The Evolution of Wilson Golf: Old Versus New
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The Evolution of Wilson Golf: Old Versus New

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The Evolution of Wilson Golf: Old Versus New

The evolution of Wilson Golf is by no means a straight line. Throughout its history, there have been periods of stagnation followed by periods of mutation.

Today, Wilson Golf finds itself in a period of transition. The company that at one time was the name in golf has been on the outside looking in for the better part of 30 years. Golfers of a certain age remember fondly Wilson’s heyday as golf’s forged darling. Golfers a little bit younger than that remember Wilson as a boxed-set afterthought.

At some point, we Boomers will boom our last drive and sink our last putt. The golfers who’ll replace us are Cub Scouts or Brownies now. It’s those golfers, plus those in high school, college or just entering the workforce, who matter now.

Wilson Golf is viewing those golfers as the new demographic.

The evolution of Wilson golf.

“We’re seeing this real interesting reemergence with young ball strikers,” Markus McCaine, the new Global Director of Marketing for Wilson Golf, tells MyGolfSpy. “They’re young, quiet, confident ball strikers who are attracted to our brand.”

It’s also a demographic with little or no preconceived notions about golf equipment or Wilson. So it makes sense the evolution of Wilson Golf should start with the youthful golfer.

And the best way to market to that youthful golfer?

It’s with a youthful marketing department.

The evolution of Wilson golf.

Old Wilson, Meet New Wilson

“Our team here is pretty young. Most of us are under the age of 35,” says McCaine, who is under 35 himself. “We’re the golf sickos in the room. We’re going to build the brand we want and not worry about what people who’ve been here for a while want or think consumers want.”

McCaine came to Wilson last summer from COBRA. Before that, he worked in marketing and brand partnerships for PlayStation. Before that, he was head lacrosse coach at the University of Oregon. At Wilson, his mandate is clear: define the Wilson brand to the right audience.

“There’s a playbook the bigger brands run. We can’t compete with them on dollars but we can be fresh and relevant. We can begin to skate to where the puck is going versus where the puck is.”

Wilson Infinite putters

Wilson, despite being part of the Wilson Sporting Goods empire, is a bit player in golf. It didn’t used to be that way. From its origins in 1914 into the mid-’80s, Wilson was the name in golf, piling up majors and gobbling up market share. It was golf’s forged blade darling until Karsten kicked the door open with investment cast, perimeter-weighted cavity-back irons. Lynx, Tommy Armour and others soon joined the battle. That left legacy OEMs like Wilson, Spalding and MacGregor wondering what the hell happened.

“There are consumers that do understand we make great products,” says McCaine, “but there is that perception that it’s not as good as others, or that we’re a price-point brand. Is it because of 30 years of pushing packaged sets? That did a lot of damage.”

Perception, of course, is powerful. But just because something once was doesn’t mean it always will be. Reality checks are always helpful.

The evolution of Wilson Golf

The Evolution of Wilson Golf: Facts Matter

If you want to talk history, let’s talk history. In 1770, John Adams was handed the most difficult and least popular job in legal history: defense counsel for British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre. Public sentiment clamored for revenge but Adams won acquittal based on facts.

“Facts are stubborn things,” he said at the trial. “And whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts.”

While golf in no way equates to the events of 1770, the quote does apply to preconceived notions toward Wilson Golf.

If you’re not careful, preconceived notions can easily become willful ignorance when you ignore facts.

For example, there is a segment of golfer who dismisses Wilson as a “boxed set” company. Yes, Wilson sells boxed sets, a practice that started in the ‘70s when the brand was owned by PepsiCo. But facts tell us that Callaway, TaylorMade, COBRA, Cleveland, XXIO and PXG, among others, also sell boxed sets.

Others may say Wilson’s equipment isn’t as good as “the big guys.” Again, facts are stubborn things.

Wilson’s Player’s cavity-back irons have traditionally performed well in MyGolfSpy testing. The Wilson FG Tour V6 was first overall in 2017. Its precursor, the 2011 FG Tour V2, is one of the best-performing irons we’ve ever tested.

Wilson really shines in the player’s distance category. The D9 Forged was second overall in 2022, the D7 Forged first overall in 2020. Wilson’s Infinite Buckingham and Staff Model ML22 and BL22 putters have been stellar performers in our testing. Wilson drivers have been solid, but not spectacular, performers.

