Endeavor: IMG Owners Scrap Planned IPO

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While IMG has a different presence in golf than in years past when they were known primarily for representing players, Mark McCormick’s brainchild remains a major player in tournament operations, licensing and consulting.

Purchased in 2014 by WME, the conglomerate scrapped its IPO at the last minute. The impact on golf is not clear, though a possible change in direction for the operation now known as Endeavor could lead to big changes.

From Ryan Faughnder and Stacy Perman in the LA Times on Endeavor leader Ari Emmanuel:

Emanuel built his reputation and that of Endeavor on a series of bold, risky moves and unexpected acquisitions, including Professional Bull Riders. The IPO slated for Friday was his biggest gamble to date, intended to catapult Endeavor into a global juggernaut, one that would shape the future of media and entertainment. Now that is all on hold and Emanuel is going to have to define a new future for the company.

Costco's Latest Foray Into The Golf Business Fizzles Fast

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MyGolfSpy made Costco’s original “K-Sig” ball a hit, insanity then ensued, lawsuits even happened and the new ball briefly put a dent in Titleist’s business until it became apparent Costco was selling a one-off run of Taylor Mades.

Now MyGolfSpy has exposed the latest version of Costco’s inexpensive ball as, uh, not up to snuff. Or being struck by modern equipment.

Costco is now refunding customers based on the MyGolfSpy testing. The Tweets and link to their latest pod discussing their findings.

AT&T: Stephenson Makes Exit Plan Known, Activist Investor Pounces And Lodges Proxy Fight

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And we in golf just want to know what will happen to one of the best corporate partners in the game.

The Wall Street Journal’s Drew FitzGerald, Shalini Ramachandran and Corrie Driebusch lay out in fascinating detail how AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson signaled his forthcoming exit and set off an activist investor proxy by Jesse Cohn of Elliott Management. The battle for AT&T is sure to have ramifications for golf down the road and more immediately, upcoming PGA Tour television contract negotiations where the company is reportedly prepared to offer a new golf-only channel.

The next day, Elliott Management issued a 23-page report that publicly questioned the logic of AT&T’s $49 billion takeover of DirecTV in 2015, shortly before cord-cutting accelerated, and its $81 billion deal last year to buy Time Warner, home of HBO and Warner Bros, only to replace almost all of its experienced entertainment bosses.

Elliott’s report Monday also questioned whether Mr. Stephenson’s presumed successor could successfully integrate the conglomerate into a force able to compete for advertising dollars against the likes of Google and win a costly battle for streaming supremacy with rivals like Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co.

Plans for Mr. Stephenson’s triumphant exit, as early as next year, now threaten to turn into a monthslong fight over the direction of the $280 billion telecom company and a test of the board’s loyalty to his long-term vision.

The challenge issued by Elliott pits the 59-year-old AT&T chief executive against a 39-year-old Wall Street manager known for pressuring his targets to shake up their operations.

The letter does not question any of AT&T’s investment in golf, which includes sponsorship of two PGA Tour events and the Masters. So there’s that.

Callaway Investing $50 Million Into Its Ball Plant After MyGolfSpy Exposes Issues

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First Costco and now Callaway.

It’s a fairly remarkable day when an independent equipment review site can turn a Costco ball into a must have, but even more remarkable to get a pledge from a major golf company to improve their production efforts.

In this unprecedented case, it’s MyGolfSpy having exposed an off-center core in a Callaway Chrome Soft and unleashing a firestorm in the equipment forums. Apparently there was something to it, since Callaway executives Sean Toulon and Alan Hocknell have since visited MyGolfSpy’s testing facility and pledged a $50 million investment to improve quality control in their ballmaking process.

They discuss how it all went down on their podcast and it’s pretty fascinating stuff, though I’m not sure as many golfers as they think were aware of their initial discovery and the outrage expressed by gearheads as they think.

Bloomberg: "The Disruption of the Golf Ball Market Is in Full Swing"

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Thanks to reader Glenn for sending Michael Croley’s Bloomberg story suggesting a shift in how people buy golf balls.

