I've interviewed Steve Pelisek, General Manager of the Titleist Golf Clubs Division, on a number of occasions and am always impressed by the insight we gain into the company's clubs, as well as the market as a whole.
I caught up with him again at a sunny Bearwood Lakes in England to find out how the Titleist 915 driver is going since we last spoke in January at the launch.
Hi Steve. What feedback have you had from golfers about the 915 driver now that it is selling through in the market?
The response has been great for the 915 driver. We are very pleased with the feedback we have had from golfers as we are coming into its first prime time season – it is the heart of the fitting season now and fitting is something that we have pushed very strongly with the 915 driver.
Golfers are surprised at the fact that their ball speed is going up and that the spin rate is coming down. In driver fitting those two characteristics are so measurable now, so it is fun that golfers can quickly see that the claims of more speed and less spin are true and that that combination will make the ball go farther.
Less quantifiable feedback comes regarding the look and feel of the product and that has been really good – we’ve seen a 'wow' factor from golfers at the how the driver looks.
We are getting better and better from an industrial design standpoint with the presentation and looks of our equipment and that builds on the good job we have always done on shapes and sounds.
The other thing we continue to see and we are slowly chipping away at, and this needs to be a slower process as it needs to be authentic, is through our focus on trial with the 915, more people are trying our products who previously didn’t think their games were suited to Titleist golf clubs given the better player reputation, realising that in fact the clubs are very easy to hit.
We’ve always embraced forgiveness, Moment of Inertia, whatever you want to call it, we have just always tried to do it in a package that looks preferable to our core audience. Every golfer will take forgiveness, but they want it in a package that looks and sounds and feels good to them.
So we are starting to get a little more wider credit for that, which is really cool.
Are the 714 irons you launched in 2013 still selling well?
Extremely well. It’s interesting that a hot driver always seems to get people interested in the rest of your range as well and our iron business is very good at the moment, exceeding our expectations.
We are committed to the two year product life cycles as we think it takes that long to honestly make a product that is better than what you had in the market as its predecessor.
So much of our product gets purchased and tried by fans of the brand with the same people buying each generation so we have to be careful that what we have to offer is legitimately better than what they have in their bag.
In the second year of that life cycle we sometimes worry that golfers will think that this is no longer new technology and that is when our message is always that this is our best technology. That has played well with the new customers that have been brought towards the brand by the 915 driver.
Which product categories have seen the biggest gains?
The biggest gains we are having in terms of new users is guys who have always played the Pro V1 or Pro V1x, have always played the drivers and used the Vokey wedges, now are also starting to play the fairway woods and the hybrids too.
Previously they were loyal Titleist guys who perhaps thought there was a better alternative in the market for these clubs, but now we are hearing that the 915 fairway wood and the 915 hybrid are the best ones that we have made by far.
We think the technology that is in the 915’s works extremely well from the turf. The ARC really works lower in the face giving even more incremental gains in the fairways and hybrids and so we have seen a real uptick in that market which is great.
Is it always the case that a new driver leads players to other products or do you sometimes see it the other way round too?
I think there is something about a driver you know. It seems to be right now that with the last 3 generations of drivers, the 910, 913 and now 915, we have seen a steady growth in our metal wood business and it has helped the second year of our iron life cycle measurably.
I've noticed that you do a great job of getting Titleist product into the hands of the right people on Tour having started with Woods, then McIlroy and now Jordan Spieth. How do you pick these guys and do you think the fact they played Titleist originally still helps your brand even after maybe they have moved on to play with another brand?
Firstly, I don’t think we necessarily pick them, they pick us. Jordan has been playing our stuff since he was 12 years old when he liked our brand, which could be because we like to position it as a brand for aspirational golfers which has resulted in guys like Tiger, Rory and Jordan playing our clubs when they are kids.
On top of that we have a team of people who work extremely hard, we call it our Global Leadership Team, and they take serious time and effort to find the right junior golfers around the world, we do a lot to promote junior competition in both traditional and emerging markets, which we think is essential for the long term health of golf.
Looking forward is there any one trend that is going to be big over the next year in any of the categories of clubs that you sell?
That’s a broad question right there. I think there are trends in every category.
With drivers launch conditions are big, to continue to find ways to refine them, increase speed and reduce spin. I think golfers are keyed into the fact now of the benefits of getting fitted to the driver to achieve the correct launch conditions and there is room to promote that further.
The same thing with fairways and hybrids. Basically we try to get not only maximum distance, but distance consistency. With the exception of your driver virtually every club in your bag is trying to hit the ball at the flag that means you have got to dial into a consistent distance. That is a big deal in metalwoods.
With irons we have a little concern over the “distance” iron thing that other brands are promoting. We are more interested in distance and trajectory consistency and control. Of course we want to be long, but we want to make sure that every club in your bag can hit a shot into the green and that will stop on the green and that you can do that repeatedly.
So in AP1 and AP2 for example, we like those blade sizes, the chassis of those clubs is a good size and both are well liked, so we try not to mess with them while at the same time ensuring that within that chassis the technology is as forgiving and as appealing from a sound viewpoint as we can be.
The iron team attempts to keep that same shape and chassis and make it better and with every generation. A combination of improved design and manufacturing means we can make the clubs better and better whilst sticking with the size of the irons as we know we already have a great position there.
Finally, if I could give you one wish for your business or for the market for 2015, what would it be?
Definitely trial and education. I wish more people would try all the stuff that is available to them. We have invested heavily in developing a global network of fitting centres and places where you can just come and try the clubs. Everything we make has an intended user and they have distinct features and benefits so it would be great for golfers to try all the stuff and take time to get correctly fit for it.
A classic example is the wedge category where there is so much opportunity for people to dial in the right distances and dial in the right bounce and grind that will genuinely improve their shot making. That would be my wish – try everything and get fit before you buy.