In an industry where we see giants such as Nike running away from the battle for the hardware, one man, Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, has joined the fray on the front line with all financial guns blazing.
To understand the company and how quickly it has established itself as the top-selling bespoke golf brand in the business, not just in the UAE but worldwide, you need to know the man behind it all.
Bob’s a strong character and as tough as they come with a no-nonsense approach to life. These foundations were formed in his childhood days, growing up in a poor area of Baltimore. His parents tried to climb their way out of poverty through gambling, with the inevitable result of getting deeper in debt.
Bob still reflects on that time in his life. “I learned a lot from my parents,” he said. “I learned fractions from my mum in reading the racing form and selecting horses according to timings, distances and bookmakers’ odds. So when I reached school age I was good at two things – maths and gym.
“I made the sixth grade by sheer fluke but by the time I made senior year at high school I was failing most subjects, except for gym and lunch! Shame lunch wasn’t graded,” he laughed.
So with education coming to its end Bob had no clear path when it came to choosing a career. That’s when everything changed. The foundations of Parsons Xtreme Golf were originally formed, even though Bob and the golfing world were utterly unaware of how things were going to play out in the eventful decades to come.
“Two close friends told me after gym one day that they were going to see the Marine Corp recruiter so I joined them. This was at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968. We went on the ‘buddy plan’ and served with the Marine Corp Rifle Company.
“The following year I was in the bush for a month and got wounded by a trip wire bomb while walking point. I was sent on medical leave to Japan but returned to continue my service as a Marine Corp intelligence courier.”
After Bob was demobbed from the Marine Corp he found a manual job in a steel mill pit. He was still a long way from starting his own golf company but his life experience to date had taught Bob to fight even when the chips were down.
“After six months in the pit I decided that this just wasn’t for me, so I went to college,” said Bob in a slightly more serious tone. “At that time there was a programme that provided support for people who had served in the military. Your grades didn’t matter and the government even paid your tuition.”
Bob starts to smile to himself and begins to chuckle. “I remember going to the registrar’s office in Baltimore. They asked what I want to major in. I had no idea. I was the first person in my family to make it to college, so they gave me a book and told me to pick a major. I opened the first page and the first thing that came up was ‘accounting.’ I was asked if I was good at maths. I reassured them that I was good with fractions. Good job they didn’t know why. But hey, if I had opened the book from the back I might have become a zoologist.”
Education for Bob this time round was different. The Marine Corp had taught him discipline and purpose. He went on to become a fully qualified chartered accountant and for many this may have been a career for life.
Things took a meaningful twist for the better in 1975 when Bob was in California evaluating a company. He called into a nearby bookstore and bought book about basic computer programming. This was at a time when personal computers were just emerging.
“I remember having 12 hours to kill before the flight back home. I managed to read the whole thing from front to back and wrote my first basic programme on that journey home,” he said.
“The company I worked for had a spare terminal and over a period of time I was able to get my own programme to work. It quickly became my hobby and I found I was quite good at it. In 1978/79 I bought an Apple 2 C and learned to write a programme that would organise my family finances.
In 1984 I named my software ‘Money Counts’ and got it good enough to where I could start selling it. From my basement, I started ‘Parson Technology’ with my $15,000 in savings. When you first step into business without any guidance, it’s like walking into jail for the first time. You learn a lot of lessons! I sure learned a lot of lessons – and lost the lot.
“The next year I improved my software and managed to get together $25,000. This time I priced it more competitively. Guess what? I lost the lot again!”
It was in the third year of trying that Bob finally got his first breakthrough when a small computer magazine offered him the front cover advert at a bargain price.
This time Bob slashed the price to just $12 and wasn’t concerned about copyright infringements, which was unheard of at that time. This time it paid off and he started to make money. Upping the advertising spend to larger adverts he made $287,000 and was able to quit his job and concentrate fully on ‘Parson’s Technology.’ In 1994 Bob sold the company for $64 million but ended up with less than half after splitting from his wife.
