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GolfWRX Archives: Economics of an independent club builder

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The golf season is slowly gearing up, and the next step many are taking is getting their clubs tuned up and dialed in. Whether it be new grips, lie and loft checks, or getting into the nitty-gritty details of a launch monitor gapping session, it’s a mad rush to be ready for the first tee shot.

With so much of this work being done by smaller companies or local club builders, I wanted to revisit a piece I wrote around this time last year that showcases the economics that smaller shops face since a large part of the discussion often revolves around price.

The Economics of an Independent Club Builder

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.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. A. Commoner

    May 24, 2020 at 4:55 pm

    Excellent article. Spurs thought so often repeated: “If people would only realize.”

  2. Tom Duckworth

    May 23, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    I will change my own grips and ad length to my irons but I stop there. It would be fun to build my own clubs one day but the cost saving is not enough. Buying a set of forged iron heads on eBay is just as expensive as a complete set of irons. I’m happy if I can have a good conversation and fitting and get the information I need to find a set that fits me. I mostly buy used because getting clubs a few years old is a major cost savings and the technology just doesn’t change that dramatically.
    I would be happy to support someone working out of their home but I have never found any locally. I admire the investment it takes to do it right.

  3. Breiman

    May 22, 2020 at 6:21 pm

    I had a small shop in the 80s that did mostly custom woods and forged iron sets and some repairs. The investment into heads, shafts and grips alone was 20k in 1985 $$$$. Let alone the tools. Running a small shop is a labor of love.

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Equipment

Wunder: Titleist TSi driver first impressions

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Three things I want to address before I kick this off.

  1. “Better, best” will not be addressed. It’s never about that these days only what works for me or you.
  2. I’m not adding TrackMan data to this for one simple reason: It doesn’t matter to me for a first impression. I can get lost in the data and ultimately it confuses my ability to just enjoy the sound feel and look of the driver. Obviously, the fitting was on TrackMan, but in the past, successful drivers for me started with the emotional part. Simply, do I like the thing? Can I look at it? Can I trust it? Can I hit shots with it? That’s it.
  3. When I say “spin this” and “spin that,” it’s always addressing a positive aspect.

On Tuesday of this week, I had the good fortune of visiting the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI in Oceanside, California) to do my TSi metal woods fitting. Won’t get too far into that, but essentially it’s golf heaven in every sense of the word. Like TaylorMade’s Kingdom or Callaway’s ECPC, TPI it’s a gearhead paradise.

Titleist Master Fitter Joey Saewitz (@thejoeysaewitz on IG) was my fitter and after hitting a few balls to warm up, we dug into my gamer driver that I adore.

Current Gamer Spec

TaylorMade SIM (9 degrees @ 8.5). Fujikura Ventus Black 6X (no tipping) 45 inches, D4, GolfPride BCT 58R

I have been constantly messing with my driver between new shafts, lofts, lie, etc. Since I’ve been playing a bit more this month, I’ve had the chance to work on my swing and the driver has been the last thing to come around. I’m working on decreasing dynamic loft through the bag and have not adjusted my driver to match. The point is, I’m hitting the driver solid but have lost a ton of height and spin to keep it in the air.

I’m saying this now because for key metrics I was at a deficiency because of the craftsman not his tools. The SIM I was fit into was/is excellent. So, as you read on, keep in mind that I knew that numbers-wise apples to apples my setup was vulnerable to getting beat out due to my tinkering.

Thoughts

My average numbers these days are are 105-108 mph swing speed, 155-160 mph ball speed, 14-degree launch, and 1,800-2,000 spin. At 43-years-old, when I’m hitting it solid I get a lot out of my driver. IF I’m swinging well, at my low spin, off days can be nauseating with the driver.

LOOKS

TSi3: If two of my favorite drivers 975D and R7 Superquad TP had a baby, the TSi3 would be it. Its flawless appearance-wise. The heel section gives it an onset look that the faders will love and the top line toe section is a bit rounded off to give it an open look without having to crank it open. Not the first time we have heard that but nonetheless, Titleist nailed it.

The face has a cool matte finish that I can’t get into yet, but it frames a white ball excellently.

TSi2: Like the TS2, it has that high-MOI shape, although I will say the top line and transitions are a bit softer on the eye. It’s a driver that looks like it just wants to go high and far. If I wanted to hit something as hard as I could that’s the shape I would look for.

Side note—the black shafts in the TSi3 are almost too cool to even look at—the closest thing to a Darth Vader golf club I have ever seen.

FEEL/SOUND

This is where they really figured it out. Titleist drivers in the past to my ear sounded good but not great. There was always an essence of ting that I couldn’t fall in love with. The TSi series fixed that in totality, like all the great drivers on the market in 2020 it has that hammerhead thud that I adore. When you crunch it, you literally hear crunch. At impact, however, it has a more compressiony (is that a word?) feel than its competitors. The comparison would be a one-piece forged feel vs a hollow body players iron. Both feel excellent but there is a difference. You can feel the ball squeeze into the face which I think most will notice and respond well to.

PERFORMANCE—Not going to compare it to my gamer as it’s not fair, I gear headed my gamer to the point of lunacy. I will only comment on what the TSi series did while testing.

