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Opinion & Analysis

The economics of an independent club builder

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I build clubs, not a ton, but for a one-person operation, I keep very busy during the season. I work on clubs for people locally, help a couple of the local golf courses get work done quickly for members, and I do a lot of my own tinkering (which I acknowledge is akin to if Walter White was also his own biggest customer).

What I have noticed over the last few years when talking to, or reading about, golfers inquiring about having work done, is the great discussion and sometimes misinformation about the cost associated with club work. From high-end custom club fitting, to just a simple repair or grip change, there’s a lot of confusion. This is a constant topic here on GolfWRX with many of the same replies being summarized by

“No way a (insert club or repair job) should cost that much! It’s an easy thing to do with a torch, a vice and some epoxy.”

I’m not saying building clubs isn’t relatively simple, heck it’s my goal to try and teach people how to do it and better understand it, but when it comes to doing things right and making sure the specs are just as they should be, well that’s an entirely different story.

To properly equip a shop with all the tools required to take on any club building task aside from grinding wedges and milling putters, the cost is roughly $5,000 for proper top-of-the-line gear including safety equipment — not an over-the-top investment, but something that is mostly beyond the average hobbyist. I’m lucky in that I’ve never relied on building clubs (as an independent builder) as my only source of income and slowly built up my vast collection of tools, some of which I’ve had for over 15 years.

My argument for the cost of any repair is quite simple: The club builder needs to be able to make a reasonable profit (not a bad word) based on the time associated with completing the task, which is essentially the MO for any individual or business.

I compare it to getting an oil change: Do I know how to do it? Yes. Do I have the ability to get all the required tools? Yes. Does it take a relatively short amount of time to do it by a trained professional? Yes. Do I want to get under my car to do it? Absolutely not!

Same can be applied for the building of a set either from scratch or with previously used parts (which is WAY worse and actually takes longer by the way) pulling and gluing steel taper tip golf shafts isn’t really a big deal but here are the things many people fail to consider

  • Getting head weights right to make sure swing weight, or in some cases MOI, match the desired spec.
  • Cutting to the exact length and potentially accounting for grip cap length
  • Having on hand the proper tools do the prep work including disposables like sanding belts, buffing pads etc.
  • Stocking ferrules in a variety of sizes for different clubs
  • Epoxy – making sure to have relatively “fresh” quality stuff on hand — a single tube of 3M can run over $25 alone
  • Grip tape
  • Solvent, and catch tray or actual gripping station
  • Final lie loft – making sure to leave as few marks as possible

Let’s consider one of the most common repairs: a broken wedge shaft (I don’t ask questions about how things get broken)

For a small shop that might not carry a lot (if any) shaft inventory, something as common as a True Temper Dynamic Gold is $24 from a supplier like GolfWorks, add on a single grip, say, Golf Pride Tour Velvet ($5),  you’re almost at $30 COST. Now, if we consider that there is potential for a 15 percent savings if the shop gets a “dealer” discount, we’re still looking at just under $25 before tax. You add shipping onto that and time, it’s understandable that this is going to be at least a $50 repair.

Yes, you can get new previous model wedges for around $100, but they have the opportunity to buy at HUGE volume as an OEM, that’s the difference. Small shops need to be able to cover costs and make a small profit to exist. Prices might seem high compared to buying a new full club as a single unit, but you are truly supporting a small business.

 

 

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. ~j~

    Jun 3, 2019 at 4:22 am

    Been doing my own clubs for a few years now, One could easily get away being able to do 90% of the work for well sourh of $1k, or a few hundred at that. A good vice, torch, and minor supplies and pulling, cutting, or, glueing together a set or a wood is easy.

    • Jay

      Jun 8, 2019 at 11:39 am

      For the average garage club builder that does it as a hobby $1000-$1500 is a decent budget. For the full time repair shop that $5k number is probably spot on or low.
      Just a good bending machine alone is $1200. Im not trusting my customer clubs to a cheap loft and lie machine.

      Then you have swingweight scale $250 for a good one
      Chop saw for high volume the harbor freight one will crap out $150
      Good sanding belt and buffing wheel $300
      Various ferrules adapters bore thru plugs etc to have on hand $1500
      Moi scale $600
      frequency meter $400
      Gripping station that will support high volume $500
      Grip solvent tape grip saving tools grip measuring gauges bounce gauges etc
      Loft and lie measuring device for measuring woods and hybrids etc.
      I could go on and on lol.

  2. Dave r

    Jun 2, 2019 at 10:56 am

    Very good article and yes would be nice to see more on this line.

  3. Al Humphrey

    Jun 1, 2019 at 5:03 pm

    Been learning the club building and fitting biz since ’95….from some really great ahead of their time Masters….Dana Upshaw in Warner Robins GA, now retired as one. Brian Morrissey in Toronto area another; GCA when active and PCS…many smart guys. Wishon designs way ahead of many OEMs..as was GolfSmith for years. Reshafting or re-heading clubs…can be easy…or difficult. It often takes more time than worth it….how ever….if you are good at what you do….referrals come easy…as do many satisfied clients. And Tom Wishon is one of the really good guys who has freely shared his knowledge. At 68, what would you have done ???…Combining with smart guys in the UK….made sense !

