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Professional club builders and chefs have more in common than you think

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I’ve been building clubs for close to 20 years, and I get a lot of questions about what it means to be a professional club builder and run a build shop. It’s a lot different than being a hobbyist who does a few repairs or has put together a club or two in their garage—similar to how a regular home cook is not a trained chef. But please note, like many, I started off as a hobby builder myself!

Now, it’s not to say that you can’t become a professional chef without proper training. In fact, many of the best chefs I know have worked from the ground up with no formal training but have put many years into their craft to get where they are today.

So how does all this cooking talk relate back to club building? Although the mediums are very different, the processes to create the final products are more similar than you might think, and at the end of the day, the goal is the same—deliver a great product over and over again.

The starting point – Good ingredients

Building a set of clubs and creating a great dish is all about working with raw ingredients, and for golf clubs that means using high-quality components with tight tolerances. Sourcing from manufacturers that offer tight specs and components to properly assemble (if required), is like buying your vegetables from a local farmer. You know where they come from, you know how they were produced, and you know where to go if you have an issue.

Quality will always come with a price—tighter tolerances, and fresh ingredients might be a bit more expensive, but you will always get out of a meal or set of clubs what you put in. If you want an end product you are truly going to enjoy, professional chefs, just like club builders, are going to go to the end of the earth to search out the best ingredients for the dish they plan to create.

Prep work – Knowing your recipe

This is the boring part, always has and always will be. It’s about washing the veggies, chopping to size, organizing into portions, and storing until it’s time to cook.

For club builders, this is the make-or-break time of building a set—it’s making sure you have weighed out all of the components, sorted and organized, and spotted any potential issues with what you are working with and making a correction. For clubheads, that means taking into account the required build specs and adjusting head weight accordingly—no different to making a dish ordered spicy rather than mild—you better get it right or it’s coming back.

Once you have taken all the steps to get your ingredients/components prepped to make your dish according to the recipe/specs, we move onto the next process of putting everything together. If you have followed all the appropriate steps to this point, whether you’re a club builder or a chef, this is one of the fastest parts of the process.

For clubs, once the epoxy has been mixed, it takes as little as 15 minutes to actually assemble a 14-piece set, for a chef it’s similar. The dish comes together in the pan with pre-organized and portioned out ingredients and boom – you have a fully cooked dish in a matter of minutes. No chef starts peeling potatoes when an order is placed.

Work area – cleanliness & organization

This is where I draw a direct comparison, from a chef in their kitchen to a club builder – a clean and organized workspace, to me is the greatest sign of a professional. If you have ever walked into a restaurant with an open kitchen concept, it inspires confidence to see clean counters, organized utensils, and a work area organized and ready for action – if you see a dirty kitchen or a health inspection notice on the door – good chance you’re not stopping to eat.

A build shop should be no different—counters should be tidy, tools should be clean and well maintained for safety as well as precision, and components along with small parts should be organized and quickly accessible at all times. It should be considered a source of pride to maintain a clean workspace as much as it is to deliver a well-built set of clubs or a perfect dish, I have never trusted a messy club builder.

Final preparation

You can do everything right to this point, both as a chef or as a club builder, but if the presentation isn’t right then the customer isn’t likely to be happy—nor should they.

With food that final step means platings—and there is a big difference between a discount $5 buffet and a farm to table chef-inspired tasting menu—it doesn’t take a keen eye to spot the difference.

As for clubs, it’s the little things, many of which won’t be noticed by the naked eye or at first glance: lies and lofts, the number of tape wraps under a grip, or swing weight. Those are all things that a golfer must trust was done correctly by their builder. The other part is what can be seen, just like meal plating—no bend marks on hosels, grips on straight, and last but not least, the ferrules turned down properly.

This is my biggest sticking point, because if a club builder isn’t willing to take the time to properly finish one of the most noticeable parts on a club, the ferrules, what else have they potentially skipped out on? Can you trust the lies and loft are right? Can you trust the grips are on correctly with the right amount of tape? Did they even take the time to do the proper prep work?

Any true professional in a skilled trade, whether it be a club builder or chef, should always take pride in their work, and to be considered proper professionals they should also act accordingly, with attention to detail, and the goal of creating a delicious meal or well built set of clubs at the end of the day.

With that in mind, I present to you my finest meal plating…

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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.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Michael

    Jul 31, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Where is the best place to get foundational education to become a club builder? Thanks for your time and the great article.

  2. Jonathan Weaver

    Jul 30, 2020 at 8:14 pm

    Someone is loving the Boyd’s!

  3. C

    Jul 30, 2020 at 7:14 am

    Ferrule. I loathe that word as an amateur club builder.

