SOUTHAMPTON, BERMUDA | Never does Stephen Urquhart’s glass get below half full. And along with that endless optimism comes vision. For instance, we think in this country that golf is stagnant at best, receding at worst.
Not Urquhart. He sees incredible opportunity in golf for his company. That’s why he and his company – Omega, the world-renowned Swiss watchmaker – are investing in the game in this country in a big way.
Omega signed a deal with the PGA of America in July to take a sponsorship and time-keeping role at the Ryder Cup and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Part of Urquhart’s zeal comes from his world view. When golf in Europe is compared with the game in the U.S., there’s one winner. And even in an economy that’s shaky at best, Urquhart believes that America is where his company has the best potential for growth. And that golf is the right vehicle.
“I’ve been around the (U.S.) in the last nine months and I really don’t feel all the negative things that people are saying and writing,” said Urquhart, the president of Omega, who holds British and Swiss citizenship. “Of course, there’s high unemployment and consumer confidence is down but I think we (at Omega) need to be in the U.S.
“The U.S. market for us has been undersold and under promoted and under showcased. With our boutiques and the PGA deal, this will get us in the U.S. market, where we should be. We can double or triple our sales in America, which we cannot do tomorrow anyplace else.
“We can’t get involved in the Super Bowl. It’s a different level and not for Omega. But golf in America is so big, the grassroots are so big. It’s not just Florida or two or three states, but it’s all over the country.”
Omega was involved in golf in the late 1960s, primarily in Japan. In the early 1990s, Omega was the umbrella sponsor for what is now the Asian Tour, then called the Omega Tour. But golf was quite small in Asia at the time, not the burgeoning game it has become in the last handful of years.
Omega began to be involved in the European Tour, sponsoring the European Masters, Dubai Desert Classic and Dubai Ladies Masters. In 2009, the Omega European Masters was held at Crans-Montana in Switzerland and was the first event to be co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours.
In 2007, Omega began to sponsor the World Cup of Golf, which is held at the Mission Hills complex in China. But this is the last year of the company’s sponsorship and the reasons have nothing to do with marketing the company’s product.
“The format is not working,” Urquhart said. “The first year we sponsored the tournament, we had to pay players to come. That’s ridiculous. We would continue if the World Cup was redefined. It’s a tournament that belongs to everybody and nobody. The IGF (International Golf Federation) is supposed to be the owner but actually it belongs to the PGA Tour. The European Tour was our contact. It’s a little vague.
“If it was held every two years, say in non-Ryder Cup years, we would reconsider. Every year is too much. And, the event needs to travel. The World Cup cannot be in the same country every year.”
Nor does Urquhart think the event should be called the Omega World Cup. “It should not be called that any more than it should be called the Omega Ryder Cup,” he said.
This year was Omega’s first involvement with the PGA Grand Slam, which features the four current major championship winners and a 36-hole event at Port Royal Golf Course in Bermuda. Urquhart believes that the event’s imprint could be much larger.
“It’s a great event and people should know about it,” he said. “You have four major championships in completely different environments and the winners gather here in one place to compete. I think it warrants a lot more exposure. How, it’s too early to say.
“They need to showcase it differently, do more for it. It needs to be in a major media market. It’s a special event. Grand Slam means a lot; it’s a very meaningful name.”
According the sources, 2012 will be the last year that the PGA Grand Slam will be held in Bermuda. In 2013, it will be moved to an undisclosed location on Long Island in New York.
Urquhart is the most excited about being involved in the Ryder Cup, believed by many to be the greatest event in the game.
“The Ryder Cup has really become the tournament for non-golfers,” Urquhart said. “It’s easy. You can understand it. If you can’t really appreciate the finer points of the golf swing, if you have a match that’s 2-up, it’s easy to understand. I know people who don’t follow golf who do appreciate the Ryder Cup.”
Which is exactly why Urquhart wants his company associated with the Ryder Cup. In that respect, that particular cup is completely full – and running over.