PXG is the only brand of golf clubs in the world that come with this warning: “Our clubs are amazing but expensive.” That is its advertising pitch and, in a nutshell, the message the Scottsdale equipment maker has presented to the golf world.
PXG, created by Bob Parsons, the billionaire founder of GoDaddy, entered the market last summer with clubs that offer new technology and a jaw-dropping price tag of about $5,000 per set.
Parsons is a self-described golf fanatic that plays virtually every day when his schedule allows, and an equipment junkie, who estimates that he was spending about $250,000 a year in search of “a club that delivered on its claims.”
“I am obsessed with golf equipment . . . you name it, I’ve played it,” Parsons said. “I knew what worked and what didn’t, what was real and what was just hype. PXG was born out of my desire to do things differently and design the best golf equipment on the planet.”
Parsons hired several former PING employees to fulfill that task, including longtime engineers Mike Nicolette and Brad Schweigert, who tried to talk him out of it.
His first directive: Create an iron that looks like a blade but is more forgiving than a cavity back, goes further than anything on the market without making the loft stronger, has the softest feel possible and has a distinctive look. In short, the club golfers could only dream about hitting.
“Basically, Bob wanted us to go to the moon without telling us how to get there,” Nicolette said. “And we said, ‘Anything else?’”
Actually, there was one more detail: They had an unlimited budget, which immediately set PXG apart from the rest of the industry.
While club makers might claim to start with a performance goal in their designs, in fact nearly all begin with a price point and then create the best club they can within that figure.
“If you talk to any engineers, the biggest design restraint they face is almost always cost,” Cool Clubs founder Mark Timms said. “When you tell an engineer to build you the best thing they can regardless of cost, that’s a totally different animal. You can have a blast doing that but it’s not what they teach you in college.”
Timms’ stores were the first retailers to offer PXG clubs. The demand, he added, has been startling despite the sticker shock.
“I am very surprised about how many we’ve sold,” Timms said. “I thought it would start off strong and that customers who have plenty of money would want the latest and greatest, and then it would taper off. But it really hasn’t. We basically sell everything, and they are in our top four right now, which is surprising to me.
“I thought it would be a nice product for our company and maybe account for 10 percent of our business, but it has been much higher and they have done even better overseas. The interest we have seen in Asia, in particular, has been unbelievable.”
Parsons isn’t surprised by the numbers, even though he has done limited advertising.
“PXG really started as a passion project,” he said. “Making money was not my first priority. Our market strategy was simple and it worked: get the clubs into the hands of the right people and let the clubs speak for themselves.
“Our sales are growing 50-60 percent month over month. I think our growth now and in the future will surprise the entire industry. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
In the past year, Nicolette said, the company has increased from one club builder to 11 and “we’re looking for more.”
The irons feature a hollow body that is filled with thermoplastic elastomer. That allows for a thinner face – about half the thickness of most irons – and extreme perimeter weighting, which is accomplished by rows of tungsten alloy screws. Those screws are what increase forgiveness and give the clubs a distinctive look.
Even more screws, which are adjustable, are used in the driver and fairway woods to minimize twisting on off-center hits and improve accuracy. The screws alone, Nicolette said, cost more than all of the materials used in some other club heads, which accounts for part of PXG’s lofty price tag.
Parsons said PXG isn’t trying to compete with the top name brands in the industry, which “would be suicide.” Instead, he wants to satisfy an underserved market of golfers who are so passionate they are willing to pay a lot more to play a lot better.
“They’re all really good companies and they have their market share,” Parsons said. “The only way we were going to get traction and the only reason we’re having success is because we’re doing something they are not doing. I believe that the segment of the market PXG serves has been starved for something new and innovative that really performs.”
The brand has bolstered its image by signing 12 tour pros to play the equipment in the past year, and Parsons is quick to point out that virtually all of them came to PXG rather than being recruited.
The one exception is Ryan Moore, who was the first to try PXG prototypes late in 2014. He liked the clubs so much he wanted to put them in play before the USGA had completed approval testing.
“As soon as I hit them, I put them in the bag and said, ‘You’re not getting them back,’ ” Moore said. “They have a great combination of look, feel, control, distance, everything you want, but probably the biggest thing is forgiveness. That is a huge thing for us as tour pros.”
Moore was the first to sign with PXG. Others now in its stable are Zach Johnson, Billy Horschel, James Hahn, Chris Kirk, Charles Howell III, Cristie Kerr, Gerina Piller, Alison Lee, Beatriz Recari, Sadena Parks, Anna Rawson and Rocco Mediate. Many signed for less money than they were getting from another club maker.
Signing Johnson, who won the British Open last year and had been with Titleist his entire pro career, was a major coup.
“The decision to put PXG clubs in play was not one I took lightly,” Johnson said after making the switch. “My entire team, from caddie to coach, was part of the discernment process.
“They are a new old company, that’s the best way I can explain it. You have individuals that want to grow the game and I would say even transform the game and give me resources that are essentially unlimited. That’s a pretty awesome formula.”
Hahn said during this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open that “about 99 percent” of tour pros have asked to try his clubs.
“You always think that with the first go-round there might be a few tweaks, but they got it right the first time,” Horschel said. “Right away I could tell the difference.”
The response from players has been meaningful to Parsons.
“I’ll tell you something my dad used to tell me and I repeat it all the time because it’s true,” Parsons said. “When I started dating, he told me the number one thing to look for in a girlfriend is one who likes you.
“That’s what we had with Ryan Moore, someone who liked us. The same is true with all the players we’ve signed to date. They came to us not for prestige or a paycheck; they came because PXG clubs really perform.”
During this year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, PXG clubs were the third-most popular among the amateur players, who consist largely of celebrities and deep-pocketed enthusiasts. That suggests that the buzz is quickly reaching PXG’s consumer target.
As for the next generation of PXG clubs, Nicolette said, “I can kind of see it, but I don’t see it coming out for years.”
Bentley recently introduced new clubs that also start in the $5,000 range, and can cost as much as $100,000 with options like alligator-skin grips. But PXG doesn’t have a true competitor with its golf product.
“There are luxury clubs in the marketplace that are gold plated or have sapphires stuck in them or whatever, and people who can afford them buy them, but they’re not performance clubs,” Nicolette said.
“Bob Parsons is all about performance and what you’re paying for with PXG is performance. Based on the price, ours might be a luxury brand, but it’s a performance-luxury brand. It’s the Ferrari.”
– John Davis