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!!
Morning 9: PGA Tour commish wants to slow down slow play discussion | Greg Norman: Roll back the ball | Langston
August 21, 2019
Good Wednesday morning, golf fans.
1. Let’s slow down the slow play discussion
Golfweek’s Steve DiMeglio…”Monahan, in a gathering with members of the media Tuesday morning at East Lake Golf Club, said the Tour is on the right path toward resolving any issues regarding pace of play.”
2. Greg Norman: roll it back to pre 96!
(h/t to Geoff Shackelford for the spot & Golf.com)
3. No risk, plenty of reward
Will players going to approach East Lake differently owing to the staggered scoring?
PGATour.com’s Sean Martin…”There’s nothing to lose, and everything to gain. The only question is how to make up those strokes.”
4. Inkster losing sleep
Golf Channel’s Randall Mell…”Juli Inkster joked that making her two U.S. Solheim Cup captain’s picks are so difficult this year, she wished she didn’t have any picks at all, but the truth is that she would like more.”
5. Well done, Lucas!
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard on Lucas Glover’s return to the Tour Championship
6. The forgotten history of Langston
Elliot Williams at The Washingtonian…”In 1927, golfers petitioned Uncle Sam to build a course for African Americans. While they eventually prevailed, the replacement wasn’t much of an upgrade. Located atop an abandoned city dump in Northeast DC, Langston-named after John Mercer Langston, Howard University’s first law school dean and the first black man from Virginia elected to Congress-opened in 1939 with grass missing and just nine holes. (The other nine were added in 1955.) There were no shelters for bad weather, and the course was surrounded by disused tires and a sewage ditch. Trash and all, though, Langston was still home.”
7. Bobby’s missing medal
A segment of a fascinating story from Helen Ross at PGATour.com
8. A Tiger-inspired generation
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…“The world that Woods took by storm two decades ago is far different from the one he looked to reconquer last year, and different still from the one that watched him slip into a green jacket this spring. Gone are the scores of journeymen who once cobbled out a decent living on Tour without much time for practice. Same for the single-skill specialists, the ones who shined so brightly in one area as to make up for glaring deficiencies elsewhere.”
9. Youngest CWO competitor ever
BBC report on 12-year-old Michelle Liu…”As well as practicing alongside LPGA players, Liu met Henderson, 21, on the driving range on Monday and said she had a picture taken with the defending champion, who became the first home winner last year.”
Morning 9: Will Captain Woods pick Tiger? | Would new Tour Champ format have altered past outcomes? | Pelley on slow play
August 20, 2019
Good Tuesday morning, golf fans.
1. Captain Tiger’s expectations
AP report…”Tiger Woods wants the eight players who made his Presidents Cup team and four more under consideration as captain’s picks to play tournaments and stay sharp over the next three months leading to the December matches Down Under.”
2. …but will TW pick himself?
ESPN’s Bob Harig with Woods‘ remarks on the matter…
“Woods said Monday that although the final decision remains his, he won’t participate as a player unless that is what all involved want. And even then, he might not.”
3. How Tiger will remember 2019…
Golf Channel’s Will Gray…
“The rest of the tournaments I didn’t really play as well as I wanted to,” Woods said. “But at the end of the day, I’m the one with the green jacket.”
4. What if…
Golf Digest’s Ryan Herrington on what the past FedEx Cup finales would have looked like with the current seeding…
5. Steph Curry bankrolls Howard golf
Our Gianni Magliocco…”NBA star and avid golfer Stephen Curry has donated a seven-figure sum to Howard University in a move that will see men’s and women’s golf teams at the school for at least the next six years.”
6. U.S. Am ratings…
Per Geoff Shackelford…”According to Sports Business Daily, the 2019 BMW Championship drew a 1.9 Saturday audience and a 2.4 for Sunday’s final round on NBC, well up over non-Tiger-contending Wyndham Championship’s previously played in this schedule spot. The 2018 Wyndham drew a 1.9.”
“The slide in US Amateur interest and visibility continued with a .4 Saturday and a .3 for Sunday’s finale on Fox going head-to-head with most of the BMW final round. Talk about an event screaming out for a change in its Monday to Sunday format to avoid being an afterthought.”
7. Do away with the Tour Championship name?
Randall Mell says it no longer applies…
8. Ogletree’s tough love short game lesson
Golf Digest’s Ryan Herrington on the discussion between Georgia Tech’s coach and the eventual U.S. Am winner…
9. Euro Tour chief on slow play
Keith Pelley penned an op-ed of sorts for EuropeanTour.com, that reads in part…
“Slow players, on the other hand, have become increasingly prevalent and problematic in our game in recent years, to the extent that we risk fans, both core and casual, switching off if we don’t do something about it.”
European Tour announces 4-point plan in a bid to tackle slow play
On Monday, the European Tour announced a four-point plan aimed at tackling the issue of slow play in the game.
The plan, which will come into effect this November, will focus on four areas—regulation, education, innovation and field sizes.
Of those four areas, notable updates include that players will now only have to breach the time allowances twice in a round to incur a one-stroke penalty, and players who are put on the clock at least 15 times next season will now be fined £26,000 compared to the £9,000 fine they currently face.
In their statement, the European Tour said
“When players are out of position and either being monitored or timed, a one-shot penalty will be incurred after two bad times – currently a player would be ‘monitored’ and if he breaches the time allowance (50 seconds for first to play, 40 seconds for second or third to play) he will then be ‘officially timed’ and would then have to breach twice more before being given a one-shot penalty. Players will, however, have the option to request one time extension per round, giving an additional 40 seconds to hit a shot on this request.”
The Tour will also look to reduce the number of players in the field at events where possible, while rules officials are set to be proactive regarding targeting slow players on the course.
Speaking on the four-point plan, Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, stated
“We are already at the forefront of pace of play management in the professional game, but after being mandated by our Tournament Committee to be even firmer in dealing with this issue, the time was right to take these additional steps.
I believe the plan we are implementing for the 2020 season will bring about meaningful change that will make golf even more enjoyable for the players and our fans, whether they are at the course in person or watching on television.”
To retain their European Tour card, each member will have to pass an interactive online rules test, while a trial pace of play timing system will be implemented at the Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth next month where there will also be larger gaps between start times over the weekend’s rounds.
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