Facts May Be Stubborn …

But golfers, it seems, can be even more stubborn. The Big Five are The Big Five for a reason. True, they spend an awful lot of money reminding you that they’re the Big Five. But, in reality, neither Callaway, TaylorMade, Titleist, PING nor COBRA make crap. Mizuno, PXG, Srixon and Cleveland don’t, either. Nor do Tour Edge, Sub 70, Ben Hogan, New Level, Takomo or any of several others.

How, then, will a company such as Wilson stand out?

“There’s a whole new generation of golfers who don’t want to play what their dads are playing,” insists McCaine. “They want something different. We fit into that under-35 group that maybe played high school basketball, baseball or tennis and have a positive association with the Wilson brand.”

Evolution of Wilson Golf

The new Wilson is building its new brand image on three pillars: making world-class equipment, sponsoring players at the highest level (and winning majors) and building a unique image that resonates.

“For me, it’s Bernhard Langer with no hat, floppy hair and dressed head to toe in red,” says McCaine of Wilson’s poster boy of the ‘80s and ‘90s. “He wasn’t bombastic or outward. He was confident, hitting 2-irons with gusto. It’s that quiet confidence and quiet swagger we have to recapture. It’s what we do so well in every other sport.”

While McCaine offered no specifics, you can expect to see Wilson’s PGA Tour staff grow in number and get younger in age. Padraig Harrington is an incredible ambassador for the brand but the PGA Tour Champions doesn’t move the needle for their target demographic.

A picture of Padraig Harrington

“Tour success is about validation,” he says. “It’s being able to signal that your product is good enough for the best players in the world. That’s Sports Marketing 101.”

Who Is This Dashing Young Ball Striker?

This much we can say for certain: if Wilson, or any other OEM outside of the Big Five, tries to out-Callaway Callaway or out-TaylorMade TaylorMade, it’s going to fail miserably and spectacularly.

“I wish I had $40 million to go buy TV ads and change the winds in one stroke,” says McCaine, “but that’s not how it works.”

That’s why the “Let’s Go Young” evolution of Wilson Golf might just have legs. The 45-and-older crowd may have the most money to spend on golf gear but they also have devoutly held preconceived notions. Changing those minds can be like pushing a rope uphill.

The young ball striker is a much more appealing target. Quality and performance are givens for this demographic but it doesn’t end there.

“What they really care about is aligning themselves with a brand that feels like a representation of who they are,” McCaine explains. “What is this brand and what does it say about me when I put this on or use this product? How do I align with the brand’s values?”

As these young golfers grow up and become core golfers, those are the criteria upon which they’ll make buying decisions. Telling them about MOI, carbon fiber and ball speed won’t be enough anymore.

“They bring that brand ethos with them as they grow older,” says McCaine. “Brands are going to have to figure out who they are, what’s their personality and what makes them different.”

Wilson Triad Golf Ball

Five Parts New, Maybe One Part Old

The ongoing evolution of Wilson Golf may put off some old-timers. The new, naked Wilson Staff shield is a prime example. We old-timers may scoff but if losing a W and an S from a logo turns you away from a brand, you probably weren’t a brand loyalist, anyway.

“We’ve gotten ourselves into trouble at times being fully focused on the past,” admits McCaine. “We can talk about 62 majors, but we don’t want to eulogize the brand. We can’t forget our heritage. But we don’t want to live there, either.”

What you will see is different kinds of content created by Wilson’s marketing team. Social media will be important as will YouTube and partnerships with various influencers and new Tour players.

Wilson Staff Model irons.

“I’m challenging the team to build a brand and build a marketing plan with things that we’d like to see and not worry about the noise,” says McCaine. “We need to build content and marketing that’s not driven by eight more grams of tungsten in the toe.”

While Wilson is a legacy brand with brick-and-mortar roots, you’ll also see a commitment to growing direct-to-consumer sales.

“That’s a big priority for us and for Wilson Sporting Goods overall,” says McCaine. “We understand the modern consumer wants to shop online so our web team is working on building a better experience for them. We need a world-class destination for online shoppers.

Do not, however, read that to mean Wilson is going DTC and giving up on retail.

“We do want to ride the online rocket ship but in-store distribution is big for us,” McCaine says. “DTC is the great equalizer since your website is always open but we need to be in every store.”

Wilson Staff Model golf ball.

Evolution of Wilson Golf: What To Make of “New Wilson?”

