One in a weekly series of stories about golf gear to run each Wednesday.
By Steve Elling
ORLANDO, Fla. – The owners of the re-energized Lynx Golf company committed to attending the sprawling, expensive, ultra-competitive PGA Merchandise Show before they had formally acquired the U.S. rights to the historic brand, which represented something of a financial gamble, to be sure.
But any question about the English company’s risky decision to wade back into the roiling manufacturing waters in the States was forgotten on the first day of the show in late January, as attendees ambled past the Lynx floor space and executed a parade of double-take glances.
Sure, golf might rank a close second to baseball in the U.S. with regard to sports history and wistful remembrance, but the warm-and-fuzzy reception when the famed Lynx logo reappeared on the show floor proved to be palpable and gratifying. In more than one instance, attendees yelled out, “The cat is back,” as the British-based Lynx sales crew beamed.
“I think people are surprised by how good we look and how good the product is,” said Stephanie Zinser, who owns the self-funded company with husband Steve Elford. “We’ve been very warmly received.”
Lynx is now poised to bring the heat.
Nearly two decades after it delivered major-championship winners and was considered among the top names in the global game, the Lynx marquee was on life support when the English couple began re-acquiring the rights to the brand in 2011. Elford had worked in the golf business for years in England, as a sales rep, retailer and everything in between as it related to hard-goods sales. Zinser has the company’s creative side covered, having studied science and psychology in college, worked as an investment banker in London, and carved yet another career as a book author and freelance newspaper writer.
“This project has been a good use of all the skill I’ve acquired,” she said, laughing. “I learned how to condense, distill and deal with different types of information. Plus, I can bang out a darned good press release in three minutes.”
A few nursing classes along the way might have helped in the couple’s new gig, because CPR clearly was in order for a brand that had commercially flat-lined. With seven grown kids between them from previous marriages, they began buying the global rights to the all-but-forgotten brand.
“I don’t do ‘bored housewife’ very well,” Zinser said, laughing. “I like being mommy Lynx.”
If the brand can remotely approach its past heights, it would represent a golf revival that few, if any, can match. After all, legacy brands such as Ben Hogan and MacGregor have tried to launch comebacks over the years, too, with little impact and even less staying power.
No question, the Lynx brand’s history has been both celebrated and checkered. One of the top clubmakers in the sport a quarter-century ago, Lynx featured a tour roster of major champions such as Fred Couples (1992 Masters) and Ernie Els (1994 U.S. Open), who both reached world No. 1 in their careers. While Lynx was never the equipment game’s global chart-topper, it was a well-established brand in the club wars, prompting a series of high-visibility folks to invest when Couples led the purchase of the company in the mid-1990s and moved it to Carlsbad, Calif.
The celebrity investors included actors Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, tennis great Pete Sampras and CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, according to The Los Angeles Times. By 1998, however, the company had filed for bankruptcy protection, and finding Lynx products in U.S. pro shops became increasingly difficult for those who bothered. In fact, Golfsmith bought the brand name in 1998 and featured it in its brick-and-mortar stores, but the retailer went bankrupt and the rights were purchased two years ago by Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Zinser and Elford bought the overseas rights to Lynx in 2011 and relaunched a year later, making a quick splash. Zinser says Lynx has delivered double-digit annual sales increases every year since 2013, in fact, and has staked spots in more than 500 green-grass shops in 15 European countries. The couple bought the U.S. rights in November and returned to the PGA Merchandise Show in January, raising many eyebrows and generating at least as many smiles.
Lynx might not be on its ninth life, but it’s close.
“There are a million cat puns you could use,” Zinser said, rolling her eyes.
Based in Surrey, where the clubs are assembled, Lynx is finding a foothold with its plan to sell technologically advanced equipment at a reasonable price point, with an emphasis on customer service.
“There are clearly good things about being big,” she said, “but I think sometimes that size brings its own demons.”
Such as being accountable to stockholders as a publicly traded commodity. With clubs at various price points arrayed behind her on the PGA Show floor, Zinser all but laughed at the marketing methodology of some of her clubmaking peers.
“I think customers are fed up with people coming out with new clubs every year, when they just got the slightly older stuff before it in their bags,” Zinser said.
A set of Lynx VT irons, the line used by Lynx endorser Laura Davies, runs about $800. A Black Cat adjustable driver is $375. In addition to Davies, a World Golf Hall of Famer, the company recently signed eight-time Solheim Cup player Trish Johnson to a club deal.
Like many of the vendors on the Merchandise Show floor, Zinser and Elford represent a mom-and-pop shop, though the stakes are quite a bit higher for the English couple, who are not manufacturing cheap trinkets in their garage. This is their sweat, their equity, at stake there.
“I think that means you are going to do things right,” she said. “Everything is very close to home. We don’t owe a cent. When it’s your own, you think about things very, very differently.”
The fast feedback at the PGA Show was a reward in itself.
“We’ve had guys come by the booth, some of them showing some real emotion about the brand,” said Ian Wilkinson, one of the company’s area sales managers in England.
But nostalgia goes only so far. The company must demonstrate that its goods match up with the brands that have survived over the past two decades.
“It’s not as if Lynx was ever a bad product,” Zinser said. “Clubheads weren’t flying off and maiming children. It had some troubles along the way, as have many golf companies over the years.”
Seated inside the Lynx booth, Zinser looked out at the PGA Show floor as potential customers walked past, many of them old enough to remember the brand’s past iterations as one of the game’s power players. Re-entering the U.S. market is the next step in a carefully choreographed revival story.
“People were a little skeptical when we started,” she said. “A year later they said, ‘Oh, you’re still here?’ Well, as they say, you can’t speed up time.”
Nope, but based on their current arc of success, Lynx has turned back time, just the same.