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Acushnet, Owner of Titleist and FootJoy, Debuts in Modest IPO

Titleist Golf BallsTitleist Golf Balls

Golf play may be down in the U.S., but that didn’t stop Titleist’s parent company from teeing up an initial public offering this year.

The result? Par—with a substantial handicap.

On Friday Acushnet Holdings, which in addition to Titleist owns the golf brands FootJoy, Vokey Design, and Pinnacle, debuted on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol GOLF at $17 per share, with hopes of raising $100 million. Its share price ended the day slightly up at $17.80.

It’s a modest start for the company, which had only last week hoped to price its shares between $21 to $24 a share before lackluster demand drove down the price last night.

“Our target market is dedicated golfers, who are the cornerstone of the worldwide golf industry,” the company said in its S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “We leverage a pyramid of influence product and promotion strategy, whereby our products are the most played by the best players, creating aspirational appeal for a broad range of golfers who want to emulate the performance of the game’s best players.”

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The problem? Golf as a sport is in a period of decline, at least in the U.S., which accounted for over 40% of Acushnet’s addressable market in 2014. (Japan and Korea followed, collectively representing over 30%.) It is in part a generational thing: Golf participation among Millennials (and beyond) has not proven as popular as it has been among Baby Boomers and Generation X. The total number of people who played at least one round of golf in the prior year dropped from 30 million in 2005 to 24 million in 2016, according to the National Golf Foundation.

A lack of megastars in the wake of Tiger Woods’s dominant period hasn’t helped, either.

“Although the number of rounds of golf played in the United States declined overall from 2006 until the end of 2014,” the company wrote in its S-1 filing, “we believe that golf industry fundamentals, especially in developed markets such as the United States, Europe and Japan, have shown improvement since the beginning of 2015.”

The company counted $1.5 billion in sales in 2015, down from $1.54 billion in 2014. It posted a loss of almost $1 million last year.

There is a silver lining. If and when participation in the sport stabilizes, Acushnet will be well-positioned thanks to its strong brands. Titleist has been the preferred ball in professional golf for 68 years; sales of balls alone represent 36% of the company’s total sales (and another 35% if you add branded clubs and gear). FootJoy shoes and gloves are a staple at the PGA Tour and represent another 28% of sales. Meanwhile Nike and Adidas are reducing or eliminating their golf assets, clearing the way in an otherwise shrinking market.

After all, when you play golf, you play the long game, no?