The New Ben Hogan: Does This Hawk Have Wings?
“The most important shot in golf is the next one.” – Ben Hogan, aka “The Hawk”
Written By: John Barba
Ben Hogan was one part Zen Master and two parts ball striker during his life. “The Hawk” left us in 1997, and the legendary company that bore his name went to Golf Purgatory in 2008. But 2015 marks the return of the Ben Hogan Equipment Company, courtesy of Terry Koehler, Eidelon and SCOR.
Hogan’s “next shot” is finally here. Will it find the green?
So What’s In A Name?
“Your name is the most important thing you own. Don’t ever do anything to disgrace or cheapen it” – Ben Hogan
Golf marketing today is, and with a little digging you’ll find always has been, all about distance. The new Ben Hogan is taking a different, more “Hawk-like” approach with its brand message:
Precision is back.
“When Mr. Hogan started his company (in 1953), it was with the simple statement that he thought he could build a better golf club,” says Koehler. “That drives us as well. This isn’t about ‘nostalgia,” but rather about building better golf clubs for those who share our ideals that golf is a game of accuracy. If you play the game, you want to hit better shots more often.”
Sounds great, but is resurrecting a dead, albeit iconic, brand an act of supreme confidence and market insight or one of incredible folly?
And we’re not talking table stakes here, either. The popular SCOR brand is gone and Koehler and crew are all-in, betting all their chips on a pair of Hogan’s.
The Legacy Continues…Finally
If you’ve been paying attention even just a little over the past year, you know the Koehler/SCOR/Hogan story, but for the sake of the narrative here’s a quick rehash:
- 2003: Callaway buys Hogan & Top-Flite brands out of bankruptcy
- 2008: Callaway mothballs the Hogan club brand
- 2012: Perry Ellis buys the Hogan brand
- 2014: Koehler contracts with Perry Ellis to reintroduce Hogan branded equipment
- 2015: Fort Worth 15 irons and TK 15 wedges debut at the PGA show
To say launching a new equipment line in the current golf climate is risky is like saying Mr. Hogan could hit the ball a little.
“This is not just some ‘brand’ we are dealing with here. This is a real man’s legacy. We take that very seriously. The opportunity is enormous, and the challenge rather daunting. Not because of market share or financial gain, but because of who Mr. Hogan was to so many, and to us.” – Terry Koehler, Ben Hogan Equipment Company
So what do we make of the new Hogan irons and wedges? For starters, they’re 1025 forged carbon steel and the design looks like a cross between SCOR’s wedges and the last great Hogan blade, the 1999 Apex.
The look is straightforward and classic. After all, Hogan himself said “I don’t like the glamour, I just like the game.” No glamour here – just a clean, simple blade, but with plenty of SCOR built in.
Where Have All The Numbers Gone?
A shot that goes in the cup is pure luck, but a shot to within two feet of the flag is skill” – Ben Hogan
Hogan touts “progressive weighting” through the set, stating a “matched set of irons shouldn’t really match at all.” Each iron in the set looks slightly different from the other. In Hogan-speak, each iron is uniquely shaped and weighted so that “the long irons are forgiving, mid irons are accurate and the scoring clubs are dart-throwers.”
But if you’re looking for the 7-iron, you’ll be disappointed.
There are no 7-irons. Or 6-irons. Or 4-, 5-, 8- or 9-irons either. There are no iron numbers on the soles at all, just lofts.
What in the name of Henny Bogan is going on here?
“We saw it [lofts instead of iron numbers] as the only way to bring real precision back to the irons category,” says Koehler. “Haven’t the numbers on irons been rendered relatively meaningless to the golfer, when the loft of the ‘six-iron’, for example, in the 2015 product lines range from 34 degrees all the way down to 27, with lengths also varying by an inch or more?
“I think Mr. Hogan would see this strengthening of lofts rather puzzling. To him, it was always about precision, the ability to place the ball where you want it, and get it there in the right manner.”
#RidonkuPrecise or McLean Deluxe?
“Carefully replace that divot, son. I plan to be here every round” – Ben Hogan (to his caddy during a practice round at Merion, 1950)
So what we’re talking about here is 44 different clubs in the offering, for every loft from 20* all the way to 63*.
44 unique clubs.
Just how precise do you have to be?
“With everyone trying to make the longest-hitting six-iron, lofts have been compressed at the long end of the set, and widened at the short end,” Koehler says. “The ‘typical’ set of irons has four clubs to cover lofts from 21-30 degrees, and only three from 35-45 degrees. So the golfer – whether a tour pro or recreational player – has less than at least twice the distance difference between his short irons as with the longer irons. I cannot find a way to make sense of that, if your goal is to play precision golf.”
The loft concept is intriguing, but it’s also polarizing. A friend for whom I have great respect actually said the following:
“I know I carry my 7-iron 160. What am I supposed to do with these? Learn a whole new number?”
“It’s no more confusing than any new set of irons,” Koehler says. “Your new lofts will be different than your old ones, so you have to learn a whole new distance chart regardless, but that only takes a few rounds. With our approach, you are simply orienting a distance to a loft number, rather than a ‘6’ or ‘8.’”
Does today’s golfer really want more precision than distance? Maybe McDonald’s can give us some perspective.
Remember the McLean Deluxe? McDonald’s introduced it years ago after focus groups claimed they’d prefer – and pay for – a “healthier alternative.”
