It doesn’t matter if you’re a touring pro, a country club member, Mr. Municipal, or Tiger Woods himself. If you come to Artisan to build a set of custom wedges, you get to work with legendary club builder Mike Taylor and he is going to treat you just like he treats everyone else. As much as the Artisan brand continues to grow, that will never change.
The Fort Worth based company is spewing with hometown hospitality. And that comes straight from the two men in charge. John Hatfield does the putters. Mike Taylor does the wedges. And the former Nike Golf and Ben Hogan Golf Equipment makers believe that relationships drive business. They’re interested in getting to know you and then helping you find the best equipment to put the ball in the hole.
My buddy Jason had been dying to get some Artisan wedges in his bag for some time now. He finally decided to pull the trigger and allowed me to tag along to see what a wedge fitting experience with Mike Taylor is all about.
We arrived at the Artisan warehouse in west Fort Worth just after lunch. Housed in the old Nike manufacturing building affectionately nicknamed “the Oven,” the place comes equipped with a full driving range, putting green and short game area that golf nuts could spend hours and hours on.
The first thing you see when you walk through the doors are the wedge grinding machines straight ahead, usually manned by Mike Taylor himself. To your left is rows of old Nike bags and clubs. The “Nike club graveyard” is full of wedges and irons used by former clients…tour player initials stamped every so often. It doesn’t take long for either Hatfield or Taylor to meet you with an extended hand to shake and a smile on their face. Welcome to Artisan. Let’s get to work.
The wedge fitting with Mike Taylor happens in several different stages. Before he gets started on your swing, he wants to see what wedges you currently use in your bag. “Here’s what we are going to do,” Taylor said. “We are going to blueprint these clubs of yours first. Often times, there are things that you like about your wedges and some things you don’t. This gives us insights into what you currently game. Are these wedges effectively built? Every golf club in your bag needs to have the right shaft in it. If we need to build you something different, we will do it. We will test you with everything. But I want to know what you play now to see if we need to change anything.”
This process takes a few minutes. The clubs are taken away to get measured for Mike to review before we head out to the range for live shots. While that was being done, Mike showed us around the warehouse, pointing out the signature wall, complete with autographs from Tiger, Patrick Reed (who used Artisan wedges to help him win the masters), Ben Crenshaw, and Rory McIlroy. If they played Nike, odds are they have been in this building to work with Mike Taylor. He also showed us several of the clubs he built for Tiger including the templates he used every time he needed a new set.
“We have boxes and boxes of players templates,” Taylor said. “If you are going to make a club over and over again for a player, you better have the templates. Tiger Woods’ templates right here. This is how you control this stuff. We used to have a fax machine, not a cell phone camera. We are still pretty old school with our forgings and templates.”
It’s hard not to be in awe when you get to hold one of Tiger’s old clubs in your hand. “Those are the real things right there,” Taylor said. “We would make four of five sets of irons for Tiger. These were early prototypes that were his gamers.”
When Jason’s wedges were done being measured, Mike got his first look into how he will be building a new set of clubs for him. When he saw the numbers on Jason’s pitching wedge, it gave him a chance to start talking about wedge play. And for the next 3 hours, he didn’t really stop. It was amazing. Here we were…two average golfers…learning about how wedges are built and used from the guy that built Tiger’s clubs. And I got the feeling he was happy to keep talking to us and teaching us all day long.
“If the pitching wedge is good and our turf interaction is good, then we need to look and see how the rest will flow from there to make you a good ball striker. If one wedge is off, the flow changes,” Taylor said. “The important part of this is that when I look at the blueprint of your tools, I can see the potential of your short game. I need to know the good and the bad. This sheet is the foundation.”
With that foundation in mind, it was time to head out to the short game area and see how these wedges actually worked.
“We are gonna go make him sweat and have some fun,” Taylor chuckled and pointed at Jason. “That short game area out there is stupid fun. It’s a good place to get in spots where you aren’t that comfortable. The pros that come out here…do they have problems hitting clubs dead center on the number full swinging? Probably not. It’s the chipping, short game, it’s the balance of these tools where you find in spots where the player isn’t so comfortable. You talk to caddies and that’s what you find out. So during a fitting, if you tell me I hit this loft 85 yards, I’m not going to take you to 85 yards. That’s not fair. That’s the easy shot. I need to see can you back things down and what will that launch look and feel like with each club. It’s not just about the yardage. It’s about the type of shot you need to hit from here. 100 yards and in is a hard part of golf. But it’s a game that needs some balance with the right tool.”
The short game area really is amazing. Mike had Jason hit probably 100 balls, from different areas and distances. Every few swings, he would take the club from him and hand him a different one from the bag. Sometimes it would be one of Jason’s actual gamers, but mostly it was an Artisan wedge with varying lofts mixed in. Taylor was looking at the different flights with different shafts and clubhead speeds. He needed to know what kind of game Jason had from 100 yards and in before he knew exactly what to build.”
“I want to see how you’re squeezing it, flighting it,” Taylor said. “Hit us some swingers in there. Let’s see what it looks like. Let’s see the length of the tools then we will back ’em out and see some full swings. I want to look at what the ball flight is with your shafts at different distances.”
