go to clubs. This time around I’m playing vintage gooseneck fg-53’s. I’m a fan of vintage golf equipment and nothing is better than catching a blade or a persimmon wood in the sweet spot. To me, golf is more enjoyable and rewarding with the vintage equipment. I’m also playing vintage spalding custom crafted irons….
sam6 years ago
“Today begins a 3 part series on Wilson Golf from MyGolfSpy’s Forum Director, John Barba.”
What day would “today” be in the above sentence?
Edward Petrowski Jr7 years ago
Great article. Glad I got my clubs before 1970!
Myron Burrell7 years ago
Got my first full set of Wilson pro staff ADs from the goodwill and instantly fell in love with with Wilson staff irons. A year later bought a mint set of 1988 fluid feels and loved the feeling of hitting the sweet spot. A few weeks later bought the DUO and would only use that ball until I found the 3 piece FG Tour. Wow. Was this a great ball but hard to find. Sadly my love affair with the Wilson brand did not carry over into the wood M3 wood line or FG Tour wedges. The woods are entirely too loud and hard the hit. The forgiveness factor in the M3 line doesn’t exist. The wedges have too sharp of a leading edge, good for slicing through rough but bad for tight lies. The FG62 line dis not disappoint, they are buttery soft but you have to make a pure strike to get the most out of them. (THEY ARE BLADES) If Wilson could build a driver and woods that their staff would play I think it would bring back their brand tremendously but until that happens Wilson will continue to be overlooked
Mike Webber7 years ago
Great clubs. Been playing staffs since 1964 when I first started playing. I still feel the 1966-1971 irons were and still are the best ever. A Wilson Staff pro by the name of Butch Hansen in the Atlanta area gave me my first set. He still lives in Atlanta and so do I. We have remained close friends through the years. I wrote sports for a daily paper for 30 years. Almost lost both legs in 1978 and he remained close through it all. He still still works with my game. It used to be a 2-handicap. Not now but I still love the game. Have a garage full of staff irons. Love ’em. Wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Jon8 years ago
I started playing at the age of 14,I’m 31 now. My first job was at a local country club. One of the members who was also a family friend gave me an old set of his late fathers clubs a set of Wilson 1200 blade irons from about circa 1978. I thought they were the greatest thing in the world. About 3 years later as the golf empire progressed and I saw all of the member and other employees buying new and fancier clubs I started to think “are these clubs outdated and not as good?” So I put them up and started to play with the new ping irons that had just came out. Now I had the best clubs that we’re currently available. These clubs didn’t improve my game any at all no extra distance no better accuracy but they were the best clubs out there. About a year after I bought them I left the pro shop for a different job and had to cut down on my play time. Years down the road I pulled out my clubs again started to play after a while I realized it really wasn’t about which clubs I had. It was about learning to hit the clubs that I had. So I took out my old 1200s got them regripped and swung away. So in short new is not always better.
Ed Hilferty8 years ago
Boy I had several sets of 1976 model MB irons until several operations and injuries forced me to retire them in 2006. I have yet to find a better iron than those, of course my swing speed dropped about 25 mph with my driver since the good old days. I have gone through over 20 sets of irons since giving up my Wilson Staff’s and can’t find any that can compete with those, all’s I had to do was think the shot in my head and could pull it off, now these new clubs are everything but that. I know the ball has less spin and the irons have square grooves, but I have had all the good brand names, some in blades and some more forgiving. Nothing hits better than Staff FG (vintage) irons.
Robert Mendralla8 years ago
I worked in the Wilson R&D Department for many years. I saw Jim Shenoha take his idea for the Wilson Fat Shaft from concept to completion. The design/idea came from Jim and was NOT a tennis innovation.
muscleback8 years ago
I see where Geoff Shackleford copy and pasted this article to his website…does anyone here read Shackelford?
Herb Wohlf8 years ago
I have played 50 Elite’s for a couple of years and I love the feel and the price. I think they are the best overall value and feel of any ball on the market. They are not Rock-Flites but also not Pro V’s: just a good compromise ball with a soft feel that won’t piss you off cuz you just threw a $5 bill away if you happen to hit one in the drink or OB like a Pro-V.
