As golf’s biggest stars descended upon the Medinah Country Club in Illinois on September 25, fans expected tensions to be high on the green. However, as USA Today first reported yesterday, the biggest showdown isn’t between the golfers, but rather between two luxury watch companies.
The Swiss company Rolex last year ended its position as sponsor of the Professional Golfers of America association, a title the watchmakers held for 17 years. Amid rumors of an acrimonious end to the relationship, rival company Omega announced that they had signed a five-year sponsorship deal with the PGA.
The move is indicative of Omega’s growing stake in the golf world; the company also recently developed a relationship with golfer Greg Norman. Stephen Urquhart, president of Omega, told Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson; “We’ve always seen in golf that it’s worldwide, it’s the universal sport everywhere. The biggest was golf becoming an Olympic sport. As the official timekeeper, it was a must for Omega to be involved in golf. Omega hasn’t reached where we should be. But we felt we have made inroads.”
The move has put Rolex on the defensive; the company previously enjoyed a near-total domination over marketing rights at PGA-organized competitions like the prestigious Ryder Cup since the company established a relationship with golfer Arnold Palmer in the 1960s. In an acrimonious response, Rolex responded to the Omega/PGA signing by banning Norman from the Rolex-sponsored Senior British Open pro-am. The move was not missed by Norman, who remarked; “Competition is very, very healthy. Not everybody uses a set of Ping golf clubs or Nike golf balls. You have MasterCard and American Express. It goes on all the time in golf. Where I get really upset is when you come after me personally about this. They [Rolex] are crossing the line between the business of golf and the game of golf.”
However, Rolex is not out of the sponsorship game – the company still holds that position with the European equivalent of the PGA association, known as the European Tour. While the PGA is in charge of the Ryder Cup (course shown above) this year, the European Tour will host it in 2014. This means that while Rolex has lost the marketing rights for this year’s cup, the tables will turn when the competition heads to Europe, when it is Omega that will be shut out. Richard Hills, who will be responsible for the Ryder Cup during its 2014 European iteration, said; “It gives us some operational challenges geographically. We have to do some work in respective each other’s territories. There are some challenges with two companies in a very competitive sector.”
It looks as if this turf war is only getting started, as these two giants in the world of luxury watchmaking vie for control over the lucrative sport of golf. Stay tuned to Haute Time to see how the chips fall.