Wilson is the oldest organic brand in golf still standing. Titleist dates back to 1932 but was almost exclusively a ball company until 1968. PING is next, starting in 1959 as a niche putter brand before hitting the mainstream with irons and woods in the late ‘60s.

You don’t get to be a 110-year-old brand without healthy doses of resiliency, innovation and flexibility. Clunker products and downturns are inevitable but the dusty beach road of golf history is lined with the skeleton frames of burned-out, less resilient brands.

“We don’t want to forget 110 years of heritage,” says McCaine, “but we do have to bring it into the modern age and make it relevant. Look at our Staff Model blades. They’re loaded with performance and innovation but with a sprinkle of retro fashion. There’s a bit of ethos in that design.”

Wilson Staff Model irons.

A little Googling will turn up a ridiculous 25-year pipeline of “Is Wilson Back?” stories. But the Old Wilson is gone, my friend. It isn’t coming back and it shouldn’t. Yes, it has history. But with history comes baggage.

As McCaine alluded to, the smart move isn’t to skate to where the puck is; it’s to skate to where the puck is going. The demographic the New Wilson is embracing has few, if any, preconceived notions and doesn’t want to follow the crowd.

“That young ball striker with the quiet confidence and a bit of fashion flair, how do we build a brand around that?” says McCaine. “If we hit on all the right notes – quality and performance while being aesthetically pleasing to the eye – I think it’s going to be really right for us and for the consumer we want to go after.”

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John Barba

John Barba

John Barba

John is an aging, yet avid golfer, writer, 6-point-something handicapper living back home in New England after a 22-year exile in Minnesota. He loves telling stories, writing about golf and golf travel, and enjoys classic golf equipment. “The only thing a golfer needs is more daylight.” - BenHogan

John Barba

John Barba

John Barba





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      Jim N

      1 month ago

      I just did a demo on the new Wilson irons (Dynapower Forged) and I will say I was very impressed. The ball speed numbers against my irons was up 10 MPH. which resulted in an extra 12-15 yards of carry . I was fitted using their new AI tool which was very informative and interesting.

      Reply

      Coletrain

      1 month ago

      I remember when I started playing as a kid Wilson and ram where all I remember seeing. That was back in the hand me down days so the occasional “rich kid ping set was around but I was a baseball player that just wanted to win and didn’t care about clubs. Never did until collage when I finally bought my first set and the only places to do so was Sports Authority and Colorado Ski and golf (RIP to both) I didn’t like the box set idea, couldn’t hit fairway woods then and the hybrid was just starting to become a thing to use no-nothings. I wanted to build a set and I don’t remember many options at the time in my price range. I refused to even try Nike because for whatever reason I was sure they new nothing about golf clubs. I think that was 04-05 and I remember hating them for buying Bauer and I was a hockey nut. My only other options where a couple Wilson sets, one Taylor made, one Callaway and one Maxfli set. I could understand why the Taylor made and Callaway irons had plastic crap glued in the cavity so I really wanted to go with a Wilson set. could not hit either one and I hated the graphite shafts. I ended up with the maxfli set not knowing they were made by taylormade. 13 years later after not playing much no ever touching a new club I get back into golf and in 2019 we get all the golf stores all less than 5 miles from me. its been a gear overload and I’ve been looking at irons unbiased and really couldn’t figure out why nobody seems to want Wilsons until I read this. pretty spot on. I hit so many irons in 22 and the start of last year I didn’t even know what I wanted or what would help my game so I stopped. Then today I saw the dynapower forged set at PGA and WOW they are the one of the best looking irons I have ever seen, plus they look perfect at address and the weight of them in my hands feels perfect. I Will hitting them soon.

      Reply

      Steve

      1 month ago

      I have a set of Wilson staff FG 51s tour blades from the 90s and I still can’t find a better set of irons.they are amazing!

      Reply

      Alan

      1 month ago

      I had a set of X3I for donkeys years, bought a set of Taylormade but couldn’t get used to them, went back to my X3I until last year when i bought a set of D9 which i love

      Reply

      Craig

      1 month ago

      It’s hard for Wilson to not be thought as an afterthought when every club review on YouTube, every tour player on TV, every golf magazine are paid to push TM, Callaway, Ping etc. to the consumer. I always think their irons look stunning but I don’t even know a pro shop near me that sells/fits for them.
      Going down the influencer, social media, YouTuber is the way to hit that audience. Most of those people are getting more eyeballs than PGA tour events. Maybe they could even look at doing something with LIV golf.
      Hope to see them rise up, the new logo is great, making a much better looking and cooler driver (imo) will also help.

