Nicklaus’ new line of golf balls leaves something to be desired

by   |   October 3, 2013
Jack Nicklaus Golf Ball

Jack Nicklaus is entering the golf ball industry. Chalk that up as a headline I didn’t expect to see.

Before we get into the apparent hypocrisy of Nicklaus getting into the business he has so long derided for its overemphasis on distance technology, let’s first look at the line he produced and assess what type of golfers they might appeal to.

The main thing to know about the Nicklaus line of balls is that they are rooted in simplicity. The balls, which are produced by Bridgestone, will come in three different variations: “White,” “Blue” and “Black” that are meant to correspond with the color tee box that you would typically play, white for front tees, blue for middle, and black for the tips. The central philosophy behind the Nicklaus color-coding system is that most people don’t know what type of ball they should be playing and while they may be confused by the myriad of choices in the pro shop, everyone knows what tees they typically play so this system will make their decision that much easier.

As Nicklaus’ business partner, Howard Milstein, the current Chairman and CEO of New York Private Bank and Trust, puts it:

“The beauty of these balls is they solve the golfers’ dilemma of which ball to play — all you need to know is the tee you play from — and no matter what your skill level, you know we’ve designed the highest-quality golf ball best suited to your game.”

Besides the line’s simplistic style, the other main feature you should know about Nicklaus’ latest venture is its connection with charitable giving. There will be two ways to purchase the new Nicklaus line of balls and both will result in a portion of the profits being donated to the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. The balls can be purchased at the pro shop for one of the more than 200 Nicklaus designed courses in the United States, where the “Black” version will retail for $50 per dozen, while the “Blue” and “White” versions will sell for $46 per dozen with a portion of those proceeds going to the charity.

The other way you can buy the balls is by visiting Nicklaus.com where they have set up an intriguing new way of promoting charitable donations. On the website, a dozen of the “Black” version will be offered for $30 and the “Blue” and “White” will sell for $26, however when you purchase any version of the ball there will be the option to make a voluntarily donation to the charity of up to $20 per dozen.

This is what the order screen will look like on Nicklaus.com:

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 10.46.17 PM

Now that the details are out of the way, let’s take a closer look at how the market might shape up for these balls and what type of consumer might purchase them.

First of all, I don’t see the Nicklaus line making any sort of noticeable dent in the current marketplace that is dominated by the likes of Titleist, Callaway, Srixon, Bridgestone, Nike etc. Rather, the line’s simplistic nature leads me to believe that they will end up being more of a novelty item that will be purchased because you’re either a big fan of the Golden Bear, you happen to be playing one of his courses and you’ve run out of balls/want a souvenir from the trip, or maybe you just feel like donating to charity will help offset the sting of donating another ball to the woods on the left-side of No. 8. Whatever the rationale may be, I certainly can see a marketplace for this line albeit a pretty small one.

While I laud Nicklaus and his team for coming up with a way to creative way to both simplify the game and give back to his foundation in the process, I do have several critiques about this line as well.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is the obvious elephant in the room about how Nicklaus has taken such a staunch stance against advancements in golf ball technology, and yet here he is slapping his brand on a ball that claims to use the same “cutting-edge technology” that he has incessantly rallied against. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one befuddled by this issue as Nicklaus himself recently responded to the immediate claims of hypocrisy in Golf Digest:

“For years, I have been very vocal about the golf ball. What people don’t understand is that my philosophy has always been to maximize the impact the ball can have on playability and enjoyment for the majority of golfers. My biggest concern has been golf at the highest level, and the need to put some limiting specs on the ball used by Tour players — who make up only .08 percent of those who play the game — because golf courses are often negatively impacted by the need to lengthen courses to accommodate their length. But for the majority of golfers, I want the ball to go as far as it possibly can, and even more important, with consistency.”

