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Golf is an invitation

When the marketing might of Nike met the genius of Tiger Woods, the golf industry changed forever. But a chance encounter and a Nike film from the pre-Tiger era gave Jon Davie a glimpse into an alternate reality...

Golf is an invitation

One of the great things about this game is the people that we meet along the way.

A round of golf gives you time to talk. Time without the constant dopamine hit of notifications from your mobile. Time to catch up properly with an old mate, or time to get to know someone new – a playing partner on the first tee, but a friend by time you walk off 18.

I was lucky enough to enjoy one such game last month. My partner was a guy I’d never met before. We connected through a society we're both members of, and he was kind enough to host me at his wonderful golf club on a beautiful spring day – the first time playing in shirt sleeves this year.

As we strolled down the first fairway in the early spring sunshine, I started to talk about Sounder, and our mission to try and create a more authentic and ‘soulful’ golf brand.

That word – soulful – really caught his attention. He works in the ad business, and had spent time working with Nike in Portland during the 1990s – the time when Nike first moved into golf.

And in an email exchange over the following days, he shared a link to an ad that Nike made just as Tiger Woods was about to change golf forever.

The film is called Golf is an Invitation...

Like all Nike’s creative work, it’s beautifully crafted. But it’s also a glimpse into an alternate reality. A world where Nike did to golf what they did to running. While everyone else in the sports world talked about elite performance, Nike positioned sport as something for everyone, based on the belief that if you have a body, you’re an athlete. And that belief led them to create brilliant commercials like Find Your Greatness...

Golf is an Invitation does the same thing for golf. It features great players like Nick Price and Michael Campbell, but it shows their frustrations and their frailties, not their moments of triumph. It shows weekend hackers and world-class pros, united by those feelings all us golfers know so well – the days that we don’t want to end, and the days when you just don’t have it.

And it includes a line that really gets to the essence of ‘soulful’:

Golf is an invitation. To ask your soul, “Mind if I join you?”

I’d never seen Golf Is An Invitation. But I definitely remember the next Nike Golf spot, and I’m sure you do too. It was called Hello World...

Tiger Woods changed the professional game forever.  And Nike’s take on golf changed too. They followed Tiger’s inexorable rise, helping to elevate him from golfer to athlete, and from athlete to icon.

But what if Nike had continued to present golf as a soulful game? Maybe the rest of the industry would have followed their lead. Maybe we’d have golf brands that connected with golfers by demonstrating their love for the game, rather than chasing sales with ever-more implausible claims of distance and performance.

Maybe the golf business wouldn’t have become so disconnected from game of golf.

And maybe we’d never have felt the need to create a brand like Sounder.

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