    • Stuart Anderson

      Jun 1, 2019 at 10:35 pm

      You just mentioned the right name, Tom Wishon. As far as I am concerned the best club designer in the business. Keep playing with 35 inch long wedges and you will look like most senior golfers that are all crippled up because of the posture you take to hit them. OEM’s have copied his designs and made a fortune.Just saying.

      • Dave C

        Jun 2, 2019 at 6:28 pm

        Hi Stuart,
        Maybe I missed this in a previous article, but what length do you suggest for a wedge that? Fromm the context, I think you’re suggesting longer than 35″ for the average person.
        Thanks,
        Dave

        • Dave C

          Jun 2, 2019 at 7:36 pm

          Btw, I enjoyed the article. Great perspective that not all of us are aware of. I do my own grips because I find it fun / relaxing, but for the extra $2 that the store charges per grip, economically it is worth having the store just do it for you. The time to do each grip is worth a lot more than $2 to most everyone.

    • Randy Wall

      Jun 3, 2019 at 11:33 am

      Have a couple of Wishon hybrids built by a local club tinkerer. Good quality work by someone who loves the game, and they fit me well, as opposed to buying something off the rack where the salesperson checks a chart and says, yes, this is one is for you. Which is what happens when their incentive is to move stock, and there might be several that would fit me, but only one in inventory that does – they recommend that one.

  4. ckay

    Jun 1, 2019 at 4:44 am

    It wasn’t long ago when a DG shaft was $8 LOL! Gotta be some collusion in the equipment game to narrow the gap between a competent repair and just full on replacement.

    It’s more advantageous for TT to lock in OE contracts vs. single shaft sales.

    • JT

      Jun 1, 2019 at 11:21 am

      I’ve been building clubs for myself for years, learned from a former pga pro, and occasionally help out buddies.. I’ve never seen $8 TT shafts but yes inflation seems to hit every industry.. DG is also one of the cheapest, if you start looking at KBS and PX you’re typically around $40-50 on purchase price alone (before tax and shipping)!

  5. Kyle

    May 31, 2019 at 9:47 am

    The benefits of having a great club builder are invaluable. Throughout the years I’ve developed a rapport with my club builder to the point where pricing is irrelevant. The level of service, honesty and sense of community far outweighs the overall price. Keep in mind, independent club builders do so as a labor of love. Most often, these guys work a 9 to 5 just like us. Also consider tipping your builder. My guy usually accommodates same or next day service, something the big box stores rarely consider without an up charge. I much rather give an independent builder my business and a generous tip over the big box store any day.

  6. Stump

    May 31, 2019 at 9:30 am

    Great article and point of view. Make an entire series of these.

    • Stuart Anderson

      Jun 1, 2019 at 10:50 pm

      I agree with this suggestion. A good club builder can better fit you to a good set of clubs that will improve your handicap. They might be a older set that is better then the junk their selling now.

  7. yeahbut

    May 31, 2019 at 9:23 am

    The economics of components and club repair/building have been janked due to closeouts and quicker release cycles the past 5 years. The reality is it makes little sense to pay $50 to repair a wedge unless you just really love the head. Getting a new clubhead and grooves etc is the better move.

    And the idiots like Wishon etc who all of a sudden thought they could sell proline price product without any advertising or marketing behind them are exactly where they should be, out of biz.

    • cody reeder

      May 31, 2019 at 9:41 am

      little harsh, I think Wishon is still in business and doing just fine. Not sure the “idiot” was needed.

      • yeahbut

        May 31, 2019 at 11:03 am

        Still in business, lol ok 🙂

        And yes, thinking you, a noname, a name not any normal golfer would know could charge the same price as an OEM is indeed idiocy, and it’s why he’s NOT in business anymore. He’s licensed someone else to sell the crap, that’s like thinking Ronald is still involved with McDonalds.

        • Joey5Picks

          May 31, 2019 at 4:13 pm

          You sound very bitter about someone running a small shop. Stick with your Taylormade and Callaway. Sheesh.

        • Joe

          Jun 1, 2019 at 12:44 pm

          Are you ok? You sound like you need help… why so bitter?

      • 2putttom

        May 31, 2019 at 11:11 am

        obviously the poster is not a wrx’er.

      • Stuart Anderson

        Jun 1, 2019 at 10:55 pm

        Thanks.

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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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Podcasts

TG2: Reviewing Tour Edge Exotics Pro woods, forged irons, and LA Golf shafts

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Reviewing the new Tour Edge Exotics Pro wood lineup, forged irons, and wedge. Maybe more than one makes it into the bag? Fujikura’s MCI iron shafts are some of the smoothest I have ever hit and LA Golf wood shafts get some time on the course.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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