Played a fat shaft driver a number of years ago. It was a club you loved to look down at, that dark ruby red club head was beautiful.
One of the most beautiful set of blades I have ever seen was a set of Wilsons. This was a couple of years ago. Cant tell you the model #, but they were art.
I love Ping but I will do anything I can to support Wilson: Balls, hats, even irons if the same type of support I get from Ping is there.
Alan Walker8 years ago
Wilson were the Pro’s choice in the 1970’s & 80’s. Great stable of tour players and a high % of Club Pro’s, especially those at public courses with high throughput of golfers. FG17 was one of their best blades as 1200GE & 1200TR were hugely successful models that sold well for nearly a decade. Great range of bags, gloves and accessories and of course who can forget the iconic putter 8803, R90 wedges, Snead and Berg individual models and the ‘Sandy Andy’ SW. All went pear shaped with the Fat Shaft IMO. Although I appreciate they supposedly performed well it was a design step too far for their loyal customers. Never really recovered from then on and were overtaken by innovative new kids on the block together with customization. ‘Every dog has their day’ as they say and Wilson turned left when everyone else turned right. Big shame because was an iconic brand for decades. I doubt whether it can ever be the brand it was with the retail penetration it once enjoyed.
TJK38 years ago
It was not just the business decisions and the product offerings that sunk Wilson. Wilson made several poor decisions on the legal / patent infringement front. See PACER.GOV for the trial information.
John Simpson8 years ago
I have been a tech in the retail golf and tennis industry since 1999. One of the things that Wilson did that confused the client was its use of Staff and ProStaff branding. In tennis, Prostaff is a premium brand, but in golf, it represents their value brand. Since over 40% of tennis players are also golfers, Wilson loyal clients got the shaft (excuse the pun), if they didn’t know better. As a tech, I sent back a high percentage of Wilson Prostaff products for broken shafts, heads coming unglued, crowns caving in and welds cracking. That reputation is hard to overcome. By the time they turned around the brand, I couldn’t sell a Wilson Staff set or driver unless it was heavily discounted. Everyone in the industry knows that at best, golf has plateaued – at worst, it is in freefall. I am seeing more and more clients just keeping their old irons and woods or buying heavily discounted or last year’s products. I wish Wilson well, but I just don’t see them ever recover their iconic place in today’s market.
PCS Certified Class A Clubmaker
GCA Advanced Clubmaker
Chris8 years ago
Still have my set of Fat Shafts…backup set in Florida…love those things…can’t bear to get rid of them…hit them as well as the new stuff…but unlike others, I loved the way they looked on the ground! Was glad to see Wilson kinda rejuvenated a few years ago with equipment that was highly reviewed…now if they could somehow eradicate the relationship with Walmart.
chuck8 years ago
I hope Wilson gets back to a top brand as before, I miss the brand as an old retired club Pro from the 70`s ,80`s,90`s. The original ultra ball was the best before they started to try and make different flights from an already super ball. The Wilson equipment was great ,a lot of us would like to see the company back on top.
GlenH8 years ago
Very interesting article. The demise of the great old (forged) iron companies MacGregor, Hogan, tommy armor & almost Wilson has been interesting. You failed to mention that Wilson came out with one of the first combination sets of irons – heavy cavity back long irons, medium cavity back mid irons and essentially blade short irons. Great idea. Never saw anyone else ever buy a set. Keep up the good work.
Wayne8 years ago
I appreciate Wilson Staff very much. I got rid of my PRO V1 and play the FG TOUR ball. Wilsons pro style ball. My 1963 Dynapower Clubs are still very playable. All golfers need to try the FG Tour M3 and the New V4 irons. If Wilson did the advertizing that Titleist and Taylormade did they would blow these other company s out of the water in sales. Keep hanging in there Wilson.
