Bobby Jones, widely known as a great amateur golfer, lost the U.S. Amateur tournament in 1929 to Omaha amateur Johnny Goodman.
Now, more than 80 years later, Jones has a new connection to Omaha: Licenses for sportswear and golf equipment bearing his name will be managed by a division of the Omaha investment company Waitt Co., with the goal of turning “Bobby Jones” into an international brand.
“This is an opportunity for this brand to have a fresh start,” Waitt CEO Dana Bradford said. “It's an opportunity to have a partnership with a management that is experienced in global brands.”
Waitt, which has bought other apparel brands in the past year, has the resources to expand the Bobby Jones brand globally, re-establishing it first in the United States and Canada and then spreading to Asia and Europe, said Doug Williams, CEO of W-Diamond Group. Williams bought the brand out of the second of two bankruptcy cases filed by its former owners, a company from India that did not have the finances to support its brands, including men's suit maker Hart Schaffner Marx.
Jones' family owns the rights to his name and image through a corporation called Jonesheirs Inc. and receives royalties from sales.
Waitt Co., which manages about $700 million in real estate and businesses, was funded in 1998 by Norman Waitt Jr., co-founder of Gateway Computers.
“Bobby Jones is an exceptional brand, and I am honored to have this brand associated with our organization,” Waitt said.
Waitt Co. agreed to acquire the operating assets of the Jones brand from W-Diamond, including a long-term license for exclusive use of the brand on apparel, golf equipment and related accessories. Terms were not disclosed.
The brand will be managed by a new Waitt affiliate, Jones Global Sports, with Williams as a director and Andy Bell, formerly president of Bobby Jones, as CEO.
Bell said the company needs to recapture the confidence of its retailing customers. Besides golf courses and country clubs, the company plans to sell goods at Nordstrom's, Saks, Bloomingdale's and other retailers. An apparel design team is “reinvigorating the products” for the spring 2014 season, and Jesse Ortiz remains the head designer for the brand's golf equipment.
The apparel is aimed at the general sportswear category, Bell said, but also fits into the “business casual” styles that are becoming a more common part of people's wardrobes. About 90 percent of the brand's apparel sales is for men. The women's line, called Clover by Bobby Jones, refers to the golfer's habit of carrying a four-leaf clover for luck.
Atlanta attorney Marty Elgison, who represents seven Jones grandchildren and other family members, said the family licensed the Bobby Jones brand in the 1980s and said it did well until the 2009-10 recession hurt the sales of luxury goods.
A grandson, psychologist Dr. Robert T. Jones IV, said “the legacy of our grandfather is extremely important to our family, and we are confident the Waitt organization will provide the leadership and resources necessary to preserve and promote the Bobby Jones brand in a manner consistent with his legacy.”
Last month, Waitt acquired control of three apparel brands in a deal with Authentic Brands Group of New York City: Judith Lieber, known for its exclusive handbags; Adrienne Vittadini, which offers clothing, handbags, swimwear, eyewear and perfume; and fashion-forward brand Taryn Rose.
Last year, Waitt joined with Battle Sports Science, an Omaha company that developed a concussion-detecting chin strap for contact sports, to acquire the operating assets and rights to the Prince, Ektelon and Viking brands of tennis, racquetball and paddle tennis sports equipment and related clothing. Waitt's brands also include consumer appliance maker Vornado.
Williams met Bradford through the Prince brand purchase, and the Bobby Jones transaction followed.
Waitt's holdings and investments also include NRG Media, a 25-station radio network; Gold Circle Films, whose projects include the 2002 hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”; billboard company Waitt Outdoor; Premier Bank of Omaha; Election Systems & Software, an election equipment company; and real estate at Aksarben Village in Omaha and in Dallas, Houston, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
The value of the Jones brand stems from his success as an amateur golfer.
An attorney by trade, he regularly defeated the top pros in the 1920s and '30s. He won the “Grand Slam” of golf, all four major tournaments at the time, in 1930. During his career he played in 31 major tournaments, winning 13 and placing in the top ten 27 times.
He retired from competition at age 28 but later earned money from golf as an instructor and equipment designer. Jones, who died in 1971, founded the Augusta National Golf Club, where the Masters Tournament is held each year.
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