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Volvik's Marvel-ous golf ball decision

Volvik took colored golf balls from a trendy fad to a place in the mainstream market. Now Volvik has partnered with Marvel Comics for a product line that has been like the Incredible Hulk — a smashing success

Marvel superheroes have balls.

Golf balls, of course. What did you think I meant?

What seemed like a wacky, off-kilter, novelty pairing at first has turned into a sales juggernaut for Volvik. The ball maker was already guilty of making the most appealing, brightly-colored golf balls in the market. Then Volvik finally scored a licensing deal with Marvel Comics and put a few superhero faces on the appropriately colored ball — green for the Incredible Hulk, for example.

It didn’t seem like such a big deal. Why would comic-book characters sell golf balls? But it turned into a big deal. The Volvik-Marvel pairing, which took several years to secure, has been marketing-packaging-display history.

“We knew Marvel would be a successful addition to the Volvik product line,” said Joe Jung, Volvik’s national sales manager, “but the size of the success and demand took us by surprise.”

Volvik's Marvel 4-pack
The pairing of Marvel Comic's superhero characters with Volvik's tradition for producing colored golf balls appeared to be a natural business marriage. The demand and success of the golf ball line, though, has been surprising.

The monster success of the Marvel movies has obviously played a role in ball sales. Another key part has been the packaging and pricing. Volvik sells balls in a variety of savvy ways, from individually packaged Marvel hero balls ($3.99 suggested retail) to a four-pack ($15.99, your choice of superhero) in a square box covered with vivid drawings of your hero in action, to a long, rectangular four-ball gift pack ($24.99 with magnetic hat-clip ball marker).

“We assumed the customer would be younger people or adults buying gifts for kids,” Jung said. “But we’ve got older guys buying them and playing them, too. The customer base is across the board, from public mom-and-pop nine-hole courses to high-end clubs and retails. It has been a pleasant surprise and it’s turned into an important part of our business.”

The Incredible Hulk square pack features a giant green fist smashing through a wall on the cover. Inside, it comes with two Hulk green balls and two purple balls with Hulk’s face and a Marvel logo on each. Captain America comes with two bright blue and two white balls, Iron Man features two red and two yellow.

The packaging is dynamic. In a store display, the Marvel balls almost look like candy. You have to fight the urge to pick them up and eat them.

In case you’re not up to speed on Marvel superheroes, here’s my quick guide to who’s who in the Volvik collection and how I imagine they might relate to golf …

The Incredible Hulk: A powerful hitter but he violates the club dress code. No collared shirt, no shirt at all, and no shoes. Plus, are those shredded pants blue jeans? The club doesn’t permit jeans. So I understand why “Hulk angry!”

Captain America: He would dominate at disc golf so if that ever becomes an Olympic sport, he should represent Team USA. Plus, he’s already got the uniform.

Spiderman: His web-slinging skills are handy for retrieving out-of-reach golf balls in hazards. He’s a great golf partner because when his “Spidy-senses” tingle, you know there’s danger so don’t make a press bet.

Thor: Big hitter, great hair but pssst! His club does not conform to USGA specs.

Black Panther: He is rightfully The King, although Arnold Palmer retired that title in golf. Panther keeps being underrated. On the golf course, he’d be a sandbagger, the 17-handicapper who fires a gross 71.

Iron Man: Finally, a superhero with an obvious golf connection in his name. He’s unbeatable with his irons. If Iron Byron (the golf swing machine) or Pinehurst’s Putter Boy had super-powers, I’d love to see them square off.

What the Volvik Marvel line has really done is validate colored golf balls. They are here to stay. When Volvik first introduced its colorful matte finish balls, they sold out. Volvik ran out of product. So the company built a second manufacturing facility in South Korea, a move that has paid off.

Volvik's Incredible Hulk gift set
Volvik's Marvel Comics golf ball line comes individually packaged ($3.99) or as a four-pack ($15.99).

It may just be coincidence but now even Titleist Pro V1s come in color — yellow.

“Volvik colored balls aren’t a fad,” Jung said. “We’ve been doing it for decades, it’s part of Volvik’s DNA. What we’ve seeing now is that the sales of colored golf balls is continuing to rise.”

The Marvel connection is a small part of the Volvik universe. Its brightly colored line of Vivid balls is still the company’s bread and butter. It is a three-piece ball with 75 compression, a good all-around ball for most players.

The Vivid universe may make your eyes hurt. It has been reduced to eight colors — purple, pink, white, red, green, blue, yellow and orange. Two things separate Volvik’s colored balls from its competitors. Volvik uses special colored material to create the bright matte finish on its golf balls while other makers paint the covers. That enables Volvik’s colors to last longer. A new ultraviolet ingredient has been added to further reduce sun fading.

The other key to Volvik’s rise over the last decade has been performance. After Volvik’s initial matte-finish success four years ago, some competitors quickly entered the colored-ball market, too.

“They assumed the people buying those colored balls didn’t care about performance,” Jung said. “They painted their cheapest models and sold them for 18 or 20 bucks. That hurt us initially but those customers didn’t come back because the all wasn’t any good. It was one-and-done. What we found is that people who play colored golf balls do care about performance.”

Volvik has added some new models this year and tweaked some existing ones. The most significant may be the Volvik S3 and S4, top of the line balls for better players.

They are 3-piece balls made of urethane with 65 compression. Low-compression urethane balls looks like a fast-growing new category of balls. Urethane balls can’t be embedded with color, they have to be painted so Volvik’s models come in only white and yellow.

One last key to Volvik’s success has been its display tactics. The packaging is bright, the balls are colorful, sometimes stores have a clear bowl filled with a rainbow of balls.

“When you put all that color together,” Jung said, “it almost has its own gravitational field and people walk toward it. It works.”

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