Larry Knotts8 years ago
During the 70s I was a club professional on Wilson’s staff. They had great product & great service until Pepsi started running the show. Although the club tests are fairly good today, they’ve abandoned the green grass side & I doubt their ability to service the consumer. (The last set they built for me (1977) was nearly perfect as to loft,, lie, swing weight, etc. – but that was long ago!)
mel8 years ago
I love Wilson irons! I own a primo set of 1989 Goosenecks, a refinished set of 1979 tour blades along with a set of well used 78 tour blades. One day if I save enough coin I would love to get their new 100 yr blades. I agree with the write up. When I got into golf around 1998 or so, the Wilson Invex (or whatever it was called) was the ugliest thing ever, and Walmart, Canadian Tire had Wilson along with another once great brand, Top Flite.
Keep it up Wilson!
Cool clubs I own: Hogan Apex 50, Maxfli Aussie blades, Macgregor Mt split soles etc..
Howie Alter8 years ago
From the mid sixties to the mid seventies Wilson created Dynapower irons that were sleek and artististic. Players’ clubs, yet they were innovative with removable weight plugs and they were experimenting with cavities and various designs of changing the weight distribution on the back of the heads for playabilty. The bullet backs and the Venturi irons could hold their own with Mizuno and Titleist in today’s market. Bring back a heritage series of irons, bring back a chromed version of many putters like the classic 8802 and 8813 and you will recapture the interest in the brand. Glance through Jim Kaplan’s book on the Wilson history and there are many clubs that could reignite the name. There might be a few tour players who would actually choose to play them on their own without a sack of cash as an incentive.
Greg8 years ago
I just bought a custom set of Wilson Staff 100 Year Anniversary forged blade irons. They are the best feeling, looking and performing irons I’ve ever owned. The Tour Staff ball performs equally as well and are much less than the big X model I used to use.
Tim8 years ago
A few years ago I was looking for a new set of irons and decided on the Wilson DI-9’s only after swinging all of the big name brands, i.e. TaylorMade, Callaway, etc. Still have them and still like them. Seems like Wilson is making an effort to bring back a quality product and is getting some positive recognition.
john hoare8 years ago
i have collected and use wilson clubs and find them ok their shape,style and finish i believe is up with the best.
my son uses an midsize set loves them,my stepson uses current model blades,rescue,3 wood and maintains a scratch +1 hcp,but on using the current driver has bubbled the crown squashing the face and bulging the top.
wilson rep replaced damaged head 3 times and together they agreed the face and support design did not have enough strength for his swing,but his choice of replacement was out of left field, not a big seller but rated very high golfspy testers and only one head pressurised.
Steve Schenker8 years ago
I got my and only Hole-in -one In Aruba with Wilson Fatshafts. I have had several sets. I also like the 50/50 Wilson Staff golf balls.
Steve Trust8 years ago
I was so proud to get my set of Wilson Staff’s in 1981. Played the heck out of them and still have them in the Garage
Lloyd8 years ago
Great story, fascinating.
How easy do we forget and how fickle are we, I was quite happy for Wilson golf to disappear and a few other brands for that matter. We have become mesmerized by all that smoke and mirrors or have we (Taylormade sales down 40% wow)
revkev8 years ago
I bag Wilson C100’s and love them. I think that Wilson has the opportunity to take over what Adams had – quality, no nonsense equipment at a value price.
Nice write up – looking forward to the other installments. Happy New Year!
wayne8 years ago
I have had wilson staff clubs since 19634qnd still have them.
Those are the only clubs I will play. They make the best blades FG62 and Ci11 irons and now there new line ups the best ever. People only play what they see. TM or Callaway but if golfers checked out Wilson Staff they wouldnt play those other clubs. Its perception. need to be open minded and check out Wilson Staff there is nothing better in the golf market today.
Eddie8 years ago
Great story.I got a set of Staffs back in 1962,forged irons and four woods ,having not played the game seriously,I went for lessons at Bethpage. when the pro saw the irons he laughed and said you have better clubs then me. Once I got to learn the game these clubs were amazing.I had them for 10 years. Once the technology changed,so did golf.
