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Oakley as a golf brand? Exactly

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On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense. Why would Oakley — a brand beloved by surfers, snowboarders, skiers, skaters and otherwise “cool” people — want to be a golf brand? Doesn’t it know that golfers are notoriously uncool, and that for every Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy there are 50 Tour players who make Chris Kirk seem exciting?

GolfWRX regulars might have noticed that we’ve been learning a lot about the Southern-California based company lately. When Oakley signed Zach Johnson and Bubba Watson in 2013, we did a Q&A with the company’s sports marketing manager. We followed up with a feature on the impact Bubba Watson has had in shaping Oakley product this spring, and spent this summer reviewing Oakley’s Carbon Pro 2 golf shoes, M2 Frame and Holbrook sunglasses and its latest golf apparel.

What we’ve found is that few companies spend as much time perfecting its products as The Ellipse, which became even more evident when I visited Oakley headquarters.

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Oakley HQ, nicknamed the “Design Bunker,” looks like a spaceship that might blast off from its Foothills Ranch, Calif. location. Even though it’s a public facility that includes a retail store and a walk-in warranty department, the winding, tank-equipped driveaway screams “keep out” to poindexters.

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The coolness threshold was reinforced in the lobby, where I was instructed to wait for my tour guide in an authentic fighter jet ejector seat. I, in khakis and a polo, wondered if I was about to be propelled through the vaulted ceilings of the main lobby. Was I cool enough to be in this place?

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Luckily, it was another case of a journalist making stuff up, and I made my way through the public lobby and into the private Oakley hallways unscathed.

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If you’re waiting for a photo tour of HQ, the production facilities and research labs I saw, you’re out of luck, as just about all of the areas were off limits for photography. Oakley protects its prototype products and procedures more tightly than any golf apparel company I’ve ever toured, which is why it makes sense to shift the conversation from what exactly Oakley does to produce its apparel, footwear and accessories to why it does it in the first place.

For that answer, I talked to Nathan Strange, Oakley’s head of global golf marketing. Strange spent a decade working at one of the golf equipment industry’s traditional powerhouses, and is the man responsible for the now famous Bubba Hovercraft video.

The outside-the-box video was perfect for the Oakley brand, Strange said, as it showcased what I kept hearing from every member of the Oakley golf team.

“We’re different,” they kept saying.

I, like you, have seen the barrage of Oakley marketing material that has hit the internet in 2014. It includes the message that Oakley is “Disruptive by Design” and celebrates the company’s 30-year anniversary of releasing innovative products. In the early days, those products included motorcycle hand grips, goggles and performance sunglasses that were a hit with extreme sports athletes.

How do you know that you’ve been sufficiently disruptive since? I won’t play the game of what’s disruptive and what’s not, but I will say this. When your brand is healthy enough to get House of Cards frontman Kevin Spacey to narrate your video, you’re doing better than ok.

But a spokesman like Spacey, or even endorsers such as Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson don’t actually change a brand or a sub brand. They might change its perception, or even offer a new insight, but their affiliation does not by itself make something different.

So what actually makes Oakley different? I kept wondering this, and prodded team members with questions that I hoped would lead me to that answer. It didn’t hit home until I sat with Strange at the end of my visit that I finally figured it out.

At the core of Oakley’s business has always been an obsession with individual athletes, the hard-working, go-it-alone perfectionists who do whatever it takes to reach their goal. That’s when it occurred to me that while golf will never be labeled as an extreme sport, the demands golf places on its players are extreme. Few other sports need its athletes to be as precise and consistent as golfers need to be in the time it takes golfers to play 18 holes, and even fewer sports place those athletes on ever-changing courses and climates that are as variable as the ones golfers face.

Let’s look at Oakley’s marquee product in golf, its sunglasses, which became popular in part thanks to their use by David Duval and Annika Sorenstam in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Sunglasses were nothing new to the sport, but Oakley’s models were comfortable, precise and protective against the damage the sun and debris can do to a golfer’s eyes. It didn’t hurt, either, that people thought they were cool.

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Above is Bubba Watson’s outfit script for Sunday at the 2014 PGA Championship, with White Take 3.0 pants and the Markus Polo.

Now, Oakley is making even better sunglasses that are more adaptable and available in more styles. Its expanded into performance-first polos, jackets, accessories and golf pants that look the part on the course, but could just as easily be worn in yoga class. They’re that soft, lightweight, bendable and breathable. Again, nothing new, but they just perform a little better.

