50 Years Of Rolex and Golf: A Golden Partnership

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Turn the clocks back 50 years to 1967 and the world was a very different place. A pioneering prototype of the Concorde supersonic aircraft was first unveiled in France, and Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant in South Africa, helping to pioneer a medical procedure that would go on to save countless lives.

The year also marked the beginning of a significant new relationship between the Swiss watch brand, Rolex, and the sport of golf. A relationship that, in its solid continuity, as well as its breadth and depth, has transcended the often-fickle realm of sports sponsorship. Exactly fifty years have gone by since the alliance first began, a half century of steadfast commitment and instrumental support.

Golf

A Partnership Based in Shared Values
In the 1960s, professional golf was experiencing a renaissance courtesy of an American whose domination of the sport, coupled with his disarming charisma and charm, would change the game for generations to come.

One of the world’s greatest and best loved golfers, with a playing career that spanned 30 years at the very top of the game, Arnold Palmer won seven of the sport’s Major championships and more than 90 professional wins.

Palmer was a pioneer and a golfing futurist. His talent for marketing helped strengthen and promote the game he loved across the globe. He became the first golfing superstar of the television age and is considered to be largely responsible for the prosperity of the modern game.

At the same time that Palmer was at the pinnacle of his career, Rolex was keen to strengthen its association with golf. Naturally, Palmer was the perfect fit to become the brand’s first Testimonee in golf and so began an enduring partnership that has developed into one that spans the globe and extends to golfers of all ages and abilities, exemplifying the passion Rolex has for the sport.

“It’s been one of the best and most compatible relationships that I have had in my life,” Palmer once said of his abiding partnership with Rolex. “There’s far more to the relationship than I could ever tell you. Rolex has done so many great things over the years that have been of tangible benefit to golf as a sport.”

Tiger Woods

Standing The Test Of Time
The bond between Rolex and golf has evolved through pivotal partnerships that have cemented Rolex’s place at the heart of the game. In the 1970s and 1980s, Rolex added prestigious tournaments The Open and the U.S. Open; guardians of the traditions and rules of the game The R&A and USGA; as well as the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), to its growing number of golf partners.

Rolex’s relationship with golf was described best by one of the most influential men in the sport – Peter Dawson. Now President of the International Golf Federation, it was during his tenure as Chief Executive of The R&A when he said: “Through its historic and unwavering support, Rolex has become part of the fabric of golf, from supporting the amateur game to increasing awareness of The Rules, on through an association with golf’s original Major to presenting the Senior Open.

“No other brand I can think of is more globally and passionately involved in our sport. The far-reaching commitment of Rolex is deeply rooted in promoting and developing the game worldwide, from grassroots programs through to Major championships and elite players.”

Big 3

Individual Excellence
Rolex is renowned worldwide for reliability, precision and uncompromising quality, attributes the brand recognizes in each of its Testimonees. In the mid-1960s, a dynamic trio known as The Big Three – made up of Palmer, American Jack Nicklaus and South Africa’s Gary Player – had become the vanguard of the world game. Both Nicklaus and Player joined the Rolex family around the same time as Palmer, where they remain today.

The triumvirate challenged each other with their equal stature, skill and endeavour at almost every hole, at almost every tournament. Gary Player secured nine Major wins while Jack Nicklaus’s accumulation of 18 Major titles remains unsurpassed at the very summit of the game.

Explaining the nature of their unique rivalry, Gary Player said: “With Arnold and Jack, we all wanted to win so badly, and we had this wonderful rivalry and competition among the three of us. But, at the same time, when one of us won, the other two would put their hand out and say, ‘Well done, you beat me today, but I’ll get you tomorrow.’ It was a very healthy rivalry, and it was a rivalry of gentlemanly conduct.”

As modern icons of the game, The Big Three have each expressed their deep admiration for Rolex’s support of golf. Following a trip to Geneva where he received an up-close look at the inner workings of Rolex, Player said: “I’ve worked with a lot of different companies over my lifetime. Everything in business is negotiable except quality. That exemplifies Rolex – quality.

“I have always tried to surround myself with iconic brands. Rolex has been involved with golf for a long time, and represented some of the greatest ever players. It was a natural fit.”

In the same way that a Rolex wristwatch may be a treasured heirloom, passed down the generations, the legacy of The Big Three has inspired generations of golfers, who through their success, do the same for those that follow them.

Annika Sörenstam

The Rolex New Guard
Commenting on the current crop of young players at the forefront of the sport, one of the best female golfers in history, Annika Sörenstam, said: “Golf goes through cycles. Jordan [Spieth], Rickie [Fowler] and Jason [Day] are fun personalities and powerful players as well as quality individuals.” The Swede, who is a 10-time Major winner and former Rolex Rankings World Number One added: “There is certainly a new generation emerging and I feel golf is in good hands”.

These golfers are part of a burgeoning group of young, aspirational players who, like The Big Three before them, confidently go about their business with integrity, maturity and respect, as well as displaying skill, precision and ambition. These are the Rolex New Guard – a new generation of players who want to assert their authority on the sport and in doing so inspire future generations of athletes to follow them.

Tom watson

Rolex’s Ongoing Commitment to Golf
Rolex is also engrained in the grass roots of the sport, and the AJGA, of which the brand has been a Premier Partner for 30 years, has helped nurture the talent of countless stars of the modern game. AJGA Alumni who are now part of the Rolex family of Testimonees include: Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Rickie Fowler and Lorena Ochoa. What’s more, as of 2016, 24 of the past 30 U.S. Amateur Champions and 25 of the past 30 U.S. Women’s Amateur Champions are AJGA alumni.

Beyond the junior game, Rolex is also deeply committed to amateur golf, and is a partner of important amateur tournaments across the globe, including the British Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship, Latin America Amateur Championship, Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, as well as the leading Amateur team formats, the Walker Cup and Curtis Cup.

Providing support at all levels of the game including golfers in the latter stages of their playing careers, Rolex also has a longstanding relationship with the US Senior Open Championship and, since 2012, The Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex.

Just as for the past five decades Rolex has grown its relationship with golf, there is every intention of continuing this commitment for the long term. This anniversary year also celebrates the start of the Rolex Series – a new alliance between leading tournaments created to strengthen the European Tour’s international schedule from the 2017 season onwards.

Speaking in November 2016, Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, said: “The Rolex Series will celebrate the highest quality of golf and the international spirit of the game, qualities that Rolex and the European Tour strengthen with this announcement. We are tremendously proud to have Rolex as our partner in this exciting new venture and we thank them for their continued support”.

Winding the clock forward, 50 years from now, one thing we can count on for sure, with a century of Rolex’s perpetual pursuit of precision and excellence, as well as its significant support of golf for the past five decades, is that the sport will be as prominent and prosperous as ever.

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