SPRINGFIELD, MASS. Will Smith & amp; Wesson clubs be a sure shot on the golf course?



LOS ANGELES TIMES
Some dream of beating weapons into plowshares. But handgun maker Smith & amp; Wesson Corp. has something else in mind: golf clubs.
The Springfield, Mass.-based weapons manufacturer said it will take aim next year at the $1.3-billion golf-club market by licensing its name and logo on a series of irons, woods, drivers and putters.
The move is one of 30 such agreements the company has struck over the past several years to broaden the Smith & amp; Wesson name beyond firearms. The company's most famous guns are its patented .357 and .44 Magnums.
Under the agreement, Smith & amp; Wesson will put its name on clubs to be designed and marketed by the Vadersen Design Group, an established club maker based in Ponte Vedra, Fla. The clubs will be forged by undisclosed manufacturers under the supervision of Smith & amp; Wesson employees.
The highly competitive club business is currently dominated by Southern California companies, including Callaway Golf Co., the Carlsbad-based market leader. Companies as savvy as Nike Inc. have found it difficult to get a foothold among finicky golfers, who generally demand not just a strong brand name, but something new in the way of performance.
Too much of a leap?
To some, the gun maker's move onto the fairways and greens of country club America has initially appeared, well, a little off-target.
"It's odd. It's like Budweiser going into the doughnut business," said Mike May, spokesman for the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association. "What's the connection?"
Actually, a pretty good one, according to Smith & amp; Wesson officials and Ernie Vadersen, president of Vadersen Design Group.
For years, Smith & amp; Wesson forged the club heads for Vadersen's Snake Eyes brand of sand and lob wedges, which won an avid following among golfers. Vadersen said he was so impressed with the 150-year-old company's expertise in metallurgy, as well as its commitment to making timely deliveries, that he eventually agreed to a five-year licensing deal for the new clubs.
"We think that Smith & amp; Wesson is one of the great names in American business, not just in guns and golf," Vadersen said. "They're a solid group of people, and they have a can-do attitude."
Gun controversies
Vadersen said he was initially concerned about the controversy that has surrounded the company. Under siege from dozens of municipal lawsuits, the gun maker agreed two years ago to change the way it marketed and tracked gun sales, triggering a backlash from gun-rights advocates who accused the company of selling out.
But Vadersen came to think that even in the midst of the brouhaha, most people had a positive impression of Smith & amp; Wesson. "The quality overrode the controversy," he said.
The weapons maker's clubs will begin to hit pro shops and off-course retailers starting early this year. Among the first to be released will be three different drivers and a series of fairway woods. Prices will vary from $150 for putters and wedges to $250 for drivers.
Market leader Callaway accounts for an estimated 16 percent of the retail sales of irons, nearly 22 percent of woods and almost 46 percent of all putters, according to industry figures.
At world-renowned Pebble Beach, golf pro John Mitchell said Smith & amp; Wesson's reputation will certainly "intrigue some," but it will be the products' performance that will matter.
"They made guns for 150 years," Mitchell said. "If they can use the metals to make a club that will outperform other clubs, that's your ticket."

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