So why is Oakley in the golf business? Simply put, its team thinks it can make better apparel and accessories than the big guys. In fact, its team thinks that it already has. For the team of performance-obsessed sports product people, what’s cooler than that?

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Pingback: The Takeaway: A Look at the Golf Industry (November 2014) « Grow the Game Central

  2. stripe

    Oct 16, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I can get down with the clothes but will always stick with FJ.

  3. Gregg

    Oct 15, 2014 at 10:49 am

    At the high school golf level I see a lot of Under Armour clothing and very little Oakley stuff.

  4. Craig

    Oct 15, 2014 at 9:55 am

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Oakley lost it’s cool factor a long time ago. And Bubba has never been cool.

  5. hjsdl

    Oct 14, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Oakley makes very good products and had Rory not signed with Nike, Oakley might have been one of the top selling clothing brands in golf by now.

  6. Corny

    Oct 14, 2014 at 2:43 am

    I hate that O symbol, it gets in the way of everything, it looks so out of place and corny. It’s corny baby, yeah, corny!

  7. J

    Oct 14, 2014 at 12:44 am

    Wonder when Oakley makes a putter…. Bet they do.

  8. RumtumTim

    Oct 13, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Oakley hasn’t been “cool” since the LeMond days.

    • Ponjo

      Oct 14, 2014 at 5:25 pm

      That’s like saying Nike has not been cool since Tiger did what he did.

  9. Mike Belkin

    Oct 13, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    I do view Oakley as a disruptive brand especially in the golf space, but am surprised at how little we see Oakley product on our NCCGA college golfers. Part of that may be that NCCGA college teams are somewhat geographically East-coast centric, however.

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Whats in the Bag

Garrick Higgo’s winning WITB: 2021 Palmetto Championship

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Driver: Titleist TSi3 (9 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue 6 X

3-wood: Titleist TSi2 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Blue  7 X

Hybrid: Titleist TSi3 (18 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Atmos HB Tour Spec Blue 8 X

Irons: Titleist T100 (4-PW)
Shafts: Project X 6.5

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (50-12F, 56-14F, 60-06K10S)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400

Putter: Scotty Cameron Phantom X 5.5

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x (2021)

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Whats in the Bag

Chesson Hadley WITB 2021 (June)

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Driver: Titleist TSi3 (10.5 degrees)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ Limited 70 TX

3-wood: Titleist TS3 (16.5 degrees, B2 Setting)
Shaft: UST Elements Gold 8F5 X

bill-haas-witb-2020

Hybrid: Titleist TSi3 (20 degrees)

Irons: Titleist 620 MB (4-9)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold AMT White Tour Issue X100 (4-9)

Wedges: Vokey SM8 (48-10F, 52-12F, 56-14F, 60-08M)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400

Putter: Odyssey White Hot OG 2-Ball

Grips: Golf Pride MCC

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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Equipment

SST Pure: A deep dive into the technology

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Due to the manufacturing process, all golf shafts contain irregularities in straightness, stiffness, and roundness. And depending on how a shaft is aligned, the inconsistencies can adversely affect a shaft’s performance and consistency.

SST PURE was developed as a solution to this problem.

In simplest terms, the SST PURE (stands for it stands for Plane of Uniform REpeatability) process finds a shaft’s most stable orientation to minimizing twisting and off-line bending during the swing. This results in longer, straighter ball flight and more consistent performance in all PUREd shafts. Subjectively, PUREd shafts are often described as feeling “softer” than their non-PUREd counterparts.

For more background on SST PURE and PUREing on tour, we talked with SST founder Dick Weiss, independent rep Scott Garrison, who has the only SST Pure machine on a tour truck, and rep Arnie Cunningham.

Here’s what they had to say.

SST founder Dick Weiss

GolfWRX: Give us a 101-level overview of SST PUREing.

DW: What we do at SST is we analyze the irregularities in a shaft and based on various algorithms, various mathematic formulas, determine which is most asymmetric. Which is the one that’s causing the shaft to bend and twist out of line at impact and also in the first load – the transition between backswing and downswing, there’s a lot of movement in there also. What we do is identify that and mark it so it can be assembled into the club head.

It’s a technological development. It’s come about because we have computers today to do this. We don’t do it by eyeball. The computer doesn’t care who’s going to play it, what level of skill they have, what the material composition is of a shaft, who made it, what kind of ball you’re going to hit. That’s not what we do. What we are saying is we want to analyze a shaft to get it to perform to the best of its ability. You can take a shaft based upon irregularities in it – because shafts are not round or straight.