The McLean Deluxe failed miserably for two simple reasons – people who eat at McDonald’s don’t go there for “healthier alternatives,” and people who want “healthier alternatives” don’t eat at McDonald’s.
Distance sells. It’s sexy, it’s an easy message for marketing departments to deliver and an easy message for the average golfer to absorb.
“Precision” is like eating your vegetables: you know it’s good for you, but pizza and cake are way, way more fun. For the “precision” message to resonate, Hogan will need to target a very specific niche with a very specific – and logical – message.
“Look at it this way, Mr. Hogan had seven clubs in his bag that went less than 160 yards. The modern tour player has only three or four. But tour players hit almost 2/3 of their approach shots with an eight iron or less. Our research indicates most recreational players do as well. Why would anyone want only 1/3 of their clubs for 2/3 of their shots?” – Terry Koehler, Ben Hogan Equipment Company
Lofts over numbers is part of the precision message and, from a marketing perspective, is a sound point of differentiation only if it matters to the intended audience. If you’re savvy enough to realize Company A’s irons are two-clubs longer largely due to jacked-up lofts, then Hogan is betting you’re savvy enough to realize the club number itself is meaningless.
Will it resonate? We’ll see…
Go Pro Or Don’t Go At All…
You’re probably anxious to give these new Hogan’s a whack or two. You should be. They’re a pretty good feeling iron.
You might want to cool your jets a bit, though.
Hogan’s won’t be in Dicks, Golf Galaxy or Golfsmith. The plan is to sell through pro’s and qualified fitters only.
“We’ve had tremendous interest from the golf professional and retail network,” says Koehler. “We are now building that network, but it will take time to get hundreds or thousands of Ben Hogan facilities in place. We’ll begin shipping demos to our accounts in late March, and will go as fast as we can.”
A limitation of the SCOR line was the inability to actually demo the clubs. With a per-club price tag of $149 ($169 for graphite), the Hogan folks know it’s not reasonable to expect a golfer to plunk down that kind of cash without a proper demo and fitting.
“We’ll be providing full sets of demos in various shafts to our accounts”, says Koehler . “We believe a golfer should be able to hit long irons, mid irons, short irons and wedges before they pull the trigger. It’s not realistic, in our opinion, that you can hit the six-iron only and know if that set of irons is for you.”
If you can’t find a Hogan fitter, there’s an online fitting option called “HoganFit.”
HoganFit was live very briefly last month before being shut down. It just went live again last week and if you’re going to use it, you better do your homework.
It asks your current set makeup from longest fairway wood to shortest wedge, and how far you hit the clubs at both the top and bottom end of the bag. It also asks about the courses you typically play and how many approach shots you hit from 150 yards in.
From all this, HoganFit tells you what loft mix you’ll need, focusing on giving you more options the closer you get to the hole.
Hogan hopes to start shipping clubs to consumers sometime in April while they continue to build a network of fitters and pro’s.
The Zen Master Says…
“This is a game of misses. The guy who misses the best is going to win” – Ben Hogan
So, would Mr. Hogan be happy with the latest incarnation of his namesake? Will it be a hit or a miss?
It’s easy to be cynical in the 2015 Wide World of Golf Equipment. Billion dollar conglomerates churning out widgets and judging success by market share and quarterly profits dominate the landscape. This year’s stuff dwarfs last year’s stuff, and all the distance you want is only $400 dollars away.
So when Terry Koehler says bringing the Hogan brand back is a “labor of love,” how do you react? Do you snicker and say “yeah, right?” Aren’t these just SCOR’s idea of a full set of irons with some old guy’s name on them? What sort of feeling, if any, does the name Hogan elicit?
Koehler is letting it all ride on the hopes the Hogan name still means something to the serious golfer. He’s hoping the message of “precision” will trump “2 clubs longer,” “outrageous speed” and #misshitshappen, at least enough to carve out a profitable niche. It’s a bold gamble and from a marketing standpoint, it’s not the simplest of messages.
It has to be delivered in just the right way to an audience willing to listen and to “eat their vegetables.” Distance, after all, is the chicken fried steak of golf marketing. “Precision” is more like kale, loaded with Vitamins K and C, beta-carotenes, luteins and calcium.
It’s good for you, but it’s still kale.
Did you know kale has been shown to decrease dietary fat absorption, block cancer cell growth and lower cholesterol?
Does that make kale taste just a little better?
Hogan is banking on at least a segment of the golfing market being willing to eat their vegetables. It does help significantly that the Hogan’s are among the sweetest feeling clubs I personally hit at the PGA Demo Day.
Kinda like putting a big ol’ glob of “buttah” on that kale of yours.
Going to market through pro’s and fitters instead of big-box retail is smart, especially when targeting the type of golfer likely to be receptive to the precision message. Also in Hogan’s favor are SCOR’s reputation, the Hogan “buzz,” and the clubs themselves which, by all accounts, perform.
It’s foolish for anyone to compare Hogan’s relative success to that of TaylorMade, Callaway, Nike or Ping. The “Big Four” play a completely different market share game. The Hogan venture requires its own lens: Can a successful niche wedge-maker establish a beachhead and carve out a profitable niche in a crazy, crowded marketplace?
Or, in the words of the Hawk himself:
“The ultimate judge of your swing is the flight of the ball.”
Golf Forum – Golf Blog (MyGolfSpy.com)