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GolfWRX Interview – ORKA Golf

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The modern golf industry is dominated by massive companies with multi-million, and in some cases multi-billion, dollar turnovers. This environment produces intense competition so it’s always interesting when a new company arrives on the scene. ORKA golf has only been around a short time but in that time it has managed to produce not just one complete line up but two: one for better players and one for game improvement.

We got to ask Stuart Johnson, MD and Senior Designer of ORKA golf a few questions.

Golfwrx: Could you tell us a little about your background in general and in the golf industry?

Stuart: I spent the last 6 years as Marketing Director and Head of Product Design and Development for a European golf brand. We experienced market leading growth in this time and it was a great experience, but I felt I wanted to create a brand under a different vision than mass market, one size fits all approach. Prior to that I have been part of several successful start-up businesses, some in other industries including one start-up for the Virgin group of companies.

Golfwrx: How long has ORKA been around and how did it come about?

Stuart: ORKA was started at the beginning of this year with first product being made available in July. ORKA has been born out of my passion for the game and product, I am afraid I am a product nut! I am not one of those product designers that is too blinkered as to be unable to acknowledge so many of the other outstanding products there are out there. I believe totally in custom fitting, and ORKA is a Custom fit brand, by pure definition this means that in order for people to play their best golf some people will have a great fit with ORKA, others may be better off with another brand, and this could be for any number of reasons, but that is the nature of individuality.

Golfwrx: Do you see yourself as an OEM or a component company?

Stuart: We are probably somewhere in between, almost a hybrid company in that respect. We supply in both forms, but essentially this is so that we can meet people’s individual needs and preference. Right now we are experiencing a number of customers who need to change their driver in order to conform to the regulations in Jan, some will buy a new club but many only need to replace the head as they like the feel of the shaft and it gives them great performance. They don’t need a new shaft so why buy one? Our market position therefore allows us to meet both sets of needs.

Golfwrx: What is your main target market?

Stuart: Players who understand the benefit of custom fitting. This is not defined by their handicap in fact there is an argument that higher handicap players may benefit more. Players who are not defined by the name on their clubs, but by the performance they get, but recognise that the best is not always the most expensive.

Golfwrx: What makes ORKA Golf equipment different?

Stuart: There is a lot of great equipment out there. It is an incredibly competitive market so outstanding product performance needs to be a given, but I believe that we can find several additional points of difference in the whole experience. We are certainly making top level custom fit more affordable, with an ambition to offer an unrivalled level of customer service. Relationship with our end user will be paramount to the success of the brand, so we have a number of methods to assist this via the website. Players can register to be testers, for this we will send them out prototype product for testing. Clearly there is a confidentiality thing in this, but it emphasises the importance we are placing on relationship with our customers. We are also handpicking the clubmakers we are working with, and are not looking to saturate the market. But probably one of our biggest points of difference is that we are also a brand with a social conscience, understanding our wider social responsibilities, with a vision to re-invest into the communities we are dealing with as a business.

Golfwrx: Your websites allow a wide range of customization and cover the full range of options – cast game improvement/players forgings, moveable weights and various shafts. How important is equipment fitting for golfers and why does your company put such emphasis on it in comparison to others?

Stuart: Fitting is imperative to playing the best golf you can, anyone who argues probably has never been custom fitted. We have designed the range to give the maximum flexibility for the clubmakers to be able to match the clubs to you and your swing. It is like buying a suit, you can get a great one off the shelf, but there is a completely different feel to a suit that is measured for you, clubfitting is exactly the same. We totally believe that custom fitting your clubs will result in better more consistent golf, but be aware my clubmakers are also not afraid to advise you to get a lesson rather than buying a new product! They are clubmakers not miracle workers after all! The webfit is there as a tool, it is not the complete picture but whilst we build up the network of clubmakers it is a great resource.

Golfwrx: Your website only allows users to select regular and stiff shafts. What is the reason behind this and is there a way to select other shafts?

