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Ace In The Hole - Golf Promotions

By Joe Haley

For some, golf is a religion. It's a way of life; an addiction. Up at the crack of dawn on Saturday for a 6 a.m. tee time, subscriptions to all the magazines, every tournament - not just the four majors - TiVo'd. And to top it off, these golf fanatics plunk down a huge chunk of change - more than the GNP of most developing countries - on anything golf-related. It stands to reason, then, that they'd like some things free. Here's the latest gear from industry suppliers that'll help you help your clients supplement their customers' golf addiction:

Size matters. Just ask Alan Marks, president of Jomar (asi/63500), an industry supplier that specializes in golf products, especially tees. "Because of the new oversized drivers, people are switching the length of the golf tee to accommodate the head size," he says. "The promotional products industry lags behind because corporate buyers and distributors who aren't golfers may not be aware of the trend."Today's golfers are keeping their tiny tees at home. Your dad's old 2-1/8-inch tee has been stretched up to 2-3/4 inches and 3-1/4 long.

How much tee is that? Consider that a rough estimates of the number of tees golfers use in a year tops out at 3.5 billion. In terms of the new 3-1/4 inch tees, that's 11,375,000,000 inches or 179,529 miles worth of wood; enough tees to circle the earth 22 1/2 times. Aside from circumnavigating the globe, you'll be glad to know longer tees afford more space for an ad message. And they're not exclusive to the super-sized drivers. Big tees can be used for other clubs too. "As long as the ground is soft enough the tee can be pushed in far enough to accommodate any size golf club," Marks says. Regardless, the longer tee will be the norm in about three to five years, he predicts.

Quite possibly the industry's very own Mr. Tee, Marks knows all there is to know about the product, from packaging "matchbook-style tee packs keep tees, ball markers and divot tools organized" to distribution methods to the fact that they're just as collectible as balls. And he warns that novelty tees are just that. "Gimmick golf tees do not work," Marks says. They won't make your drive longer and straighter. And eco-friendly tees, he contends, can start dissolving in a golfer's pocket. And that's not pleasant.

Look At The Numbers
As for the number of golfers in the U.S., the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA; www.sgma.com) estimates there are about 27.3 million. The National Golf Foundation (NGF; www.ngf.org) tracks golf-related statistics as well. And it breaks the number of golfers down more specifically: 49% are between 18 and 39 years old; 33% are over 50; 22% are female; 5% are African Americans; 4% are Asian Americans; and 4% are Hispanic.

Not all these people are nuts, but there are those who take their obsession into the next stratosphere. Consider this: tickets for the last day of this year's Masters are selling for about $4,000 a piece. (That price was found at press time as listed on www.stubhub.com, but as the event nears, the price is likely to go up and the tickets will disappear.)

According to the SGMA $2.49 billion dollars was spent on golf equipment in 2004, and it's projected that U.S. golfers will spend over $2.5 billion in 2005. Approximately 49% is spent on clubs; 30% is spent on balls and the remaining 21% is sent on accessories. The NGF reports that golf expenditures for 2004, when greens fees are thrown in, top out at $24.3 billion.

The number of rounds played in 2004 was up (0.7% over 2003) for the first time in three years. And 29% of golf-course managers cite, one of the reasons for the increase in rounds played was an increase in advertising and marketing by golf courses. If you aren't getting part of that revenue you need to visit your local courses - today.

There are lots of places for you to sell golf products. If you look at pro shops alone, there are 15,827 courses in the U.S. Of those, 11,501 are public courses, the rest are private clubs. To find courses and related golf businesses, check out the Business Search Directory at the NGF Web site.

When you look at the sheer potential of the golf market and the massive amount of cash it generates, imagine how some of the players would feel to get something without paying for it.

Help The Sell
A ball is not a ball is not a ball. Not all balls are alike. If you want to be successful selling golf products then you need to know that.

So how does one go about selling golf balls, or more importantly, knowing what golf ball is right for the client? "With golf balls you need to know what the price range is," says Richard Guerette, vice president of Impact Action Golf (asi/62269).

Like other products, golf balls come in a variety of price ranges, from low to high. But, it's still not as easy as that. Better players want better balls. Currently that means the top of the line - Titleist Pro V1. "It's the cream of the crop; everyone on the tour is playing it," says Jim Hoffman, vice president of Pro Golf Premiums Inc. (asi/79680).

There's a caveat though: your client's budget may preclude them from purchasing higher-end balls or other products. Also, if your client is hosting an event with players of varying abilities, it's not feasible to dole out big bucks for balls that might end up in a water hazard.

Which brings us to another issue that can jump up at you: clients don't want to put their logos on golf balls because the life span is short. Have you heard that lament before? But, that's a great selling point for distributors, Hoffman says: "They'll have to reorder in the future." And remember, the golf ball collectors will keep those logos around for a long time. Plus, the fact is that most golfers appreciate a sleeve of balls, regardless of the brand.

"It's something that sits well in the cart, it's something that everyone uses, it's one-size-fits-all," says Mark Blutstein, executive vice president of Reliable Of Milwaukee (asi/81700). "Plus, people expect the balls at the events. Seventy-five percent don't care what the ball is because they're going to lose it anyway."

Budget Crunch
Aside from the level of play, things like budget will determine what you should show your clients. Budget is often set as a per-player amount. You might be working with $5, $10, $25 or more per player.

