KAPALUA, Hawaii – Bob Parsons conducts business to an extreme, and that now includes golf clubs.
The people he hired to build his golf clubs have no limitations and no deadlines. Money is no object, either, and that better be the case for the consumers. Parsons, the billionaire founder of GoDaddy, is selling his PXG clubs at about $5,000 for the entire set.
“Making money is not what I have in mind,” Parsons said. “My goal with this is to build some very incredible clubs without regard to cost, without regard to the process. I’ve been telling people what I’m doing and I’ve heard many times, ‘You’re nuts.’ That’s a very good sign.”
Ryan Moore last year became the first PGA Tour to put them in play.
Now, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company is hopeful of making a big splash in 2016 by signing an additional eight players, men and women, to staff contracts at PXG. Topping the list is British Open champion Zach Johnson, who had been with Titleist his entire PGA Tour career that includes 12 victories and two majors.
Johnson, who is in the field this week at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, did not want to discuss his switch ahead the announcement at Kapalua. He said in a release that he did not make the change lightly.
“My entire team, from caddie to coach, was part of the discernment process,” Johnson said. “We all agree that PXG is undeniably the best equipment to help me achieve my goals on the course.”
PXG also signed Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk, James Hahn and Charles Howell III on the PGA Tour, along with Cristie Kerr, Alison Lee and Gerina Piller on the LPGA Tour. Already on board with the clubs were Moore, Rocco Mediate (Champions Tour), Sadena Parks and Beatriz Recari.
Parsons describes himself as a golf fanatic and an equipment junkie. He didn’t start playing seriously until he was in his 30s because he was too busy with work, first with Parsons Technologies for 10 years (which he sold in 1994 for $64 million) and then with the GoDaddy Group. He stepped down as GoDaddy executive chairman in 2014, though he remains on the board and is the largest shareholder.
By then, an affinity for golf turned into an addiction.
“It got to the point three or four years before I started the PXG venture that I would spend about $250,000 to $300,000 a year on equipment,” he said. “I bought pretty much everything and would hit it. I could tell you which irons, woods and all that … were real and what wasn’t. Most of it is gimmicky. You take any manufacturer and they say, ‘This will give you an extra 10 yards and 15 yards.’ If all that were true, we’d be hitting it a mile-and-a-half.”
Eventually, Parsons was intrigued by building his own clubs.
PXG stands for “Parsons Xtreme Golf,” though a running joke in the industry is that it also stands for “Ping X-Guys.” Among the Ping employees he hired were two engineers, former Bay Hill winner Mike Nicolette and Brad Schweigert, and Parsons turned them loose.
“We have no constraints on our engineers, no cost constraints, no time constraints,” Parsons said. “The only they must do is the performance must be there before we release it. … We’re using as much technology as we can shake out as long as they conform with USGA rules.”
The iron, which has the look of a blade, is a hollow body design that is filled with thermoplastic elastomer that allows for a thinner face. The signature look on the PXG clubs are what appears to be black dots. Those are tungsten alloy screws that enhance the perimeter weighting and increase forgiveness.
“Our iron is one of the few that is made to be adjusted weight-wise,” Parsons said. “When the engineers were doing the initial development, they took one of our first prototypes – which was a train wreck – and put weights into it one way. I said, ‘That looks good. It’s going to be our trademark look.'”
The equipment industry is crowded, and the venture is a risk. Parsons doesn’t mind that.
“If we did exactly that TaylorMade and Ping was doing, and Callaway and on and on, we’d get our brains beat out,” Parsons said.
He was behind the racy GoDaddy.com ads during the Super Bowl (he said PXG doesn’t need to be as outrageous in its marketing). He also caused a sensation in golf circles when he bought what is now Scottsdale National Golf Club and wrote a letter to members outlining bold new rules – no more than 30 rounds a year without bringing a paying guest and a $100 service fee every time a member plays. Those who didn’t like the rules were given a refund on their initiation fee.
It was different. But that’s what Parsons is all about.
But is there a market for golf clubs that cost $5,000 for a set?
“There are 6.5 million avid golfers in the country (U.S.), and 4.1 million of the have a household income in excess of $125,000 a year, which means about 2 million have significantly higher than that in household income,” he said. “If you ran across a set of clubs that you don’t have to change a thing in your game and it would take you down to a 3 (handicap index) and you feel great hitting them … you’d do what you could to buy them.”