Golf clothing manufacturer Ashworth (NASDAQ:ASHW) got conked on the head by an errant ball, otherwise known as its first quarter. Sales swooned 6% lower, as profits plummeted to depths almost five times deeper than last year's loss. Consider the company on life support.

The business of golf hasn't exactly been robust these past few years. The number of rounds played only ticked up in 2006 after several down years, and industry players have been feeling the pinch. Golf club shaft maker Aldila (NASDAQ:ALDA) recently reported lower sales and margins, as club makers like Callaway (NYSE:ELY) and Acushnet, a division of Fortune Brands (NYSE:FO), began switching to lower-cost stock shafts to attract more buyers. Fellow golf clothing retailer Cutter & Buck (NASDAQ:CBUK) reported results yesterday that also disappointed, despite the anticipation of surprises to the upside.

Ashworth primarily sells to pro shops on golf courses and in resorts; this represents its largest distribution channel and fully one-third of 2006 revenues. Yet it also has diverse outlets elsewhere. Ashworth sells its own line of clothes, as well as Callaway Golf-branded wear, internationally and to college bookstores. Both of these have surprisingly strong sales, representing 18% and 12%, respectively, of the company's full-year revenues in 2006. It's also important that Ashworth is selling to corporate customers through specialty-advertising firms, which represented another 12% chunk of business.

There were a few bright spots during the quarter. International sales rose 7% to $6.3 million, and both corporate and collegiate sales edged up more than 2% for the quarter. Even the company's own outlet stores had surprising 19% growth year over year, but because they account for such a small percentage of the total -- just 5% -- this couldn't overcome the dramatic 22% drop in sales at the golf shop and retail levels.

Maybe it's just a move to instill morale and inspire confidence -- or maybe it's a death rattle -- but Ashworth also resurrected the ghost of the past by bringing company founder John Ashworth back on board to provide strategic vision. It was Ashworth who created what may arguably have been the most popular and successful golf shirt ever, and according to the 2006 Darrell Survey, Ashworth shirts are still the No. 1 brand in golf.

After a stint at Quiksilver's (NYSE:ZQK) Cleveland Golf, where he designed the Fidra brand, Ashworth left following a difference of vision. Hopefully with this new partnership the mutual "vision thing" will be clearer.

The company's new distribution center has continued to be a drag on its performance. As sales have fallen, utilization of the factory's capacity has been declining as well, which led to a 350-basis-point drop in gross margins this quarter. Although it just opened in 2004, at a cost of nearly $14 million, Ashworth is already considering selling it. The center was far more complex than originally thought, and getting all the facets of it to run together efficiently is proving to be a costly endeavor. Alternatively, Ashworth may develop joint ventures to better utilize the center's capacity, but as it stands now, the facility is a huge drain on operating results.

In the meantime, Ashworth is grasping at any thread -- like bringing back its founder -- to keep from losing further sales and market share in a dwindling industry.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.