Stuart: With respect to shaft flexes, yes anything is available and if its not there send me an email and we will come back to you. The reason we only have a limited number of shafts on there at the moment is that we want to encourage people to the clubmakers to be properly fitted, I do not want the internet fitting system to act as a substitute for seeing a clubmaker, it simply is not. It is there for those who cannot or do not want to go to a clubmaker, but my encouragement for everyone is to go and have the experience. We are adding more shaft options all the time, and within reason everything is available but more on a request basis at this stage so that I can truly discuss with people their requirements, and ensure that they are getting as close to what is right for them as possible.

Golfwrx: How do the target markets for the XR and Kii ranges differ?

Stuart: I see XR as much more of an internet range in that it competes at tough price points and offers great product for golfers on more of a budget, but at the same time still offering the option to have custom fit on it, either online or at the clubmakers, where as the Kii is much more suited to the clubmakers skills with its configurable weight system in the woods which allows them to set up numerous launch options suited to the individual. The Kii is superior in terms of its technology and its flexibility and thus more suited to their skills.

Golfwrx: When you would be releasing your equipment to the US and would you ship there from the UK/AUS?

Stuart: The short answer to product in the US is yes, the longer answer involves finding the right method of bringing that to market and whether that is a partnership or we distribute ourselves. In the meantime we are looking at the most effective way of servicing a US client base from the European hub in the UK.

Golfwrx: Where and how are your clubs made, specifically castings and forgings?

Stuart: OK, all clubs are made to specific order, you will not be able to ring up and place an order and have it shipped that day as it will be made bespoke to your fitting requirements, assembled by a qualified club-maker. With respect to the heads themselves, these are made in China, alongside some of the major brands. Historically production has moved around the world from the USA to Taiwan, to China and now to other areas such as Vietnam. This has been as manufacturers attempt to keep production costs low as raw material costs such as Titanium have gone through the roof.

Golfwrx: As a new company what is your view of Golf Magazines Top Equipment Lists? Do you feel as though it is a fair representation of the current generation of equipment or is there an unspoken prejudice against the smaller companies as very few seem to be represented?

Stuart: Tough question! I know many equipment editors, and have the highest respect for their impartiality. Obviously the larger companies represent greater advertising revenues than a brand such as ORKA, but my experience is that advertising with a magazine may enable you to be involved in more tests or features but in no way guarantees you the result. In the past I know I have benefited greatly from the objectivity of the equipment editors, and their willingness to recognise product on its individual merits, even upsetting some big advertisers. I do believe that the cream will rise to the top, and good product will get recognised, from a small manufacturers point of view Tom Wishon’s products are a great example of this. All in all I have no complaints on the system, it is what it is.

Golfwrx: How are you going to make your mark in an industry that is dominated by the big companies like Ping, Callaway, Titleist et al?

Stuart: I recognised long ago that if someone wants to buy a "brand" you can’t fight it. We will make our mark with people who are more passionate about the game than they are about the name on the clubs. We will do this through our network of Custom Fit Centres and by the quality of our product and service. I cannot emphasise enough how great an experience this is, and once you go to a clubmaker you are, in my opinion, very unlikely to ever buy a club off the shelf again. With respect to competing with the big companies, I believe we already do this in terms of design and performance, so then it is just about marketing spend. I think more people are becoming wise to the fact that when they buy a big name brand, a percentage of that purchase is going towards tour players.

Golfwrx: What is likely to be your product release cycle? Does Orka golf have any new models coming out in the near future?

Stuart: At this stage all products will have at least a two year lifecycle, and if I cannot design anything better or there are no new technologies or material improvements then they will last longer. We will not bring out product unless there is a clear improvement. That said designers never stop tinkering with products and there are always little things you would like to change after sign off. Currently we have 2 main ranges in the XR and Kii ranges. There are new products for next year including a range which will only be available through our clubmakers, rather than also available on line such as the XR and Kii, but these are to complete the range rather than removing any of the existing product line up.