Reading between the lines here it appears to me that Nicklaus is advocating a stance of bi-furcation, a term we’ve previously come across during the anchored putter debate. For those who aren’t familiar with the word, “bi-furcation” literally means the process of splitting something into two parts or two branches and in this case it refers to the notion that there should be two sets of rules, one for the pros and one for amateurs. The problem I have with Nicklaus’ stance here has nothing to do with the idea of “bi-furcation” itself, in fact I think it’s a good idea, rather it’s that it seems to be at odds with his previous statements on the issue when he wasn’t yet in the business of selling distance-maximizing golf balls.

Here is an excerpt from the March 2007 edition of Golf Digest entitled “I’ve been thinking…” where Nicklaus speaks at length about the issue of golf ball technology and its affect on the modern game:

“Although my main problem with the modern golf ball is what it’s doing to the game at the highest level of competition, I still don’t believe in instituting two sets of equipment rules: one for the elite player, and another for everyone else. From a practical perspective, such a structure would be very difficult to administrate. Perhaps more important, the notion that the rules are the same no matter what the skill level is as old as golf. It might be an illusion — the difference between the equipment pros use and what’s best for amateurs is increasing all the time — but it would be dangerous to tinker with such a fundamental tradition.”

Here is where my confusion lies. In the first quote, where Nicklaus is promoting his new line of balls, he specifically says, “for the MAJORITY of golfers, I want the ball to go as far as it possible can.” Which I believe we can take to mean that he thinks the non-majority, the “.08 percent” of golfers that are tour players, should not be afforded the same luxury of using a ball that utilizes the same distance-enhancing technology. However, when he was asked the same question seven years ago, when he wasn’t in the business of selling these balls, he very clearly states that he doesn’t believe in two distinct sets of rules, he doesn’t believe in bi-furcation and even goes as far to say that it would be “DANGEROUS to tinker with such a fundamental tradition.”

Listen, maybe I am nitpicking here, maybe it’s not that big of a deal and maybe Nicklaus, whom I have the utmost respect for as a legend of the game, simply changed his mind. But the incongruity is so obvious and so spelled out even in his own words that I would be remiss to leave it out. I would love to see someone like Jim Nantz or Dan Hicks ask him to clarify these statements so we could gain some insight on his perspective.

At the end of the day I wish that Nicklaus had stayed true to his convictions if he felt so strongly about them. I would have loved to see him come out with a ball that didn’t advertise it’s “cutting-edge technology” and instead marketed itself as the ball “Jack wants you to play.” I wish he had flipped the script on the whole golf ball industry and actually introduced a “new” ball that adhered to his calls for a rollback. Sure it would be a nearly impossible sell to the average golfer:

“Here buy these! You’ll hit them 20 yards shorter! Your banana slices will now go 40 yards to right instead of 15!”

But at least they would be intriguing, at least they would continue the conversation that he started, heck it could even be marketed in conjunction with the other cause that Nicklaus staunchly supports, the “Tee It Forward” campaign.

In my perfect world the Nicklaus line would be one ball not three, it wouldn’t have that big, bulky Golden Bear brand stamped on the front of it, instead it would simply say “Nicklaus” in cursive (much like the old Nicklaus or Hogan ball), it would be scaled back to Jack’s desired specifications and it would thus force you to “Tee It Forward” and play from the front tees. It would symbolize all the Jack stands for in the game of golf, it could still have the charitable component, but most importantly it would be unique. Instead we are left with more of the same, another dimple-faced rocket lost amid an already overflowing armory of them.

Nicklaus is a much smarter businessman than I and he’s forgotten more about the game of golf than I’ll ever learn.  Maybe his new line will be a rousing success (and for the charity’s sake I hope it is), but I can’t help but feel that so much more could have been done.

About

Jack McAuliffe is an aspiring golf everything: writer, agent, marketer, even player…really he just needs a job. He also runs TheGolfDog.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @ElNino22.


24 Comments

  1. Rick Means

    April 9, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    The article was a total waste of my time! Nothing at all about how the golf ball plays!! The writer claims to respect Nicklaus but spends the article trying to trip him up. What drivel. Find another job…..

  2. John

    February 2, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Review the ball please, not your opinions on bi-furcation.

