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October 19, 2006

Callaway Quarter

The Top-Flite and Ben Hogan brands continue to drain parent Callaway Golf Company (NYSE). The Carlsbad, Calif., equipment company said it expects a third quarter loss of 17 cents to 19 cents per share, with sales to range from $193 million to $195 million. Callaway will release its official third quarter results Nov. 1.

For the third quarter of 2005, Callaway reported sales of $221 million, with a loss of seven cents per share.

“Over the first nine months of this year, sales of these products have increased seven percent adding to the double digit growth experienced in 2005,’’ said Callaway Golf Chief Executive Officer George Fellows. “Sales of the Top-Flite and Hogan products, however, have not performed to expectations and have offset the gains in our core brands. We are in the process of restoring these brands, targeting a formal re-launch of Top-Flite in 2007.”

Fellows said Callaway Golf’s “two-staged approach’’ to its business is well underway.

“The first stage, which targeted a gross reduction of operating expenses of $50 to $60 million in the first year, or $25 to $30 million net of reinvestment, has been more successful than initially expected,’’ Fellows said. “In fact, over the last twelve months we have realized approximately $44 million in savings net of reinvestment.’’

The second stage, Fellows said, will target gross margins, which have been at “unacceptable levels’’ in recent years.

“This margin performance was further impacted this year by some additional factors related to the Top-Flite business, including an inventory reduction initiative of older Top-Flite products in preparation for the re-launch of the Top-Flite brand,’’ Fellows said. “We recognize the importance of improving gross margins as it relates to our overall profitability, and have already begun implementing initiatives which are expected to significantly improve gross margins in 2007 and beyond.’’

KSL Closing in on ClubCorp

KSL Capital Partners LLC, a private equity firm whose golf portfolio includes PGA West and La Quinta Resort & Club, each in La Quinta, Calif., is closer to acquiring Dallas-based ClubCorp Inc. for a reported $1.8 billion. When the deal is finalized by the end of the year, KSL will control approximately 170 courses in more than two dozen states, as well as more than 40 private clubs around the world.

ClubCorp's resort and golf properties include The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., and Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Pinehurst Resort, the fabled flagship of ClubCorp, is not part of the acquisition.

Great Northwest

Bandon Dunes has put the state of Oregon on the golf destination map the past few years, and another resort is closer to becoming a reality.  The Jackson County (Ore.) commissioners recently endorsed a proposed $80 million golf resort south of Ashland that has been on the drawing board since 1987. The Clear Springs Resort proposal issue has been in the courts and before local and state governments for much of that time over water rights. Clear Springs Resort is planned on 245 acres about a mile south of Ashland. Developer Dom Provost reportedly has cut the plans for an 18-hole course to nine.

Deep In The Heart of Texas

The San Antonio City Council has agreed to extend construction deadlines for the Cibolo Canyons PGA Tour golf resort, much to the chagrin of environmentalists who have been trying to block the project for more than four years. Opponents of the project, which was first attempted by the PGA of America, basically don’t want the resort developer, Forestar Real Estate Group, to use Edwards Aquifer water for golf course irrigation.

The project’s backers, however, say the resort would be bring additional jobs and tourism to the San Antonio area.

The deadline extensions give Forestar (formerly Lumbermen's Investment Corp.) six more months to begin construction of a Marriott hotel and anchor golf courses and 18 more months to complete construction.

Going Digital

TSN's will no longer be the main provider of weekday golf coverage in Canada. Reports say the network might get only around 100 hours of golf coverage next year after failing to get a deal with The Golf Channel. TSN basically is the Canadian equivalent of ESPN. TSN President Phil King said The Golf Channel “seemed uninterested’’ in doing a new deal. Given the fact that much of TGC’s content is uninteresting, that’s not a great loss for golf fans in the Great White North. For those who can’t get enough of reruns of The Big Break or early rounds in next year’s PGA Tour schedule, there’s the digital option through subscriptions. Good luck on that front.


Not-So Secret Square

The first of at least two square-shaped drivers has been unveiled. Nike Golf has officially launched its SasQuatch SUMO (Super Momentum of Inertia) line of drivers. Each driver features the same yellow soleplates as the original SQ. The main difference between the SQ SUMO and the SQ SUMO 2, Nike Golf says, is that the SQ SUMO has a moment of inertia of 4950 while the SQ SUMO 2 features golf’s highest moment of inertia at 5300. Each SQ SUMO driver will begin shipping in mid-January with a suggested retail price of $359.99 for the SUMO and $479.99 for the SUMO 2.

Callaway Golf (NYSE: ELY) is expected to be the next company to introduce a square-shaped driver, this one featuring carbon composite materials. Look for Callaway to introduce that driver within the next several weeks.

IPO Info

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. plans to sell shares in its Japanese Accordia Golf unit as early as Nov. 1. Goldman formed Accordia Golf in July 2003 to run a collection of failed courses it acquired during Japan's economic stagnation.

Goldman, which is now seeking to capitalize on healthy demand for new stock offerings and Japan's economic recovery, reportedly will sell a partial stake to the public and retain a majority share.

According to a study published by the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development, Japan's golfing population last year rose five percent to 10.8 million. The institution estimates the number of golfers will fall to 7.8 million in 2015 and 6.7 million by 2020 because of Japan's aging society.

Equipment Watch

Mizuno is introducing its new MP-67 iron, which the company says features a “slender’’ Cut Muscle design for better feel and workability. Mizuno says the MP-67 is made from new 1025E Pure Select Mild Carbon Steel using its patented Grain Flow Forging process.

The MP-67 (suggested retail price $1,000 for 3-PW) , according to Mizuno, feature a rolled leading edge, cambered mid-sole, and rolled trailing edge for consistent striking ability from all types of lies.

Clean Up On Aisle Fore

The PGA of America has quietly hired lobbyist Erik Winborn, who once prowled the halls of Congress of behalf of Wal-Mart, to work on its behalf in Washington, D.C. According to The Hill newspaper, Winborn said “industry professionals’’ have been worried that Congress doesn’t appreciate the jobs golf provides and that the sport has been the victim of negative publicity in the wake of a Justice Department investigation into lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and congressional staffers on a golf trip the group took to St. Andrews, Scotland.

Neither Winborn nor the PGA identified who these “industry officials’’ might be, but The Hill quoted Winborn as saying the PGA was particularly upset last year that golf course owners weren’t included in a tax break Congress passed to help victims of Hurricane Katrina recover. So upset, it seems, that it took the PGA the better part of a year to act.

Golf by the way, wasn’t the only industry left out of the bill. The casino and massage parlor industries also got the cold shoulder from Congress. Make up your own joke.

Son of Big Break?

The Golf Channel must be hard up for content until it gets the PGA Tour next year. TGC is in the process of developing a series it claims will uncover the next new innovation in golf. Yikes. Anybody who has been to the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando knows that people with “new innovations’’ come out of the walls of the Orange County Convention. This show, if it gets on the air, isn’t going to be pretty.

Westin Out

Golf Trust of America, Inc., which owns the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club just north if Tampa, has mutually agreed with Westin Hotel Management to terminate the latter’s management contract at the resort effective Oct. 31. GTA has owned the 900-acre property and its four golf courses (managed by Troon Golf) since July 2004 and has tried unsuccessfully to sell the resort.

GTA President W. Bradley Blair, II, said the company will continue to operate Innisbrook “in accordance with our plan of liquidation.’’

 Innisbrook’s Copperhead course has long been regarded as one of Florida’s top courses. The Copperhead will host the Chrysler Championship Oct. 23-29 and will part of the PGA Tour’s “Florida Swing” with a new Tour event next March.