Golfwrx: Is Tour presence essential for the success of a golf company?

Stuart: I guess that depends on how you want to grade success. Personally success for ORKA will be judged by seeing people satisfied with the choice so that they come back when they need something new, so for me success is judged more on brand loyalty. We are not trying to be the largest brand in the industry, we simply want to provide excellent kit that is fairly priced and performs beyond the expectation of the end user. My honest belief is that if we can do that then "success" of the brand will follow. I think if we were to focus on "Success" we would probably fail. Tour presence does not guarantee results, it can be like a needle in a haystack. So for me product performance is always more important than tour players. Moreover I believe the golfing public are pretty switched on to tour counts and its relevance.

Golfwrx: Where do you see the golf industry going in the next 5 years with regards to new developments?

Stuart: The search for a new material to replace Titanium will continue, brought about by the increase in air travel pushing the raw material costs through the roof, but we have been looking for some time and as yet there is nothing quite like it. "Traditional" shapes for drivers and woods may well come back again, the benefits of a "Square" driver are excellent if you don’t hit the ball straight but if you do why would you want one? and if you don’t maybe a few lessons is a good option too. The biggest changes may well be with irons and a focus on higher MOI. The biggest impact will come from any rule changes that are made as they try to stop the driver / wedge rounds, as they can’t keep making courses longer, but that will be one for the R&A and the USGA.

Golfwrx: Where do you see ORKA Golf in 5 years?

Stuart: Making great, market leading, technologically advanced golf equipment supplied through our network of outstanding clubmakers – in short our vision for the business will be unchanged, we will just aim to be even better at it in 5 years time!!

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  1. Mossy

    Nov 16, 2007 at 9:08 am

    Great read cheers Golfwrx! Good luck ORKA!

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13-time major champion Mickey Wright passes away at the age of 85

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@wilsongolf

LPGA Tour legend and Hall of Famer Mickey Wright passed away on Monday after suffering a heart attack, according to the AP.

Wright won 82 titles on the LPGA Tour including 13-major titles in a career which began in 1955 and ended with her retirement at the age of just 34.

Per the 13-time major champion’s lawyer, Sonia Pawluc who was speaking to AP, Wright had been hospitalised for the last few weeks after suffering a fall.

The sporting legend is the only LPGA Tour professional to hold all majors at the same time, and Ben Hogan once described her swing as the finest in the game.

Speaking on the news of her passing, LPGA Tour commissioner, Michael Whan said

“We are deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Mickey Wright. We lost a legend, but we may also have lost the best swing in golf history today. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.”

Wright’s long list of accomplishments in the game includes the most victories in a single LPGA season (13), four consecutive LPGA money titles (1961-64), 14 successive years with an LPGA victory (1956-69) and a stunning 44 wins from 1961 through 1964.

She was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1976.

 

 

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Morning 9: Tiger: Bad week inside ropes, good week outside | Scott, Park end droughts | CBS’ coverage panned (again)

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By Ben Alberstadt
Email me at ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com and find me at @benalberstadt on Instagram and golfwrxEIC on Twitter.
February 17, 2020
Good Monday morning, golf fans.

 

