By his own account, Bob Parsons, the billionaire founder of GoDaddy, used to spend upwards of a quarter of a million dollars a year on golf clubs. Then he started getting serious about the game.
As a sign of his commitment, consider Parsons Xtreme Golf, the high-end equipment company he launched in late 2014. With a free-spending approach reflective of his bankroll, Parsons hired two of Ping’s former top product designers and gave the pair carte blanche.
His one commandment: make the best equipment possible, cost be damned.
The first PXG sticks hit the market this past summer, fetching $5,000 for a 14-club set. The only high-profile player using them was Ryan Moore, who put a prototype set of PXG O3x irons in his bag before the 2015 Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
He’s not alone anymore.
The New Year’s ball had barely dropped on 2016 when more PXG news broke: eight more A-list players had signed on to play the clubs, including Zach Johnson, Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk, Rocco Mediate and Charles Howell III.
In the wake of that announcement, with the Tour’s West Coast swing kicking into gear, GOLF.com caught up with the frank-talking Parsons to ask about his plunge into the crowded equipment market, what he thinks about the competition, and whether there are other marquee Tour names he’s looking to lure into his camp.
GOLF.com: What’s this we hear about $250,000 a year on golf clubs?
Parsons: Yeah, I’ve been quoted as spending that much, but the year before I started the company it was probably closer to $350,000. People say, how is that possible? Well, if you buy every club and you buy all sorts of different shafts and have the clubs re-shafted in every combination ... it adds up. I can tell you what’s good, what isn’t, what is not a gimmick.
GOLF.com: Do tell.
Parsons: Very little of it is not gimmicky.
GOLF.com: So, was there one particular club you were hitting, or one eureka moment when you thought, 'I can do better than this?'
Parsons: There has never been a eureka moment in my entire life. But I did start to develop ideas about what could be done. I thought, 'What if you had an unlimited budget and the best minds working for you.' I’m the type of guy when I have something that makes sense, I go with it. You have two ways of thinking in life. A lot of people think, What if it doesn’t work? I always think, What if it works?
GOLF.com: But did you have any particular image of what the clubs would look like?
Parsons: When I got together with (former Ping senior product designer) Mike Nicolette, he asked for some parameters. The deal was, we weren’t going to sell anything unless I wanted to hit it. I told him, I want a club that looks like a blade but plays like a cavity-back. I want it to be forgiving. I want it to feel absolutely wonderful. And I want it to go farther. And he said, 'Is that it?'
GOLF.com: Great feel. Great look. Longer shots. Isn’t that what every club manufacturer tells us? What's so different about that?
Parsons: What’s different is that our clubs actually do what we say they do. Have you talked to anyone who has hit them?
GOLF.com: Not yet.
Parsons: You haven't? How is that possible? Brother, you need to get out more.
GOLF.com: Well, you've hit them. What are they like?
Parsons: They do everything I just said.
GOLF.com: Give me an example. What sort of shots can you can hit now that you couldn’t hit before?
Parsons: One of the differences with me compared to many guys who have much lower indexes (Parsons plays off a 10) is that they will practice in order to hit a particular shot. I go out to see how a club feels. And the feel of these clubs is unbelievable. But you don’t have to believe me. You could talk to Ryan Moore. We shipped him a set with no expectations. We knew at the time they were pretty good. He called us two days later and he said, 'I just put them in my bag, and they’re not coming out.'
GOLF.com: What did you have to pay him for that?
Parsons: We didn’t have to pay him. He played the first couple of tournaments with them without us paying him or any promise to pay him. I decided to sign him after that.
GOLF.com: We hear so much about how cutthroat the equipment market it is. What made you think you could compete in it?
Parsons: It has all happened much more quickly than I thought it would. All the big companies out there, like the Callaways and Mizunos and TaylorMades and Pings, they’re all really good companies, and they have their market share. For us to go head to head with them would be suicide. The only way we were going to get traction, the only reason that we’re having the success that we’re having, is that we’re doing something that they clearly are not doing. Even if we are wildly successful, they’re not going to miss the sales. We won’t make a difference in their market.
GOLF.com: What about the gloomy talk we hear about the industry as a whole? Does that give you any pause?
Parsons: I don't see that side of it because I’m not in that edge of the market. To call us part of the golf market would be like calling Ferrari an automobile company. To give you an example, take the PGA Show (in Orlando this month). We will not be there. Nor will we be represented. Nor will we be visiting. That is not our market.
GOLF.com: So, who is the person you see playing your clubs, aside from being someone with deep pockets?
Parsons: Deep pockets is a very relative thing. A set of our clubs is $5,000. It used to be that's what you paid for an IBM personal computer. You'd pay way more than that for a car or a motorcycle. So even though the number sounds pretty high, if the game is that important to someone, they'll be able to swing a set. And that’s the language we use. To find out if you can 'swing a set,' give us a call.
GOLF.com: You don't list the price?
Parsons: I just tell people they’re expensive. Unless you expect to be spending some long green, these clubs aren’t for you.
GOLF.com: With GoDaddy, you got a lot of attention for some pretty racy advertisements. Can we expect the same for your golf clubs?
Parsons: In some ways, maybe, but not quite. With GoDaddy, my marketing was like that because I was selling a low-price commodity. I had to make us different. In this case, we’re already different. One thing you'll see on our clubs that you won't see on any others is a warning: our clubs are amazing but expensive. The guys I sell to mostly belong to private clubs, they’re businessmen, they’re a little bit older, and anything they can do to help their game, they'll do it. Often, the guys we sell to don’t even ask what they cost.
GOLF.com: Coming from a company like GoDaddy, do you ever feel like the golf industry takes itself too seriously?
Parsons: It’s hard for me to answer that because I never competed in that part of the market. I don’t know what those other companies are up against when they’re trying to sell against each other in the big box stores and rush stuff to market. I would say, though, that it does strike me as a very stressful way to make a living.
GOLF.com: You can't be making a living off your clubs, are you?
Parsons: I've seen some comments from people saying, 'This guy doesn’t care if he ever makes money on this.' Obviously, they don’t know me very well. But I am willing to be patient to let the money come. The first order of business is to do the job right. Are we making money now? No. We just got our inventory in June and started selling, and our sales have been growing by 50 to 60 percent a month. I expect we’ll turn the corner next year. But I've never done anything in my life that turned the corner in six months.
GOLF.com: Now that you’ve added Zach Johnson, Billy Horschel and some others to your stable, any others you’re looking to sign? Tiger? Rory?
Parsons: No. Because they never came to me. I’ll tell you something my dad used to tell me and I repeat it all the time because it’s true. When I started dating, he told me the number one thing to look for in a girlfriend is to find one who likes you. That’s what we had with Ryan Moore. Someone who liked us. And with all the guys we’ve signed it’s the same way. We didn’t go to them. They came to us. Everyone I signed came to me. And everybody I signed I would say I'm paying them less than they would have gotten if they'd stayed with who they were with.
GOLF.com: What about golf equipment? How much are you spending on that these days?
Parsons: Nowadays, I only hit my own equipment. I can't stand the other stuff.