ORLANDO–There are, of course, several benefits that go along with becoming president of Nike Golf, but Cindy Davis says one thing that particularly enticed her was the future of the swoosh in golf.
“I so believe in longer term vision and where this brand is going to go,” said Davis, who took over from Bob Wood in that post last September.
Long term vision is a precious quality these days with the recession constantly getting in the faces of golf club manufacturers, particularly in the hard-hit United States. Davis says she is often asked about the challenges awaiting her in her new role.
“Here we are at the PGA Show and we’re about ready to launch a number of new products, which are supported with advertising, are supported with athletes, so we’re still using the same marketing mix to drive our business,” said Davis, adding that Nike has also expanded its research and development centre in Fort Worth, Tex., affectionately known as “The Oven.”
“People are still buying golf clubs and people are still playing rounds of golf,” she said.
Davis looks into the not-too-distant past in order to see what the future of Nike Golf might be. In 2002, it was a neophyte golf company with a brand better known for apparel and athletic shoes. How times have changed, according to Davis.
“We’re definitely more authentic,” she said. “We had this great brand and now, we’re taking this great brand and getting better and better at how we translate that to products for golfers. To make the kind of clubs we make in just under seven years time is phenomenal.”
It may be a tall order, but Davis and company plan to keep chipping away at the perception of Nike as a newbie among more established brands as she peers 10 years or so into the future.
“I hope we’re dominating. That’s what we believe – we’ll be the dominant brand,” she said, adding that Nike’s first hit into the No. 1 position in golf clubs could very well come in a market outside the United States.
“We think Nike Golf will be No. 1 first in the Canadian market. We’ve had tremendous success there, tremendous acceptance. Obviously, we’ve got a very strong team (in Canada),” said Davis, who named former Nike Golf Canada general manager Mike Francis to her old position as American GM recently.
A big part of Nike’s ascension among more established companies in the next 10 years or so will be its popularity among young people right now, which lays a strong foundation for the future, according to Davis, adding that more established, hardcore players are also noticing Nike products.
“We do resonate quite well with that younger golfer, no doubt about it, and younger could be 35, so the good news is that they’re growing up and Nike Golf is part of their consideration, so it’s part of the fabric of golf whereas – and I don’t want to date myself – it wasn’t when I was growing up,” she said.
“What’s happening with the core golfer right now is, frankly, that it’s product driven. There are two things that are in our favour – great product and the performance of our athletes.”
That last one should keep Nike in people’s faces throughout 2009. “There are three top stories in golf – the economy, the return of Tiger (Woods) and, I think, Michelle (Wie),” said Davis.
Davis admits to having no inside knowledge about when Woods will return from the knee surgery that followed his dramatic win at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. While he was definitely missed, Davis says Tiger stayed active with Nike.
“He was still involved in some customer events with us. We felt his involvement still, despite him not being on the stage. He was still very connected to what we were doing,” said Davis, adding that Nike has not given up on Wie despite injuries and inconsistent play since turning pro.
Now that Wie has made it through qualifying school and earned her LPGA Tour card, Davis sees a commitment.
“She’s hungry. She’s preparing. She’s working hard. If she has a win, I think she could have a lot of wins. We still think that she’s an incredible talent,” said Davis, applauding a player who provided the company with bonus exposure in Tiger’s absence.
Anthony Kim won twice and had eight top-10 finishes and provided a swagger that caught the attention of fans around the PGA Tour, particularly with his flashy belts that Davis says could be part of the Nike product offerings in the near future.
“From right out of college, he had been using some of our product and he wanted to be a Nike Golf athlete, so what does that say about the next generation of golfer?” said Davis.
“If you watched him on the Ryder Cup, he was the spark,” she added. “He, in many ways, is representative of that next generation of golfers. They’re athletes, they’re fearless and they just tee it up and let it go.”
As Davis tees it up in her new role, she also can’t let fear of the economy get in her way as she too looks to provide a spark for the swoosh.