1. Scott gets first Tour win since 2016
Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner with a succinct breakdown…“Scott started the day in part of a three-way share of the lead, and he suffered an early stumble with a double bogey on the fifth hole. But the notoriously wobbly putter steadied his nerve down the stretch, burying birdie putts on Nos. 13 and 17 that proved to be the difference. Scott earned an unofficial victory at Riviera in 2005 when he won a 36-hole, rain-slogged event, but now he has an official title as part of his Riv credentials. It’s back-to-back worldwide wins for Scott across two calendar years, as the veteran closed out 2019 with a victory at the Australian PGA Championship. But after a number of recent near-misses, the Aussie now has his first PGA Tour win since March 2016, when he went back-to-back at Honda and Doral.”
2. …and Down Under, another title drought endeth
AP report…”Seven-time major champion Inbee Park saw a seven shot lead shrink to two shots Sunday before winning the Women’s Australian Open by three strokes to clinch her first LPGA title in almost two years.”
  • “Park started her final round three shots in front of 19-year old South Korean compatriot Ayeon Cho. She bogeyed the ninth hole but still turned five shots ahead of the field and went out to a seven shot lead early on the back nine at the Royal Adelaide Golf Club.”
3. …and on the Korn Ferry Tour
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…”Andrew Novak birdied each of his final two holes to earn his first career Korn Ferry Tour victory at the LECOM Suncoast Classic.”
  • “Novak, 24, started the final round in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., one shot off the lead, and he was part of a crowded leaderboard as the tournament entered the closing stretch. But thanks in large part to birdies on Nos. 17 and 18, two of the seven hardest holes at Lakewood National GC, he closed with a 6-under 66. That left him at 23 under, one shot ahead of John Chin and two shots clear of Taylor Montgomery, both of whom closed with rounds of 64.”
4. Not the weekend he wanted
PGATour.com’s Ben Everill…”It was another week to lament at the famed course where Woods started his PGA TOUR career as a 16-year-old. He faded on the back nine of his rounds on Thursday and Friday and then shot 76-77 on the weekend to be 11 over par, some 22 shots behind winner Adam Scott.”
  • “Woods was full of praise for the event he and his foundation put on in its new elevated status, but could only try some self-deprecating humor when asked of his personal on course efforts.”
  • “I did not do much well today. Good news, I hit every ball forward, not backwards, a couple sideways. But overall, I’m done,” he said. “I’ve been in this position many times unfortunately. Just keep fighting hole by hole, shot by shot and try to make some birdies, which I did not do.
ESPN’s Bob Harig on what he saw…“Woods was still not moving great. While he looked good at times, his overall game was a shell of what he produced three weeks ago at Torrey Pines, let alone in December at the Presidents Cup or October at the Zozo Championship.”
  • “This was simply a day to endure, not make matters worse — and then hand the tournament trophy to winner Adam Scott, who finished 22 strokes ahead of the tournament host.”
  • “And it was yet another reminder: Woods is 44 years old, has a fused spine, had three previous back surgeries prior to that, and counts himself lucky to be playing the game at all, let alone a high level.”
Full piece. 
5. Chubb champ: Scott Parel
Greg Hardwig of the Naples Daily News…”Scott Parel lost two opportunities at victories last year in playoffs. He wasn’t going to take that chance Sunday in the Chubb Classic.”
“Parel, 54, birdied six of the first 12 holes to come back from five shots off the lead and went on to win at The Classics Country Club at Lely Resort for his third PGA Tour Champions victory. Parel tied the tournament record at 17-under 196 on the par-71 course, and won $240,000 out of the $1.6 million purse.”
6. Rave review for CBS’ golf coverage…
Joel Beall with a (incomplete) tally of some of the (many) errors…
  • “An incorrect score board from the LPGA’s Women’s Australian Open, caught by No Laying Up. The tournament ended Saturday night.”
  • “A singular Korn Ferry Tour highlight, featuring a putt from Peter Uihlein. Although Uihlein entered the day with the lead, he finished T-20 at the Suncoast Classic, which had already been decided when the event update was televised.”
  • “Delayed footage of Harold Varner III topping his tee shot at the iconic 10th hole. Varner was tied at the time of the miscue, which was noted by CBS Sports analyst Ian Baker-Finch. Varner’s top was eventually shown in a highlight package some 90 minutes after it occurred.”
  • “The relative broadcast absences of Max Homa, one of the more popular PGA Tour players on social media, and Joel Dahmen. As the Twitter handle Deep Fried Egg pointed out, at one juncture Homa, then a stroke back of the lead, had only a single shot televised while Rickie Fowler-who was not in the field-had two highlights during the program.”
7. Rory talks Brooks & more
Adam Woodard at Golfweek draws on more of Rory McIlroy’s conversation with journalist Paul Kimmage…a few morsels…
  • “So, I go out in the final round and my midset was . . . It’s another round of golf . . . a great opportunity . . . I’m going to try to play well. And I was beaten on the day,” McIlroy remembered. “Obviously, Brooks played great and shot 65 but I think, more than anything, I was beaten by his intensity and his desire. I was too relaxed.”
  • “Later on in the season, McIlroy learned of a text Koepka sent to his friends before the final round in Memphis: “I’m going to crush him.”
  • “Yeah, and f*** he sort of did,” said McIlroy. “Well, Brooks and I have always got on great – we do get on great – but he was obviously taking that mindset, ‘It’s me and him’. And I guess it was a good thing that he thinks highly of me, or not highly of me, if he was saying he was going to crush me.”
8. Unplanned break ahead
Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols…”When Muni He triumphed at LPGA Q-Series last November, she seized control of something every professional golfer holds dear: her schedule…”
  • “He, 20, decided early on that she’d skip the first three LPGA tournaments that she was eligible for and start 2020 on a three-week stretch in Asia, playing off of sponsor exemptions in limited-field events in Thailand and Singapore and the Blue Bay LPGA in her native China.”
  • “No one could’ve predicted that her first three starts would be canceled due to threats from the coronavirus. That control He worked so hard for went up in a puff of smoke. She’ll now make her first start of 2020 in late March at the LPGA event in Phoenix.”
9. Genesis a big success for Tiger…outside the ropes
Golf Digest’s Daniel Rapaport rightly points out…”It was not his week on the course, obviously. But Woods’ time here was about more than how he fared inside the ropes. He has hosted this event for the last three years in conjunction with his TGR Live venture, but this was the first year the tournament formerly known as the L.A. Open was no longer an open. It’s an Invitational now, which means a reduced field size to 120, an increased purse and an elevated status.
  • “And the first year was, by any measure, a marked success-four cloudless days, a challenging Riviera that flashed its teeth all week and a bunched leader board that didn’t sort itself until late Sunday afternoon, when Adam Scott prevailed for a two-shot victory.”
  • “From a tournament perspective, it couldn’t have gone any better,” Woods said. “We’ve had perfect weather, people have come out and supported this event. Our elevation, being a part of the new invitational status, look at the players that come out and supported this event that have played this week, we couldn’t have asked for a more dream scenario. The golf course was fantastic. Everything couldn’t have been any better from that side.”