      Reply

      Clay Nicolsen

      1 month ago

      Wilson has always made some of the most flat-out gorgeous irons ever. Ever. Hope they continue to climb back.

      Reply

      Alan M

      1 month ago

      Wilson has moved to the want list over the past 2 or 3 years for me, currently using Pings but maybe switch later this year if it feels right when getting a new set finally.

      Reply

      Cody

      1 month ago

      I gamed my uncles Wilson Staff Fat shafts in the the early 2000s. When it was time to replace my TM irons I was dead set in returning to wilson. They’re a great looking club that performs better than my TM. Distance and forgiveness of the D7 Forged irons has vastly improved my game . This 36yo golfer is happy with where they’re taking the company.

      Reply

      Peter

      1 month ago

      I went to get fitted for irons and was about ready to walk out with TaylorMade sim 2 max… then the fitter said… Hmmm we should try these and have me some D7’s. My numbers were vertically identical. Then I tried the D7 forged and fell in love with the feel yet still has great forgiveness. Now I’m playing the d9 forged (which are basically the same as d7 forged).

      Every friend I’ve had hit them is very surprised by thrm, they just feel so good and hit great.

      Reply

      Duffer1

      1 month ago

      During a lesson a couple years ago, the Teaching Pro grabbed my D9 eight iron and hit a few to show me what to do. After hitting a few balls (which looked beautiful) he stopped and said “Say, what ARE these clubs anyway”? He was surprised and very impressed.

      Reply

      Ron

      1 month ago

      I hope they make it, and I hope it’s not just as a “lifestyle” brand. I’m 70 yrs old now and have been golfing for 40+ years. The first players wedges I gamed were Wilson Staff and I loved them. My only career ace came with a Wilson 50 compression ball, which I used to play late in the season because they were soft in cold weather and cheap enough to not care about if I lost them in a pile of dead leaves. If I hadn’t started making my own clubs as a hobby, I certainly would have continued playing their (at least) their wedges. Back then, when I thought of Wilson Staff and their best known tour player (Tom Watson) the word that came to mind was “Class”.

      They no longer have someone of Watson’s stature on tour and it hurts them. Harrington is playing great with their clubs but that doesn’t resonate with younger golfers. Just after I took up the game, Tiger broke out, and everyone I played with wanted Titleist clubs, even if they had never tried hitting them, because “that’s what Tiger plays”. I think a lot of them even realized deep down that the rationale made no sense, but that’s the way weekend warriors think. Frankly, it would have made more sense to aspire to Titleist clubs because Karrie Webb was dominating the LPGA with her 762s. None of us were ever going to hit the ball like Tiger, even today’s 50 year old partially crippled Tiger. On the other hand, if any of us could hit the ball like Karrie Webb (or Nelly Korda today) we’d be envied/despised by everyone else in our foursome.

      I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it’s getting the right web influencer to plug their price performance and make them “cool”. I know they have to be careful about innovation. TaylorMade got away with their bubble shaft, but it is not fondly remembered. Adams upside down woods actually worked for people, but most of my friends wouldn’t be caught dead with them (see also Ping Zings). But the Big Bertha Warbirds made Callaway’s reputation. Go figure. Unfortunately I think Wilson’s Fat Shaft drivers belong in the former category, and may have contributed to the perception that they weren’t “serious” anymore.

      Again, I hope they make it. Partly because too many iconic names in this business have fallen by the wayside. Mostly because their new forged blades are arguably the most beautiful irons on the market right now and we need to keep companies around that can design clubs that look like that. I wish I had the game I’d need to consider playing them. Now THAT would be something to aspire to.

      Reply

      Willie T

      1 month ago

      The new stuff from Wilson looks sweet to the eyes of this 65yr old golfer…I remember seeing them as a kid, have a Patty Berg 8i that’s as sweet an iron to hit as any. These irons will be on my radar when I get serious on my next set…heck may go full on set.

