COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE CHAMBERLIN

Golf industry hopes for return to pre-recession glory days

When Tiger Woods tees it up this week for the Farmers Insurance Golf Open at Torrey Pines it will mark his return to the site of some of his greatest victories, including the dramatic U.S. Open in 2008.

At the same time, golf companies from around the world will be gathering in Orlando, Fla., for the annual Merchandise Show put on the Professional Golfers Association.

Golfers like Tiger and Phil Mickelson, Charley Hoffman, Mark Lunde and other local favorites -- as well as the PGA -- are hoping to see the game return to its pre-recession days of glory.

"Manufacturers are looking to 2011 for improvement in hope that consumers are once again willing to open their wallets for the latest innovations," said Bud Leedom, publisher of the California Stock Report, an investment newsletter based in San Diego.

Companies from this area will have a strong presence at the manufacturers show in Orlando this week.

Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY) will use the opportunity to introduce its news line of clubs, the RAZR X line of irons that will go on sale in February.

"We've created the ideal iron for golfers looking to make the jump from being a high handicap to a single digit player," said Alan Hocknell, vice president of research and development at Callaway. "RAZR technology allowed us to build this iron with distance and forgiveness in mind." It was 20 years ago that Callaway used the PGA Merchandise Show to introduce the Big Bertha line of drivers that dramatically change the kind of equipment professional and recreational golfers put in their bags.

Technology and golf have remained closely linked ever since.

Unfortunately, tough economic times around the globe have provided rough times for Callaway and other companies.

"Golfers have been reluctant to purchase expensive drivers and irons during the downturn," Leedom said. "Callaway continues to struggle following the recession and has restored more aggressive cost cutting to stabilize its profit margins."

Investors have also been reluctant to invest in shares of Callaway, which is scheduled to release its fourth quarter and full year 2010 financial results Tuesday, after the close of trading.

Callaway shares have been trading below $8 this month and have ranged between $5.80 and $10.19 in the past 52 weeks. Back in June 1997, when the golf industry was booming all around the world, the shares traded as high as $33.79.

Leedom says another local company, Aldila, "has fared better during the downturn having benefited as several competitors closed their doors."

Aldila, based in Poway, manufactures golf club shafts using the graphite technologies that were developed here by companies in the aerospace industry.

Its shares have recently traded near $5.50 and ranged between $3.65 and $7.00 over the past 52 weeks. Its shares topped out in April 2006 at $32.89.

The Farmers golf tournament will also provide an opportunity to focus on how important the industry is to the San Diego region.

A report prepared last year by the National University System Institute for Policy Research found total direct and indirect spending on golf in 2008 had an economic value of $3.7 billion and was responsible for 26,900 jobs.

That is equal to the region hosting 10 Super Bowls or 37 Comic-Con conventions.

"San Diego should be considered the golf capital of the United States," said Erik Bruvold, president of the National University's institute. "The region hosts multiple professional events, supports 90 golf courses, and is home to the industry's leading equipment manufacturers."

A great golf tournament this week under sunny San Diego skies would go a long way in reminding people everywhere, especially in many frozen areas across the country, that indeed San Diego is the place to tee it up.

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