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A Hole in One


 

Man, do I love golf-the warm sun, green grass, sweet ting of a ball ringing off the tee. But, boy, do I hate it-the worm-burning drives, duffed fairway shots, 20-foot putts that go 30 feet past the hole. But enough of my summertime woes.

For some the sport is a ritual-religiously practiced every week, often on Sundays, with the golf course an outdoor temple of sorts and only the best products will do: oversized clubs with sweet spots the size of watermelons, long-distance golf balls that not only add 10 yards to their drives but also have built-in LED range finders, and golf bags that, in addition to chilling their beers, provide built-in mixed-drink blenders.

Yes, these are fanciful items -- although they're on my wish list -- but there's nothing imaginary about the fierce competition within the golf-equipment industry. Although it may seem that more people are taking up the sport-from the pros to talented amateurs to hacks like myself-the market is in fact shrinking, or at least staying flat, pushing golf-equipment manufacturers to become more competitive. Wanting to improve their handicaps and take home the skins, they're deploying a bevy of new technologies to help them gain a competitive advantage, from beefed-up computers to the latest customer relationship management (CRM) tools to best-of-breed Web solutions.

Although it's the world's largest golf-equipment manufacturer, Acushnet Company, based in Fairhaven, Mass., is also feeling the pressure to speed up play. And to that end, it has established a sound, AS/400-centered extranet presence, allowing its retail business partners to conduct much of their business with Acushnet over the Internet.

Teeing Up
Acushnet, a wholly owned subsidiary of Fortune Brands, leads the market in golf balls, shoes and gloves on many global professional golf tours and in golf shops both on and off the course. It's five product lines are sold under the vaunted Titleist, FootJoy, Cobra and Pinnacle brand names-products that golfers of all stripes are sure to use at some point during their playing years. (I've lost track of all the Pinnacle and Titleist golf balls I've lost to the water, woods and deep rough-although I look just dandy in my soft-spiked FootJoys.)

The 93-year-old company has a large distribution network, consisting of what Peg Nicholson, Acushnet senior vice president and CIO, characterizes as "five channels." The most extensive she calls "green-grass, or on-course, pro shops," of which there are around 14,000 in the United States. The other four channels include off-course shops such as Golf Galaxy, sporting goods stores such as The Sports Authority, mass merchants such as Walmart and, finally, corporate custom.

 

"We didn't want up to 14,000 customers accessing the production database, which is our internal lifeblood." -Peg Nicholson, senior vice president and CIO, Acushnet

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.



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