 

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Tour Rundown: Scott’s grit and guile, Queen Bee, Wofford’s pride

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The PGA Tour’s Cali Swing came to a close for 2020, while the Champions Tour returned to the continental USA after a stint in Morocco. The ladies of the LPGA stood tall in Australia, just as the Korn Ferry tour also docked in the lower 48, after time spent in South America. As the world of golf considers the pros and cons of a world tour, it’s easy to look around and see how such a grand plan might come to pass. As the globe continues to orbit, we take our turn in running down this week’s results.

PGA Tour: Scott claims 14th tour title with grit and guile

Say what you must about the back nine at the Augusta National, but I will stand the inward half at Riviera as the ultimate gut-check site in golf. For starters, we saw Tiger Woods go out in 4-under par on Thursday, stoking the embers of bonfires of hope everywhere. El tigre played the inward half in 36-38-41-39, so we know which high-school crush still makes him nervous! Wasn’t much different for the rest of the field; play the inward half well and you stand a chance. How about Adam Scott? After an inexplicable 37 on Thursday, he back-nined Riviera for 31-33-35. For those (like me) not counting, that’s the essential difference between what Tiger tallied, and what the tournament victor posted. Scott had his hands full, as players like Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy, and late to the party: Sung Kang and Scott Brown. Both Kang and Brown closed fast, reaching -9, joining Kuchar in a tie for 2nd. They call Riviera Hogan’s Alley, for the playing record of the wee ice mon over its 18 holes. It begs the question, which Riviera was Hogan playing, that he could get that good, that repeatedly, over these beguiling, 18 holes?