Direct-to-consumer models without cumbersome pro-golf contracts is the name of the game, with elements lifted from other sectors that have bypassed retailers and other outdated approaches. Golf Datatech says golf balls account for $420 million of the $5 billion equipment selling industry (anyone else think that sounds low?).

Anyway, the headliner is Snell, at $33 a dozen to Pro V’s going for $52, though Bloomberg’s story also notes several others like Vice Golf and OnCore.

Regarding Vice:

Instead, after seeing the success of Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s, and other consumer brands, they set out to give golf-ball marketing a makeover with cheeky commercials you’d expect from Old Spice or Geico.Vice sells a dozen balls for anywhere from $34 down to $11, if you buy in bulk. They come in lime green, neon red, and traditional white, or you can mix and match all three. And you can pair the brand’s logo—which rides the line between edgy and gaudy—with a picture of your own or a rival’s face. The company also sells flat-bill caps, golf bags, and waffle-knit towels and has teamed up with the NBA so basketball fans can tout their favorite team on the fairway.

Another competitor, Buffalo-based OnCore Golf Technology Inc., is taking a more technological approach. Its first ball had a hollow metal core, which helps drives stay straighter, and eventually forced the U.S. Golf Association to rewrite its rulebook. Its Genius ball, making its debut in the second quarter of 2020, will have an internal GPS to measure shot velocity, spin rate, total distance, trajectory, and apex, all while telling you how far you are from the green. Brokerage founder Charles Schwab joined as a shareholder in January, and the brand was renewed in April as the official ball of the New York State Golf Association. Its premium Elixr sells for $35 per dozen, but buying in bulk can drop it to $30.

Presumably the subscription model is next and why not for a product no one needs to buy in person unless they’ve run out mid-round.

Just thinking out loud here, but if these companies are eating into the major brands that would mean they are doing so based on product quality, marketing and value.

Will they grow or succumb and get taken over?

There would seem to be major ramifications should they remain independent and undercut the current model of golf ball sales built on professional golfer endorsements, counts and usage.

Latest In Tournament Hospitality: $15,000 Tiny House Set Up At Medinah

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And the BMW Championship has a taker!

Michael LoRe of Forbes explains the concept and sale of a $15,000 (and very architecturally sophisticated) mobile home on Medinah’s 14th tee. The “Tiny House” was rented for the week and the “glamping” experience features a surrounding area outside for entertainment.

Organizers of the BMW Championship wheeled in a “Tiny House” hospitality venue located at the 14th hole on Course 3 of Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Illinois. The 320-square-foot abode sleeps up to six people and comes equipped with electricity, running water and air conditioning. Other amenities in this unique offering include a kitchen area, closet organizer and bathroom.

A Medinah Country Club member spent $15,000 to stay in the “Tiny House” from Thursday’s opening round through Sunday’s final round.

“We’re always looking for unique ideas and different types of hospitality options, so we said let’s put one on the golf course and have it as a hospitality venue,” said Vince Pellegrino, senior vice president of tournaments for the Western Golf Association, which plans and manages the BMW Championship. “We put it up and had a member who purchased it for the week. It’s glamping at a golf tournament."

Readers Questioning Clubs That Start Over The Speed Limit, But Within Testing Tolerance

Callaway CEO Chip Brewer issued a lengthy statement to explaining the Xander Schauffele non-conforming driver situation at the 2019 Open.

Brewer’s admission that the company handed their player a driver over the 239 CT limit but within the tolerance limit did not sit well with some observers.

Reader Chris writes:

Geoff, I am staggered at this statement:

“We know Xander’s driver was conforming when he received it. Probably in the range of 245 – 250 CT. At the Open we tested it at 255 CT, still conforming but close to the limit. The R&A tested it at 258, one over the limit.

The limit is 239, with a tolerance of 18 presumably for exactly the sort of circumstances Brewer describes in the statement. To hand a player a club they know to be beyond the limit is extraordinary negligence!

And Scott on Twitter also noted this issue with an analogy:

It’s hard not to wonder if both Schauffele in revealing his positive test and Brewer in admitting the company handed a driver to their player over the limit, brought all of the scrutiny on themselves. Particularly given the likelihood of “CT Creep” as outlined by Brewer in his statement.

