PGA Tour’s flagship event features a gold-tinted golfer silhouette logo that is sleek and classy, but in terms of prestige it’s not quite iconic — yet
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — His name is Gold Man. You may not know him, but he is the face of The Players Championship and his likeness is everywhere here. Signs, shirts, hats, glasses, scoreboards and socks.
Gold Man is a logo. He is a gold-tinted silhouette usually accompanied by THE and PLAYERS on either side. Sometimes, on a polo shirt or hat, he stands alone. That’s a classy look. Sometimes, Goldie (my nickname for him since we’ve gotten close this week) is in a circle on a pullover or a cap. Still classy but … not exactly a carnival of prestige and fun.
I like Goldie but, he is the same figure from the PGA Tour’s age-old logo, where he is a white silhouette on a navy blue background with “Tour” in red letters. That over-exposure and sameness makes Goldie a little tired looking from a marketing standpoint. How exciting are silhouette logos in sports? Not very in Major League Baseball or the National Basketball Association in their official logos. Air Jordan’s “Jumpman” of Michael Jordan, however, is magical.
The Players has aspired the be golf’s fifth major ever since it moved to TPC Sawgrass in 1982. Logo-wise, it is moving up but not quite ready to crack the Final Four.
Golf has two Holy Grail logos — Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, and Pine Valley Golf Club, every bit as exclusive as Augusta. The Masters logo is the United States in yellow with Masters-green trim and a red flagstick coming out of Augusta’s approximate location. Pine Valley has a pine tree on a brown, white and forest green shield.
It’s not so much the designs themselves that make them iconic. It’s what they represent, the pinnacle of American elite golf. Wear an Augusta National or Pine Valley logo and you’re guaranteed to get asked by a stranger, “Oh! Have you played there?” If you’re wearing Goldie, nobody asks if you’ve played Sawgrass or if you can get them Players tickets.
“I started in golf 15 years ago or so at Golf Channel and when I’d come to this tournament, I’d walk around and everyone was wearing Masters hats,” says Dave Piccolo, vice president of PGA Tour brand marketing.
“You know, the merchandise strategy was off, the colors were off. You could go to a merchandise stand and buy a green hat, a purple hat, a red hat. It took a while to get the brand consistency to make the merchandise and the logo look cool so people want the gear. You walk around the grounds now, there’s way more Players gear than ever. It’s much harder to find a Masters logo out there now. It takes time and you have to make really cool, compelling stuff that fans want to buy.”
Many recreational golfers love logos. Some of us are addicted. Whether it’s a swank club, such as Merion with its iconic red wicker basket logo, or a major championship, it carries an “I was there” cachet for its wearer. Some examples: A squirrel means Oakmont Country Club or The Country Club. A lone cypress is Cypress Point Club or Pebble Beach Golf Links. The Golden Gate Bridge is a PGA Championship at Harding Park. Pinehurst has its Putter Boy. Bethpage State Park has its everyman carrying a golf bag. Winged Foot has a wing on a foot.
This is the kind of prestige The Players is looking to achieve with its its brand.
“We’re not like a U.S. Open where they play a different course every year and you have a different logo every year,” Piccolo says. “We made a huge strategic decision a few years ago to really improve the quality of our merchandise, the offerings, the styles and the artwork logos featured on the apparel. A lot of people come to an event like this that aren’t necessarily golfers but they want a souvenir, something to remember their experience by.”
Thursday morning, I scoured the PGA Tour Fan Shop near the 17th green in search of potentially exciting logo merchandise options to see if they’re making progress. Goldie was all over the polos and pullovers and hats but he was pretty much the only option. The famed 17th green could be found mostly on T-shirts.
“We’ve talked about the island green,” Piccolo says. “Using the island green as a stand-alone mark is something we’ve wanted to explore. It’s a delicate balance. Because if we came up with an iconic island-green logo, that would probably dominate and become the tournament’s logo, which we don’t really want. Yes, it’s the most iconic hole out there but this golf course is so much more than just one hole. So, we struggle with that idea.”
Any 17th-hole artwork would make an attractive alternate tournament logo. Not using it more is like keeping LeBron James on the bench. Piccolo said the 17th has been merchandised the last few years, including a line of 17-137 hats and shirts that linked the famous hole number with its yardage.
“It’s a challenge sometimes to come up with new merchandise because a lot of our ticket holders come back year-after-year,” Piccolo says. “We’re getting into legitimate, proven history now. The Players Championship will be 50 in two more years. As the tournament grows and we keep having great champions, the prestige and the excitement are going to help make this tournament a bucket list thing. The success of our merchandise is really tied into the tournament’s success.”