Wilson Golf History

By Brendan O'Brien

Wilson develops, produces and distributes sporting good equipment worldwide. The company, which began in 1914, is based in Chicago and sells various products in more than 100 countries. It has three divisions: racquet sports, team sports and golf. The golf division has 560 employees and touts the likes of Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer and Padraig Harrington as professional golfers who have played with and endorsed Wilson golf equipment.
 

Gene Sarazen

In 1922, Gene Sarazen and Wilson Golf began a relationship that spanned seven decades. The seven-time major champion became the first member of the Wilson Advisory Staff. in 1933, Sarazen came up with a new club with a pronounced sole for use exclusively in sand. Wilson took the idea and created the first sand wedge, selling 50,000 units that year.

Woman's Golf

In 1940, before winning all the women's major tournaments, Patty Berg was invited to join the Wilson Advisory Staff. In 1948, Lawrence Icely, the president of the company, gave money to Berg and "Babe" Didrickson Zaharias so the two legendary women's players could start a professional ladies golf tour. It would become the LPGA.

In her career, Berg won 80 tournaments and was a leading ambassador for the game and the company.

Wilson Golf Balls

In 1954, Wilson developed and sold the Wilson Staff golf ball, the first ball that emphasized power. The ball was touted as jumping off the face of the club at impact 40 percent quicker than the speed of the club. The ball became a favorite on the tour, with many players using it to win majors over the years.

1970 to 1990

Wilson Sporting Goods was purchased in 1970 by PepsiCo. Wilson Golf went on to build Staff Dyna-Power, Fluid Feel and FG Series irons. For the next 20 years, the company became a powerhouse golf supply manufacturer as Wilson Staff irons were used and endorsed on the PGA Tour. The company also introduced the Staff persimmon woods, a popular product. During this two-decade period, Wilson also developed and marketed the Ultra, a tremendously popular golf ball. The 80s ended with the company being sold to the Amer Group Ltd. of Helsinki, Finland.

Nanotechnology

During the next 20 years, the company introduced several lines of irons and woods to the international market, including the Staff RM midsize iron, Wilson Fat Shaft irons, Ci6 irons and the Gene Sarazen "R-90" wedge. In 2004, Wilson became the first golf club manufacturer to use nanotechnology, a technology based on the ability to measure to a nanometer, one billionth of a meter.

Rebranding

Wilson Staff has seen numerous changes since the 1990s. Wilson made the choice to appeal directly to department stores, notably Walmart, in an effort to make their products more widely available. Unfortunately, this led to a backlash from some parts of the golf world, sparking a low point for the company. This decline saw a loss in the visibility of Wilson clubs and balls on the biggest golf tours. Subsequently, Wilson has sought to "prove" its credibility by getting back to its roots as a premier golf manufacturer. This has yielded results, with Wilson Staff adding talented young golfers and numerous titles, including a few majors, to its trophy case since the early 2000s. 

About The Author

Brendan O'Brien is a professional journalist in Milwaukee, Wis. He has worked for several news organizations, newspapers such as the "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" and trade magazines during his 15-year career. He is currently a freelance writer who works for several publications.

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