The Nike Golf Tee: 10 Years Later

The Nike Golf Tee: 10 Years Later

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Written By: Tony Covey

From time to time golf companies need a little help reinvigorating, energizing, or re-branding themselves. And sometimes companies just need help stepping out of their own tightly-packed corporate boxes. When those needs arise, the biggest names in golf often turn to industrial design firms to bring the sexy back to stale product lines.

Although you may never have heard of them, design firms like Priority Designs and The Hive have played major roles in designing products for the biggest names in golf. While their corporate logos never made it onto the clubs, these companies are responsible for products like TaylorMade’s R7 series and Nike’s VRS Covert lineup.

Not Every Design Becomes Reality

Of course, not everything these design firms create makes it to a retail shelf near you. Sometimes what looks like a really cool idea never makes it past the concept phase. Take for example these concept drawings of what could have become Nike’s High Performance Golf Tees.

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In 2004 a “product innovation firm” called Altitude Inc. was asked to design a better golf tee for Nike.

“As part of our effort, we were also tasked to re-invent the golf tee, increasing its height to enhance the performance of Nike’s new over-sized driver. We analyzed incumbent golf tees, the physics of the swing, ball set-up, and other tactical elements. We also examined the attributes customers desired, such as performance and convenience. Our research and design efforts yielded a diverse range of 33 concepts, and a standing ovation from Nike. Provided free with Nike clubs, these distinctive tees demonstrate Nike innovation, while helping golfers perform better and enjoy the sport at an elevated level. Nike is currently evaluating the four prototype designs for large-scale production.” – Altitude Inc.

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The more noteworthy concepts from Altitude’s include:

Card (pictured left) – a flat design that enables easy storage.

Spline (pictured right) – a design the cradles the ball and moves it away from the stem, reducing club interference. Score lines on the stem make it easy to set the tee at  a consistent height.

Genie (pictured middle) – the upper (made from recycled cellulose powder) is designed to disintegrate on impact, while the bottom half (made from time-released fertilizer) is designed to stay in the ground and help keep the course healthy.

Mojo Interior – features a liquid center that Altitude suggested be brewed from Tiger Woods’ sweat, turf from Scotland, sand from Pebble Beach and tears from the Nike goddess.

Mojo – a bright orange power core increases visibility while the hourglass shape helps manage friction.

According to the Altitude website, at one point in time Nike was evaluating 4 of 33 prototype designs they created for large-scale production. The designs were featured on the cover of Innovation Magazine and also won a 2004 Business Week/IDEA Gold award in 2004. Despite the accolades within the design community; as far as we know, not a single one of these tees made it to retail.

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The Tee Matters

In our MyGolfSpy Labs article on Golf Tees, we showed that the tee can make a huge difference in performance (in once case 15.7 yards more than the standard wooden tee), so we’d certainly be interested to see how these prototypes would perform in the real world. Who knows why Nike never let them see the light of day, but as Nike is fond of saying, “there is no finish line”. So within that context, it’s possible that it’s not too late for these interesting (and shall we say unique?) designs to become reality.

 

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Scratch Golf – 10 Years Later

Scratch Golf – 10 Years Later

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It’s hard to believe, but this October marks the ten year anniversary of Scratch Golf.  From it’s inception in Eugene, Oregon, to chasing the tour in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Finally, returning full circle in a storefront operation in Berkley, Michigan, Scratch Golf has been through a lot in the past ten years.  Through the good, bad, and sometimes controversial, the man on the top of the Old English “S”, Ari Techner, has never lost the vision of the custom club company he started in 2003.

Scratch’s mission has always been to give elite amateurs and average hackers the same level of customization available to touring professionals. Scratch Golf began in a one car garage in Eugene, Oregon.  However, it might be more accurate to say that the company was founded on the internet.  In fact, Scratch is probably one of the best examples of a niche brand that was brought to life by the online golf forum communities.

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Scratch entered the scene at about the same time novice equipment aficionados were receiving their online Ph.D in “tour issue.”  Back in the day before blurred lines was a Robin Thicke song, it described the relationship between retail vs. tour issue.  Tour grooves were cut more precise, finishes were raw, grinds were modified for the player, and turf.  Prototypes, T Stamps, Y Cutter, TVD, PM, .R.; each only a dream to the commoner.

“When we started, we didn’t expect it to become anywhere near what it has become today.” –Ari Techner

Scratch Golf changed that.  If you could dream it, they could make it; offering tour quality custom, Japanese forged wedges, hand ground to your desired specifications, and finish.  This level of customization came at a price (wedges selling for north of $300 each), but they were offering a product that was previously unavailable in the golf equipment marketplace. Ari and Scratch Golf were true pioneers in the golf industry.

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A Failure to Launch

In 2005, Scratch started offering irons with individualized customization, just like their wedges.  Largely unknown to the offline golf consumer, Scratch made attempts to expand their customer base. In an attempt to boost brand recognition and create offerings at a more affordable price point, they began offering large quantity production runs of both forged and stainless wedges.