If you take any shaft and roll it on a table like a pool cue, you’ll see 90% of the time they’ll bounce along because they’re not round. There’s high points and low points, thicker and thinner areas. All we want to do is locate that and say, “Let’s make it work as an asset, let’s make it work as a support for a shaft so they don’t torque out or twist out at impact.”

GolfWRX: Can you give us a brief overview of exactly what goes on in the SST PUREing process?

DW: Sure. In the PUREing process, there’s approximately fifty-six steps you have to take assuming you do what we call a retro-PURE. There’s two ways to PURE. One is if you take a brand new head, a brand new shaft, PURE the shaft and assemble it into a head – that’s a brand new club. The second way would be what we call a retro-PURE. One is we take apart an existing club, keep the shaft, take the grip off, peel the tape off underneath the grip. We use our Weiss-Gibson Ultimate Extractor, we cut the ferrule off. We remove the shaft. We drill out the old epoxy in the head and acetone the head down. We then drill out any old epoxy that may be in the tip of the club. We turn down and clean the outside tip of the club if there’s any epoxy or residue from the epoxy itself where the ferrule may have been. We then go ahead and PURE the shaft. We come back and fit a ferrule, reassemble the club. We use a fast dry epoxy with shafting beads in it.

GolfWRX: Now what would you say to those who don’t believe in the SST PUREing process?

DW: In any technology, people question it which is good. People still don’t think the Earth is round. I think if they are honest with themselves – forget about Dick Weiss and SST as an entity. If they’re honest with themselves and they know anything about clubs whether they make them in their garage or professionally, they have to be able to tell that shafts can not perform the same just randomly or haphazardly assembled. Each shaft has its idiosyncrasies.

So I say for the ones that don’t believe in it, do a test yourself without any type of process. Take a club out, hit it, bring it back in, try to stay off the quadrants, 90 degrees left, 180, another 90, that’s not the way to do it. Move it 30 degrees to the left or right. Put it back in and go hit it. Flip the plane upside down, put it back in, and go hit it.

We’ve started doing a lot of internal testing is because everyone says, “Let us see some independent testing.” We said okay and did it. We took the tour van and five workers with us. We used clubs I hadn’t seen. They came from tour. We didn’t look for asymmetric products. We just took what was there, new shafts, new heads, some of the heads I’ve never seen before. It doesn’t make any difference. We’re happy to subject it to any tests.

Scott E Garrison

“Studies have shown the irregularities in shafts, and that causes offline shots. If you play pool at a bar, you’re going to take the straightest queue.”

GolfWRX: How do you showcase the benefits of SST PUREing when players visit your truck?

SEG: When I have a player in the truck, and I do a quick demonstration and put a shaft in the machine, within two minutes, they’re in…they’re hooked.

All the OEMs, they’re seeing their players want this done, so we’re PUREing up shafts and getting them back to [their trucks] so they can build PUREd clubs for their players.

GolfWRX: What performance examples can you give us where a player PUREd his shafts and saw tremendous improvement?

SEG: It was about seven years ago when I just finished re-gripping Ben Martin’s putter with a SuperStroke grip. As he was leaving, I asked him if he had ever had his clubs PUREd. He said, “No, but I had heard about it and was curious.” I showed him a set I was in the middle of PUREing and he was sold. It was Monday morning, the week of the RBC Heritage and it was pouring. He said to PURE his entire set. That’s what I did Monday afternoon. I ripped his gamers apart and PUREd the shafts and put them back together (a retro-PURE). He was leading the tournament, he shot a career-low round and finished third. He told me later how much better his mis-hits were.

Arnie Cunningham

GolfWRX: What’s the most obvious benefit of PUREing?

AC: It’s about dispersion patterns. Until a person can really dive deep into the numbers—and we’ve done it throughout the years at Golf Laboratories and its proved over and over that the dispersion pattern is better PUREd vs not.

GolfWRX: Are there any misconceptions about PUREing?

AC: Detractors might be looking for some miracle feel, but really, it’s about the dispersion and an improvement on the already good technology in shafts.

GolfWRX: Tell us about the USGA restrictions on PUREing.

AC: You’re stabilizing the golf shaft. You’re putting it in the best playing position possible. If you PURE a shaft, by USGA rules, you can not turn that shaft to allow for a draw or a cut. Just that rule tells me they know it works because they’ve tested and they’ve seen the difference in performance.

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