JamieR8 years ago
Great piece. I’m a BIG Wilson fan. They make some of the best equipment out there at the most competitive prices. I game the Duo and the Fifty, depending on conditions and can get both at extremely good prices. I fly my Wilson towel proudly.
Old man brand, maybe, but if it performs, it performs. Heck, I still drink Miller High Life.
Jeff McC8 years ago
Do not see much Wilson clubs in NZ but there Duo balls are just fantastic
Annsguy8 years ago
I have read two of the three installments about Wilson Staff. Wonderful journalism. I am a long time believer in the brand. I have no doubt that they are over they are over the hump in terms of survival. Now it is a matter of how big they want to make their golf business.
Like another person mentioned I find their advertising a bit silly for a serious golf brand. I hope that changes going forward.
Still, just very cool to see an iconic brand make it in todays marketplace.
Regis8 years ago
Wow what a trip down memory lane. By the way I’m that Dad you should ask. For the first 20 years of my less than glorious golfing career serious golfers either played Wilson or Mac Gregor. Period. Being a Nicklaus guy I always gamed Jack’s clubs. Still think the Muirfields were the best irons I ever played. Neither of the icons ever successfully transited to cavity backs or metal woods at least IMHO. Moving forward Wilson always manufactured great balls and still do from the Smart Core to the Duo. Their recent wood entries are OK. Just bought a D100 which is pretty good but again the fact that it doesn’t have an adjustable hosel (to allow for shaft changes) will eventually prevent it from being a permanent gamer.
Alan8 years ago
The article is pretty much on target. PepsiCo had too many MBA’s trying to re-invent the wheel and didn’t adapt fast enough to club fitting. Add the fact they went to the off course arena early(partly do to the Buddy Orange/Sherman Anti trust law suit) and you had a recipe for disaster.
spongy8 years ago
Where does the duo stack up against nxt tour? I’m looking to switch golf balls . anyone have suggestions? 10 handicapper here.
JamieR8 years ago
I like me both; duo is softer, has better feel and less expensive. That’s my winning trifecta.
Huff8 years ago
The duo is a very good ball. I have played it for 2 years. Went from playin the prov1x to it. Oh. I am 61 a 5 handicap and still have a 103 mph driver speed. Don’t let people tell you it is for slower swing speeds.
Steve8 years ago
Back when, I picked up a box of ProStaffs ’cause they were cheap, played them for years ’cause they were good.
Raised a few eyebrows 🙂
Mike Schiller8 years ago
I’ve been involved with the game since 1962, back then the greats played Wilson Staff! One of them being my golf hero Arnold Palmer. As a caddy I always knew if a guest came with Staff’s in his bag he was a better than average player. I think there was nothing prettier in golf than the Wilson Staff irons and woods back in the 60’s, they were clean looking and the W/S logo on the club always indicated quality. The Red and White Staff Bag was coveted by caddies, as it usually meant your player could keep it in the short grass. I do hope to purchase the putter made famous by Arnie, now known as 8802, I love the feel and look and hope to add one back into my bag. I should have NEVER given up the one I had as a kid. Thanks for this great article, looking forward to the next installment, being born and raised in Chicagoland I sure hope Wilson can make a comeback to being a leader again in the golf industry. Just need Wilson to redevelop relationships with club pro shops!
RickK8 years ago
My ex-wife’s uncle gave me a set of Wilson Staff irons back in the early 70s. They were a great set of irons. Played them for a number of years. I remember when the Fat Shaft driver came out. I hit it at a demo day and actually hit it pretty well. There was just something about looking down that shaft that just flat turned me off on it.
I too wish they would drop the WalMart connection. It definitely hurts their image IMHO.
labillyboy8 years ago
I had a front seat to the destruction of the Hogan brand in the mid 90’s. The story follows a similar plot. Numerous ownership changes, management changes, geographic changes… lack of a cohesive niche strategy. One day it’s “green grass only”, the next it’s custom fitting, then apparel, a new golf ball, Metal woods, then retrench to irons and wedges… all without sufficient air cover from advertising and tour endorsements.