$35 million in the bank
With pockets brimming with cash, Bob moved to Arizona and used the funds to start what would become ‘GoDaddy’, the self build and web hosting site, back in 1997. “This was during the dotcom boom and companies were paying $300 – $400 per customer through advertising. Even though we had a great piece of software it was hard to attract anybody when adverts were through the ceiling. My $35 million was dwindling fast but we made the smart move to register and sell domain names so we could offer those customers our self-build website product at the same time.
At this time in 2000 we came up with the name ‘GoDaddy’. It took at least 500 name tries and some Bourbon but it stuck. However, I was down to my last $6 million and I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. Even though we had a great product we just could get heard.
“I decided to go on a trip to Hawaii to figure out how I could pay our employees and vendors, and liquidate the assets we had. I really didn’t want to close things down but my mind was made up when I saw a guy my age parking cars at the hotel. He was whistling away, full of joy. At this point I looked at myself and thought, “what is wrong with this picture. Here I am with $6million and miserable, while this guy is a happy as can be. So there and then I decided to strap myself to the mast and if the ship went down I would go down with it!”
GoDaddy sold for $2.4 billion
Now something extraordinary was about to happen in 2001. The dotcom bubble burst and ‘GoDaddy’ quickly found there were few obstacles in its way. Backed up with smart TV commercials, especially the one that ran and was later pulled from the 2006 Super Bowl broadcast, featuring the ‘GoDaddy Girl’, the year after Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, caught the American public by storm.
“My dad gave me a great piece of advice when I first stated dating: ‘there’s just one thing to look for in a girlfriend – find one who likes you.” All our tour pros have come to us and liked our clubs. None of our players have been sweetened to like them.”
In 2011 Bob sold ‘GoDaddy’ for $2.4 billion and found he had the money and time to indulge in the things he enjoyed most. His love of motorbikes, but most importantly golf.
This is where the story of a penniless marine and self-taught computer programmer ends and a golfing pioneer begins.
Worldwide Golf: How did you first get into golf?
Bob Parsons: When my first business was successful we were working all hours of the day but along with a couple of the guys we took Wednesday afternoons off to go and play golf. At the start, we were so bad we would cheer the guy who managed to get the ball in the air. I went from playing once, to twice a week and we were soon going on golf breaks. None of us got to be really good. I got my handicap to about a ten. But what I did notice was that if you had the right equipment it made a difference.
WWG: Is it true you spent $250,000 on clubs in just one year?
BP: At the time, my friends were into gambling and driving fancy cars. My thing was golf. I just bought and tried everything there was out there. If the clubs didn’t work for me, I’d give them away to friends. The other clubs I would re-shaft and play around with to see what I could get out of them. By doing this I started to understand the theory behind golf equipment from ballistics to aerodynamics to perimeter weighting. I was spending around $250,000 on clubs a year. But in the final year before I started PXG I added up the bills and I had spent more than $350,000!
WWG: What were your findings in spending all that money?
BP: One of the things I noticed was that the cycle of the quick upgrades didn’t always deliver on their promises. More often they were just new clubs. So I had the idea to make clubs that were really better. I was close to a guy called Mike Nicolette, a design engineer at Ping. I asked if I started a golf company that made equipment with whatever money and time was necessary could we make a big difference? He just said ‘I don’t know’ but it will be great fun to try!
WWG: Why did you try and get into the golf ball market at such an early stage?
BP: When two other engineers from Ping joined Mike and myself we had to sign a clause stating PXG would not compete for 12 months. So I set the guys a task to try and build a golf ball. We achieved it and it wasn’t bad. We tested every golf ball but the best one by far for distance, dispersion and spin around the greens was the Titleist ProV1 – by a distance. There isn’t a better golf ball on this planet. From there on we stayed away from that side of the business.
WWG: Did the guys build anything else during that 12 months?
