The golf equipment business is full of companies that have come and gone.
For some, it was quick—“Mac Burrows,” anyone?—and for others, it was a slow decline with some of the best examples being Ram and Founders Club (Remembering golf’s forgotten big brands).
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But when it comes to “what could have been” in the golf industry, to me there is one company that stands out above the rest in the modern equipment business: Nickent.
From the very beginning
Our story begins with Nickent playing the part of an entry-level custom “clone” brand—but this era didn’t last long.
Although it’s difficult to put an exact date to it, Nickent quickly changed its tune and started creating its own original designs. That’s when things really started to take off for the company. The first line was under the Genex Cross name, and then soon after the 3DX was launched, which included the famous Genex Ironwood—one of the finest hybrids of all time.
As much as Adams gets well-earned credit for pioneering the modern hybrid to the mainstream market, Nickent was right there around the same time—and its designs appealed to both better players and higher handicaps alike.
Overall, the clubs weren’t flashy, but they worked, and beyond the designs, they also found a sweet spot in retail at a price point just below where the big OEMs played, while still offering great performance. I can distinctly remember working golf retails when Nickent was at its peak and for those players who wanted new clubs, Nickent was a go-to brand that offered hundreds of dollars in savings compared to the major players.
So how did they do it at a lower price point?
Behind the Nickent design curtain
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The keys to any club’s performance starts with a great design ( shocking right?), and Nickent had a little secret weapon up its sleeve—John Hoeflich. I realize this name is unknown to many people, but John is an industry veteran and was the person behind the second most famous iron of all time: the Tommy Armour 845 (with number one being the Ping Eye2). John was also the designer behind another extremely popular iron, the TaylorMade RAC LT.
John was brought aboard by Michael Lee, the founder, and owner of Nickent. The smaller team allowed them to be nimble in the market and also kept the cost low, which was passed down to the consumer. They had a small tour presence which helped to create buzz; Jim Furyk was among the early adopters, but beyond that, it was print media and word of mouth through retail channels that helped Nickent quickly grow.
The most noted irons produced by Nickent were the forged 3DX Pros, and what set them apart on the retail level, beyond their looks and price, was the stock shaft offering—the Nippon NS Pro 1180. Most “players irons” at the time still came stock with heavier shafts designed to lower ball flight but the lightweight Nippon offered a stable yet easier to hit option players loved—and that lead to sales!
Nickent wasn’t afraid to innovate the industry and try new things—it’s one of the benefits the smaller company had.
“The exciting thing about Nickent is that we dont have to be afraid to try anything and the chain of command is very short! Our creativity isn’t stifled by big corporate business blockades, we are not risk aversive, we dont have to protect 30% market share, so we can do whatever the heck we want as long it is a quality product and people like it.”
– John Hoeflich (2005 Golf Channel interview)
They had hybrids that utilized multi-material construction along with forged irons with vibration dampening cavity inserts (3DX and 4DX pro irons), but the two biggest innovations they brought to the mainstream market before their demise still have design relevance today—the ARC blades and the 4DX Evolver driver
ARC stood for “Active Rebound Core,” and the ARC blades could be credited as one of the first modern true hollow “players” irons. There was even a point when Bubba Watson played an ARC lob wedge.
4DX Evolver driver
The 4DX Evolver was the first 460cc adjustable hosel driver and came with two interchangeable shafts when you bought it.
The driver even led to a small lawsuit with TaylorMade when Nickent ran an aggressive print ad claiming the 4DX was the “Number 1 driver on tour.” The ad featured an asterisk noting it was the Number 1 driver model at a Nationwide Tour event but it created enough heat at the time TaylorMade decided to step in—from memory the lawsuit never really went anywhere. *for some reason, this is the kind of stuff is seared into my memory
The 4DX’s construction was impressive beyond just the adjustability and touted 0.4mm thick crown—a number that is still impressive by today’s standards.
But even with all the technological breakthroughs and growing tour staff, it wasn’t long before Nickent’s eventual demise.
So what really ended it?
As a smaller company, Nickent’s death was attributed to a number of culminating events, with the biggest being something it had no control over—the 2008 financial crash. That market decline was the final nail in the coffin.
Leading up to 2008, Nickent was growing fast, and ownership was ready to take the company to the next level and make it “one of the big guys.” It made a substantial investment on the PGA Tour into staff players—including former U.S. Am Champ Jeff Quinney along with Tim Petrovic—as well as investing in a state-of-the-art tour trailer.
To accomplish all of this Nickent took on debt, both for marketing and inventory to cover the expected sales growth numbers. Unfortunately, the rising costs were too much of a burden for the smaller company and its single financial backer, and when club sales dried up in 2008 and the industry slowed down over the next few years, it was too much all at once. In May of 2009, Nickent went into receivership, and that was that—the beginning of a steep decline for Nickent.
The brand was eventually bought and turned into a house brand for Golf Galaxy, but it only lasted a few more years before being shelved entirely.