The CEO’s statement could also backfire given the shots at the governing bodies about their testing suggesting some sort of possible tampering or illegitimacy (“Part of the issue is the testing location, a tent on the back of the range, where folks not directly involved in the specific testing can walk in-and-out too freely.”). That alone could invite more scrutiny, more required disclosure and more headaches for the manufacturers. This is trending toward ERC 2.0 by challenging the competence and very generous procedures of the enforcers.

As I noted just after The Open, all of these parties would have been wiser to admit their mistake and expressed gratitude at the lack of serious punishment. Because now it sure seems like they’ve kept this situation alive and festering, perhaps even warranting more scrutiny, more consideration and maybe tighter testing.

Given that the governing bodies have wrapped up their distance study and may take action this fall, this situation could help them make a case that the equipment rules need tightening and more public disclosure of those who fail tests. That would be an amazing turn of events.

Callaway Studying "CT Creep" In Drivers, CEO Issues Lengthy Defense Of Failed Driver Test

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CT creep…is that…wait, there are no good, clean, family website jokes with that one.

I asked for a statement from Callaway last week to help clear up what was likely a slight change in Xander Schauffele’s non-conforming driver tested at The Open. Despite that, I was not one of the lucky ones to get CEO Chip Brewer’s lengthy statement, but my Golfweek colleague David Dusek did and prints it all.

As expected, it was a very minor issue turned into a drama by Schauffele who (A) blabbed publicly about a failed test that was otherwise unknown to press, and (B) should be traveling with a good back-up in case his gamer contracted, uh, CT creep.

The key excerpt from Brewer’s statement:

If anybody deserves blame or criticism for the driver test failure at the Open Championship, it’s us. We provide Xander his equipment. But in all fairness, I’m not sure we did anything wrong. We do everything in our power to design equipment that performs at the limit of USGA / R&A rules but does not exceed it. As long as I am in charge, we will never knowingly produce non-conforming equipment or condone its use, especially in tournament play.

“We test our drivers hundreds of times throughout the manufacturing process to make sure they are conforming. For tour product, we have a tour certification process that tests 100 percent of these products again at our facility prior to sending anything out to a player. We have also installed CT testing equipment on our primary tour trailers so we are now able to test in the field on both new and ‘played in’ parts, where high swing speed players could experience what we term CT ‘creep,’ and a driver that originally conformed could become, through play, non-conforming or deemed damaged into a non-conforming state. We are also doing fundamental research on managing or preventing ‘creep’ but more on that later.

“We know Xander’s driver was conforming when he received it. Probably in the range of 245 – 250 CT. At the Open we tested it at 255 CT, still conforming but close to the limit. The R&A tested it at 258, one over the limit. This sort of testing variation is going to happen. Because the R&A tested it over the limit, the driver was taken out of play and we replaced it with one that tested well within the limits. All before the event began and conforming with the rules of golf and intent of all the testing (both ours and the R&A’s).

Honma's Mark King Leaves Honma For Taco Bell

Erica Newburger of CNBC reports on Mark King taking the job as Taco Bell CEO, but oddly does not mention his current gig as leader of Honma’s North American operation. Instead, the focus was on his time at Adidas and Taylor Made.

Assuming you consider this a promotion, as many would, it’s rare for a golf executive to move up in the corporate world.

I’m not sure what else it says given the world of boards, headhunters and “C-level” hires, but there is one less prominent voice in the manufacturing community to join the distance debate likely to occur this fall. King had a range of views on bifurcation over the years and as I noted when he was named an advisor to Honma, a poor track record in the later years of his Taylor Made run.

He will be replaced by John Kawaja, reports Jonathan Wall:


How Hollis Cavner Got The PGA Tour Back To Minnesota

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The Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan does a wonderful job highlighting the career and efforts of Hollis Cavner, the well-liked longtime tournament director who built the Champions Tour’s 3M Championship into this week’s new PGA Tour event, the 3M Open.

Besides detailing how the TPC Twin Cities has evolved from the first time he showed it to Arnold Palmer, the story largely centers around Cavner and his team’s effort to bring the PGA Tour to Minnesota via his Pro Links Sports.

