Even in this day of mass marketing and overboard advertising, nothing works better than a friend telling a friend telling a friend, etc. Especially in golf where word of the latest fad spreads faster than Tiger Woods' swing speed.
Male golfers have pushed stereotypes aside to make the Precept MC Lady ball--originally designed for women--into one of the hottest products in golf. Their love of the MC Lady apparently knows no bounds.
The numbers are staggering. In December 1999, Precept sold 7,000 dozen of its Lady balls. In December 2000, without any advertising, the figure jumped to 62,000 dozen.
In March golfers bought 94,000 dozen of Precept's Lady, making it the second best-selling ball after the ultrahot Titleist Pro VI. Precept estimates it could sell 150,000 dozen per month this summer--if it could make enough balls to keep up with demand.
``I'll take word of mouth over $100 million in advertising every day,'' said Stephen Graham, Precept's director of marketing. ``It's really been amazing.''
Precept wishes it could take credit for hatching this windfall. But the truth is, the company has been nothing more than the blind squirrel finding the biggest acorn, which in this case was the MC Lady.
Precept originally launched the MC Lady as a niche-market product in 1998. All the main tests for the ball were to see how it worked for women with slower club-head speed. They never tested it for faster swingers.
``We didn't know what we had,'' Graham acknowledged.
Exactly who did isn't clear, but much of the credit for discovering MC Lady's potential is going to Lynn Farquhar, who runs an Edwin Watts Golf store in Birmingham, Ala.
The ball, with an extra-soft core and cover for exceptional feel, flies. It turns out Precept's muscle-fiber technology allows for an optimum initial velocity, which translates into distance. It also spins less, meaning it doesn't go as far off line on errant shots.
Farquhar heard from some Senior Tour caddies that the MC Lady wasn't just made for women. Farquhar maintains it is longer than the Pro VI.
Farquhar started to recommend the ball to his best customers, and soon the phenomenon took flight. The Lady Precept went to another level in Birmingham when Sam Farlow won the Alabama Senior Amateur using the ball.
``I called up (Precept) and said, `You've got the Big Bertha of golf balls,''' Farquhar said.
Graham and other Precept officials didn't believe it until they made the trip to Farquhar's store in October. In two days the store sold more than 1,000 dozen balls.
``People were saying, `Hey, this works, keep it going,''' Graham said. ``We weren't about to argue with them.''
Precept sat back and reveled in its good fortune. The only real ads for the ball have come in the form of a company letter apologizing to customers for not getting enough in stores.
Jay Gleason, a member of Skokie Country Club, read about the ball in a magazine. At 59, with his swing slowing down, Gleason wanted more distance. He says the MC Lady gave him an additional 10 to 15 yards off the tee.
It didn't matter to Gleason that the extra length came from using a ball intended for women. He insists he didn't have any hesitation playing with a ball that had Lady written on it.
``The macho guys want the Pro VI,'' said Gleason, an 18-handicapper. ``I told them, I hit this one farther.''
Pro Shop World of Golf in Skokie has sold so many MC Ladys to men, its sale people jokingly call the ball ``Laddie.''
``Initially there were some men who blocked out Lady with a black marker,'' Graham said. ``Now it's a cult thing. It's cool to play a Lady ball.''
Kim McCombs, manager of Pro Shop World of Golf, says the MC Lady phenomenon is another example of how far golfers will go to gain any edge in their game. If it were suggested that wearing a kilt could knock five strokes off your score, McCombs would brace for a run on kilts at his store.
``Golfers are crazy,'' McCombs said. ``It's not always what works the best. It's what's cool.''
McCombs likes the ball, although he notes there are others on the market, such as the Wilson Smart Core and the Top Flite XL 2000, that are just as good. Although the MC Lady works for the elite player, it's the average player who is seeing the most benefit from using it.
One of the biggest benefits is in the wallet. The MC Lady goes for $20 per dozen, much cheaper than the Pro VI, which sells in the range of $40 to $50 per dozen.
``I knew it would become a hot item because of the price point,'' Farquhar said.
If he were so inclined, Farquhar could press for a slice of the massive profits Precept will make on his discovery. If not for him, the MC Lady would be just another ball for women.
Farquhar, however, insists he is satisfied with being part of the process. He is content with his one fringe benefit. With allotments still at a premium for most stores, he has no trouble getting all the MC Ladys he needs.
``Yes,'' Farquhar said, ``I'm very well taken care of.''