LPGA: Queen Bee secures 20th title in Royal fashion. Could gold be next?

Inbee Park has been many things over the years: Major champion (she won her first LPGA event at the 2008 US Open); Olympic Gold Medalist (yup, that was her in Rio, wearing the bling); and now, comeback kid. Park was injured in 2017, and despite a victory in 2018, has yet to capture the stature that thrust her to #1 in the world, and 18 tour victories. Watch out, world; she might be back. Park stood sooo tall after three rounds; 67-69-68 had her at  15-under par over the glorious, Royal Adelaide course in Seaton. Only Ayean Cho managed to find similar altitude, with 3 rounds of 69 for -12. Would Cho solve the mystery of the final round, the one that eluded her last week, when she gave back a lead over the final 9 holes? In a word, no. She closed with 77 and dropped to -8 and a tie for 6th place. All part of the learning curve, as they say. With her playing partner stalled, Park played things close to the safety vest. She finished with a +1 74 on Sunday, good for a 3-putts margin of victory over new runner-up Amy Olson of the USA. If Inbee is rounding into form now, she’ll be a certain threat to claim a second gold medal this summer, in Japan.

Korn Ferry: Wofford’s pride birdies final two holes for 1st victory

You know you’re small when … your small town isn’t the bigger of the two small towns in an arguably-metro region. Spartanburg ain’t no Greenville, says no one in those parts, but it’s true. And Wofford College is a charming, southern institution of higher learning, located in the middle of Spartanburg. And Andrew Novak found a golf and learning home at Wofford. And now, he has a title and Wofford again has a pro tour winner. Again? You mean another Boston Terrier has won on tour? Uh-huh, one William McGirt, at the 2016 Memorial Tournament. According to my researchers, that’s all. The dynamic duo of McGirt and Novak.

Right, back to Andrew Novak. He and 5 other golfers reached 20-below par at the Lakewood National (not to be confused with other, national golf clubs) near Sarasota. Greyson Sigg, Chandler Blanchott, and David Kocher ran out of gas there, and tied for 4th. Taylor Montgomery actually reached -22, before a bogey at the last dropped him to -21 and solo 3rd place. John Chin had 5 birdies throught 7 back-nine holes, but failed to summon a 6th, and ended his run at -22. And Novak? He birdied 17 and 18, to jump from 3rd to 1st in the blink of an eye. Novak moved all the way from 26th to 3rd on The 25 chase for PGA Tour cards. He’ll certainly earn his for 2020-2021, but might he manage 2 more victories, for a battlefield promotion? Keep closing and the answer will be uh-huh. #GoTerriers

Tour Champions: The ultimate grinder peppermills his third Senior victory

Bernhard Langer, Stephen Leaney, and Chris DiMarco went out on Sunday and shot wonderful rounds … for the conclusion of a US Open. Hovering near par, on any day, would not bring baubles at the Chubb Classic. Bob Estes went out and posted 64, his best round of the week by 3, to reach 15-under par. He blazed past the aforementioned trinity, but could not reach the brass ring. That plum went to Scott Parel, probably the only Georgia Bulldog who never was … a Georgia Bulldog. Parel posted 63 on Sunday, eclipsing Estes’ 198 by 2 shots. The victory was Parel’s 3rd on the late-stage circuit, and was his first since October of 2018. Parel graduated from the large, state school in Athens, but never competed for the varsity squad. He made his living as a computer programmer, but never gave up his dream of playing professional golf. As a size 50+, he is now living that dream. Langer salvaged a tie for 3rd (with Kevin Sutherland) at -13. Ironically, Parel has been in two Champions playoffs in his career, and has lost both of them … to Kevin Sutherland. Good thing for him that the California native could “only” close with 67

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