PXG clubs, going for about $5K a set, turning heads on tour

Parsons Xtreme Golf making name for itself in golf circles (1:49)

Not affected by typical market forces in the golf club industry because they are bankrolled by billionaire Bob Parsons, who spent $350,000 on clubs for himself a year before he started his company, PXG now has winners like Zach Johnson on its tour staff. (1:49)

Bob Parsons likes to play golf. Often. Three times a week usually "when I'm working for a living'' and every day when he's not. Parsons, of course, has the means to do this and doesn't really need to worry about a job. Forbes put his net worth at $2.2 billion.

But that golf habit ... it can take a mighty hold over any of us, even an eccentric former military man who decided he wanted to own a golf course and then manufacture golf clubs amid a very expensive and highly competitive market.

"I did it mostly for me; so I could have a really great set of clubs,'' Parsons said during an interview from his office in Scottsdale, Arizona. "I personally am one, when it comes to golf equipment, who is a very picky guy.

"It just kind of evolved with me hitting everything out there and never hitting anything that I thought it was cracked up to be.''

So, early in 2015, Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG) was born. It got a big boost last month when six PGA Tour pros -- including Open champion Zach Johnson -- as well as five LPGA Tour pros and a Champions Tour player, signed endorsement contracts to play PXG equipment.

They are high-performance clubs with an expensive price tag, $700 is the going rate for a driver and $300 per iron, putting a set in the neighborhood of $5,000 -- give or take a putter or a wedge.

Parsons is unfazed about his clubs being too expensive for most golfers.

"We think it's a very significant market,'' he said. "Our clubs are priced high, more than twice what you could get one of our competitors' best sets for. Even though it seems high to look at the number, it's within reach of many, many golfers.''

Parsons, 65, is nothing short of confident. He has twice started and built companies, then sold them for mega-millions, including the GoDaddy.com domain name company that he launched in 1997. Parsons made headlines with GoDaddy for a couple of racy Super Bowl ads. He sold most of the company in 2011, although he still retains a 27 percent share.

Now he is doing something similar with PXG, with the attention emanating from the high cost to buy the clubs.

One of his ad campaigns: "Warning: our clubs are amazing but expensive.''

It has been quite a career for Parsons, who could have never foreseen his success as a kid growing up. His time in the Marines, including a stint in Vietnam, is what Parsons credits with helping him get to where he is today.

"I was terrible in school and failed the fifth grade,'' he said. "I only graduated from high school because during Vietnam I showed my teachers my enrollment papers and they passed me. The Marine Corps did everything for me.''

He went to the University of Baltimore where he was magna cum laude. He pursued a degree in accounting "because it was the first thing in the manual. If I had opened it backward, I would have been a zoologist.''

But Parsons passed the C.P.A and eventually founded his own electronics and technology company, selling it in 1994 for $64 million. Today his other business interests include several motorcycle dealerships as well as numerous real estate holdings and philanthropic endeavors.

"When I was looking at going to PXG, I researched everything, and I researched Bob's whole life,'' said 2014 FedExCup champion Billy Horschel, who made the switch to PXG from Ping. "I was not worried that this was going to be a little fling for Bob. He's passionate about the game of golf. He plays a lot of golf himself and in just talking to him about his experience with other clubs, he felt like he could put a group of guys together who were going to build the best clubs in the world and he was going to allow them to do whatever they wanted.

"There would be no restraints. And he felt like if it would work for him, why would it stop others from playing a club that would improve their games as well?''

Parsons found talented golf club designers to come work for him, including Mike Nicolette, a former PGA Tour pro who once won at Bay Hill. Nicolette and colleague Brad Schweigert both worked for Ping, but came on board with the directive to build the best clubs possible -- with no constraints on time or money.

The basic premise is they are designing irons that have the look and feel of a blade, but perform like a cavity-back, known as a player improvement club.

"They weren't rushing, they took their time,'' Parsons said. "They used the very best materials that made the most sense and really didn't think about the cost. A couple of times I caught them being worried about the cost, and I had to crack their knuckles for that. What we're interested in is what is going to perform the best even if it provides a small margin.''

And what has PXG found to perform the best?

Parsons' technical explanation: "The clubs are forged three times. Then it goes to a really sophisticated milling operation. After it's milled, it has all the weights put into the different weight ports. Then it has a face which is a very special metal that we picked. It is melded on. Then we inject two or three things inside the cavity, we seal it and freeze it.''

James Hahn, who won the Northern Trust Open last year, made the switch to PXG this year and was very interested in the technical side of the operation.

"One thing they don't tell you is even though the iron heads are forged, the inside is milled,'' he said. "You're getting a consistent product. You're not getting any irons heads that are heavier or lighter. It was easy for me to make a decision after talking to the guys who are with the company.

"You've got a billionaire running the company. He's not cutting corners. He doesn't care about cutting corners. He doesn't care about losing money.''

Hahn also likes the fact that the company is based in Scottsdale, where he also plays at the club Parsons bought a few years ago, Scottsdale National Golf Club.

And that is another story. Parsons bought the club in 2014 after considering buying an NFL team. ("It never got close at all,'' he said.) And after doing so, he sent a stern letter to club members that said, in part: "Currently our members who use the club the most support the club the least. In fact, many members who are at the club each and every day spend nothing and do not support the club at all. This will not continue.''

Parsons offered the chance for members to resign, in which he would give them a full or partial refund of their initiation fees depending on their membership status. Parsons would not discuss particulars of the membership situation, but seems content with the way the situation played out.

"Every once in awhile we do something and it works out really great for us,'' Parsons said. "That was one of those things that I couldn't be happier with. It's around the corner from where I live. It is a property in a location that is second to none. The design is great. It's surrounded by set-aside lands. It's wonderful. That's where I'm happiest, when I'm at the course. We've got another 27 holes opening on Nov. 1 including a 9-hole par-3. There won't be a house on the property.''

Parsons has taken that attitude to the golf club business, where he is not worried about what others think. He doesn't see himself as a competitor with the established golf companies, but wouldn't be surprised to see some of them look at his model.

"We are protected by 90 patents,'' he said. "But our whole sport is about innovation. When Karsten (Solheim of Ping) did perimeter weighting, everybody eventually followed.''

Ryan Moore was the first player to sign on with PXG early in 2015, and his clubs became a bit of curiosity on driving ranges throughout the PGA Tour.

But getting a group of players to join the company has given it a big push. In addition to Johnson, Horschel and Hahn, PXG also signed the likes of Chris Kirk and Charles Howell III. LPGA Tour players Cristie Kerr, Gerina Piller, Alison Lee, Beatriz Recari and Sadena Parks as well as Anna Rawson are also on the payroll. So is Champions Tour player Rocco Mediate.

"I was happy to see it,'' Parsons said. "It did increase our momentum. I did not go after any of them. Every one of them came to us. We eventually put a deal together with them. After the last one we signed, Mr. Kirk, we decided that 12 is enough. Thirteen ain't going to help us more.''