A chance meeting between Mike Nicolette, a former PGA Tour winner (1983 Bay Hill Invitational) with 23 years service at Ping, and GoDaddy billionaire Bob Parsons led to the founding of Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG). But how did it actually come about?
What convinced two leading club engineers with 36 years experience to go out on a limb with a brand new equipment start-up? What was Bob Parsons goal at the outset? We sat down with PXG’s Mike Nicolette (a PXG Director and Design Engineer) to find out.
We were driving to the 1st tee, when a friend yelled out “Hey Bob, do you want play 9 holes?”
Bob yelled back “heck yeah”. It was a Friday afternoon at Whisper Rock Golf Club and I didn’t know Bob Parsons from Adam, but he told so many stories we laughed until we were crying. It was the most fun 9 holes I may have ever played, that was the first time I met Bob Parsons. During those 9 holes Bob learnt I designed golf equipment for Ping and I learnt that Bob was an equipment nut.
After four or five telephone calls I decided to find out who Bob Parsons was.
Mr Parsons took my number, he would call out of the blue and ask all sorts of equipment questions. I’d always talk him through what he was planning and the effects it would have on ball flight performance. After the fourth or fifth call I called my friend who’d invited me to Whisper Rock and asked who is this guy Bob Parsons? At the time Mr Parsons still owned GoDaddy, it was only after looking up his Wikipedia page I learnt who he was.
One day Mr Parsons called and said “I have something you may be interested in” but he wouldn’t talk on the phone.
Over the next 18 – 24 months we struck up a friendship, he invited me to play golf a couple of times, then when he called again, naturally I thought it was another equipment question. I went to see him and we met in his office, whilst he didn’t have a total vision for what he wanted to do, he knew he wanted to do something different in regards to the golf equipment industry. He said “I’m a little put off by the golf equipment industry, I buy everything from every manufacturer, I try every head, shaft and grip, but I don’t find anything that separates them, there has to be a better way.” The rumours of Mr Parsons spending $200,000 - $300,000 a year on golf equipment are absolutely true, in his mind it was research.
If you’re thinking of getting into the golf industry I don’t recommend it.
It’s exactly what I said to Mr Parsons. The golf industry is really tough, it’s been shrinking for 10 years, so to gain market share you have to steal it from another brand. That’s not easy, it takes time and money, and even that doesn’t guarantee success.
Mr Parsons insisted he had some different ideas, he was buying a golf course (Scottsdale National) and he wanted to build a golf research centre.
He wanted me to run the research centre, and his pitch was “come on, lets dig in and find out if we can make the best golf clubs on earth”. I insisted it sounded like a really cool idea, but although I’m a decent player and a good club designer I’m not the guy who starts a business or sets up an operation. I know who I am and that’s not me. But I said “I know a guy who can, that’s my boss at Ping, Brad Schweigert”.
“You want to bring your boss here too?”
That was Mr Parsons response. I told Mr Parsons, Brad Schweigert is probably the most valuable man in the golf industry. He has 13 years experience of running the engineering efforts at Ping. He manages a team of 70, he’s involved in R&D and intimately connected with every product Ping produce. He oversees the analysis and testing too. Besides that Brad has an MBA (Masters of Business Administration), he has a great business sense and on top of everything, he’s got the foresight to look at the industry and know what to do to make a difference. Mr Parsons said “if you don’t do it, i’m not doing it either, go and see if Brad’s interested”.
Brad Schweigert and I made a pact whilst sat in a sandwich shop. We’d call Mr Parsons, if he didn’t pick up our call and it went to voice mail, we’d get back to working at Ping.
This really is how close PXG came to not happening. Brad was open to exploring a new opportunity, but we knew Mr Parsons was a billionaire, that means he’s a busy guy getting tugged at from every direction. It could have been a pet project, which lasted 6 months. We sat in that sandwich shop and called, the phone rang once and Mr Parsons picked it up. We told him we were interested in joining him, Mr Parsons was ecstatic, he said “that’s made my day, that’s great news, but hold on I haven’t met Brad”.
Mr Parsons has an infectious personality, he and Brad Schweigert hit it off, one thing led to another, and here we are.
Just a few months after making the switch to PXG, Mr Parsons insisted if we were serious about this we couldn’t just be a two man operation. He wanted to know who else we needed. The biggest thing we wanted was an IP attorney (Intellectual Property), as they they’d be responsible for writing up the patents we developed. They’d also research other brands patents and make sure we weren’t heading in a bad direction and potentially infringing on others. Mr Parsons was serious about getting out on tour so we also hired a tour rep, and a further design engineer. When we made the switch there wasn’t a company name, it wasn’t until we saw a logo a designer came up with, that it kicked us off with PXG.
One of Mr Parsons 16 rules of life is “get out of your comfort zone and stay there”.
Of course it was a risk leaving Ping after 23 years. But right at the start Mr Parsons insisted PXG wasn’t a pet project, and that he was in it for whatever it takes. He insisted our job was to make the best golf clubs on the planet, if we succeed we will start a business, if we didn’t we could just keep researching.
Mr Parsons knows how to pull the best out of people.
When we first started machining iron models in house Mr Parsons asked how long a design I had on my screen would take to create. 10 - 12 days was unacceptable to him (our best at Ping had been 8 days), but that, “I’m not satisfied with that” attitude leads to doing things differently. We can now machine a new iron model overnight, is says so much about him, I completely understand why he’s been so successful.
The golf market has a lot to thank Mr Parsons for.
Before PXG the golf market was in serious trouble, it was a race to the bottom. Selling better equipment for a lower price isn’t a reality. Everybody was trying to undercut the next guy. Our pricing at PXG isn’t arbitrary, it’s very expensive and difficult equipment to make and the price is set accordingly.
In five years we’ve gone from non-existence to every other brand chasing us.
We’ve found out how the inner material of a club head is just as important as the Exo-skeleton. If you don’t have the whole club working together you’re not maximising potential. We went through every material known to man going from our Gen1 to Gen2 irons, but the search all surrounded materials on the outside, it didn’t produce a lot of fruit. So we turned our attention to what material’s inside, and it’s been game changing.
We just couldn’t have come up with such extreme ideas at Ping.
I love the guys at Ping, they’re a beautiful company, I owe them my life, but brands work backwards from launch dates and price points. You’re governed by how much a retailer is willing to pay for your equipment, it means pretty much you’re doing the same thing over and over again. At PXG we don’t work like that, we aren’t constrained by time or how much our equipment costs, I have absolutely no regrets in meeting Mr Parsons or making the switch to being part of PXG.