  3. Pingback: Jack Nicklaus is 74 today and making more money than ever – CBSSports.com | Healthy Eating

  4. Gary Simons

    December 13, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Is the cover urethane? Most distance balls are surlyn type.some balls say something different, like ionomer or whatever. If it doesn’t say urethane cover, I don’t buy them.

  5. Scratch kelly

    October 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    I would preferred to see jack go the bi-furcation but not in the way you would like. I’d rather have them go
    300 yards for. 90 yr old!! See them go straight even with a pull hack slice!!! Let the pros do what pros do. They’re amazing super men in spikes. Let the average guy or gal hit something easier to hit and farther!!!!! And straighter. Who cares if my 90 yr old shoots 69
    Everyday. He’s spending money and playing golf. ThAts what I want at 90 more than anything!!!

  6. Regis

    October 9, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    I do feel the article lacks substance. As to Jack when he was head of MacGregor they had the best forged irons (IMHO)ever made and the Nicklaus 100 compression balata ball was the sweetest feeling ball I’ve ever played. Only problem was if you cut it it would put a smile on it that you could plant corn in, and if you were having a bad day you could blow 8 a round easy.

  7. chris franklin

    October 8, 2013 at 4:41 am

    Agree with Desmond,an inability to understand Jack’s comments have lead to your confusion,give up writing articles and get a proper job to match your iq,maybe stacking shelves in a supermarket?

    • Fred

      December 11, 2013 at 11:40 pm

      Well, I got my dozen balls – finally. Due to what they said was an “overwhelming” demand for them, it took me two extra weeks to get them. Once in the tee box, I found them to be very hard compared to the B330RX I normally use. I totally agree with Regis – the Nicklaus 100 compression balata ball was sweet and felt so good when hit well. And, cosmetically, I agree with Joe – the bear looks gaudy on the ball. I may keep a few for posterity, but will end up giving most of them away.

  8. Desmond

    October 6, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I really don’t care about your confusion … what I do care about is how these ball perform. And all I hear is “crickets.”

    Why write the article?

    Useless.

    • John

      February 2, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Desmond, I totally agree, I read this article hoping for some feedback on performance, and what I got was an opinion on bi-bifurcation along with a definition and critique on the decision to sell the ball.

  9. Heavybladed

    October 6, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    Can you go buy a 500cc driver? Yes.
    Does it conform to USGA conditions of competition? No.
    Can you still but a 500cc driver? Yes.

    Regulating the golf balls that Tour Pro’s can use in Tournament Play is no different than regulating the grooves they can use, or how long a club can be, or any other portion of the USGAs condition of competition. Maybe you like Jacks offering, maybe you don’t. But I think you are just perpetuating the hot topic of bifurcation. It already exists.

  10. Joe Golfer

    October 6, 2013 at 1:26 am

    At that price point, they are likely similar to the “e” series of Bridgestone golfballs.
    All the RX series have urethane covers, while 2 of the 3 e series balls have surlyn and one has urethane.

    I don’t see these being big sellers either, though some folks may buy them and play some, hold a few for display when they stop making them.
    The author of the article is correct about the graphics on the ball.
    A simple cursive “Nicklaus” would have looked much classier than that Golden Bear symbol, even if that is what Jack was known as.

  11. Chris S

    October 5, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    I love Jack! He sure knows how to design courses.

    In other areas of marketing and merchandising I’m not so sure.

    I was at the Memorial last year (probably my 8th PGA event) and couldn’t find a single decent looking shirt in the merch tent. For that matter, I couldn’t find anything to buy other than a chair. Everything looked like it was out of the 70′s. That’s what this ball reminds me of.

  12. Fred

    October 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Just ordered a dozen – out of curiosity more than anything else. Will be interesting to see how the blues compare to my Bridgestone 330RX. Who knows, if they’re made by Bridgestone, they may be just one of the Bridgestone balls with a different name on them. I was told the balls will be available in sleeves in November sometime.

  13. Chuck

    October 4, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I don’t understand any notion of “hypocrisy” in this context.

