B A C K G R O U N D E R
Born and raised in the panhandle of Florida, Adam Rehberg worked as a Golf Professional for nearly 10 years before accepting a job at Bridgestone Golf in the Research and Development department. After spending four years in R&D, he made the transition to Marketing where he got to talk about his favorite subject: Bridgestone Golf Balls.
T H E R E H B E R G S T O R Y
The unique transition from Research & Development (R&D) to Marketing taught me many things. From R&D, I was able to learn all the intricacies that make a golf ball do what it does. How different polymers effect performance characteristics from tee to green. Working with the best players in the world and being able to listen to their takes on golf ball design and what they need for their game. Hearing Nick Price talk about solid core technology from Precept absolutely blew my mind! He still gets giddy when he talks of the Precept EV SPIN performance during his dominate stretch in the 90s. That perspective flows all the way down to the everyday golfer. Crafting precise balls for what the weekend golfer craves gives me just as much pleasure and excitement. Having moved to Marketing allows me to better convey my joy of the golf ball and how it helps a golfer’s game.
MATT WARD: What separates Bridgestone from your competitors?
ADAM REHBERG: I think the thing that separates us from the competitors is our focus on the consumer that actually uses the golf ball. We don’t put our focus on only developing balls for the Tour player — then selling down to the consumer. Although we obviously do sell the B330 and B330S that are used on Tour. But we also make a wide variety of golf balls that service the average consumer. At Bridgestone, we really focus on producing something that is the best for the consumer. We’ve gone out there and collected over 2 million swings during over 300,000 fittings that we can analyze with our R&D department and study what the user’s doing with the golf ball and design products that fit the everyday golfer and helps them play better golf.
MW: You are in a field in which one company — Titleist — has been the 800-pound gorilla in the room for quite some time. How does Bridgestone change that narrative?
AR: Titleist obviously holds the title of #1 golf ball and that’s been based on the way they market their product. They do a good job of creating that demand based on Tour players using their golf balls. Every brand has a ball that is played at the highest level. It’s not anything unique to Titleist. They just have the most guys on Tour. With Bridgestone, what we’ve done to maintain our top-3 position in terms of market share is focus on servicing the average user. While we do still service Tour pros, our primary focus is on the consumer. We want to focus on making the best ball for those who are actually putting a personal investment in our product, not just the guys on Tour who are under contract with us. With Titleist, most of their consumers are purchasing a ball that’s built for the Pros to play, not the average golfer.
MW: What’s the single most important item golfers of all levels believe is critical for them in selecting a golf ball?
AR: It’s hard to choose one single thing that is most important. What golfers really need to do is get fit for a ball and make sure that what their playing fits their style, in all aspects of their game. A huge misnomer is that Bridgestone only cares about what happens off the tee and nothing could be further from the truth. During our ball fittings, we test the ball with a driver, but we are also picking the brain of the user trying to figure out what they need around the greens, what kind of approach they use, etc. The most important thing for consumers is to make sure all aspects of the ball work for their game. We try to do a good job with how we package our products, trying to let the consumer know the characteristics of the ball and how that will affect their game.
MW: Explain the newest golf ball developments — the e6 series - and what they do beyond what’s been done previously?
AR: We’re really excited about the new e6 series. What we did was look back at all the data we had from users of past e-series balls to figure out what exactly they needed. This ball definitely services a different demographic than a Tour player. Tour players want spin and control from every club through driver. Your average golfer really wants to focus on driver distance, but not just distance – they just want to keep the ball straight and hit the fairway. They want to hit more greens. The e6 is really the first and only series designed for straight distance. While the e6 Soft offers that soft feel on every shot for those who want extra control and the e6 Speed gives really fast ball speeds off the club face for a little extra distance, both balls provide that balance of distance and accuracy that the average golfer needs.
MW: Do PGA / LPGA endorsements sway consumers and does the expense paid by companies for such a connection really add to the bottom line for companies?
AR: I think there is a smart way to have Tour players implemented in to your program. A lot of companies have a lot more Tour players than us. We’re probably on the low side as far as guys, but we really set out to find people who work with our brand and speak to our users. We want people who want to play our golf balls, whether they’ve heard about us through other Tour players or whatever it may be. There are numerous players on both the PGA and LPGA that we don’t have contracts with that play our balls just based on performance. We keep our Tour staff small on purpose, so for us it definitely pays off. We have Fred Couples out there with Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker. We have a couple of young guys like Hudson Swafford and Bryson DeChambeau and a ton of Web.com Tour guys. As far as signing a huge amount of guys just to have the numbers, that will never be Bridgestone. In terms of connecting to the bottom line, our guys pay off fantastically. Other companies I can’t speak for, but I don’t know how on earth they pay for all those Pros. More power to them.
MW: Customer service is a stated aim for most companies. How does Bridgestone define the term and what steps do you implement to see it happens consistently?
AR: Customer service is all about everything running smoothly. Social media is a great outlet for connecting with the customers. Between myself and the rest of the ball fitting staff — someone is always on the Bridgestone Golf Twitter account trying to reach out and answer questions. We have the unique advantage of having our entire golf ball operation located at one facility, from the engineers to the sales staff to the production manager. Where other companies may have to communicate across thousands of miles and multiple time zones to try to solve any customer problems that might arise, often times we don’t even have to pick up a phone. If someone needs a rushed order, whether that be a consumer or one of our green grass accounts, we can handle that problem quicker and more efficiently than anyone else.
MW: If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
AR: I would try to encourage more people to try 9 and 12-hole rounds. I wish the golf industry could find a way to make golf less time consuming. Costs are coming down and will continue to come down, but I know personally the biggest obstacle between myself and the golf course is time. Working full-time with a kid at home, it’s tough to find four, five, six hours to fit in a round. It can also be intimidating for someone who’s never played before.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
AR: Came from my grandfather. A very smart man and one of the biggest things he didn’t do was talk a lot. One of the things he always told me was, “You don’t have to always be the one who says the most in the room, but you do need to be the one who listens the most.” I think in today’s day and age, a lot of people feel the need to talk non-stop and give their opinion. Everyone wants to be the professor standing in front of the whiteboard. A lot of times it’s best to just sit and absorb what everyone else is saying.
MW: Golf is attempting to grow the game beyond the impact that Baby Boomers have provided for quite some time. What game plan should those in golf follow to get Millennials, minorities and women to take up the game and sustain their involvement?
AR: I think the biggest advancement in trying to court Millennials is the increased presence of data. You see the Arccos and Game Golf’s of the world with round tracking, stats and all of that cool stuff – I think that’s a big draw for younger generations. Millennials are ahead of the curve with everything technology and app wise. I’m technically a millennial, but I’m kind of on the edge. I just slipped in there, but even I’m late on a lot of the innovations. I think in terms of attracting the average to below average golfer, the social aspect of these technologies is huge. Just look at what Top Golf has done to get a brand new of demographic of players to walk through the door. I’ve heard that nearly half the people who walk though their doors have never played golf before. If you ran a course and half of the people who played in a given year were new golfers, you’re mind would be blown. It ties back in to courses offering shorter rounds. Whatever courses can do to offer more fun and help keep hold of ever-shortening attention spans is how the game will grow.