The traditional tee pack - tees, ball marker and divot tool - come in a variety of styles and sizes. And most suppliers can customize them to all budget levels. Find out what quantity is needed, because some products might not be available in smaller quantities. Do your clients want to purchase more than needed, or move on to something else? This usually happens with awards and prizes that need to be purchased "onsie-twosie." One- and two-piece orders are Top Golf Products' (asi/91468) niche but check with other suppliers to see what they can do as well.

High-end tournaments or outings, though, need to use golf products that are representative. Tee packs alone won't cut it here. Think keepsakes for each foursome, like imprinted wearables; higher-end balls; umbrellas: framed pictures of foursomes or a course's signature hole; clubs; crystal; keepsake albums for scorecards.

Distributors need to know the end-recipient too. Gifts and prizes for a group of doctors paying more to play in an event than a group of bar patrons golfing in an annual let's-do-this-once-a-year-type outing have to be appropriate. "If people are going to spend $500 to be in an event you can't give them $25 in gift packs," says Tim Hanson, president of Ball Pro Inc. (asi/38120).

And product selection for fundraising events is extremely critical. If the organizers are trying to raise as much money as possible, then items with lower price points are going to be the best bet. But, most golfers aren't fickle. A sleeve of balls and bag of tees is something they go through constantly. They need this stuff. And if they don't use the items you give, they'll pass them on to someone else who will.

Don't get lost in the budget, though. Remember, like other products and promotions you sell, golf products should also have a purpose. "At the end of the day you need to look at it from a business standpoint," says Sean Sheppard, owner of Magique Golf (asi/68464).

"What is it they want to accomplish?"
Try to get your clients to do something memorable as they're going to want to get the golfers back the next year, Hanson says. With events you also have to consider that the golfers are often the same players year in and year out. If that's the case tee packs and gifts need to change from year to year, unless the event is known for giving out the greatest of this or that. Therefore, find out what's been done in years past, what needs to be fresh and what golfers want.

If it's a charity event there might be the need for multi-branded golf products, so be ready to tell the client that five logos probably won't fit on a tee. And always confirm the event date, says Tom Kelley, sales executive for St. Andrews Golf (asi/84569).

Image Is Everything
The golf market for you goes beyond the company or charity event. While those areas will afford you the chance to sell don't overlook the other avenues available to you. Lots of firms sponsor in-house golf leagues, many of which could use your services for team apparel and products imprinted with the league's logo.

Those same companies might have salespeople who often treat clients, customers or vendors to a day of golf. Don't confuse this with a tournament. This is one-on-one selling done over 18 holes of golf. "It's a chance to conduct business outdoors; it's relaxing," Guerette says. "A lot of business gets done on the golf course."

Where that course is - whether for one-on-one or an event - will also help determine what types of golf products should be distributed, Sheppard says. Lower-priced products shouldn't be given out if your client is playing at an exclusive, private club. And likewise, don't overkill when they're hacking around at the local public course. In those situations it's not uncommon for a salesperson to provide his guests with a sleeve of balls imprinted with the firm's logo, and a pack of tees.

Learn The Game
You really have a leg up if you play and have a greater understanding of the game, says Hugh Hobbs, vice president of the golf division for Gold Bond Inc. (asi/57653). This encompasses knowing where the pros are playing, who's hot and what equipment and ball they're playing with. Read golf mags and go to golf Web sties for some education. Watch events on TV, especially the big ones. When it comes to people buying golf products, many are very knowledgeable about the game. Your job is to educate them about imprinted golf products.

For help on planning an event visit Ball Pro's Web site (http://www.asisupplier.com/38120) for a free copy of its golf tournament planner.

All the Rage
The PGA Merchandise Show held every year in January is usually the showcase for everything and anything that's new to the golf world. "The golf industry drives that so what's hot on tour becomes hot in the industry," Sheppard says. According to the industry suppliers who attended, this year's show did not produce a trove of new products, but there were those that will make their way into supplier catalogs: a wet/dry towel that can be carried in a pants pocket without dampening the pants, and a towel that freezes and keeps golfers cool during summer rounds, will likely be available soon.

Trends in products include still longer tees because the popularity of bigger-head drivers continues to grow. The longer tees are needed to prop the balls up higher.

While there are people who enjoy golf gadgets those things end up being fad items, says Hoffman. On the other hand, he says premium clubs and balls are hot.

In the way of balls, Titleist is coming out with a new version of its Pro V1 and the Calloway golf ball that Phil Mickelson plays with is getting a lot of attention due to his recent tour successes. And look for the Wilson Hope Ball, a ball specially produced with a clear or pink cover. Wilson makes a cash contribution to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for every purchase. Another item getting attention because of the pro tour and making its way into the industry is a rescue club - part iron, part wood. It has the length of a 2-iron but the head of a wood.

Head covers are always a good bet but be aware that the majority of golfers no longer have a complete set off woods. "It's more of a mixed bag of clubs," says Blutstein. Therefore head covers can be given out individually for each individual club rather than as a set. Clients can save money that way.

Finally, custom packaging will continue to be offered by industry suppliers as will small accessories; however, Blutstein says not much has changed in that area.

COPYRIGHT © 2005 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Joe Haley is managing editor of Counselor.

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