Earlier this year, Spalding Sports Worldwide, headquartered in Chicopee, Mass., sold all rights to the august Spalding name to Russell Athletics. Despite the recent remarkable success of Spalding sports balls containing built-in pumps, the current management decided to focus solely on golf and re-name the company Top-Flite, after its No. 1 selling product line.
According to Lou Tursi, Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Customer Relations, Top-Flite's strategy is to develop more of a Tour presence for Top-Flite balls and equipment in 2004, and to expand the Strata and Ben Hogan lines, which are also produced by Top-Flite.
The centerpiece of the "new" Top-Flite will be the introduction of the Infinity golf ball, according to Tursi. "Beginning in July, we launch a $10 million advertising campaign, which will be the single biggest product launch in the company's history. As part of this campaign, we will conduct a sampling program in 2,400 pro shops around the country, where players will get a free two-ball sleeve when they tee off. Hopefully they will like them so much, they'll buy a few sleeves at the turn."
The Infinity will have the largest core and softest cover of any Top-Flite ball. Forget about your old "Top Rocks." The Infinity will come in four flavors, including one called Buttery Feel. The new Top-Flite offering will compete directly with the popular Maxfli Noodle and Precept Lady/Laddie. Best of all, the price of these new balls is set at a paltry $17.99 per dozen.
To make room for the Infinity in the value-priced Top-Flite line-up, the XL2000 will be phased out and the XL3000 will come down in price. And if you insist on paying more for ammunition you'll eventually end up firing into the woods, you can opt for something from Top-Flite's premium line, Strata.
Strata's 2003 model is called the Tour Ace, which can be identified by the aces (spades, hearts, clubs and diamonds) adorning its façade instead of numbers. Aside from the glitzy marketing, the Tour Ace "is longer off the tee than the Ben Hogan ball [also made by Top-Flite] and feels great into the greens, but with less spin," says Tursi.
It may be coincidental, but Jim Furyk has been playing the Tour Ace this year, and so far he's ranked 8th on Tour in number of eagles per round, and 3rd in driving accuracy.
At the top of the Top-Flite food-chain is the Ben Hogan brand name, which marks its 50th year of production in 2003. As Tursi points out, "the Hogan brand name has been built up from high-quality irons. We didn't just slap the name on any product." Indeed, Hogan irons always have been some of the most visually appealing blades on the market.
Today under the Hogan name, Top-Flite has introduced the Carnoustie and Riviera wedge series, an all-new premium Ben Hogan golf ball, apparel, and bags. "Soon we will be introducing woods, too," promises Tursi.
With the Riviera ($79) and Carnoustie ($99) wedges, Top-Flite is taking dead aim at Cleveland, the 800-pound gorilla of the wedge market. "By the end of January, we had sold as many of the Riviera wedges as we thought we'd sell all year," admits Tursi. "And at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in February, we booked shipment of everything we shipped up through June." To round out this impressive line of scoring clubs, plans are in the works to introduce a third wedge series soon, which will retail for $119 each.
The highest-profile product addition to the Hogan line, however, is the new series of putters designed by none other than Bob Bettinardi, whose own line of premium, hand-crafted putters are played by a disproportionate number of pros on Tour, despite the fact that they receive no endorsement money to do so. The Ben Hogan by Bettinardi putters come in four different styles, from the BHB-X line ($270), to the BHB-XA line ($330) to the BHB-CC line ($400).
Most popular so far, however, is the Big Ben line ($270), which includes belly and broomstick models ($300). These putters feature hourglass-shaped heads milled from solid blocks of aluminum. Each head has a "bee-hive" center cavity, with a dozen or so holes bored through to put more weight at the putter face and in the back of the putter head.
Do these pricey flat sticks have a Monday qualifier's chance at a major in today's depressed golf market? Tursi thinks so: "So far, we can't make enough, which is good."
Top-Flite, in essence, is three golf companies in one. Top-Flite is the value-priced line, of which Strata is the premium brand. And Ben Hogan is the high-end line, which caters especially to low-handicappers.
It may be an uphill battle, but someday even the most craven brand-name idolaters might just celebrate scooping a Top-Flite out of a brackish pond. Heck, the ball used for the most lucrative single shot in golf history can't be all bad.
For more information on Top-Flite Golf Company, go to topflite.com. Comment on this story on our reader feedback page.