Unless Microsoft or Google decide to start making golf equipment, it’s tough to compete with the massive advertising and sponsorship budgets of the industry leaders. The money just isn’t there for second and third tier golf brands to go head to head with Titleist, Callaway and Taylormade… successful brands pick a niche, putters, hybrids, drivers, irons, wedges and put a focus on winning in that category. Wilson and Hogan both failed to realize they were outgunned and kept at strategies which ignored the relative financial strength required in the new world order.
Now the only remnant of the Hogan brand is the word “Apex” carved into some Callaway irons… at least Wilson has lived to play another day.
labillyboy8 years ago
I left out NIKE… who has piled on the golf business and driven the cost of being relevant even higher…
Roland Isnor8 years ago
Great article and I will read with interest the forthcoming installments. But, there is more to marketing golf clubs than producing good clubs. I play Bobby Jones hybrids and they are the best clubs in my bag. I’ve played Adams and Taylor Made, etc. But, I hit the Bobby Jones hybrids absolutely the best. But, they don’t have a big market share. Golfers are very image conscious…snobs, if you will. 30 handicappers will play $2,500 matched Pings just to say they do. And, who doesn’t use an Odyssey putter now. Although I think Padrig Harrington is a Wilson Staff golfer, If theyn can get Tiger or Rory in their stable, they will become instantly credible again. Until then…nobody wants to play clubs or balls that are sold at Walmart. It’s not a good image. Good luck to them though.
james8 years ago
Interesting article I too played the 1971 blades for 20 plus years nothing like them. Today’s players can’t hit them they are not as forgiving as today’s equipment. I just picked up the new wilson putter very nice. The FL tours are a winner. Let’s hope they make it
Bill8 years ago
Interesting article…I grew up with Wilson like many here and play the original FG Tours now..
I didn’t know the extent of their WalMart relationship, but their mass marketing, Pepsico ownership was disastrous. Never understood the move to low margin mass marketing. Brands work years to earn top end status. To squander that status was baffling. They got out of forged clubs entirely for awhile. That’s when I went elsewhere. The Fat Shafts were a good attempt at reclaiming some technology edge but were ugly…I mean the Cleveland VAS were good clubs but were equally ignored in the market.
Anyway, the mass market approach was a marketing blunder of epic proportions. I’ve shared this story before but was at the range of a private club and the guy was next to me was getting ready for a corporate event. He had a set of old Ultra clubs and snapped two of the heads off of woods in 10 minutes. Wilson lost a customer permanently with their junk lines.
I love the Staff stuff, particularly the forged irons and wedges. Gamed a Staff mallet for a couple years that worked great at my old club. Point is, their Staff lines are very competitive quality wise and at a better price point than the majority of the competition.
To be fair, years ago I was wanting to play and was tight on funds. I ended up buying a set of Mizuno cast irons with graphite shafts. Worst clubs I’ve ever hit. Numb feel and shafts that loaded up unpredictably and made clubbing accurately impossible. Now, years later I love the quality Mizuno puts out and am aware the junk line was just that. But for a few years that was my perception. Wilson has the same problem on a much bigger scale.
I hope they can make it back into the upper echelon in peoples minds. The current management is making some better decisions (even if some of the commercials conflict with the image of being a serious club builder). I really hope they survive this.
Keith8 years ago
Great article…I’ve definitely seen more from WS in the past couple of years. It appears marketing budgets are starting to come back, always a good sign.
It’s definitely a tricky situation to be in. I’d have to imagine that brand awareness is extremely high, the biggest struggle is most likely favorability. That is definitely the most challenging needle to move…but they find themselves in a good position given the over-encumbered nature of their competitors.
Rack up a few more wins…let your competition continue to implode (TaylorMade cannot sustain their marketing budgets for much longer with negative ROI), add in some great reviews and don’t fall into the 6 month release cycle and they will definitely keep climbing.