BP: They used a 3D printer to see how far they could hit a golf ball off a three foot tee with a frying pan at the end of a six foot pipe! The answer is 400 yards!
WWG: When the 12 months were up what was the PXG plan?
BP: The guys came in to see me and asked what was the direction I was looking for in an iron. I wanted an iron that looked like a blade, with a minimal offset, a little larger, sexy to look at, which should hit the ball further without being jacked up (strengthening the lofts), go higher, feel great, have a huge sweet spot and be incredibly forgiving. They laughed and said ‘is that all?” before going off to create prototype after prototype. But it wasn’t quite there. We then added a cavity. But without anything in the cavity we found it went for miles but didn’t feel right. The guys then added a thermoplastic elastomer and it was the breakthrough we had been searching for. That’s exactly what we have in the current 0311 series irons.
WWG: How do you know that the 0311 irons are worth the money you ask for them?
BP: Quite simple. When you hit them you know!
WWG: What would be your word of advice starting out in the golf industry?
BP: It helps to have a few billion dollars!
Billy Horschel: “Bob always does it his own way and I love that mantra. He doesn’t care what anyone else says, or how they think he should do it. Golf is his passion. He’s had his successes in business already. He doesn’t need for this to be successful. He’s a billionaire. The coolest thing is that for bob, money is not a factor. He’s got his engineers and they’re trying out things that have never been done before. He’s not just keeping the status quo with other companies. He’s going to continue to push the boundaries, and i like that.”
WWG: How do you select your players on Tour?
BP: My dad gave me a great piece of advice when I first stated dating: ‘There’s just one thing to look for in a girlfriend – find one who likes you.’ All our tour pros have come to us and liked our clubs. None of our players have been sweetened to like them.
WWG: Would you look to buy in a big name?
BP: If we were at the bottom or the middle of the market to have a superstar like Rory or Tiger would make sense. But we are at the top of the market and all we need is Tour validation. When our Tour players won an event our sales were just the same as when they didn’t win. We are in a different part of the market. It doesn’t make sense to get caught in that cash battle. What I do like is to see is our Tour players wearing a PXG hat now and again for the spectators and the television viewers.
WWG: Would you look to support players on the European Tour?
BP: In time, yes. Europe and the Middle East is in important market for us. We are in no rush but when we get to that point we would do it right.
WWG: Is the UAE a perfect fit with regards to retail demographics?
BP: We are a boutique firm. We spend more on the perimeter weights in our irons than our competitors spend on the whole clubhead. We have some cash tied up in the manufacturer of these clubs which is why our prices are so high. Anywhere in the world like Dubai or Abu Dhabi where people seek out quality products PXG is the perfect fit for them. We will not do the volumes of the big companies but what is important for us is the sanctity of our high-end brand by making sure they are never discounted.
WWG: Are you surprised at the amount of clubs that are being sold in the UAE?
BP: Our distributor in the region, eGolf, does a fantastic job and totally understands the brand values of PXG. They have a great set up and have been showcasing our brand well around the various premium courses. So when you match the two elements together professionally the results speak for themselves. Buying a Ferrari is an exciting experience and at eGolf that’s the experience PXG brings to the golf market in a luxury region.
WWG: Would you be interested in putting your name or investing in a golf club in Dubai like Trump has done?
BP: When I sold ‘GoDaddy’ I bought Scottsdale National Golf Club close to home in Arizona. I’ve invested more than $250 million in the place. Paired with my other ventures I’m flat out for time. I’m continuing to improve Scottsdale and that takes up more of my time, effort and money.
WWG: What’s the best course you have played or would like to play?
BP: I’ve played them all from Augusta National to the Old Course at St. Andrews, although there are many courses I’ve never teed it up at. I’ve no idea what is the best course in the world. What I can say is the best course I’ve been to is Scottsdale National Golf Club. You might think the others are better, but trust me, no other course in the world offers me the same level of service!