Rex Misak had the day off work Aug. 3 when he got an email from company executives to come in for a mandatory meeting.
Misak worked in engineering and product testing at Nike’s research and development facility in Fort Worth called The Oven, located by the Leonard Golf Links golf course south of Interstate 30 along Chapel Creek Boulevard. Nike tested golf equipment such as balls and clubs at The Oven, and Misak said he enjoyed his job, never waking up dreading having to go to work every morning.
But when Nike executives emailed calling in employees for a mandatory meeting, Misak decided not to come in.
He would later get a call from his boss who spilled the news – Nike was leaving the golf equipment business and Misak was one of the employees terminated immediately.
The news came as a surprise not just to Misak, but to the other employees who lost their jobs as well, Misak said.
“It’s unfortunate that local people lose their jobs and get caught up in something like this,” Misak said. “But business is business.”
On the same day that Misak said employees were notified of their terminations, headlines began to surface about Nike’s announcement to leave the golf equipment business and shift its focus toward golf shoes and clothing.
"We're committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel," Nike Brand president Trevor Edwards said. "We will achieve this by investing in performance innovation for athletes and delivering sustainable profitable growth for Nike Golf."
As far as what that means for The Oven, Nike spokesperson Gretchen Wilhelm wrote in an email to the Fort Worth Business Press that the facility would “remain open during this transition, while we continue to evaluate our future business needs.”
She said Nike cannot disclose how the decision would affect jobs at The Oven. Misak said he estimated about 50-60 employees worked there.
Steve Blondell, manager at Leonard Golf Links where The Oven is located, said Aug. 9 that a small staff remained at the facility. Wilhelm declined to say how many employees were laid off.
Marty Leonard, owner of the facility that Nike leases for The Oven, said she is not sure what will happen to the facility or The Oven moving forward.
Nike’s decision to leave the golf equipment business comes at a time when interest in golf has declined in the United States, according to The Washington Post. The National Golf Foundation reported that the number of golfers who played at least one round a year went from 30 million in 2005 to 24 million in 2015 – the lowest since the mid-1990s.
Although the sport’s popularity may be falling nationwide, golf in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has remained steady, said Michael Tothe, tournament director of the Dean & DeLuca Invitational at Colonial Country Club.
“Our core fans are very strong, our corporate presence is very strong,” he said. “I’ve seen reports, too, about golf on the decline, but I myself have not seen it.”
Golf is still popular in North Texas, Tothe said, citing developments such as Dean & DeLuca signing a six-year sponsorship agreement with Colonial to last through 2021, as well as the growth of Topgolf, which plans to open a new location in Fort Worth at Texas Highway 121 and Interstate 35W next year.
“Golf in Texas, and golf specifically in Fort Worth, I would say, is very strong,” he said.
Terry Koehler, founder of Fort Worth-based Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Co., agrees.
“Golf is a game that is, to me, very healthy,” he said. “I mean, it’s got its challenges like a lot of things, but people aren’t leaving the game in droves and people aren’t joining the game in droves.”
He said Nike’s decision to stop making golf equipment won’t have much affect on his business.
“Nike, as giant of a company as it is overall, its golf equipment numbers were very small as a market share percentage of the golf equipment industry,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to have a major impact on us or even the big guys or anybody else. Their market shares were pretty small. The other brands, including us, will collapse in on that small void.”
What does hurt, Koehler said, is the thought of people losing jobs in Fort Worth.
“It’s bad for Fort Worth to lose an employer,” he said. “It’s bad for anybody to have a job one day and wake up the next day without one.”
What will happen next with The Oven remains up in the air. The day after employees were notified of their layoffs, Misak came back to the facility to pick up his personal items and severance package. He said none of his colleagues had anticipated Nike’s departure from golf equipment, and he believes Nike announced its decision so suddenly to protect intellectual property at The Oven.
Nonetheless, Misak said he has no hard feelings toward Nike.
“The way they did it is the way it had to be done,” he said.