Brad Pope, a 44-year-old homebuilder, takes one dirt-digging swing after another at the Leonard Golf Links in Fort Worth, Texas.
Less than 50 yards away, U.S. PGA Tour players Justin Leonard and Chris Couch launch Nike Inc.'s latest golf balls into the humid Texas air at a $10 million research-and-design center. Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1-ranked player, stops by some days.
The proximity of Nike designers to a $4.50-a-bucket public driving range is no accident. Seven years after debuting as a golf-ball manufacturer, the world's largest athletic-shoe maker wants to be close to average players.
"Being connected to golfers that sweat a lot -- and they do sweat a lot in Texas -- is
a good way to stay connected to what we're trying to do with our equipment,'' says Tom Stites, Nike's lead club designer.
The article goes into details about Nike's growth in the golf market, and the growth of its Fort Worth production facilities. Some golfers hitting balls at the driving range have been summoned into the Nike Golf facility to try unreleased equipments. Others, even regulars at the range, aren't even aware Nike is right next door:
Wade Warren, a 19-year-old junior college student from Weatherford, Texas, who practices at the driving range about four times a week, has been in the Nike facility several times.
"It's pretty cool,'' Warren says in an interview. "They'll walk over here and just pick a few people out and tell them to come over and hit some balls and try out some of their new stuff that isn't out.''
The presence of a Nike research facility so close to divot-producing duffers is a shock to driving-range regulars such as Pope, of Aledo, Texas, who has an 18 handicap and stops by on his lunch break.
"Nike? Really?'' Pope says when told about the occupants of the one-story building next to the range. "I didn't even know they were there.''
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