If you’re a golfer of a certain age with a non-substance altered memory of the 70’s through the 90’s, you no doubt fondly recall some of the long-lost brands of the day. Dunlop, Ram, and MacGregor were as much a part of that era as Dacron polyester and shoe-kilties.
Lynx falls into that category, too. You youngsters may think of Lynx as one of Golfsmith’s el-cheapo house lines, but it did have a nice 27-year run as a small but influential premium brand. Fred Couples and Ernie Els won majors with Lynx irons, and Couples’ early 90’s TV commercial for the original Boom Boom driver remains a YouTube favorite.
Lynx died in bankruptcy in 1998, but like Hogan before it, the brand poised to make a North American comeback. Led by a husband-and-wife team from Great Britain, Lynx is locked, loaded and ready for another go.
And Now For Something Completely Different
Meet Steve Elford and Stephanie Zinser. They’re a typical British couple, if by typical you mean a 35-year golf industry vet and a published author/noted newspaper journalist/former bank executive with a seven child blended family. In 2011 the couple welcomed their 8th child when they became the official licensee of the Lynx brand in the UK and Europe.
“It sounds a bit schmaltzy,” Elford tells MyGolfSpy. “We have seven children between us, so we’re a nice, big happy family. But we wanted something of our own. When I was offered Lynx, I said to Steph ‘I don’t want to do it unless you want to do it.’ Steph’s very good with money, a very smart, very clever woman, so it’s kind of our baby in a sense. It’s something we can do together.”
By 2013 the Brangelina of British golf acquired the Lynx brand outright for Europe and set out establishing it as a player on their home turf. Privately the couple planned toward their ultimate goal of global ownership and had to go through Golfsmith to get it.
“We went to have a meeting with them about four years ago,” says Elford. “It was the worst meeting of our lives. Eleven hours by plane for four of us at the cost of $30,000, and he (the Golfsmith exec) forgot our meeting. He gave us 20 minutes and looked at his phone the whole time.”
To add insult to injury, Elford says Golfsmith’s asking price was borderline ridiculous.
“It was embarrassing. In hindsight, because of the sum, he asked for, it was obvious Golfsmith was in financial trouble. The sum was unbelievable.”
After Golfsmith’s bankruptcy, Elford and Zinser struck a deal with Dick’s Sporting Goods and now own the brand everywhere except Japan, where Lynx is an independent brand, and Canada, where Lynx remains tied to Golf Town.
Breakfast In America
The first container-load of Lynx equipment is loaded and heading to America as we speak. Elford and Zinser aren’t releasing any details yet, but they do say you could start seeing Lynx at retail by the end of this month.
“We’re going to start relatively small,” says Elford. “What we don’t want to do is create a bit of momentum from the PGA Show and then not be able to supply stuff.”
It’s fair to say Lynx still carries the Golfsmith “house brand” stigma. Elford is keenly aware they’ll have to legitimize the brand in the U.S., having already gone through that process in the U.K.
“We 100% know there’s an image to change. Steph and I knew that when we started this,” he says. “We’re not coming to America as some arrogant British company that thinks it knows everything. I can tell you about the Great Britain market, but the American market is completely different. Plus, it’s such a huge area. Great Britain fits into Texas seven times. Think about that for a minute.”
Lynx has seven full-time sales reps, and three full-time demo day guys in the U.K. Replicating anything remotely close to that model in the US would be impossible, so it’s likely you’ll have to do some work if you want to demo Lynx equipment anytime soon.
Strawberry Fields Forever
“If you focus on money only, it’ll be a disaster,” says Elford. “We have 20 staffers that will do anything for us because they really buy into what we’re doing. “
From an American business standpoint, playing the “we’re a family” card can sound incredibly trite. But Elford and Zinser, in fact, are family, and a we’re-in-this-thing-together corporate ethos has evolved.
Case in point – following a recent sales call to the largest golf pro buying group in the U.K., Elford says their warehouse guy, Gary, came running out to meet him in the parking lot to see how they did.
“I mean, he’s our warehouse guy,” says Elford. “He’s brilliant at it – we call him Lord Gary of Cardboard because he’s so brilliant at it – but the success of the company is important to everyone who works here. They know that when the business does well, they’ll do well too.”
“We own a two-story house we call ‘Home Hotel,’ because two or three of our guys come down from other parts of the country every week. It was getting demoralizing for them staying in random hotels, so Steph bought this three bedroom house near our place. When staff comes to HQ, they stay there now. Every week the boys come over for dinner – sometimes Steph cooks (she makes a mean lasagna, we hear), or we go to the pub and have dinner together. We’re a family – a bit of a force of nature, really.” – Steve Elford, Lynx Golf
It’s not easy reviving a classic brand, and the golf graveyard is filled with companies that had great equipment and a better idea. Elford says Lynx has already fought that battle in the U.K., and if they’re to succeed in the U.S., it’ll be done their way.
