Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration. This interview is with Will Jacoby of Steurer & Jacoby.
“I’d love to have you come and visit our shop sometime so you can see what we do,” Will Jacoby said. “The reason I’d like to have you here in person as opposed to just a phone call is because the story is in our product. It’s in our seamstresses. I’m not the story. I’m just some old guy. But once you come in and you see everything first-hand and you touch it and experience it, I think you’ll be impressed.”
The above is a synopsis of my first phone conversation with Will Jacoby, an affable gentleman who can tell stories for days of playing golf with Sam Snead or making golf bags for Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan. He tells me about his repeat customers from Switzerland to Singapore. They’re his “Johnny Appleseeds,” as he calls them, spreading the gospel of his products wherever they go.
As far as credentials go, Will has been in the golf industry for over 40 years in some capacity. In the 1960’s, his first job out of college was as a sales rep for Wilson Sporting Goods, who offered him his choice of three territories. He chose Kentucky because it was the closest to his roots in the Chicago area.
In the 1970’s, he went to work for Brunswick, then-owner of MacGregor Golf Clubs. He rose up the ranks in its plant in Eminence, KY, that made golf bags and bowling bags. Then in the 1980’s, Will established his own company called Royal Dublin Golf. That company made golf bags for the likes of MacGregor (which shut down it plant after Will left the company), Hogan, and many others.
For roughly 20 years, he was behind countless golf bags around the industry under various manufacturers’ names. He was granted several patents, most notably for the cart bag he developed that had a reversed top to allow for better access to the clubs and pockets when mounted on a cart. Ultimately, he retired to Florida in the late 1990’s. He then grew tired of the retirement life, which ultimately led him to run for mayor of his town in Florida.
“Thank God I lost,” he says.
In 2012, he got a call from his friend, the late Mike Just, owner of Louisville Golf, who enlisted Will to produce a quality, period-correct pencil bag for his customers’ hickory shafted clubs. Will’s first call was to his right hand man, pattern maker Steve Steurer, to figure out how to make it work. As a nod to Steve (who started designing products with Will in 1981), Will decided to add his name to the bag, even if he wasn’t interested in participating beyond that initial layout. And that’s how Steurer & Jacoby was born.
All of this has resulted in a guy who will only use solid brass D rings, steel frames, and waxed canvas that’s roughly 7 times the price of the nylon used in today’s bags. It’s also the guy who sews all those components together with the same threads and fabrics used to assemble parachutes for the military. It’s also resulted in a guy who opened his door to me until 9 p.m. on a Thursday night.
“I’m just so grateful,” he says. “I can talk your ear off, but I admit I haven’t embraced social media and the internet like I probably should have.”
He may be just some old guy (to some), but he’s definitely an old guy with a story. The product isn’t too bad either.
I think every person I’ve spoken to has said that their quality is striking with their products. I’m not saying anyone is wrong, but my point is that it’s a word that’s thrown around a lot. What does that mean to you? How did you get to this point?
I suppose it really started when I was at Wilson. The chairman drove quality into everyone’s head. It was the mission for everything that was done. In those days, Wilson was a leader. We had Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller… you name it. And we won a ton of majors. Wilson also had the NBA basketball and the NFL football. They were almost obsessed with being the best. Having the highest quality in the industry was drummed into my head and it just became a part of me. When I went to Brunswick, I told them we had to get out of K-Mart and stop selling $19 golf bags. That was an unpopular conversation, but I still to this day stand by that decision. If you’re going to make a quality product, that’s who you are. You can’t make a Chevette in the same plant as the Cadillac. Our defect rate was less than half of one percent in the plant that I ran. I was really proud of that. I just always wanted to have the best. I wanted to be the best. I don’t think I know any other way. Since we’ve opened our doors, I can count on one hand the number of defects I’ve had to rectify with customers.
How do you think the game of golf developed you as a person? Tell me about how the game helped you personally and how it helped this business.
Golf is a game of integrity. You can tell a lot about a person when you play golf with them. Do they use a foot wedge? Do they give you questionable scores to write down? Do they have a temper? All of that stuff gets revealed over the course of a round of golf. It reveals things that are already in you. Here’s the thing. In golf, you’re playing against yourself first, then your opponent. You have to gather from within. I remember one time I got an 11 on a hole at Mid Pines. Now, not many people would admit to that, but I’d rather not lie to myself. There’s no reason to lie or cheat in golf because you’re only lying and cheating on yourself. I think it’s a very good game for character building. It teaches you so much. There are bad breaks and good breaks and you have to be able to handle all of it. It’s served me well in life and in business.