    Jack has made it clear — admirably so, in my view — that he blames modern golf ball technology for large distance increases that distort classic golf course designs and the game of golf in general. I think Nicklaus is exactly right about that. I don’t see any reason for him to change his mind.

    Having raised that complaint, I wouldn’t expect Jack to compete with substandard equipment. Not on the golf course, nor in business in a pro shop. I wouldn’t want to compete with deliberately de-tuned equipment. And yet I support a general rollback on balls.

    No one in their right mind would unilaterally roll back their equipment performance. But that is where the USGA comes in. The USGA should do it, for the good of the game. And if they did, I expect that Jack would be delighted, and would enthusiastically lend his name to new balls for that purpose.

    In the meantime, we have what we have. And balls will be made as hot as the rules allow.

    In summary, just because I advocate for a rollback in golf balls, doesn’t mean that I will handicap myself with rolled back balls on my own without any change in the rules.

    If others want to charge that this is a novelty ball, and a promotional gimmick in connection with a charity, I’d say, “Probably is.” And in that regard, the “hypocrisy” charge is even less appropriate. Because at that point it is about the charity, and note even about selling a profitable golf ball.

  14. Steve

    October 4, 2013 at 9:26 am

    I agree with Fatz. Most golfers already don’t play the right tee. Now, with this “system,” they are going to play the wrong ball too. Either way, it looks more like a novelty ball to me than anything else.

  15. Jack

    October 3, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    I wonder what these balls really are. 30 dollars for the top tier ball is cheaper than the bridgestone top tier balls. That would have been the interesting article, not the author comparing quotes spread 7 years apart.

  16. cody

    October 3, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Ouch!! Price is pretty steep. Like someone else said. Lower the margin and sell them at 40 dollars. Really make it a charitable donation. Not ” I make my profit, then kick some down to charity”

    • Joe Golfer

      October 6, 2013 at 1:19 am

      You read only the price that they sell for at Nicklaus resort golf courses. The price is actually very reasonable at $30, $26, and $26.
      You don’t have to give the $20 charitable donation, as you can give whatever you want to that aspect, whether it be zero dollars or more than $20 dollars.

  17. OVER THE TOP GOLF

    October 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Arnold Palmer’s sell out in the Dick’s commercial -”Swing your swing?” give me (us) a break, King, is no worse that Jack’s turnabout is fair play move pushing added-distance golf balls after deriding them for years. There are very few stars who stand for something pure out there my friends.

  18. Drew

    October 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Something left to be desired is a better description of the article, not the ball itself.
    I’m kind of disappointed with this. The title surely makes it look like the new ball is not of good quality, when in fact the article has nothing to do with performance. If the ball is made by Bridgestone and can be had for $30, something tells me that this might be news.

    This article is more of a crazy dream than anything else. Nobody would buy a ball that knowingly puts you at a disadvantage. It wouldn’t make any sense to do that! Applaud the guy for trying to raise money for charity.
    Though, I find the way he’s doing it to be rather ineffective and showy. If he really cared about the charity aspect he’d sell the balls for $40 and donate $10 on each sale to charity. As is, I doubt more than 2 or 3% of orders will opt for the $20 donation to charity.

  19. DIRK

    October 3, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Jack, last paragraph–you’re missing an “of” between game and golf.

    I found this interesting but don’t really understand why you’re making such a fuss over this. It seems like you’re so ready to spring the trap on Nicklaus for his previous comments, but who really cares?

    Jack probably is quoted about fifty times a week. I would imagine that some of these quotes contradict each other based on a number of factors (including context, which we don’t get in the excerpts you included in your well-written piece). The guy’s not running for office. He’s just making golf balls and trying to raise some money for charity. Report on the aesthetics and performance: that’s enough.

    • paul

      October 3, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      Agreed. for the most part.

  20. FATZ

    October 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Great. Now people will buy the Black ones and feel entitled to back tips because their ball is meant to hang with the tips. LOL.

    Also, no lists of construction or materials. At that price?

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