Cavner ran senior or Champions Tour events in Minnesota through last year, while constantly working to land a PGA Tour stop for Minnesota.

“That actually started back in the ’90s,” he said. “With Arnold and everybody else we worked with, when we were building the TPC we always laid it out for a PGA Tour event. We didn’t need all of this room for a Champions Tour event.”

That spaciousness will come in handy this week. For the last few years of the Champions Tour’s 3M Championship, Cavner didn’t charge admission. For the 3M Open, he has recruited a remarkably strong field and the Zac Brown Band to draw paying audiences to Blaine.

Cavner did so with relentless networking and old-fashioned hospitality. He played host to decision-makers and celebrities at his home in Augusta, Ga., during the Masters, and leaned on his reputation as someone who treats players well at his tournaments.

The field is headlined by Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Phil MIckelson.

MyGolfSpy's Comprehensive Ball Testing Shows 17.43 Yard Difference Between The Longest And Shortest Performing Golf Balls On The Market

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The gang at MyGolfSpy has undertaken an extensive testing study of all major golf balls on the market and boy is it one Hot List!

The same folks who elevated the Kirkland ball from Costco to cult status still say that’s a nice value, but the Snell MTB-X appears to be the new MyGolfSpy hero of the golf ball world while Callaway’s Chrome Soft ball landed on the list as the shortest flying ball in their testing, 17 yards behind the Snell.

So much for the statement that all of these balls are just about the same these days. Their key conclusions:

  • Driver Distance (115 MPH): The average carry distance between the shortest and the longest ball in our test is 17.43 yards.

  • Driver Distance (85 MPH): The average carry distance between the shortest and the longest ball in our test is 7.6 yards.

  • Wedge Spin: There is an average of 1425 RPM difference from highest spinning to the lowest spinning ball in our test.

If that is not enough to convince you, consider this; at the fastest speed tested, the distance between the longest single ball and the shortest in the test was an astonishing 38.77 yards. For most golfers, that’s a 3+ clubs difference.

The ball that rolled back the ball! Without trying. Intentionally.

A few of their other Tweets that will undoubtedly have the industry buzzing:

They will be discussing their results on May 1 via YouTube:

"New York Lawmakers Tee Up Tax Bill That Takes a Swing at Golf Courses"

Thanks to all who sent Keiko Morris’ Wall Street Journal story on a New York bill to give local governments the option to assess and tax golf courses based on “highest and best use”. Morris suggests the bill could be the undoing of many golf courses.

Business owners and industry representatives fear the measure would usher in tax hikes for many facilities, prompt closures of courses and hurt local tourism and hospitality markets at a time when the sport faces stiff competition to gain more fans.

“Home builders are watering at the mouth at a lot of golf course land and would pay 10 times what it’s worth as a golf course,” said Jay Karen, chief executive of the National Golf Course Owners Association. “If all of the sudden we saw tax bills at golf courses increasing by a factor of 10, you are going to see an acceleration of golf course closures.”

The bill’s Democratic sponsors, Sen. David Carlucci and Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, and proponents say it is about golf courses, especially country clubs with high-end amenities, paying their fair share of taxes.

The bill may have been inspired in part by fights with the Town of Ossining’s valuation of Trump National Westchester ($14 milion) vs. the Trump organization’s estimate (10 percent of that). The club was valued at over $50 million by President Trump in federal financial disclosure filings.

The other course feuding with Ossining is Sleepy Hollow. The club’s attorney says its market value is $20. That’s twenty, as in 2-0.

Sports Betting Legalization Effort Lagging, Only Six States In So Far

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Given golf’s interest in legalized sports betting, the early returns from states that were all in combined with lagging efforts by most states, suggests the expected windfalls may be slow to come, writes Timothy Williams of the New York Times

It’s well worth reading if you know anyone banking on sports betting windfall. The PGA Tour has largely positioned their interest on fan engagement via fantasy leagues and the mobile experience, so the early struggles with sports books as outlined by Williams may pertain less to golf. Then again, if legalization only happens in a few states, that will slow the inclusion of any expansion on any platform.

The reluctance of state lawmakers, gambling analysts say, is based on a growing consensus that legal sports betting may not bring the windfall that economic forecasters predicted only a few months ago.

