Nike lost money on golf equipment for 20 years, according to co-founder Phil Knight

Nike’s abrupt departure from the golf equipment business last year came as a surprise to many in the industry, but according to the multi-billion-dollar company’s co-founder Phil Knight, it was a long time coming.

In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg Television’s David Rubenstein, Knight discussed pursuing Tiger and ultimately signing him to Nike’s Tour staff, an endorsement Woods retains to this day. As marketable as Woods was as an athlete, the move into golf equipment was never a profitable one for Knight and Nike. 

When Rubenstein questioned Knight about Nike’s exit from the golf equipment business, Knight responded: “It’s a fairly simple equation, that we lost money for 20 years on equipment and balls. We realized next year wasn’t going to be any different.” Nike famously exited the golf equipment and balls business last summer, sending Tour pros on contract scrambling to other equipment manufacturers. Woods himself has since signed an equipment deal with TaylorMade.

Woods still continues to rep Nike apparel, shoes, etc. on the course, which Knight envisioned decades ago. Knight admitted to Rubentstein that he had his eye on Woods dating all the way back to his junior days, when he famously won three Junior Amateur Championships and three U.S. Amateur Championships.

“You could see him coming from way back,” Knight told Rubenstein. And when Tiger teed it up near company headquarters in the Portland, Ore. area, Knight would take Tiger and his father, Earl, out to lunch. You can watch a video of Rubenstein’s full interview with Knight below: