When Tim Clarke took over as General Manager of
the Wilson Staff golf division nine years ago, the
brand was arguably at the nadir of its first 100
years. The glory days when Wilson Staff bags filled
the fairways of the PGA Tour were long gone. In
fact, Wilson’s Tour presence had dwindled to
one player. Clarke made regaining Tour presence
his No. 1 priority – and got a serious reality check.
Clarke says he literally couldn’t pay pros to
play Wilson clubs.
“We tested our equipment with players and
couldn’t get anybody to play it and sign
up,” he said at the PGA Show in Orlando.
“For me, that was the eye-opener that this
was going to be a climb and a half.”
The rejection caused Clarke to re-order his
priorities and pump an extra $3 million into golf R
& D and revamp the golf division’s
entire innovation system. The payoff came last year
when pros playing Wilson gear notched wins on
three tours, including the PGA, and the golf division
turned a profit for the first time in Clarke’s
tenure. That allowed Wilson to salvage a happy
ending for its 100th anniversary in 2014.
At the PGA Show, Clarke sat down with
AmateurGolf.com to talk about the revival of the
Wilson brand and his hopes for the start of the next
What did reaching the century mark as a company
mean for Wilson golf?
Clarke (TC): In a brand that’s 100 years old,
you want to respect the past, live in the present and
plan for the future. The 100th anniversary was a
great opportunity to put a retro bag out and
celebrate that heritage. But that was a one-year
plan. Now we’re back on to the Wilson Staff
bag. But the 100 years was exciting. Had a great
year in a tough market. We won on the PGA Tour
with Kevin Streelman’s record-setting finish
at Hartford. We won on the Asian Tour with Padraig
Harrington at the end of the year, and we won on the
European Tour with Marcel Siem in the BMW event.
To have a win in each tour on the globe was pretty
exciting and a great way to close out the 100 years.
What the benefits/drawbacks of being a brand with
that much heritage?
TC: What you don’t want to do is hang on
to the past. You want to figure out where we can
play and win today. When I got this opportunity, I
asked, “Can we be successful?” If I
didn’t think we could be successful, I
wouldn’t have taken the job.Our advantage is
that the brand resonates with people. People have a
lot of experience with Wilson, whether that’s
your first ball glove, your first basketball or your
first tennis racket. And the crossover is strong. Now
2015 is kicking off our next 100 years. We’ve
innovated, and what our team has done is
What’s the priority for 2015?
TC: We’re focused on our product and
rebuilding our North American business, but whether
people know it or not, we’ve always been a
big, strong player in Europe – we’re the No.
4 iron brand in the UK. It’s bizarre to look at
a nine share in the UK and a two share here, but
we’re looking to grow that.
AGC: Wilson landed five products (a
driver, fairway, hybrid and two irons) on the Golf
Digest Hot List. What does that say about the
improvement of Wilson’s technology?
The Hot List gives us a tailwind. You still have to
execute. (But it shows) we’re earning back
integrity and respect. It’s still not where it
needs to be but our growth of Staff equipment is
growing at a fast clip and we that to accelerate in
2015. We’re the oldest original golf brand
still in competition. Titleist was 1932. We were
1914. But we never went away. And that’s a
credit to the brand. And we’re right in the
meat of the market now. We’ve eliminated a
lot of our low-end stuff.
Besides equipment, Wilson put a lot of thought into
its new ball, the Wilson Staff DUO. How does it
compare to the elite brands?
TC: It’s 29 compression points, which has a
lot of people chasing us. It’s super soft, and
other brands are trying to get into that space.
We’ve been in front of that curve all the
way. And we added the duo spin, which makes a
three-piece ball for that better amateur who needs a
little more green-side control. When we did testing,
we found 80 percent of golfers prefer a softer
product. It’s huge. The myth of playing a
hard ball because you’re a strong player was
true in wound technology, but not in solid-core
technology. All compression is, is an indicator of
feel. You want that and then, obviously, to maintain
distance. And that’s what we’ve done.
AGC: What are the challenges of competing in golf
when your company doesn’t specialize in it?
TC: Wilson is a sporting goods equipment company
that can compete in the golf space, but we are not
an elite golf brand that doesn’t have to worry
about all segments of players.I have to look at all
players and offer something everybody can get into
play, up to the Tour player. I think we’ve
had the same struggle as Nike has getting known for
authenticity in equipment because they
aren’t (recognized first as a golf brand).
AGC: You’ve added Tour pros, but you
consider Troy Merritt’s signing in particular
He came to us. It was beautiful. He tried the stuff
and thought he could win with it. When I first
started, guys wanted a lot of money because they
we worried the equipment might hurt their game.
We had to change our game. And we got the support
of our business plan and now it’s an exciting
time in our golf division.
What was the highlight of this year’s PGA
Show for you?
TC: At Demo Day, we were six deep at 15 bays
from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. We used to only have
tire-kickers who were waiting in line to try other
brands. This was a real shift. It’s what you
dream of, and all of a sudden you’re standing
there and it’s happening.
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