“There were a lot of people who didn’t know what they were talking about,” said Allen Godfrey, the executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, which oversees the sports betting ventures around Tunica.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision last May, which raised the prospect of hundreds of millions in new tax revenue, just six states have given final approval to allow legal sports betting. In a seventh state, New Mexico, Native American tribes have begun offering sports betting with federal approval.

"Money driving PGA Tour gravy train"

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Part 1 of Ron Green Jr.’s eventual two-parter looking at sports betting coming to golf is worth checking out to understand what the PGA Tour has in mind.

Two things stood out to me in Part 1, starting with this on sports betting in the U.S.:

Of that estimated $150 billion wagered, approximately 2 percent – $3 billion – is bet on golf.

Monahan said making money off legalized sports betting is not the main reason the PGA Tour is invested in what will be a new world order. The hope is to get one-quarter of 1 percent of the money wagered on the PGA Tour. That’s approximately $7.5 million annually if the estimates of what’s being bet are accurate.

That seems like a modest goal and modest amount given how the Tour has invested in various programs in anticipation of legalized sports gambling. Hardly a gravy train, but maybe this is the most conservative estimate?

Then again, if it’s about living under par, i.e. engagement…

“What that’s going to do is give fans the ability to not only bet on the winner and the low score of the day but you’re going to be able to bet much more granularly,” Levinson said.

“You’re going to be able to bet shot by shot. You’re going to have a situation where fans are going to be locked in and engaged throughout the competition. It’s going to be a fun way to bet.

“Our sport is unique in that we have 72 balls in the air at any given moment as opposed to one. For people who like to engage in sports betting and may not be interested in the PGA Tour golf, this is going to be a really fun sport to get engaged with.”

Levinson is one of the tour’s sharpest minds, so I trust that he’s seeing things to make them believe shot-by-shot betting will be fun and functional.

Our first glimpse into the merging of a match and stats came at last fall’s match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. As slow as golf is, the match did not seem to move slowly enough to assess a shot and the player’s stats before placing a bet in time. But that may change with better-designed apps that react by crafting a wager immediately after a shot has come to rest, sending us a phone notification of the
”opportunity” and making the bet option fun and fast.

"The emergence of PXG and others is indicative of how golf and golfers have changed in the decade following the last U.S. recession."

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I was thinking that PXG’s driver price drop signaled a weakening of the high end club market, but as WSJ’s Brian Costa writes, Honma’s entry into the U.S. and other signs suggest an expansion. (Thanks reader JB for this.)

There was this from Mark King, ex-Taylor Made CEO:

“How do you justify these prices? How do you justify the price of a Lamborghini?” said Mark King, the former chief executive of TaylorMade who is now a consultant to Honma. “People don’t understand what’s under the hood, nor do they care. There is a certain status it represents.”

And yet…

U.S. retail sales of golf equipment grew 8% from November 2017 to November 2018, at $2.6 billion, according to market data compiled by NPD Group. Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst for the company, said that growth was largely driven by low-cost, entry-level gear.

Higher-end clubs were not included in NPD’s data because they are not sold through retailers. But Powell said the emergence of the category is comparable to that of ultra-premium bicycles that sell for $10,000 or more.

“I think all of this is being driven by the boom in baby boomers retiring,” Powell said. “You’ve got some who are saying, ‘I always wanted to have a custom-made bike or a really high-end set of golf clubs, and now that I’m no longer working, I’m going to splurge a little bit.’”

PXG was included in the piece and Costa included this intriguing predictions that revenues would rise on the lower driver price.

PXG still isn’t profitable. Parsons said it had revenues of around $80 million in 2018—roughly at break-even—and expects to grow by 50% or more this year by opening more stores and slightly reducing prices. But it has already gained wider appeal—including among an array of pro golfers—than many in the industry initially expected.

And as Costa notes, with the economic divide growing, so might the high-end market.

TaylorMade And PXG Settle Suits With Promises Of Patent "Cross-licenses"

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Fascinating to see the two manufacturers settle and essentially announce they are both using the same technology, at least in the eyes of the patent world.