Undershooter308 years ago
Great article John! I love all the new wilson stuff I’ve tried and even shot my lowest round of the year (-3) with a wilson duo. Crazy to me since I usually play tour balls. Look forward to reading part two and three!
Scott8 years ago
Great review. Wouldn’t it be best for them to change their name and start over keeping the technology they have?
Hot Rod8 years ago
I have been the Wilson Duo for two years and people will not believe me that it is a good two core ball and performs as good as any in a low end ball. At times I am amazed how it checks on the greens. A few friends on mine have started hitting Wilson clubs again and they do well with them. I hope the recovery continues. Good article.
RAT8 years ago
I play Wilson Staff V2 irons , FG balls , wedges, fybrid , and would not trade them for any others on the market.I intend to demo the D200 woods Jan.15th.
I was raised on Wilson Staff irons and balls. I believe they will return to the King of The Hill ..
Thanks to Tim Clarke ,Mike Verska . Fine Wine Takes Time.
p.s. ‘don’t knock it till you’ve tried it’
Kaven8 years ago
Why you don’t talk about Wilson was the first to create the slot in iron golf who was copy by TM
Joe Golfer8 years ago
Very good article.
Keep up the good work, as I enjoyed reading it.
I almost purchased a set of Wilson Staff gooseneck irons back in the late 1980’s. Back then, Wilson had some nice sets in pro shops.
I’m glad that they are making a comeback, and also that they are doing it by selling top notch product at prices that are a bit lower than other premium OEM’s.
Shiddygolfer8 years ago
I keep putting the DXI 3 & 5 woods back in the bag they are just awesome off the tee. Under $40 bucks at some sites like BG is great too. I haven’t tried the new fg tour ball but the last version fg tour x was fantastic. Really missing that ball but the duo is also fun to hit in the cooler weather. It’s like wacking a tennis ball with a bat and half a club longer on the irons. My buddies who swing smartly under 100 gain a lot and some a full club. Sounds crazy but it truly is a great ball.
Will Par8 years ago
I began playing in an era when almost all the top players in the game played clubs made by Wilson, MacGregor, or Hogan (and maybe Spalding). I think we have to give Wilson credit for still being around some 60 years later when all the others are basically gone. I’ve owned four sets of Wilson clubs myself… although that was years ago… and think their W/S logo is timeless in it’s appeal. It would be wonderful to see Wilson regain some credibility with lower handicap players.
John8 years ago
Played with the old langers masters loved them still have them in the garage
jesse8 years ago
I brought the FG V2 tour irons and the VISOR putter and I went from 7 to 5 in a week and a half. Shot my lowesr scores in my playing history with 75, 72, 72, 74, 74, 77 in consecutive rounds. Wilson have won.more majors than any other brand – enough said.
James8 years ago
Great write up John. Wilson does make some nice gear again, hope more people give them a shot.
Jason8 years ago
Played Wilson clubs back in the 80″s and would love to give the tour 100 blades a try as they look gorgeous but struggle to find a retailer so I can get fitted here in the UK . Will keep an eye on their other products & hope they work hard to think of us low handicappers as well as the Walmart crowd. It’ll take a long time to get back to being taken seriously but good luck to em .
andrew8 years ago
i too, grew up with ‘staffs in the bag- and have always maintained the distinction between Wilson and Wilson Staff. i remember too, that even at their lowest they were making great stuff- ci6 and ci7 were highly reviewed, to the point where i bought a set of ci7’s in ’08 over Titleist, TM, Callaway, etc., and still game them- really good clubs, and I’ll probably keep them until i can justify the layout for a good forged player’s/game improvement set along the lines of fg tour v2, jpx forged, ap series, cb3, etc…
andrew8 years ago
oh- p.s.- the forged blades they occasionally release are absolutely gorgeous! more, please!
Kyle Y8 years ago
Amen andrew! I still game my Ci7 irons. And I’ve coveted the FG Tour V2’s since they came out. I have a nostalgic place in my heart for the brand that I learned to golf with. Even though I’ve strayed at times, I always have bagged something Wilson. And even though I get better putting results with a big ‘ol mallet, nothing looks prettier than an 8802 style blade putter.
