Hoping to get a little more exposure for its hybrid club, City of Industry-based Nickent Golf decided to sponsor a golfer on the pro tour this year.


The firm chose to bankroll 28-year-old PGA Tour rookie Jeff Quinney. Little did it imagine that it would hit an ace.


Quinney's had two consecutive top-10 finishes playing against the top golfers in the world. As a result, he's received plenty of TV time all while wearing a hat and shirt and carrying a golf bag prominently bearing the company's name.


"His performance on the first few weeks of the tour has been phenomenal," said John Hoeflich, Nickent senior vice president.


Sponsoring a tour golfer can cost more than $1 million a year. Nickent would not say how much Quinney cost, but said he was a bargain because of his first-year status. The company figures he's already given it millions of dollars worth of publicity.


When Quinney hit a hole in one a few weeks ago at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, the result was a temporary overload of Nickent's phone and email system at its corporate headquarters.


"People wanted to buy the club that he used to hit that shot," said Jon Claffey, the firm's director of marketing.


Quinney is in Los Angeles this week for the Nissan Open, where he will be competing for $5.2 million in total prize money. He'll skip a practice day at the Riviera Country Club in order to film a television commercial for his sponsor.


Although the company would not release revenue figures, Claffey said Nickent is now the fastest-growing golf club company in the world in terms of volume. It has seen revenue grow 60 percent year-over-year for the past two years while the overall market has remained stagnant.


"We are becoming a recognized brand rather than a niche product," said Claffey.


Quinney is the only player on the PGA Tour sponsored by Nickent. The company sponsors additional players on the LPGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour. In November, the company also signed a three-year multi-million dollar deal with the Golf Channel to be the official sponsor of the Nationwide Tour.


Nickent was founded in 1996 and operated as a retail-driven brand, meaning that it partnered with retailers who sold the product because the margins were higher than more established brands.


Nickent hired club designer Jeff Hoeflich to help expand the brand in 2002. Hoeflich has designed some of the best-selling golf clubs and holds patents on 16 club designs. He helped design the hybrid club that is now responsible for 75 percent of Nickent's sales.


The club is made from a stainless steel alloy in combination with a tungsten-polymer insert. It is called a hybrid because it can replace both woods and irons. It is shorter than a wood but longer than an iron. It adds distance to shots normally hit with an iron. It was originally designed for the Japanese market.


The hybrid club is designed for golfers with both low and high handicaps.


"There are very few clubs other than a driver where the professional and amateur player can benefit," said Hoeflich.


Nickent is now the leader in nationwide hybrid sales, which account for 30 percent of the woods market compared with just 2 percent in 2004.

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