Part 2: Callaway Golf is in trouble: Here’s a start at fixing it

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 10: A detailed view of a Callaway golf bag is seen during a practice round prior to the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 10, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
PEBBLE BEACH, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 10: A detailed view of a Callaway golf bag is seen during a practice round prior to the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links on June 10, 2019 in Pebble Beach, California. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) /

Just because someone could be in trouble, it doesn’t mean you think they are going to crash. It’s how I feel about Callaway Golf.

That was my take from observing the Callaway brand, marketing, products, and my anecdotal observations as an avid golfer. Following the heated opinions that arose from my previous article, I thought I’d provide a little more grist for the mill… and some solutions.

This is also the time to clear something up: I don’t think Callaway is going bankrupt. Not even close. In fact, their sales boomed last year. Other than the issues with their balls, they have a strong track record of making high-quality equipment. Just like a million Elvis fans can’t be wrong, neither can a million Callaway fans.

I also don’t have a vendetta against Callaway. I really don’t care one way or the other. My issue was originally based on their marketing and branding which I do think is wandering in the desert. And a brand going sour is the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Great branding can’t save a company, but muddled branding will kill every one of them.

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So what’s the fix? I have successfully made every Callaway golf fan extremely angry. It would only be fair that I offer suggestions about how to get back on track.

Step 1:

Stop buying or creating brands that don’t have the same brand status in their categories that Callaway has in golf clubs.

Callaway is a top-quality manufacturer of golf clubs and consistently is recognized as a leader and innovator. That is undeniable.

However, Ogio is not. Neither is Cuater. No one in the U.S. has ever heard of Jack Wolfskin. Callaway will have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to educate and market Jack Wolfskin to the largest consumer audience in the world. Plus, Jack Wolfskin doesn’t even make golf apparel. The acquisition might help the Callaway stock price, but it’s not helping their core brand around golf.

Toulon Design putters may be a great product, but Callaway overshot the market on price. Consumers don’t believe a Toulon is worth more than a Scotty Cameron. They should undercut Cameron by $50 rather than currently listing Toulons at $50 above a new Scotty Cameron. Dropping the price will get more units out the door and give them a competitive advantage in the pro shop vis a vis Scotty Cameron.

Step 2:

Figure out if Travis Mathew is a golf brand or just a lifestyle brand. 

Travis Mathew was a true innovator in golf lifestyle branding. They found a growing audience and captured it. They were a brand that stylish golfers coveted. Now they are for “Work and Play”, according to their website.

This is another way of saying they aren’t a golf specialist anymore. They took their ownable niche and threw it away. Competitors came in, snatched up their golf lifestyle audience, and Travis Mathew let them do it.

It’s time to stop straddling the fence. Figure out who your core audience is and commit to them. Cuater at least seems to be a golf-focused brand, but right now the line between that brand and Travis Mathew (their parent brand) is indistinguishable. Make them demonstrably independent or combine them. Their current relationship is blurry and untenable.

My guess is that Travis Mathew is around for a while, but they will never again be a category leader in brand perception like they were in the past. As a branding professional, I hate to see great brands take such blatant missteps.

Step 3:

Purge products across all brands that consumers don’t value. 

Which ones, you ask? Callaway-branded golf shoes are a good place to start. Cleaning up and condensing the golf ball offerings is another.

Did you know the Callaway website has 123 products in their Callaway-branded golf shorts and pants section? Somehow, there isn’t an interesting color or pattern among them.

They also have 348 individual Men’s golf shirts. Does that seem excessive to you? Then there’s the Men’s apparel category called “Callaway X” filled with even more stuff. Again, I don’t know how this sub-category is different or why it exists.

At some point, too many choices become overwhelming and paralyzing for consumers. Callaway’s apparel lines have reached that point, slammed through the barricades, and continued at unsafe speeds down the highway.

It boils down to one big issue: Callaway isn’t sure if they are a Branded House or a House of Brands. Taylormade, Ping, and Cobra are Branded Houses – all products live under the parent brand. Acushnet has a House of Brands with Titleist, Footjoy, Vokey, and Scotty Cameron. Both approaches can work, but you have to choose one or the other.

Step 4:

Find your soul.

It’s incomprehensible that Callaway virtually invented the “Game-Improvement” club category – the largest consumer category in golf club sales – and then wandered away from it.

Callaway rose to prominence as the company that made golf easier. The Big Bertha Irons and Drivers were the flagship products of the brand. Consumers loved the product and the Callaway brand had distinct meaning to golfers. The products were innovative, instantly recognizable, and performed for average golfers. They defined Callaway’s niche in golf equipment.

Now, Callaway currently offers the following irons and/or woods:

  • MAVRIK Pro
  • APEX
  • APEX Pro
  • EPIC Forged
  • EPIC Star Forged
  • Big Bertha
  • X Forged
  • And half a dozen combo sets

I know Big Bertha is for Game Improvement. I know APEX MB (Muscle Back) is for scratch golfers. Other than that it’s a bowl of spaghetti. There is no indication of what the difference is between the broader APEX, EPIC, and MAVRIK lines. And what do X Forged irons have that the other three model lines don’t?

Odyssey and Toulon together make, by my rough count, 66 different putter models. That’s a bit much, no? Could they cut this number in half, lower costs on the production chain to offset sales and marketing, and still have an equally profitable offering? It would also help consumers to have fewer choices with more recognizable differences between models.

Step 5:

Get your Tour endorsers in order. Or don’t do it.

I like Phil, but he’s on the wrong side of the career arc. He can’t be your lead dog much longer. Yes, he’ll be a fixture on Tour for a few more years, but he’s in the twilight, not the limelight, of his career.

Who is going to carry the mantle for the next 20 years? Schauffele? Leishman? Yikes. Super nice guys, very good players, but not era-defining talents with out-sized personalities that appeal broadly to consumers.

The other option is to zig while everyone else zags. Stop focusing on Pro players and become the preferred club of the best youth, amateur, and weekend-warrior players. In other words, go back to being the ‘King of Game Improvement’ for the recreational golfer.

I can see the ad now, Phil Mickelson and some 17-handicapper schlub are in the Callaway R&D lab. The scientists in lab coats are only paying attention to the regular guy. At the end of the ad, they hand the same club to Phil and say, “It’ll give you 10 extra yards, too.”

Flip the script. Take the road less traveled. It may sound weird, but that’s a differentiated brand strategy that works for the vast majority of the market.


Callaway is really just a victim of their own success. They fell prey to the idea that more was better. They grew their bottom line at the expense of their brand. That’s a short term strategy. However, we all know sales go up and down, year-by-year. Great brands endure. The best companies grow their brands to bolster their bottom lines.

Ping, Titleist, Taylormade, Cobra – that’s what they are all doing. Ping does it with putters, Titleist does it with balls, Taylormade does it with woods and irons, Cobra does it by being iconoclast with Fowler and DeChambeau.

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Callaway is just big. They don’t own any category in golf. They’re pretty good at everything, but recognized leaders in nothing. As more and more specialists emerge, their broad but shallow appeal will shrink. It won’t happen soon – they’re almost too big to fail – but it will eventually happen unless they take a long look in the mirror and ask the age-old question, “Who am I?”