Bridgestone Golf is pushing hard to regain the number two position in the ball market behind Acushnet’s (NYSE: GOLF) Titleist and Pinnacle brands. They relinquished the second spot to Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY) on the strength of player acceptance of Callaway’s Chrome Soft line and Bridgestone’s retreat from what had originally put them there. Callaway parlayed Chrome Soft to a 16.5% market share which is good but not as good as Bridgestone had done in the chase to reel in Titleist.
At one point Bridgestone could claim a market slice approaching 20% after growing their ball sales by 2 ½ times.
A management change in 2015 plus what appeared to be a loss of focus in the marketing department saw the Bridgestone line of balls sink to also-ran status. It is true they still have a good lineup of golf balls and they certainly made a splash with the signing of Tiger Woods in Dec. 2016 but still market share has been declining. (We liked the premium-priced Tour B series as soon as it came out and the e6 series is consistently rated as among the tops in its less-than-$25 distance ball category.)
The problem is Bridgestone left the successful ball-fitting strategy that closely engaged old and new customers for a plain-Jane me-too approach that even the Woods presence in ads and on packaging couldn’t overcome. Bridgestone is now fourth in ball sales behind TaylorMade Golf.
Things for the Covington, Georgia based company are changing though. Dan Murphy has taken over as president and CEO, returning after leaving in 2015. In his previous tenure as vice president Murphy had been a leader conceiving and implementing the original ball-fitting program.
The other factor, and recognizing consumers place limited emphasis for buying decisions on “name” endorsements, is the list of Bridgestone staff professionals though small is impressive: Brandt Snedeker, Bryson DeChambeau, Fred Couples, Matt Kuchar and Tiger Woods on the PGA TOUR and Cheyenne Woods and Lexi Thompson on the LPGA Tour.
During 2018 the staff compiled eight wins including most significantly Tiger Wood’s victory at the TOUR Championship to mark his return to competition. He plays the 3-piece Bridgestone TOUR B XS ball which features a gradational compression core and better aerodynamic performance than the preceding B330 X model from Bridgestone’s improved Dual Dimple design of the urethane cover.
Bridgestone can also boast of a second end of season championship by a staff player with Lexi Thompson taking the CME Group Tour Championship playing the TOUR B X ball, like the TOUR B XS but with a firmer cover for less spin. The other winners were all on the PGA TOUR:
Bryson DeChambeau – Memorial Tournament, Northern Trust, Dell Technologies and Shriners (TOUR B X)
Brandt Snedeker – Wyndham (TOUR B X)
Matt Kuchar – Mayakoba (TOUR B X)
A non-staff player Gary Woodland was victor at the Phoenix Open playing a TOUR B X.
A pleased Murphy commented, “By any measure our Tour Team had a phenomenal year in 2018. At Bridgestone Golf our Tour Team strategy is one based on quality not quantity. By achieving more wins per capita, per player, than any other company this year, we have demonstrated that our technology and performance is second to none and our stable of players is best-in-class in the game.”
Golf industry observers know selling equipment is not just about having great technology or famous players’ endorsements nor even the flashiest advertising. Selling clubs and balls is really about the perception of the playing and paying golfers that a ball goes farther or a club hits it farther and gets closer to the hole for a price the golfer can rationalize.