You’re pretty big in the hickory golf world, which is kind of a niche within a niche. To those who are unfamiliar with it, what are we missing? Do you think anything is lost when playing modern golf as opposed to hickory golf? Are you hitting modern golf balls with hickory clubs? What yardage do you play from?
We play from about 5500 yards, maybe 6000 at most. Yes, we use modern golf balls. I have a friend named David Brown of McIntyre Golf Ball Company who takes modern balls and overmolds them for a slightly more period correct golf ball. I took a friend of mine to a hickory tournament. He’s a very low handicapper, but he had never played hickory golf. Then he took second place in the tournament! For a good golfer, it doesn’t make a difference. You learn how to club yourself. No one is hitting 300-yard drives, but you learn to adjust. To be honest, though, I didn’t really know a whole lot before Mike Just got me involved in 2012. I sold to these guys before I played with them. My brochures say “Tradition and Quality.” That’s who we are. That happened to resonate with this group. They wanted something of exquisite quality that didn’t have a brand name plastered all over it. We do brand our bags, but it’s not a billboard. Our bags are something that takes you back to the birth of golf.
Another market you do well in is in Europe, where nearly all golfers walk (either carrying or using a push cart/trolley). Here in America, the vast majority of golfers ride in carts, yet the lightweight stand bags persist as the most popular option. What are the European customers “getting” that most American golfers aren’t?
I think we do well in Europe because of our quality. They’re probably more frugal than us in some ways. They spend money on things and hold on to them, whereas we are a pretty disposable society in America. We just throw stuff away. Lots of people will spend thousands of dollars on golf clubs, and then go and buy a $100 golf bag to put it in. Maybe they’re just used to them breaking. I don’t know. This stuff is like your favorite baseball glove. It’s functional. It wears well over time and starts to look and feel like your favorite pair of blue jeans. If you want something disposable, go for it. We’ll stand behind our product for years to come.
As far as the carry bag discussion goes, sure the bags from the common manufacturers are lighter. We’re not going to dispute that. Nylon is lighter than cotton and it’s completely consistent, whereas each piece of waxed canvas and leather is somewhat unique, but that’s what makes our products what we are. Our bags are going to have workmanship that others won’t. We have at most 2 or 3 people that will touch your bag. The bags from the major manufacturers will have no less than 6 people touching it before it leaves the plant, and almost certainly more. How can you accurately control quality in that environment? I’ll tell ya. You can’t.
What’s the hardest, but most important lesson you had to learn to succeed in this business?
As far as what it takes to succeed, I would say, “Give the customer an excellent product at a fair price and stand behind it.” That’s my ethos. I had one customer who was really on the fence about spending so much money on a golf bag. I told him, “I’ll tell you what. You place an order. I’ll ship it to you on my dollar. If you just don’t like it, you send it back to me on your dollar and I’ll refund your money.” He called after the bag arrived and just raved about it. I’m pretty proud of stories like that. I always get letters, post cards, emails, and phone calls from customers telling me how they love their new bag. I’ve never had anyone tell me I sold them a bad product. And I’m very proud of that. I always strive to exceed my customer’s expectations.
The hardest lesson I learned was putting too many eggs in one basket. I used to have a lot of business with one customer and they went out of business. It nearly killed me.
What’s something that might surprise people about Steurer & Jacoby?
We do a lot of work for businesses in the area. Jim Beam is a huge account for us. We do things all the time for CEO’s, presidents, royalty, you name it. Golf bags are 80 percent of our business, but the other stuff pays the bills nicely. We make duffle bags, shoe bags, head covers, even down to coasters. There’s a lot of stuff available. People have told me you get more than a golf bag; you get a lifestyle with our product. You’ll start with a golf bag and then you think, “Now I need a shoe bag.” A couple months later you’ll need a duffle bag. Give it a year and you’ll think, “I love my golf bag, but I’m getting tired of looking at green. I think I want a navy one now.” The whole process seems to snowball from there. I guarantee you’ll get tired of the color before it wears out.
Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Are there any product releases forthcoming? Tell people how to find you.