  4. Veo Robert

    Jul 29, 2020 at 4:37 pm

    Hi Ryan, I’m a professional chef in Boston and an aspiring club tinkerer, not gonna call myself a club builder, however i would like to be able to do so one day. You speak like someone who’s cooked professionally, i wouldn’t be surprised if you have. How true it is to be organized, meticulous and clean throughout the process of cooking, very well said in this matter. This article gives me great joy and hope that one day i can navigate the wonderful of golf equipment to be able to call myself a club builder. Thank you and keep up the great work. PS: get in touch if you ever in Boston, would love to treat you to a good meal, and maybe play a round.

    • Ryan Barath

      Jul 29, 2020 at 9:58 pm

      Thanks for the kind words.
      I am by no means a chef but do a lot of home cooking as well as have a number of friends in the industry that are true chefs. I spent a few years in the restaurant business doing craft beer sales and spent a lot of time in restaurants – the absolutely great ones are easy to spot if you’ve walked about a kitchen – clean, organized, and ready for action. It was how I was able to draw such a parallel for this piece.

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Equipment

TaylorMade P Series irons: Talking tour integration

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Now that the cat has been let out of the bag on the new 2020 TaylorMade P Series irons, I wanted to get some intel on how these new sticks will start to infiltrate the major tours and what that might look like.

TaylorMade’s Adrian Rietveld is one of the individuals that players like Rory, Rahm, and a number of the European staff trust to transition into new product.

I had a chance to chat with him this week on all things P Series, and this is what he had to say.

JW: In a general sense, what is the process for you when integrating a new product on Tour?

AR: I never like to do [more than] one product at a time, unless I’m at the Kingdom or off-site. On tour, it’s essential the focus stays in a bubble and we deal with one thing at a time. We typically will speak before any testing is done and I’ll get a sense from them what is looking to be gained or if there are any glaring issues.

The main place to start is going apples-to-apples spec-wise—old product vs new product. At that point we can see what the new product is offering, i.e. where it’s good and also identify what we need to do to get dialed across the board.

JW: Of the main Tour staff, who is testing now, and who will be testing after the season is over?

AR: Can’t answer exactly who is currently testing because all players test at different times, but I know our U.S. and European core staff players all have sets including non-staff players that also have our equipment in play.

The cool thing is the players who have had the time to test put them in play quickly which is a good sign.

JW: Rory put the P7MB in play quickly. What did he respond to on the P7MB that encouraged the switch?

AR: He did, but by the time, he got them he had been testing with us for a good while. When he got the set he has now, he was already quite familiar with them, so the transition was easy. This iron was designed with a lot of his input (as well as DJ) and both players had very nuanced but similar preferences, so it’s safe to say he was comfortable with them when they came outta the box.

It’s not a huge switch from his 730’s. He liked that he picked up marginal improvements across the board and was particularly pleased of the simplicity of the set—especially in the longer irons with less offset.

JW: What improvements are you seeing so far vs old models?

AR: For MB, using Charley Hull as an example, the 730 for her seemed to turn over a bit and was a bit less forgiving. With the 7MB, she neutralized her ball flight all while keeping her spec identical to her old set.

In the MC the long irons seem to launch a touch higher with a fraction more speed. Every player who has tested has made the switch, and that’s with no pressure to do so. We are patient when players irons hit in regards to player switches. I believe in the next 6-9 months you will see a ton of MC’s in bags, whether its staff or non-staff.

JW: Do you think you will see more combo sets than before?

AR: To be honest most setups these days are combo sets in some way shape or form. What I think we will see are players having the P7MB play further down into the set. For example, the player that was 4, 5, 6 750 and 7-P in 730 will now start to have the MB in the 5 and 6. That little addition of forgiveness will give players enough confidence and performance to make them comfortable.

JW: Using Rahm as an example, what is his process when he is getting into a new product?

AR: He spends a lot of time at The Kingdom and does any major switching there. He’s not a player who tends to tinker at a tournament site. As with most of our staff, his process is about making sure any switch in the bag is a step forward in performance. Since he lives in Arizona, getting to Keith and me in Carlsbad isn’t a long trip and that gives us ample quiet time to focus, test, and experiment.

*according to TaylorMade, eight sets P Series irons have been built for players on the European Tour with seven going into play immediately.

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Best tips for shopping for used golf clubs

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We’re in the middle of the golf season, and there is still lots of time left to lower your handicap, post a personal best score, and have some more fun along the way—but it might require some news clubs to get there. The best part is today, new doesn’t have to mean brand new—it can just be “new” to you.

