Reflections from a quarter century ago
As colleges let out for the summer, it is a friendly reminder of when I starting working in the golf business. This May marks my 25th anniversary in the golf industry and coincidentally the date I started to play golf too. I began working for a company called Pal Joey Dominion which was a small division of Pal Joey Golf, whose other division was the fledgling Dynacraft Golf Products. It was an easy job filling boxes with cheap golf bags, shoes, pull carts and the like which were imported from Taiwan.
I had no real knowledge of golf when I started working other than watching local hero Jack Nicklaus on TV. I just needed money for books and whatever a young college lad spends money on. It was the end of a tumultuous year as I had been away from home for the first time plus my Mom had just passed away from a long battle with cancer; so it was important to come back home and start anew.
My best friend worked for Pal Joey as well as his older brother who worked for the Dynacraft division. Two of my next door neighbors worked there as well. To say it was a family atmosphere working at Pal Joey would be an understatement.
The first day on the job I received a set of clubs from the return rack that comprised of a set of blade-style irons and a mish-mash of metal woods named Tour Model. Did someone want me to give up the game from the start? Then again, those were the clubs of the day. I even had those new-fangled things called “metal” woods. Anyway they were free – so I didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
I went out that night and began hitting balls in a nearby lot where as a kid we played football and baseball. I was so new to the game I didn’t realize in golf that what I thought was 200 feet were actually 200 yards. To this day those balls are still probably still laying in that far away field beyond that lot. But that next day after an exhausting day of filling boxes, some of the guys dragged me out to play on a real golf course. Having been a fairly good athlete, I was soon humbled. After all, how hard could it be to hit a stationary ball? Well I found out quickly.
The guys I played with, one was pretty good and the other two were decent, and they played by the rules which meant counting every stroke, whiffs included. The tally after that first nine was 61. Disappointed yes, but I found I wanted to play more and it didn’t take long to fulfill that wish.
The next day on the job, I was warned by a friend of mine to slow down and milk the job I just started. My stubborn nature wouldn’t allow that, so I worked at my normal pace and soon ran out of orders to pack. Someone noticed me idle and told me to go the assembly line and help in the shipping department since they were behind. Ah finally, real work finishing ferrules, putting on shaft labels, cleaning and inspecting the clubs before boxing each of the orders. That might had been my last day at Pal Joey Dominion as I was now an assembly line worker – I had moved up a notch in the world.
All that day was a build-up of excitement. After work Pal Joey employees were invited to a company-wide scramble, a format well suited to my lack of skill. This was a serious event too with the winners and runners up receiving a trophy and more important bragging rights. After all, everyone there played golf. Because I was by far the worst of the golfers, the best players got stuck with me to even out the teams. I soon found out how well accomplished golfers struck the ball, read greens and followed the rules of etiquette. I wasn’t of any help throughout the event as my teammates were doing just fine on their own as I was just along for a ride in the cart up until the very last hole. I knocked in a putt that finally counted. It ended up being the winning putt and as you can imagine I was soon hooked on golf ever since. To this day I proudly have that 1st Pork Memorial Scramble trophy.
That was just the start of a great summer. There was one other college student hired the same day as I. He and I were floaters and we did what seemed like a different job each day. I wasn’t always in the shipping department of Pal Joey. There were some days I would fill in for someone else on the assembly line maybe swingweighting clubs, repairs, or some days I would be out painting the building or cleaning weeds. The only place I didn’t get an opportunity to work at was the wood finishing department where those beautiful persimmon woods were made. But in a small dark corner of that building was the Dynacraft division.
The only place that was slower than Dynacraft was Pal Joey Dominion. But instead of shoes and bags, Dynacraft sold golf club heads. That was it, no shafts, grips or supplies back then. The total space allotted for the inventory might have been twice the size of a two car garage. At the beginning of that summer, when I was in the Pal Joey shipping area, I was hard at work packing a lot, and I mean a lot of clubs. Where were all these clubs going to anyway? Occasionally I would glance over at Dynacraft shipping station. Randy, the other poor college kid looked like the Maytag repairmen waiting for the orders to trickle in so he would have something to do.
A quarter century ago, it is important to realize golf wasn’t near as popular as it is now. As a matter of fact golf was still a game associated with the well to do or the jet set crowd, certainly not like the middle class I grew up in. But that was changing fast and it was happening under my very own eyes. As the summer passed week by week, Dynacraft was shipping more and more boxes each day. As a floater, I found myself now working more and more on the Dynacraft side to help pack component heads in little boxes.
The boxes were going to independent clubmakers across the country who would custom assemble for golfers in their local area at a fraction of the price golf clubs were sold for in pro shops and retail stores. These were the same pro shops and retail stores that the Pal Joey golf clubs were going to. We were competing against ourselves. Component clubmaking was a new enterprise that would be added to small cottage industry of club repair. Twenty-five years ago, golf club sold as component parts had virtually zero market penetration. But that side of business was ready to burst, not only in Newark, OH the home of Dynacraft, but in Austin, TX (Golfsmith) and in Los Angeles with upstart Hireko.
Sadly that summer soon ended and I was headed back to a new college closer to home. I can positively say that was the best summer I ever had. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and built the foundation for what I do for living now. That next summer I came back to work. But this time it was full time in the Dynacraft division. In that short span of, Dynacraft had moved to a different building that was much, much larger to house the massive number of boxes of heads and shafts and grips too. It had blossomed into a booming business.
From those humble beginning I have witnessed a new way of selling and distributing golf clubs. But more importantly, offering affordable, quality clubs that paved the way for more individuals to experience this great game. It is hard to say if I will be as fortunate to stay in the golf industry for the next 25 years doing what I like best. If not, I hope someone else, maybe some other skinny kid with no knowledge of golf but a desire to learn, will continue this tradition of component clubmaking.
By Jeff Summitt, Hireko Golf Technical Director