TSi3: The biggest standout here was usable spin. I am not a high-spin player by any stretch, so if I can find a driver that gets me 2,100-2,200 consistently when I flush it, it’s a contender. For a player at my speed to sneak it out there with the big hitters, I have to launch it at 14 at 1,700 spin, and hope I’m aimed correctly. What I found with the TSi was I was getting that performance at 2,100-2,200, and if anything only giving up 2-3 yards all while doing it 5/10 times as opposed to 2/10.

What does all that jibberish add up to? Consistency and something I can play with. Is it longer than my gamer? I have no idea, but we will find out. What I know is I hit a bunch of really good shots with TSi3, and after I got going with it, it was point and shoot. Stable? Yes. Long? Yes. Forgiving? Yes. Playable? Yes.

TSi2: To be honest I only hit a few with the Tsi2 as its not my genre of music. What I can say is it feels apples to apples with the Tsi3, launches higher with a bit more spin, and goes really straight. No shocker there. The high MOI category has a bunch of contenders, and in my opinion, it’s a head weight game. Heavy is always better for stability.

The setup I landed on

I was fit into the (D4 SureFit setting 9 degrees @ 9.75, flat) however after testing a bit at home on course and range, I landed on the D1 setting, which I like. For whatever reason, I can play Tsi3 at 8.25 and still maintain height spin and it flew about five yards further.

Final setup

Driver: Titleist TSi3 (9 degrees @8.25, D1 SureFit, 44.5 inches, D4 swing weight)

Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Black 6 X (tipped 1)

Overall, the TSi Series drivers will be VERY popular but not for the reasons you would think. It’s playable, you can hit shots with it, that’s the mark of a GREAT golf club. It’s not all ball speeds and carry anymore in my opinion. This is a driver I can go out and play well with, that’s huge for a hack like me. In my experience, I can’t say that about a lot of drivers I’ve tried to make work in the last four to five years. That’s just me. Lots of great drivers every year but I’m a hard case and finding one that’s just right is a challenge.

Ultimately, for me, the best driver on the market is SIM hands down because it performs in the hitting bay and even better on the course—my hunch is Titleist has something that will do the same.

It’s a beautiful driver that I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know.

 

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Equipment

GolfWRX Classifieds (9/25/20): Titleist U510, XXIO Red, Tour issue M5 head

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At GolfWRX, we love golf equipment plain and simple.

We are a community of like-minded individuals that all experience and express our enjoyment for the game in many ways. It’s that sense of community that drives day-to-day interactions in the forums on topics that range from best driver to what marker you use to mark your ball, it even allows us to share another thing – the equipment itself.

One of the best ways to enjoy equipment is to experiment and whether you are looking to buy-sell-or trade (as the name suggests) you can find almost anything in the GolfWRX BST Forum. From one-off custom Scotty Cameron Circle T putters, to iron sets, wedges, and barely hit drivers, you can find it all in our constantly updated marketplace.

These are some of the latest cool finds from the GolfWRX BST, and if you are curious about the rules to participate in the BST Forum you can check them out here: GolfWRX BST Rules

Member Yenmaster – TaylorMade M5 driver head

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times—if you already have a shaft that you love, buying a driver head is the best way to upgrade and save a few bucks along the way. Is it time for you to trade up?

To see the full listing and additional pictures check out the link here: M5 Driver head

Member dansrixon – XXIO X Red Driver

This listing is littered with really cool and rare drivers and fairway woods from Cleveland, Srixon, and XXIO, including the XXIO Red driver looking for a new home.

To see the full listing and additional pictures check out the link here: XXIO Driver

Member kkennedy – Titleist U510 1-iron

The new U500 series utilities are the fastest and most forgiving Titleist have ever made, so if you are looking for a club to keep the ball out of the wind—here you go!

To see the full listing and additional pictures check out the link here: Titleist 1 Iron

Remember that you can always browse the GolfWRX Classifieds any time here in our forums: GolfWRX Classifieds

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Whats in the Bag

WITB GolfWRX Members Edition: Rkelso1984

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Recently we put out the call for our members to submit their WITBs in our forum to be featured on the GolfWRX front page. Since then, our members have been responding in numbers!

Now it’s time to take a look at the bag of Rkelso1984.

*Full details on the submission process can be found here, and you can submit your WITB in this forum thread.*

Member: Rkelso1984

Rkelso1984WITB

Driver: Callaway Mavrik Max (10.5 degrees, set to 9.25 degrees)
Shaft: Oban Devotion-6 04 Flex 65g

3-wood: Callaway Mavrik Sub Zero (15 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila Rouge 130MSI 70s

5-wood: Callaway Mavrik Sub Zero (18 degrees)
Shaft: Aldila Rouge 130MSI 70s

Hybrid: Titleist TS2 (19 degrees, set to 20.5 degrees)
Shaft: Project X Evenflow 6.0S 90g HY

Irons: Mizuno JPX 919 HMP (5-PW)
Shafts: KBS C-Taper lite 110s

Wedges:  Mizuno JPX 919 (50 degrees), Callaway Jaws (54, 58 degrees)
Shafts: KBS C-Taper lite 110s, KBS Hi-Rev 125s

Putter: Ping Heppler Ketsch (34″)

Putter Grip: Golf Pride Tour SNSR Contour Pro 140cc

Golf Ball: Taylormade TP5x PIX

Grips: SuperStroke TX1 Mid + 1 Wrap

Get submitting your WITB in our forum as we’ll be publishing more and more of them on our front page over the coming days and weeks.

Feel free to make it your own too by including some thoughts on your setup, your age, handicap, etc. Anything you feel is relevant!

Share your WITBs here.

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