Before spending any money shopping for used golf clubs, it’s important to pay close attention to a number of small details to save you time—and prevent you from having to spend more money down the road to correct for purchasing mistakes.

Here is our how-to guide to shop for used clubs

Shop the big sellers: Unless you are buying locally and have the opportunity to inspect clubs and know their source, the safest and easiest way to shop is from the big online sellers that inspect and verify the clubs they sell are legit.

Although thanks to a very concerted effort by OEMs to mostly eliminate counterfeit gear, it can still find its way into the marketplace and big sellers help stop the spread and prevent you from wasting your money. Also, most of the big sellers use photos of the actual clubs you are buying – not representative photos so you know exactly what you are getting.
**(We also have a great Buy/Sell/Trade board here on GolfWRX too)**

The telltale signs of counterfeit clubs are

  • Badge and brand colors slightly off
  • Poorly installed shaft bands (the stickers on steel shafts)
  • Awful smelling grips – they can feel thin and smell like very cheap rubber or solvents
  • Club weight seems very off – for irons and wedges they might feel extremely light and for drivers and woods they can feel a lot heavier because of the extremely poor quality graphite shafts being used.

Confirm specs: You don’t need to have a shop worth of tools to quickly and easily take some simple measurements to make sure you and getting clubs that match the right spec you are looking for, although a very specific tool is needed to check lies and lofts.

Specs you can check without tools – irons and wedges

  • Lengths: If lengths arent stated and you are buying in person, just simply bring a few of your own clubs to compare.
  • Grips: A quick check that all of the grips match for size and style can save you money, and make sure they feel good when you go to use them. Don’t forget though, grips are an easy and affordable way to make used clubs feel new again.
  • Matching shafts: A quick visual inspection to make sure the shafts match up will make sure you are getting what you pay for. Along that same line, checking to also make sure the ferrules match will show whether any club in the set was potentially repaired at some point.

Shopping for used clubs can feel like a treasure hunt and is a lot of fun—it’s also a great way to save money on equipment. Just be sure to not get caught up in what might seem like a deal too good to be true and take your time when evaluating what you are buying.

Happy (used golf club) shopping!

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Korea’s AutoFlex Shaft: Challenging the conventional wisdom of golf

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We are creatures of habit, or so I’ve been told. And God knows old habits are hard to break. Just ask my right leg that simply refuses to stop reverse-pivoting, despite my best intentions.

Equally hard to break are pre-conceived notions and superstitions. There are hundreds of them to be sure, but I want to focus on one particular idea in golf that seems to be largely unchallenged for its conventional wisdom: The more flexible the shaft, the less accurate it is.

You may have heard a similar version of the same idea. Stiffer shafts offer straighter shots, faster swingers need stronger shafts, and whippier shafts result in more slice. But a recent find has caused me to challenge this well-established notion—that an ultralight, super flexible shaft (44 grams) is claiming to be not only straighter but longer as well.

My first reaction: “NO WAY”. The shaft would practically be a fishing rod. There’s no way that it would stand up to my normal swing speed of 98~100 mph.

But the kicker was that the makers of this ‘breakthrough’ shaft doubled down on me by claiming that their fishing rod-esque shaft can hold under swing speeds of up to 150mph! That’s up in the territory of world long drive champions-and they are practically inhuman! Now I was scoffing out loud—time to put the money where their mouth was.

(Jung-hwan MOON, member of Korean National long drive team, testing out the new AutoFlex FS505 shaft)

The new shaft is named AUTO FLEX. Sounds a little cheesy, until you realize that Dumina Inc., the South Korean shaft manufacturer, also makes AUTO POWER shafts that have caused a local sensation on the KLPGA and elite amateur circles over the past few years.

Autopower shafts have proven itself to be effective, largely due to a wide range of 50+ shafts offering a much smaller gapping of about 5-10 CPMs between shafts. It allowed golfers to dial into their particular swing speed more effectively. Its use of their proprietary weaving pattern and as-yet-undisclosed material KHT (Korea Hidden Technology!?) also did what it said it would. Smooth feel, mid-high launch, and great accuracy/forgiveness.

FLEXING SOME MUSCLE

Enter AUTO FLEX, the new generation of shafts that Dumina claims will make the game of golf easier and more enjoyable for all golfers. By allowing golfers to swing more easily and smoothly with a much lighter shaft, golfers will not only feel fewer aches and pains but that their scores will improve as well.

Oh, and did I mention that there are only 3 shafts that are supposed to fit all levels of swing speeds from 65 to 150mph?

“NO WAY”, you say? I told you so.