Nick8 years ago
Great article, I game the tour m3 irons, the fg tour tc wedges and both staff balls(duo this time of the year in the northeast) Great to see this classic brand making a comeback and putting out the best value in equipment these days!
Mark m8 years ago
I live near their Corporate Office in Chicago, so during demo days, I get to see the newest items very often very understated. I own a set of D-100 and just love them. When I bought them, the shop owner said the he had sold 3 sets in the last week,so people are buying. They have a great set of wedges as well. Like to see them drop the “Wal-Mart” product line to get back their “Golf Swagger”
Kevin U8 years ago
Great article. Look forward to reading more. Just picked up a dozen Duos to test them out in cold weather. Would try the irons if a local demo day is offered. My first set of clubs were Wilsons so a nostalgic brand for me.
hckymeyer8 years ago
Great start to the articles John, looking forward to the rest of them. Follow up question, or maybe it’s going to be answered in the rest. Why/When did Wilson differentiate to Wilson vs. Wilson Staff?
John Barba8 years ago
From what I’ve been able to find – the Wilson Staff rebrand was sometime around 2005 or so, my guess would be to differentiate high end equipment from the standard offering.
ScooterMcTavish8 years ago
This differentiation goes back to even the 60’s where department store models (i.e. X-31, Blue Ridge) were differentiated from Staff models (i.e. Turf-Riders, Fluid Feel).
Even in the 80’s, the Wilson brand had the “hacker’s” balls such as the Aviator and Ultra, while the better ball (i.e. the wound TC3) was sold as “Wilson Staff”.
However, it should be noted that even Wilson’s “mass merchandise” products in the 80’s were still of good quality.
Problem was for the casual golfer that they could not differentiate between the pro-line and mass merchandise products. Companies such as Acushnet did a much better job with differentiating brands such as Titleist for pro-line, and Pinnacle for us mere mortals.
Unfortunately even the mass market “Wilson” stuff became such poor quality in the 90;’s-2000’s (i.e. Wilson “Maximum” $5/doz golf balls), that there was almost no way to wash the stink off of the Staff brand.
Although their forays into irons have certainly improved, with everything from the modern (Di series, FG series) to the traditional (FG-59, FG-100), I think the most substantial thing they’ve done to rebuild the brand was their golf balls. Consumers can now distinguish the Duo, 50 Elite, and previous iterations like the C:25 from mass market junk like the Ultra and Velocity.
However, rebuilding the confidence of pro shops and specialty retailers will take time – I hope that Wilson reinvests some of its “black ink” into refreshing these sales channels. I’ve seen some of this happening already, and hope they continue.
Rick zurak8 years ago
I would love to know how the Duo golf ball is ranking in sales vs other brands. I own a golf shop and sell the Duo 10-1 over all others
Stogiesnbogies8 years ago
The Duo and the Fifty Elite are both excellent balls for mid-high ‘cappers – especially those with slower swing speeds. I play both of these balls as well as the Callaway Supersoft and love them all.
It’s truly ashame what became of their brand regarding clubs and it will indeed be difficult to re-attain their previous “elite” status.
Jeremy Girard8 years ago
I’ve met Tim and his team and its amazing to see Wilson Staff turn around the ship. The 14 products were great and 15 models even better. Best part is they are going about growth in a measured approach.
Lou8 years ago
Very interesting story John. For me, I only started golfing in 2007 so I am not too familiar with their past. I just think when you walk into a Wal-mart and see the Wilson name on the golf clubs there, it makes it very difficult for me to take them seriously as a brand, no matter what anyone else says.
txgolfjunkie8 years ago
Wilson did produce a great golf ball in the ultra. Now I laugh when I find one on the course and throw it back in the weeds. I don’t game the fg tour v2 irons, but I steered my 10 handicap brother in law to purchase then and he loves them. Heck, just plaster Meghan Hardin all over their stuff and it will sell.