Considering the role that cars have played in the 61-year
history of the Darrell Survey, the Motor City would seem a more
appropriate place for company headquarters than a spartan office
next to a Los Angeles graveyard.
After all, when Eddie Darrell, the founder, was following the
ragged ancestor of the PGA Tour to give Titleist the number of
pros playing its ball, he worked out of the back of a 1940 Buick
Estate Wagon. And when Darrell's widow, Virginia, took over the
company, she filled out the weekly reports on which players were
playing what equipment by the golden glow of the dome light in a
It wasn't until 1980, when the children of a Titleist sales
representative, Susan Naylor and her brother, John Minkley,
bought the Darrell Survey that the company had a firm
foundation--one that couldn't be towed when the parking meter
expired. Naylor opened the L.A. base, while Minkley manned a
satellite office in Atlanta.
Still, on a recent day Naylor encountered a problem to which
even Eddie Darrell could have related. Returning to the office
from an L.A. bindery, she tried to stuff 24 boxes of the $1.4
billion golf industry's most comprehensive consumer research
into the backseat and half-full trunk of her husband's 1989
Cadillac, known eponymously as the Biffmobile.
January 22, 1996
"I just bought shocks for this thing six months ago," said Biff
Naylor, shaking his head in resignation. After a 15-minute jam
session, the Biffmobile, hindquarters sagging, scraped out of
the parking lot. Susan, surrounded by cardboard boxes, had a
wide grin on her face. "I knew we'd get it all in," she said.
Getting it all in--condensing reams of information--is what the
Darrell Survey has been doing since 1934. The only company of
its kind in golf, Darrell this season will post sentries on the
1st tees of 162 PGA Tour, Senior tour, LPGA, Nike tour and major
amateur events. In the three minutes a threesome spends on the
tee before the first shots are sent down the fairway, Susan
Naylor, Minkley or one of a dozen other Darrell representatives
will record in a loose-leaf notebook the brand of woods, irons,
putter, ball, shafts, grips, shoes, bag and visor used by each
player. By the end of the day every player in the field will
have been so surveyed.
After being compiled in Los Angeles, the final count is sent to
the survey's clients every Monday morning. All of the major
equipment manufacturers subscribe to what Taylor Made president
Chuck Yash calls "the J.D. Power of the golf business," and they
pay between $50 and $400 per category for the service, depending
on the categories they desire.
"The Darrell Survey is the authority," says Gary Adams, who
popularized the metal wood and created the equipment
manufacturing companies Taylor Made and Founders Club. "It
really is the industry scoreboard. I believe that what the best
players play is what everybody else wants to play. I think the
pyramid approach has become the standard way to market golf. The
Tour is at the top of the pyramid, and winning the Tour count is
the way to the top of this business."
What is remarkable about the Darrell Survey, given its influence
in the golf industry, is that it relies almost entirely on
"We really don't do this any differently than Eddie did way back
then," says Naylor as she rummages through an old file cabinet
full of surveys--and the carbon paper used to copy them--from the
1970s. Naylor unfolds a piece of legal-sized paper that has a
weekly calendar for 1996 on it. In black ink she has written in
tiny letters the names of the tournaments the Darrell Survey
will staff, along with the number of surveyors required to do
each event. Minkley worked close to 50 of those tournaments last
year. Naylor went to about 20. Part-timers--Tour wives such as
Patti Inman, Carol Rymer and others--fill in most of the gaps.
At every tournament except the Masters, a Darrell representative
has access to the 1st tee during the first round. As each player
gets ready to start, a surveyor looks into his or her bag and
quickly writes down the brands of the various pieces of
equipment. Crucial to the entire deal is the confidentiality
agreement all Darrell Survey customers must sign. Manufacturers
can use Darrell's numbers (for example, 18 players used a
particular driver) but are strictly forbidden from releasing the
names of players and the equipment they use (i.e., Paul Azinger
used a certain driver).
On that same day an early, unofficial draft of the report is
faxed to clients. The loose-leaf pages are then sent back to Los
Angeles, where the data are tabulated. Over the weekend the
totals are confirmed and put into official report form. "We're
almost archaic in our method, but it is simplicity in motion,"
Minkley says. At the Masters, where no one, not even the Darrell
Survey, is allowed inside the ropes, Naylor and Minkley use a
calorie-burning system of relays between the practice range,
putting green and 1st hole, as well as powerful binoculars, to
complete the survey. The goal is to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Virginia Darrell handled the books for her husband until his
death in 1972, then took his place on the road. In 1974 Naylor,
freshly armed with a degree in philosophy, art and religion from
San Diego State, joined the traveling circus, which by then
included three dogs. "Virginia was the Tour grandmother,"
recalls Naylor. "Starting with the California swing in January,
we stayed on the road for nine months straight. Virginia didn't
drink much, but she kept this little bar in the backseat for
consoling rabbits who had missed another cut." Naylor says that
Virginia was privy to every secret on Tour but went to her grave
in 1989 without ever talking out of school.
Virginia sold the company only when she grew tired of the
travel. Naylor and Minkley have kept alive the spirit of what
was and still is a mom-and-pop operation, and they have
prospered as golf has blossomed.
Adams has used Naylor's numbers to build both of his companies.
In 1978 he had a good idea, the metal wood, but no cash. A year
later, with $30,000 in seed money, he formed Taylor Made and
produced a few hundred clubs. What he needed was representation
on Tour. In the early '80s more professionals began using
individual woods instead of sets, and Adams started to get his
clubs into the hands of Tour players. Copies of the weekly
Darrell Survey, which identified this trend, were the basis of
Taylor Made's first national advertising campaigns.
By the time Adams sold his company to ski conglomerate Salomon
in 1984, Taylor Made had established a toehold with the players,
and by 1987 it could cite survey numbers to prove that 37% of
Tour pros were using Taylor Made drivers.
But perhaps the most far-reaching--and most subtle--influence of
the survey is felt at the end of each season. The Tour is
understandably picky about which equipment companies are allowed
to freely roam the practice ranges, putting greens and locker
rooms at tournament sites. Only manufacturers that are mentioned
at least once in a particular season's Darrell Survey are given
access to the players the following year.
You can't win if you aren't in the game.