What would Old Tom make of this from David Dusek’s Golfweek.com item:

First released in 2015, the original PXG 0311 irons are hollow with thermoplastic elastomer injected into the empty chamber behind the hitting area.  The company says the TPE increases the durability of the thin face while enhancing feel and sound. PXG irons also have tungsten in the toe to lower the center of gravity and shift it to the center of the face. The company’s new 0311 GEN2 irons are designed in the same way.

TaylorMade’s P790 irons are hollow, then filled a proprietary material the company calls SpeedFoam. They also have tungsten added to the toe.

The statements from PXG and TaylorMade:

Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG) and TaylorMade Golf Company jointly announced today that they have reached a settlement of the pending patent litigation and related patent disputes between the parties. Under the terms of the agreement, each company will have specified rights to make club products under patent cross-licenses.

David Abeles, TaylorMade Golf’s CEO, said, “I’m pleased that we were able to reach an acceptable and amicable resolution to put this this case behind us so we can continue focusing on bringing industry leading equipment innovations to the golfer.” 

Bob Parsons, PXG’s CEO, said, “As a golf equipment innovator, PXG will continue to pursue research and development and obtain patents for our novel club designs in the iron technology space. We will not hesitate to assert those patents in the future.” 

Details of the settlement are confidential.

Parsons wins 2&1?

Honma's Mark King: Pro-Bifurcation And Lamenting Multiple Driver Launches

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Adam Schupak talks to ex-TaylorMade CEO Mark King about his role at Honma USA and more.

A couple of noteworthy quotes include his admission of abusing the annual driver release with multiple drivers unveiled in one year. But he stands by the approach of a new driver every year for the 20% who will pay.

MK: That we went so fast. My last 2-3 years at TaylorMade I don’t think the model was wrong. I think we abused the model a bit. Every time sales dipped a bit, we launched a new product. I wish we had shown more discipline. If you don’t have anything that makes the club different, you should probably wait. That said, I think one-year lifecycles when done properly is still the best way because I do think 20 percent of the golfers buy 80 percent of the equipment. Those 20 percent want to buy something unique and different ever year.

Mark him down for bifurcation, still!

AS: Where do you stand on the great distance debate going on in golf?

MK: You still have to think about the masses. I’m in the business of selling clubs to them and it’s the hardest game in the world. That’s why anything we can do to make it easier, I’m all for. That’s why I’ve always been OK with bifurcating the Rules of Golf.

B Speak Alert: Pillsbury Is Back, Better Than Ever And Unveiling New Jargon Gems!

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One of the real maestro’s of B-Speak is back on the golf stage as Club Corp CEO hired David Pillsbury and the time away has done wonders for his vocabulary.

While he paints in many of the best modern colors—employee partners, speed to market—Pillsbury unfurled some new modern classics discussing Club Corp’s initiative with BigShots, a family golf center concept.
While broadening “the top of the funnel” and a “cradle to grave strategy” gave me goosebumps, it’s the concept of friction that most astounds.

“Interest in golf has never been higher. The problem is friction. There’s too much friction when someone wants to convert interest…”

It’s not cost, difficulty or time, people. It’s friction!

Enjoy:

Market Research Group: Golf Sales Up 8%

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Market researchers NPD Group put out a release saying that golf retail “experienced a significant uptick in sales over the last 12 months.” Thanks reader JA for catching this bit of good news for the golf business:

Golf sales in the mass/sporting goods retail space generated $2.6 billion and grew by 8 percent in the 12 months ending November 2018, after facing declines the year prior, according to The NPD Group.

"The macro environment for golf has been in a turbulent state, fueled by Golfsmith's bankruptcy, major brands cutting back on their golf business, and courses closing. But today, we're starting to see normalization in the market as those deep holes are now being filled," said Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry advisor, Sports, The NPD Group. "Major sports retailers are now investing in golf to pick up some of the business, and brands are also placing emphasis on the category to spur innovation."     

All golf product categories grew in the last 12 months. Comprising around 50 percent of total market sales, golf clubs grew by +7 percent. Sales increases were also seen across balls (+6 percent), gloves (+7 percent), accessories (+21 percent), and training aids (+13 percent).

Yes, someone tracks training aid year-to-year sales.