“The idea was to get something where the price point was a little lower and get the product into the hands of people that might not want to spend as much on custom wedge.  …The biggest challenge was if someone was coming into a big box store looking for wedges, [the clerk] knows about Vokey and Cleveland.  A lot of them don’t know about us, and what we’re doing or our fitting process.  That was our biggest challenge with big box.” –Ari Techner

Their efforts fell flat.  Without tour use, and big budget marketing dollars, consumers outside the internet golf forum communities never really heard about Scratch Golf.  When their wedges were sitting next to Titleist, Cleveland and Callaway on the store racks, it’s was predictable that consumers gravitated toward their comfort product.

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Scratch Golf had significant presence on the [now] Web.com tour.  The Oregon Classic which had been held in Junction City from 1998-2008, served as the event where Scratch could meet with professionals and continue to foster a relationship with players on that tour.  Once the tour stop left town in 2008, Oregon proved a geographically challenging location for players on that tour to get personalized attention.

With not tour stop in Oregon, Scratch made the decision to relocate to Chattanooga, the site of the Chattanooga Classic. The also added legendary craftsman, Don White, to the Scratch team. After settling into their new found home in Tennessee, Scratch Golf signed up and coming tour player, Ryan Moore as a staffer and part owner in the company. Moore only last one season and terminated his contract at the end of 2010.

This story made headlines because of the unique relationship and Moore’s desire to play basically whatever he wanted.  David Duval was also on staff for about a year before resigning with Nike.  Money remains the limiting factor in Scratch’s ability to retain top talent.

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“We’ve had guys play our product on the Nationwide Tour, then Q-School.  When they get to the tour, they usually sign with a major manufacturer.”  So, we just kind of expect that at this point.  One player that has played our clubs, that has played extremely well for years is Kristie Kerr, and we don’t pay her at all.  She can play anything she wants.” –Ari Techner

Talented Craftsman

Techner explained his two grinders in Jeff McCoy, and Don White are what set Scratch Golf apart from other boutique wedge companies in the industry.  They also service as the chief club designers for the company as well.

“Jeff and Don are incredible.  I would put JP (James Harrington of Titleist) on that list, some guys in Japan, and that’s about it.  We have two of the best craftsman in the industry and I really believe that sets us apart.  Jeff and Don have an incredible eye for what looks good.  They can get the shape someone wants, just from even a phone call.  They do some amazing stuff for people, and there are not a lot of guys that can do that.” –Ari Techner

On The Move Again

Scratch Golf has recently uprooted themselves from Tennessee, and find themselves headquartered in a state of the art, storefront club fitting studio in Berkley, Michigan, just outside Detroit.  They have partnered with the Scottsdale, Arizona, based, Cool Clubs.  This new partnership allows Scratch to utilize proprietary Cool Clubs software for fitting customers into their wedges, and irons.  Additionally, they offer fittings for Callaway and TaylorMade woods.  They plan is to offer woods from most of the major OEM’s by the end of the year.

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“We have some incredible technology and we’re working with Cool Clubs for fittings.  The goal is fit people into better clubs to help them play the game better.  It compliments our band and what we’re trying to do a lot better.  When you walk in, it has a very high-end feel and it’s how we want Scratch Golf to look.  It’s also a place to showcase some of our premium clubs which was something we were missing.  It’s a natural evolution.” –Ari Techner

Although McCoy will be available for custom wedge fittings inside the studio, he will have his shop set up at another location for grinds and builds.  The same is also true for White who will remain in Tennessee, but will remain a part of the Scratch team. In February of this year, Scratch partnered with the London, England based James Ingles putters.  The partnership continues and the Scratch studio will also feature Ingles’ handmade putters onsite.  Scratch will also utilize the Cool Clubs putter fitting system to dial in Ingles’ putters. James Ingles putter start around $1,000.

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Pre-Made and Handmade

The new business model for Scratch Golf is twofold: Pre-made and Handmade.  Scratch will offer a line of pre-made wedges and irons that are “off the rack” varieties of their most popular grinds.  The Scratch FIT wedges sell start at $179, and their irons, offered in two models, AR-1 v2, EZ-1 v2, and SB-1 starting at $1,299 a set.  James Ingles putters start around $1,000.  Handmade wedges start at $279, and iron sets start at $1,999.  All Scratch wedges and irons are forged from 1018 Carbon steel.  They no longer offer cast product in any line On October 1, 2013, Scratch Golf launched The Armory section of their website.  This section will showcase handmade product that is available for immediate purchase.  This will allow consumers to get a handmade product without the 6-8 week delay of a custom order.

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Back to Basics

Scratch has returned to what it does best, fitting one customer at a time into equipment that will help them play the game of golf better.  In the last ten years, there have been some start-up companies that have adopted the boutique wedge fitting model.  However, today, the major equipment companies are just starting to do what Scratch Golf has been doing for the past ten years.  Attempting to do what Scratch knew was best for the player for years ago.  From the garage in Eugene, to the storefront in Berkley, Scratch Golf remains an industry leader in the custom club market.

The New Scratch HQ

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