So, we started this whole thing by making a pencil bag for hickory golfers. We’ve grown into what we call “The Airliner,” which has a 7-inch opening, but we’re now going to be releasing an 8-inch bag. Our 7-inch bag is quite workable for the modern golfer, but the 8-inch bag is really going to give that guy what he needs. We’ve also got some new head covers in the works. Those will be made with authentic wool tartan we’ve imported from a woolen mill in Scotland and also with a leather we are having tanned specifically for us. We’re also going to be using those materials on some new duffel bags, which will be great overnight bags, gym bags, or what have you. I’m not trying to get my product on the shelves at Golf Galaxy. I couldn’t possibly care less about that. But I am trying to reach the golfer who’s serious about his game, his equipment, and his investment. If you want something everyone else has, then go to Dick’s Sporting Goods. I’m not going to judge you for it. We’re not trying to sell thousands of golf bags a year. We’re more concerned about reaching the right customer.
Also, if you want something that isn’t shown on the website (www.steurerjacoby.com), give us a call or send us an email at email@example.com. If you want different color combinations or custom branding or something, we are more than happy to work with people on those types of requests. We’ve put fancy coat of arms and presidential seals on bags. We’ll do the same for anyone if you want it. We really are passionate about exceeding our customers’ expectations.
The Wedge Guy: Time for you to talk and me to listen
I’ve really been enjoying sharing thoughts and insights with all you GolfWRX readers the past few months. And as I expected, I’ve “won a few and lost a few” with regard to offering what you consider useful information. It is always difficult writing for an audience so diverse in experience, attitudes and opinions, but your feedback keeps me on my toes…as it should be.
So, this week the GolfWRX leadership agreed to allow me to give you a chance to tell us more about your own game and how you play it. At the bottom of today’s post is a link to the first “Wedge Guy/GolfWRX Survey.” I hope you will find the questions interesting and that you will share your own insights into the intricate relationship with golf that you all certainly enjoy. Please make note of your answers so that you can compare them to your fellow GolfWRXers when we begin to share the results of the survey in a few weeks.
On a current event note, however, I found Monday morning’s stories about Justin Thomas’ convincing victory over the field and Medinah #3 this weekend quite interesting. In comparison to his 25-under destruction of venerable old Medinah, Lou Graham won the U.S. Open there in 1975 with a score of +3, with the course just under 7,000 yards. Since then, Medinah #3 has hosted several other major championships—getting ever longer but still seeing the scores go lower and lower. It would be hard to argue that Thomas (and the field) completely dismantled the old girl at 7,600 yards, with the course record tied, then broken by two shots, then broken by two shots again. All in one weekend.
Some leading pros made very telling comments about the fact that “long” is not an obstacle for these guys anymore; that the drivers and balls of today are so forgiving they just swing as hard as they can. Add in “soft”, and they have a green light to tear down flags and shoot these ultra-low scores. This is just the way the game has evolved at the highest level—hit driver as hard as you can, find it, hit a towering short iron or wedge into a soft green, like throwing darts.
It’s just not the same game as was played at the highest level when the major venues challenged the golfers’ entire games—driver to long irons to wedges to putting. When was the last time we saw tour professionals tested at the long end of their bags? In contrast, when Johnny Miller won the U.S. Open in 1973 at Oakmont, I think he could only reach one par 5 in two shots and hit something like 13 or 14 approach shots with a 5-iron or longer…and he shot 63! That’s pretty amazing, huh? And a far cry from the short iron and wedge dominance of approach shots today.
Anyway, I’m not saying it was better or worse back then…just that it was a different set of challenges for the professional golfer. But I believe the rest of us pretty much play the same game as back then—testing every club in our bags every round we play.
But back to the Survey. Please take a few minutes and give thought to the 27 questions about you, your long game and your short game, and how you play the game in general. I think it will be quite insightful for all of us at GolfWRX, and for you all too, as you compare your answers to your fellow GolfWRXers.
Gear Dive Special Edition: Justin Thomas
Hot off his win at Medinah, Johnny has an in-depth equipment chat with BMW champion Justin Thomas.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
On Spec: Saying goodbye to the build shop | Mailbag!
Host Ryan Barath says a final goodbye to his build shop and explains the reason why shop number two is going to be a big upgrade. Also a fan favorite, answering audience question in the club builder’s mailbag.
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