Autoflex SF305 shaft / 38 grams / approx. 170cpm / Ladies / SS 60~80mph
Autoflex SF405 shaft / 44 grams / approx. 180cpm / Men / SS 80~95mph
Autoflex SF505 shaft / 51 grams / approx. 210cpm / Pro / SS 95~120+mph

According to the specs provided, I was fit for the SF405 shaft. The SF stands for ‘Spec Free’ meaning that these shafts do not follow the conventional labeling system of R, S, X, and weight. The first few waggles and I was at a loss for words.

Dumina claimed that after three rounds with the Autoflex, I would be well adjusted and that results would be prominent. I began by hitting a few shots with the 43-gram shaft and immediately noticed that the shaft had something much more than meets the eye.

Once I got over the initial doubt that a whippy shaft would not be able to square up to the ball at impact and started to swing normally, the shots flew straight with a bump up in launch angle. The higher launch (from 9º up to 13º) gave me more carry distance over my previous gamer, but I thought it might be increasing my backspin. But a quick check with a launch monitor showed an average of 2,000-2,100 RPM, which was about the same as before.

But the most noticeable numbers were from the total distance, which was about 5~7 yards farther than my usual average. This was surprising because I felt I was swinging a little slower and smoother than before (it may be from the fear that the whippy shaft may cause a duck hook), but the average ball speed increased from 62~63mph to about 65.

I venture that because the shaft is more flexible, it causes the head speed to increase, kind of like cracking a whip of sorts. This somewhat fits into my current belief that a more flexible shaft hits the ball longer (at the expense of accuracy).

Pretty darn good numbers for me, but ZERO side spin means a straight as an arrow shot and 1.50 smash factor.

 

The numbers on the launch monitor were impressive for my standards and usual play. But it needed to be tested out on the course.

At the time of this article, I have played some 10 rounds with the new AutoFlex shaft on my Cobra F9 driver (10.5°, 45.25 inches at D2) and I couldn’t be happier with my results. My driving accuracy has significantly improved over the conventional shaft (HZRDUS Smoke 6S).

I’ve played in both fair and very windy conditions, and the results were the same. I was finding a lot more fairway than ever before. That pesky little draw at the end that rolls the ball into the left rough has all but disappeared.

To be frank, I didn’t see much change in the overall distance as well-struck shots from both my old gamer and new shaft tended to go about the same distance. However, it was the frequency of how often I was able to hit the sweet spot with the new shaft that made me feel much more confident in swinging the driver on the tightest of fairways.

I am still searching for the right words to explain it, but the driver feels whippy on the backswing and yet it feels like the entire length of the shaft firms up on the downswing and at impact. At times, I was certain that the shot completely missed the center of the face and a quick check confirmed that I struck the ball on the heel or toe, well outside the center. But the resulting ball flight is either a slight push or pull with a small distance loss of about 10 yards. Yet, no bananas or duck hooks that I’ve come to associate with such mishits and feedback to the hands. What sorcery is this?

But the most beneficial factor for me was that I was swinging the club much easier and with less energy exertion than I would have done with a heavier, stiffer shaft. I had a lower back disc surgery five years ago that prevents me from making a full turn and a limited finish. Playing with longer-hitting friends invariably leads me to try to swing harder at a faster tempo, usually leading to ballooning scores.

With AutoFlex, once I dialed into the new reality with an adjusted belief about whippier shafts, I was able to maintain both accuracy and distance for the whole round and not feel as tired. And I was better able to maintain my balance with a smoother swing and not have to worry about losing distance. Perhaps this is what let me hit the face center more often. Just like the namesake, it was as if the shaft was automatically trying to help fix my swing flaws to provide maximum forgiveness.

Whatever it is, I was sold.

I now have the same spec AutoFlex shaft in my 3-wood as well. If I had trouble getting my fairway woods up in the air previously, no one would suspect that of me now.

I would love to replace all of my shafts, irons and all if I could afford it, but unfortunately, the shafts are quite expensive. The company tells me that the “hidden technology” material and the manufacturing process is quite costly (nearly seven times over regular shaft manufacturing cost), and they are available in limited quantities at 950,000 KRW (about $775) each.

For me, the proof was in my new-found fearlessness with the driver and wood. I get a kick out of waggling my driver on the first tee to the shock of my playing partners and then bust a drive down the middle. Some still can’t come to grips with the shaft despite trying for themselves. And the makers of the shaft are keeping their lips sealed on what makes the shaft behave differently than the commonly held perceptions. In fact, Dumina has not applied for a patent at all, stating that once their secret is out, it will change the way we play golf and limit their business from copycats. So whatever KHT is about, it will remain undisclosed for the time being.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas on how the AutoFlex shaft works or what are its component materials? I would be interested in hearing from other gear heads out there!

 

 

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