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Callaway to buy Top-Flite

Callaway Golf Co., the world's largest golf club maker, won federal bankruptcy court approval Thursday to buy Top-Flite Golf Co., one of the nation's oldest and largest golf ball makers.

The $174.4 million sale is expected to be completed this month, Callaway officials said.

Callaway, of Carlsbad, Calif., beat out sporting goods giant Adidas in a bid to acquire Top-Flite's assets after it sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June.

More than 30 bids and counter bids were exchanged until Adidas-Soloman AG pulled out early Thursday, Top-Flite said.

Callaway made an initial offer of $125 million for Top-Flite. Adidas spokeswoman Anne Putz would not disclose her company's final offer for the company.

Callaway chief executive Ron Drapeau said the acquisition of Top-Flite will help the company finally make money on golf ball sales.

"We fully expect our combined golf ball business to be profitable going forward, ending the profit drain we have experienced from our own golf ball operations since start up," Drapeau said.

Privately held Top-Flite was formerly Spalding Sports Worldwide. The name was changed in April after the company sold the Spalding brand and its line of inflatable balls to Russell Corp., the Atlanta-based athletic wear maker.

Top-Flite, the nation's second-largest golf ball maker behind industry leader Titleist, had $250 million in golf ball sales last year. But chief executive Jim Craigie said the company's $530 million in debt in a highly competitive market forced it into bankruptcy. Under the deal, Callaway will assume Top-Flite's debt.

Callaway, known for its Big Bertha clubs, is the world's largest producer of golf clubs with earnings of $792 million in 2002. Company officials have said they plan to maintain Top-Flite's manufacturing plant in Chicopee, one of the city's largest employers with 935 workers.

Adidas, which makes Maxfli balls, the third-largest seller with about 8 percent of the market, had made no commitments about retaining the manufacturing plant.

A.G. Spalding, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Stockings in the days when pitchers made their own balls, launched his namesake company in 1876 in Chicago and moved it to Chicopee at the turn of the century.

Spalding introduced the first American-made golf club in 1894 and added golf balls a year later.


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