The business of golf – A brief history

By Alan Prescott
February 15, 2021

Fernandina Beach Golf Course Club House

Every time that I sit down to write an article, I always have to think and anticipate that there will be a test of strength concerning the validity of what I have written. I accept this challenge that has been submitted during the past 10 days from only one individual. Without identifying this person, today’s article will discuss the transition of golf equipment from the 1960’s until today. Before I begin, though, I have been an integral part of each and every stage of this transition from one decade to the next and today, I have been a Master Clubmaker for over 45 years, having begun my training in golf club repair and custom golf club manufacturing in 1961 at the age of 13.

Although there have been many changes in the manufacture of golf clubs, perhaps the single biggest change at the outset was the development of the carbon steel golf shaft by True Temper Sports in 1952. That single development allowed for significant changes in how golf clubs were made and made those clubs easier to use. At that time, most golf clubs were divided into 2 categories, those sold in sporting goods stores and those sold exclusively at golf course pro shops. In previous decades before 1952, professional golf clubs were assembled by golf professionals at their golf courses in their backroom workshops. By today’s standards, they were heavy, crude implements that were very difficult to use.

With True Temper’s new golf shaft, the manufacturing process accelerated and new golf club innovations, seemingly, happened monthly. Let’s fast forward to 1977, when the custom club market was born. Dynacraft Golf Company of Newark, Ohio was formed because its founder was owed a significant amount of money by a Company in Taiwan, China and took payment in golf clubheads instead of cash. The custom golf club business was born in that city, located just 16 miles east of Columbus, Ohio.

The golf club business exploded. Golf club sets, which were comparatively very expensive at that time, declined in sales numbers and were replaced by those clubs with the imported Taiwanese heads. These imported heads were crude at first. But, shortly thereafter, they developed into clubs of high quality. How do I know this, you might ask? In 1987, I was the largest individual account of Dynacraft Golf, and number 9 overall in the United States.

The major golf club manufacturers fought back with trademark violation law suits. After companies, such as Titleist of New Bedford, Massachusetts and Escondido, California, spent millions of dollars in legal fees, it was decided in court that the foreign companies making these clubheads had to have a trade dress or shape that was at least 5% different than the major brands. At that time, there were several major clubhead manufacturers in the United States, including Hitchner in New Hampshire (that made the heads for Spalding Sports),and Fansteel in California (that made clubheads for many golf club companies.

However, the major manufacturers couldn’t compete with the imports in price. So, two things happened. First, they started an ad campaign complete with pictures of the imported heads right next to their higher quality American-made heads. When these analyses were done, the overseas manufacturers improved the quality of their heads and the war was on. The second thing that happened was the purchase of golf clubheads from Taiwan by the American golf club companies. As has been true of many American companies, the golf club component manufacturing business move offshore.

The golf business is a dynamic one. With more of the component business flooding the American market, professional grade golf clubs made their way to off-course golf shops. Computer programs were developed for indoor use in club fitting. One company, the Bob Toski Golf Company of Newark, Ohio appointed the top club-fitters in geographic areas to sell their custom golf clubs. In 1983, I was appointed as the top club-fitter in the Capital District of New York State.

This, too, changed after a few years. I was called back to the Toski plant in Newark, Ohio because I wasn’t “selling enough” high-priced Toski golf club sets and to be told that the Toski Company had come out with a less expensive set whose component parts were made in, yes, Taiwan, China. I was now able to sell quality clubs, custom-fitted, at 25% of the price of the Toski Custom Clubs. Toski Custom Clubs were a failed attempt for the Company to compete with the top-grade, expensive American golf club companies. The lower-priced imported components allowed Toski to compete for a very short time. Within the next few years, the Company was purchased by another company and ceased to exist.

The golf industry was transitioning. The number of golf sets and other equipment sold at golf course pro shops declined severely. And then, the major manufacturers went into the “Big Box” Era. The idea was developed to combat ever-declining club and apparel sales. The marketing change by firms, such as Golf Galaxy (which was purchased by Dick’s Sporting Goods in 2003) allowed those golfers, who weren’t private club members, to purchase apparel as well as golf clubs, which were unavailable to golfers at public golf courses. The golf professionals were stunned and the PGA of America went to war against the major American golf club companies and, in protest, refused to stock their golf clubs. A few smart businessmen bought local golf courses, which were, in turn, able to supply their off-course shops with top-grade American sets. In addition, Big Box stores were able to buy the same top-line sets and high quality apparel at big discounts.

