By Adam Schupak
ORLANDO, Fla. – A year ago at the PGA Merchandise Show, Sean Toulon introduced five putters under the brand Toulon Design from a hotel suite across the street from the Orange County Convention Center. The former TaylorMade executive was starting small with a dream of competing with the major manufacturers in the one category in which the little guy still believes he can succeed. Still, a writer deigned to ask, "Does the world really need another putter company?"
Toulon replied with a witty riposte: "Does the world really need another Italian restaurant? No, but if they make a really good meatball and sauce, they seem to stay in business."
One year later, Toulon's namesake putters are displayed in one of the largest exhibits on the floor. In late August, Callaway Golf acquired Toulon Design and installed Toulon as general manager of the Odyssey brand.
"It pains me to say this, but it's not a little guy's world anymore,” Toulon said.
At Odyssey, he will be in charge of the longtime category king with approximately 60 percent market share in the U.S. in putters priced at less than $300, Toulon said. But no matter how hard Callaway has tried in the past, it hasn't been able to make much of a dent at higher price points.
"It’s been a hole in our brand," conceded Chip Brewer, Callaway's chief executive officer.
As Toulon put it, there is one dominant player in the super-premium category: Scotty Cameron by Titleist.
"Scotty’s done an incredible job of building a brand and a cult and sustaining it," Toulon said. "He’s done one of the most incredible jobs in a small category."
Toulon is more than 100 days into his new job and has devised a plan to take dead aim at Cameron. That's proved to be easier said than done for many a competitor, but Toulon intends to apply science to a part of the bag that typically has been more about art.
"Money ball needs to come to putting," he said. "It used to be, Grab one that looks good to you. Now we measure everything. We're doing data-driven design."
Odyssey also announced a collaboration with puttermaker David Mills, son of famed putter designer T.P. Mills, to create new shapes, finishes and materials that will influence design across the Odyssey family as well as a line of his own putters that will cover the highest-tier price point and retail at $700-$1,000. Toulon Design and David Mills could prove to be a formidable one-two punch to fill a hole in the Odyssey lineup.
Toulon says the sweet spot for putters has climbed from $199 to just below $250 and that Odyssey now has a product for every customer. His focus is servicing the pool of 600,000 "super-enthusiasts" who demand higher quality and more technology while still growing Odyssey's core business.
"I think we'll do better above $300 than we ever have,” Toulon said, “and there is room to grow the Odyssey business underneath it."
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force.