“I’m a bit disappointed in how some of the large golf corporations have treated the golf trade,” he says. “If your only focus is selling more drivers every year or selling more clubs every year – if that’s your only focus – I think you’re headed for disaster because so many businesses get caught in turnover and trying to sell more.”
“Look, we want to make a profit,” he adds. “But I’d rather turn over less and do it the right way. We’re trying to build relationships with people rather than just treat people as a number. I think people are really fed up with corporate, faceless, nameless business.”
Fastidious and Precise
Lynx is bringing its full line of equipment over, everything from Tour-level irons, wedges, metal woods and putters to lower-priced clubs for budget-minded recreational golfers. The names should be familiar to original Lynx fans: Prowler, Black Cat, Parallax, and Predator, as well as a modern nod to the Boom Boom line with the #BB driver and irons.
“In Europe, we sell a lot of Predator lower-end equipment and a lot of Parallax middle range stuff,” says Elford. “But in America (at the PGA Show) everyone loved our up-market stuff – the Prowler VT and CB forged irons, the #BB driver, and irons.”
MyGolfSpy has yet to test any of the new Lynx gear, but we did get a good look at the PGA show. The Prowler CB forged irons, and VT hollow-bodied irons were clear headliners.
The CB’s are forged 1020 carbon steel with a sole and topline so slender it’ll make better players Rock the Casbah. Set makeup and price may be a hurdle, though. Most competitors in the category offer 7- or 8-piece sets. The Prowler CB’s are $879 for a 6-piece (5-PW) set. Pricing is still a touch lower than, say, the Callaway X-Forged or Mizuno MP-18 SC, even when you add a 4-iron to the set.
The Prowler VT is a muscle-back looking hollow-body design with a variable-thickness forged face and a cast steel body. From a spec and appearance standpoint, you could call the VT’s a better player’s version of the PING G700’s: forged, slightly weaker lofts and a player’s look. It’s also a 5-PW set, priced at an intriguing $799.00.
3- and 4-irons are available for both the CB and VT and both are available in chrome or gunmetal.
If you like muscle back blades, the Lynx Tour Blade might make you Glad All Over. It’s a classic forged butter knife with a topline so thin you could use it to spread jam on your crumpets. And the price will make you sing God Save the Queen: $599 for a 3-PW set with the True Temper Dynamic Golf stock.
There’s a ton more to the Lynx lineup, including the #BB driver and game improvement irons, Black Cat metal woods, Prowler putters and modestly priced clubs for recreational golfers, juniors, and women.
“The ladies don’t want to be undervalued on any level,” says Stephanie. “It’s important to me, as a female owner of a brand that sits heavily in what has been a male-dominated environment, to give due attention to lady golfers.”
Lynx sponsors four women on the European tours, including 4-time major champion Dame Laura Davies and 22-time winner and reigning Senior LPGA Champion Trish Johnson.
Turn and Face The Strange
Does the U.S. market really need another golf brand? Cynics, of course, will scoff and conclude out of hand the new Lynx doesn’t stand a chance. Five years ago Britain probably didn’t need another golf brand, either. But Lynx did, in fact, establish itself, and did it the hard way: without much help from the British golf media.
“We’re a British company, and there aren’t many of us doing what we’re trying to do,” says Elford. “As far as I know, we’re the only one, and our own local golf magazines won’t back us much. I mean, they write about your stuff, but because there’s no wall between advertising and editorial, they tend to only offer real backing to the big guys, the ones with the huge advertising budgets.”
Does any of that sound familiar?
“There’s no way they can criticize some manufacturers’ equipment because they can’t afford to upset their biggest advertisers. It’s pointless for us to enter into that testing because they can’t truly be impartial, and the best we could hope for – until we also have a huge advertising budget – is that they damn us with faint praise.”
Lynx is coming to America a little late for the 2018 Most Wanted Testing, but Elford does want MGS to give his gear a look. He adds Lynx has been very aggressive, and successful, in head-to-head product demos in the U.K.
“We’d offer a pro shop that wouldn’t stock our stuff a free demo day,” he says. “We told them ‘let’s see what your members think.’ We’ve gained so many accounts that way.”
If attitude is all you need to make it in the U.S., then Lynx has a chance. It’s privately owned, so there are no shareholders to answer to, but it’s a different, and much bigger, stage over here.
This new Lynx is very much a cat jumping into a dogfight. Only the truly naïve would think consumers will immediately place Lynx in the same stratosphere as Callaway, TaylorMade, PING or any other established OEM, especially after the brand wallowed in Golfsmith’s bargain bin for the past 20 years. Given their backgrounds, neither Zinser nor Elford appear naïve – optimistic perhaps – but not naïve. The first step – and the most difficult one – is to earn credibility, and Britain’s Power Couple of Golf is keenly aware it’s going to be a Long and Winding Road before this little 20-person outfit from Surrey can earn a seat at the table.
“We’d rather build it slowly, and create the thing quietly but surely,” says Elford.
“And we’d like to sign Freddy Couples.”
He said it with a grin, but I’m only half-sure he was joking.
Ahhh, the wry British wit.