News & Opinion

Golf retailer gears up for long haul

For the PGA Tour, business opportunities seemingly flow like the water over Niagara Falls. Potential deals and partners come clamoring to work with an organization as successful as golf’s most visible tour.

One such opportunity reached officials in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in 2003 when Golf & Tennis Pro Shop signed a licensing deal with the PGA Tour.  

A year later, the deal was extended, and the two Martin’s Golf & Tennis Superstores in Myrtle Beach, S.C., were rebranded as PGA Tour Superstores.

In 2008, Arthur Blank, the co-founder of home-improvement chain Home Depot and owner of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, took control of PGA Tour Superstores. Today, that modest two-store acquisition on South Carolina’s Grand Strand has grown to number 33 sites nationwide. Expansion seems to be in the lifeblood of a company that includes the PGA Tour as a minority investor with a 50-year licensing agreement.

Ten years ago, Blank appointed Dick Sullivan, who was the Falcons’ chief marketing officer, as president of PGA Tour Superstores. Later in 2008, Sullivan added the title of chief executive officer.

In a decade under Sullivan, the chain has tripled its number of storefronts and posted an overall sales growth of 300 percent that includes retail and e-commerce purchases, the company said.

During my visit with Sullivan in the week after the Masters at his office outside Atlanta, the company registered a solid week: 16.2 percent growth in same-store sales, a rate that exceeded the company’s 15-percent jump in comparable store sales in all of 2017, he said. Adding all other revenue sources, sales jumped 21 percent that week, representing the company’s best-ever seven-day period.

“The numbers are getting better each month,” Sullivan said. “Some of that was consolidation because of Golfsmith [which was bought via bankruptcy by Dick’s Sporting Goods in late 2016], and some of it was, we had an incredible launch of product.”

As Sullivan talked about his sales, he expressed a little hint of amazement regarding how well his stores are doing. PGA Tour Superstores’ success has not been limited to warm-weather markets such as California and Arizona. Since the start of the company’s fiscal year Feb. 1, the two Chicago-area stores rated among the company’s top 10 in equipment sales by the end of March. And that was in a market where the golf season essentially had not even started yet.

“I think there's an excitement out there,” Sullivan said. “They're seeing it on the [PGA] Tour; they’ve heard about this new TaylorMade Twist Face; they’ve heard about this new Callaway Rogue; they have heard about this new Ping G400 Max. Even if they're not necessarily playing it, they want to be ready to play. So, I think that there's more excitement around golf and equipment than I've seen in years.”

According to the National Golf Foundation’s recently released Golf Industry Report, the size of the ball and club market in the U.S. was estimated at $2.6 billion in 2017.

With estimated 2017 sales of $200 million to $250 million annually at PGA Tour Superstores – the company is privately held and does not disclose sales figures – the market would seem to be wide open for the chain. More commercial real estate is available after bankruptcy filings by Sports Authority, Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us, so Sullivan is in acquisition mode.

At the same time, e-commerce has become a big part of the golf landscape. The NGF report found that 35 percent of golfers purchased golf-related merchandise online in 2017.

After some experimentation of using regional warehouses to fulfill e-commerce, Sullivan found PGA Tour Superstores to be more efficient and provide a better customer experience by shipping directly from each store. Each store effectively has become a mini-warehouse, adding to the company’s bottom line.

But what differentiates PGA Tour Superstores from competitors might be its customer service.

“I think we have created a following because of our footprint, and I think it will evolve even more so. We're so dedicated to the service and the services,” Sullivan said of the company’s mantra. “I'm not sure that other retailers have figured that out.

“That’s not necessarily our secret sauce, but we have got a tremendous owner. He gets it, and he doesn't look at our payroll, for example, or our training as being an expense. He looks at that as being an investment, and that is a huge difference. We don't think short‑term. We think long‑term in everything we do.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email:; Twitter: @AlexMiceli