The fitting took about three hours in total. It was special. That’s not to say you absolutely need to come in and get fitted with Mike in order to play Artisan wedges. You don’t. Both Taylor and Hatfield are happy to work with you on the telephone or email to get you spec’d out the best they can before they build you some clubs. The best place to start is with their online wedge inquiry form. There is a long wait list for a wedge fitting at the moment, so it may take some time before you hear back from the Artisan guys. It simply takes time to build that relationship (and the clubs) with you to make sure they are doing everything they can to get you in the right equipment. The fitting is included with the cost of the clubs though so if you can somehow swing a visit to Fort Worth, it is an incredibly cool experience.
Eventually, Mike backed Jason up to full swings on the big range. He wanted to see how the clubs handles with a higher club head speed before he went back inside to the design process. All the while, though, Mike was watching how Jason would react to each shot. It’s one of the more valuable things about a fitting with Mike Taylor. He understands how to make great clubs, sure. But he also is in tune with the idea that not every great club works for each person. There are intangibles at play that many club fitters don’t pay attention two or can see on a Trackman screen.
“It is about feel,” Taylor described. “A lot of fitters don’t understand how to watch a golfer’s body and see how they react to different shots, different wedges. Its not all about turf. A lot of it is how your body reacts to different shots in different situations. Our body has to know how to feel them and then produce them over and over. But it’s so fun when you take these golfers and their game is out of balance. Then you start plugging away at this process and the next thing you know, they are hitting these stupid good golf shots.”
Mike Taylor would’ve stayed out there on that short game area with Jason all night if we had more time and energy. Eventually, we needed to head in and get to work on the design process. Taylor wasn’t taking notes or anything during the entire fitting, but you could tell he had a plan. He asked Jason where he regularly plays and what type of grass is out there.
“The quality of your wedge game will come down to how you strike the ball at different clubhead speeds at different yardages,” Taylor insists. “Sometimes we see that this leading edge height or this sole will bring a different shot to your game. Some of your wedges are links grind wedges. Some aren’t. We have customers that play all over. Florida in the winter and up north in the summer. Are you looking for a wedge for in the middle? Or are you looking for that perfect set of wedges for Florida or for up north. Bent and bluegrass is different than Bermuda, boys. They can affect a wedge differently.”
The wedge making process is a combination of all Mike has learned in his years working for Nike and Ben Hogan, mixed with the new technology he has at it his disposal. But above all else, he doesn’t want to lose the craftsmanship that he believes his clients value.
“We use a pretty unique modern manufacturing process,” Taylor said. “We use over sized forgings for our wedges. Then we do some machine work to tighten these things up. This is what we take to the wheel. Then we clean them up, make the adjustments we need to. We didn’t always do it the way we do it now. Do I appreciate the way we do it now? You bet. But you know what, there is still that computer screen. Where’s the craftsmanship? You gotta figure out a way to get the craftsmanship into this.”
Mike told Jason he wanted to think about the fitting over the weekend and then he would give him a call on Monday. He did. The conversation lasted about thirty minutes and started with Taylor summarizing his thoughts on the fitting itself. What he thoughts of certain grinds/clubs for Jason’s swing and then he presents a recommendation. Jason took notes of the call.
Jason said it was great because Taylor went straight to the bottom line first. Shaft. Length. Lie. Loft. Grind. Grip. Then they circled back around and talked about each one with more detail. For example, the 125g Nippon shaft was similar to what Jason was currently gaming but just a touch lighter. But Mike said not to worry since it would flow better with Jason’s lighter weight iron shafts so the feels would stay more consistent. He recommended that Jason go .25″ long for sure and one-degree flat. Jason had been fitted before in other clubs so he knew he needed long and flat. Mike Taylor knew it too.
And throughout the process, Mike would text updates to Jason with pictures of the clubs. There are several different finishes to choose from, and Mike was willing to send pictures of those for Jason to look through. And the stamping was entirely up to the client. Just send in images, sketches, whatever and they will find a way.
post stamping with naked finish
The cool part of the club build is that it truly is a collaboration with one of the golf industry’s greatest club makers. You can tell him what colors you like and where to put them. He will tell you if he thinks it will look good or not. But oftentimes, he can make it work. The collaboration is very real. It’s also very surreal. You have to pinch yourself when you remember that Tiger Woods has had similar conversations with this guy.
A custom wedge from Mike Taylor is going to run you around $300-$350 per club, depending on the finish, stamping and paint-fill you choose. They aren’t cheap but remember they do come with the custom fitting if you can swing a trip to Fort Worth. And when I asked Jason about the cost in relation to the experience he had, he said he would pay that price again and again in a heartbeat.
Also, as an Artisan customer, you are assigned your own serial number. This allows the clubmaker to replicate your stick for future purchases…once you’ve worn the grooves out. It also helps them fix anything that needs fixing.
“Everyone has their own serial number, Taylor said. “We use that to always know what we have built for you. One of your friends may hit one of those wedges and go ‘oh my gosh I need to get me one of those wedges.’ Well we can pull those records and build him the exact same wedge.”
unique customer ID
Dark grey with patina finish applied. No paint fill yet.
Finally, the clubs arrive. They can be shipped to you or you can pick them up if you’re local and want to say hello to everyone at The Oven again. And the Artisan Experience is over…for now. But you can always call or text if something needs fixing. And you’ve got yourself a custom set of wedges, built for you by one of the most highly regarded club makers in the business. Most importantly now, you’ve got a friend in Mike Taylor. It’s all about the relationships, after all.