To keep the peace, as well as to increase their bottom line profitability, golf club companies came out with “MAP Pricing” or “Minimum Advertised Pricing” in an attempt to level the playing field disparity in pricing between golf course professionals and big box stores. Except for in-house coupons (that were allowed by off-course golf shops), no golf club outlet could sell lower than the “Minimum Advertised Price” established by the golf equipment manufacturers. But, these same manufacturers gave the big box stores special dating discounts on their bills, some being given big discounts to big box stores as well as terms that gave the big box stores 1% per month extra discount on their bills for each month that they paid early for up to 1 year. If they chose to pay in 1 year, there was no extra monthly discount.

So now, let’s return to the comment that was made. Keep in mind that the golf business as a whole as well as the golf club business are dynamic and continue to evolve. Then, it follows that my suggestion of the development of the “Ultimate Golf Club Testing Center” is a valid solution to one of my original attempts to return the Fernandina Beach Municipal Golf Course to profitability this year by not only cutting costs, slightly raising fees to cover the costs of inflation, and to make your golf course a destination for golfers instead of the last alternative.

In closing today, what alternative idea have YOU come up with today?

In my next Article, it was the one confrontation that could have changed the sport of golf forever!! For those golf enthusiasts, you won’t want to miss this discussion of the types of golf clubs and how one man almost bankrupted the sport of golf.

As always, I am Alan Prescott. I am here to help and I can be reached by email at [email protected]. Thank you, again for your comments and suggestions.

Be safe.

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David Lott
David Lott(@dave-l)
3 years ago

Alan, I believe you are referring to me as I was the one commenting on your idea of creating a Testing Center. Let me be clear, I don’t question your experience but as you noted the golf industry has changed significantly since you started 45+ years ago. But you fail to provide all the info about the usage restrictions of MAP seemingly implying that one could purchase a set of golf clubs from the local pro shop for the same price as at a mega-sports retailer. As I am sure you know there are many exceptions to the MAP. First, it applies only to online advertising. A retailer can offer a price below MAP in their store and not be in violation. Also, the courts and FTC have ruled that if the online retailer and customer are communicating in a secure shopping cart the retailer can provide any price they want. This is why many retailers require you to add the item to your cart before displaying the price. My overall opinion is that while there might be some who would accept the convenience of dealing with their local pro shop, I think many in the FB area who were planning on spending $1,000+ for a new set of clubs would travel less than 20 miles to go to the retailer offering a much larger selection of manufacturers and club composition than the local pro shop is offering – and likely at a lower price with the option of going through a customized club fitting session. It would be beneficial if you could provide a reasonable financial analysis to show readers what would be required in inventory costs and sales goals to make such an operation viable enough to justify the investment given all the other financial challenges the city course faces.

All the Best.

Robert Ryan
Robert Ryan (@guest_60432)
3 years ago

Dear Mr. Prescott,

I have followed your stories, comments and suggestions with interest. Before I make mine and pose my ultimate question I would like to make a brief comment to give you an idea of my ‘bona fides’, or lack thereof. I am a former golfer, best handicap I ever got to was a 10. Always wanted a single digit but never made it. I gave up the game 3 years ago with a 28. Could not handle the degradation mentally!! But more relevant to your input I am 80 years old. I have been retired since 1996 and have worked at golf courses ever since. I started as starter/ranger but switched to maintenance after a few years. I worked up until this past summer. A total of 24 years. Loved the maintenance side. Hated trying to herd golfers as a starter/ranger.

Even given my long term involvement on the maintenance side I claim no level of expertise. I simply mowed grass. But I have always been interested in and observant of my bosses efforts and practices. This brings me to my ultimate question. And I feel like their must be a bottom line guideline to this question. Former bosses have provided varying answers. You have stated that money is an ultimate deciding factor and it seems to me that a lot of your suggestions have been aimed at increasing revenue to support that need.

I have heard from various bosses that XX men and dollars are required to maintain a course at various levels. Superintendent efficiency is an obvious given necessity. So here, finally, is my question. How many people and dollars per hole are required? There must be a ‘standard’. Now accepting the obvious difference between Augusta and Fernandina Beach is certain. So what are the gradations? And what are the minimums for each level? How many people per hole and how many dollars? Even though there are huge accepted differences between Maine/Colorado/Kansas/Florida: there has to be a standard accepted range within the industry.

Until that level is established, accepted and enacted for Fernandina Beach, all suppositions and suggestions are meaningless in my opinion.

Thank you for entertaining my thoughts and ramblings. Please feel free to respond and counter as you feel pertinent.


Bob Ryan