      Reply

      Duffer1

      1 month ago

      Before my last fitting for irons I KNEW that I was going to buy Pings just because of the marketing. I grabbed the Wilsons to show they were inferior – then a strange thing happened – I kept going back to them! I hit all the “big” brands over and over, but kept grabbing the Wilsons as they felt and performed better. I asked the Pro “What’s going on here”? He almost whispered “These are fantastic clubs, and cheaper too”. Not caring to be a “me too” golfer I bought what worked best, and never had a bit of regret.
      My advice is at least give them a try. BTW… just added a couple D9 hybrids, and amazed how well they perform!

      Reply

      Scott

      1 month ago

      Still WAY too many golf consumers who care about which tour pros are playing the product and the prestige around the brand.

      If its not good enough for the World #3, then its not good enough for me. Many of the same group think a Scotty or a Vokey will make me better. The same guys losing two sleeves of ProV1s a round.

      BUT…Wilson isn’t also paying for this exposure. They also aren’t paying Dicks, PGA Superstore, and TGW to have their products displayed in a special way.

      Reply

      Kevin C

      1 month ago

      Don’t blame the box sets. Callaway also sells those and I’m not sure it’s hurt them. The Wilson irons have pretty much always been great, but the rest maybe not so much. Some of the balls and other stuff have been much better lately, but for some reason haven’t been able to gain any real traction and momentum.

      I know they don’t want to sell on price, but they may need to undercut the big boys to get players to take a chance. The clubs may be just as good, but if I’m spending that much I’m also not wanting to get killed if I decide to sell it the following year. You’ll have some value still with the big boys, but you’ll be giving away the Wilsons. Even then the DTC companies have made serious inroads at lower price points. Hopefully Wilson can find a way to capitalize on the heritage while attracting younger golfers.

      Reply

      BecD

      1 month ago

      I really like the looks of the new clubs and wanted to purchase the latest irons but I found it difficult to get my hands on them in my region. If more shops had these clubs on their lineups for fittings I think sales would really take off.

      Reply

      Joseph Parent

      1 month ago

      I grew up playing Wilson’s back both clubs and balls around the early 70’s. As I got more into golf, I moved away from them. To some of the bigger names. One and a half years ago I got fitted at a Club Champion for a full set of irons. I went in there with a preconceived idea that I wanted to play PXG’s. After testing Ping’s, Taylormade’s, Titleist, Callaway’s, PXG’s and Wilson’s. It came down to Taylormade’s or Wilson’s. If you haven’t hit them give them a try. They are great!! I think that the biggest problem is their lack of visibility on the market. If the fitter at CC hadn’t mentioned them I never would have asked to try them. They are much better than I ever thought they would be. Please if you’re getting fitted give them a try, I am pretty sure you will be pleasantly surprised. It really is time for them to step up the marketing of these clubs.

      Reply

      Steve-o

      1 month ago

      Love everything I read. Can’t wait for the website to make sense to golfers. Love the influencers, love the product. I think the secret sauce for this younger demographic may be Wilson’s apparel. The rope hat Ben and the other guy been wearing are iconic and modern at the same time. I’m older but see the brand in very good hands. Looking forward to their future.

      Reply

      Richard Turner

      1 month ago

      Great article on a brand I grew up on. They are doing a great job rebuilding their brand. The brand is big in Europe—been a few more sponsorships on the PGA tour to get more name recognition.
      Thanks for mygolfspy & what y’all do🏌🏽

      Reply

      cksurfdude

      1 month ago

      When the new DynaPower came out I ordered one 7i to test .. waited a few days .. nothing .. emailed them .. waited a few days…

      The response? ..”That order was not processed.”

      Good thing they’re rebuilding the website because the ordering process felt a bit klugey to me. But – it doesn’t matter how slick the front end is if the back end fulfillment does nothing. Your young cool hip upcoming demographic will lose interest .. just like I did….

      Reply

      Joe

      1 month ago

      Not one mention of quite possibly the influencer getting more eyes on Wilson than anyone else…The Pause King (Ben Kruper)….Boo!!!!!

      Reply

      Will

      1 month ago

      Wilson Staff Model X balls are fantastic, for my 100mph swing speed as good as any I have played including your ball review leader-ProV1x .
      Wilson says in your interview that plan on more direct to consumer marketing, but unfortunately their ball fitting tool in April 2024 does not even offer the new Staff Model or Staff Model X as options.

      Reply

      Jason S

      1 month ago

      Wilson has been killing it with their irons these last few years, and even their driver/fw/hybrid lineup has garnered attention (fw winning most wanted last year). If you’re not looking at Wilson as one brand on your short list, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

      Reply

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