Glenview-based WGA lands new sponsor on Korn Ferry tour
The Western Golf Association has landed a new sponsor for its event on the Korn Ferry Tour. The event that had been known as the Evans Scholars Invitational is now the NV5 Invitational Presented by First Midwest Bank. NV5, with more than 100 offices around the world, is a leading provider of compliance, technology, engineering and environmental consulting solutions. The tourney's next staging is May 23-29 at The Glen Club in Glenview.
Suburban maker launches new clubs
It's obvious the pandemic changed golf. Play increased nationwide last year because the sport was a safe outlet for people in need of exercise and this year, according to industry reports, play is up another 15 percent over that.
"There's been a 40 percent bump in new golfers coming into the game or players taking it up again," said Jon Claffey, vice president of marketing for Batavia-based club manufacturer Tour Edge. "That's bigger than any Tiger (Woods) effect we ever saw."
The changes within the golf industry have been broader than that, however, and Tour Edge -- though not one of the bigger equipment companies -- is in the forefront. On Tuesday the company kicked off Hot Launch 522. All the company's new clubs were introduced nationwide far earlier than previous years, and well ahead of most all Tour Edge competitors.
"It's the biggest launch in our company's history and we wanted to get it out in front of everyone else," Claffey said. "We're putting the focus on game improvement, which no one else does in this industry. It's all about making the easiest clubs you'll ever hit. It's all about playability."
Tour Edge is on a roll, thanks in large part to a decision made in 2018 to establish a strong relationship with players on PGA Tour Champions, the 50-and-older circuit. Six players -- among them top stars Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman and Scott McCarron -- joined the company's staff. Their success boosted the Tour Edge brand with all golfers.
At last week's Ascension Charity Classic Tour Edge had 68 clubs in play, a company record. Over the last four seasons the company has seen 2,027 of its clubs put in play by 129 professionals on three PGA Tours. Players using those clubs have had 13 wins, 76 top-5 finishes and 152 Top-10s.
More recently the company made a huge expansion of its research and development department, bringing in three new engineers as well as a robot called Ted.
"He's swinging all day long, testing shafts," said Claffey. The company is excited about its new lines of equipment and took the unusual step of announcing them to the public early. In past years most companies used the massive PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., to do that.
Tour Edge has been one of the most active company participants in that late January closed-to-the-public show, which drew about 40,000 visitors annually to the Orange County Convention Center. After a 66-year run the pandemic forced cancellation of the show this year but it is on the schedule for 2022. Tour Edge won't be there, and neither will many other equipment manufacturers. Callaway and Titleist are expected to be the main attendees.
In previous buying cycles the club manufacturers wanted their products introduced well in advance of the Masters in April, so the January dates were ideal. Now that's not the case.
"The ebb and flow has changed when it comes to purchasing," said Claffey. "The PGA Show was falling behind in the sales cycle. We had been an industry trying to find a way to get rid of excess inventory. Now it's the opposite. We can't get our stuff out the door fast enough to meet all this demand. There are other industries experiencing the same thing."
Here and there
The University of Illinois men's team hosts its annual invitational on Olympia Fields' North course Friday-Sunday. ... The Illinois PGA's Birdies for Charity event raised over $300,000 last week at Oak Park Country Club. ... Five Chicago area youngsters were winners in the Drive, Chip & Putt Regional at Medinah last weekend -- Ledius Felipe, Poplar Grove (Boys 10-11); Eloise Fetzer, LaGrange (Girls 7-9); Michael Jorski, Clarendon Hills (Boys 12-13); Lisa Copeland, Naperville (Girls 12-13); and Martha Kuwahara, Northbrook (Girls 14-15). They advanced to the national finals to be held at Augusta National the Sunday before next year's Masters tournament.
• Illinois Golf Hall of Famer Len Ziehm is on the "Golfers on Golf Radio 820" show at 4 p.m. Saturdays. He co-hosts the "Ziehm & Spears Golf Podcast Series" on social media. Past columns are at lenziehmongolf.com.