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Introduction: Why I’m writing 18 stories for GolfWRX

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My name is Tom Stites, and 40 years ago I fell in love with a wonderful game. For most of that time I’ve also been a golf club geek.

I started getting serious about golf clubs in the mid-1980s when I was a young, golf crazy engineer. In 1986, the Good Lord got me a dream job at the historic (and real) Ben Hogan Golf Company. That was 30 pounds and 30 years ago, but I remember it like yesterday. Actually, I remember it better than yesterday.

From then to now I’ve worked (or done consulting work) for more than 20 golf club manufacturers. During those gigs I’ve received more than 200 patents, designed more than 300 commercial golf products and worked directly with more than 150 touring pros who have used my clubs for hundreds of wins (including all four major championships, multiple times). I’ve had 30 years of great golf fun, made a good living from clubs and lived vicariously on the tour through some really great players. I don’t think for a second, however, it was because of my small dose of talent.

I got much help from many others. I also don’t think any of the good stuff would have happened if I had not met, worked directly for and learned from Mr. Ben Hogan and master club maker Gene Sheeley in my very first golf industry job. You just can’t dream up a job, a place, a time or a blessing like that. Thank you, Mr. Hogan! Thank you, Gene!

I’m sort of semi-retired now, but I still do club design and business consulting work. If you’ve ever shared a beer or dinner with me, you know that I love to tell the Mr. Hogan stories. I’ve also had great fun with many other pros. I’ve even had some hard encounters with a few. I sometimes slip up and tell these stories.

I’ve got some strong opinions about how the club business got to where it is today and where I think it will go in the future. I question how many will care, but maybe it is time for me to tee up these stories and opinions. My friends and family have encouraged me to write a book. Maybe someday I will, but for now, no. I just want to get a few things recorded so some future golfing grandson will know what his old timer granddaddy did back during the club wars of the 80s and 90s.

I wish some of my native Cherokee ancestors had recorded their stories as they were removed from their land in Georgia by Andrew Jackson and force walked on the Trail of Tears to settle Oklahoma. I wish my great great uncle, who was killed the first day of the battle at Vicksburg, had told us more of his life as a Civil War veteran. No way my life as a mere golf club veteran even sniffs close to these guys, but still I’m feeling compelled to get on paper some of my experiences and stories just in case someone, somewhere, someday might care or enjoy. As club and golf lovers, maybe some of you too will want to follow along.

So here is my plan. I will play this like a round of golf. I will tee up 18 short stories with the front 9 holes being some never-published stories of my personal encounters with Mr. Hogan. On the back nine, I will take a risk and tell stories of other pros and share my opinions on the equipment industry, as well as my predictions for the future. I especially look forward to telling you about my personal favorite touring pro and how his incredible ball striking skill doesn’t even get close to the level of his awesome personal character.

So if you will join me, I invite you to go back with me 30 years and hear the ramblings of this old fart golf club geek. I learned a lesson in each of these stories, and I think you might, too.

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Tom Stites has spent more than 30 years working in the golf industry. In that time, he has been awarded more than 200 golf-related patents, and has designed and engineered more than 300 golf products that have been sold worldwide. As part of his job, he had the opportunity to work with hundreds of touring professionals and developed clubs that have been used to win all four of golf's major championships (several times), as well as 200+ PGA Tour events. Stites got his golf industry start at the Ben Hogan Company in 1986, where Ben Hogan and his personal master club builder Gene Sheeley trained the young engineer in club design. Tom went on to start his own golf club equipment engineering company in 1993 in Fort Worth, Texas, which he sold to Nike Inc. in 2000. The facility grew and became known as "The Oven," and Stites led the design and engineering teams there for 12 years as the Director of Product Development. Stites, 59, is a proud veteran of the United States Air Force. He is now semi-retired, but continues his work as an innovation, business, engineering and design consultant. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Ben Hogan Foundation, a 501C foundation that works to preserve the legacy and memory of the late, great Ben Hogan.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Anna Simon

    Nov 4, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I am currently working with a company that is building a new product that helps golfers improve and analyze their golf swing, taking a multi-sensor approach to the swing analyzers products on the market. The product’s Kickstarter will be launching later this month. Would you like us to get in touch with you to test the product? If so, please send me your email to [email protected].

    Many Thanks,

    Anna Simon

  2. Austin

    Jun 12, 2015 at 1:32 am

    Tom,

    It was great to sit down for dinner with you a few years ago in the stockyards of Ft. Worth. I still retell the Henny Bogan story you to told us over those great steaks. I look forward to hearing more of your experiences. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Christosterone

    Jun 7, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Any wait….Nike in 2000….can’t wait to hear tiger stories/legends….dude was a god at the turn of the century

  4. driver ben

    Jun 6, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Looking forward to hearing your stories! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Deez

    Jun 2, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    WITB?????

  6. Deez

    Jun 2, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    WITB?????

  7. C. Weber

    May 31, 2015 at 7:07 am

    I can’t wait to read the stories.

  8. trbgolfer

    May 31, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Looking forward to hearing your stories and insight into the world of golf club design. Thanks for taking the time to share from your experiences and challenges with players and, even, Mr. Hogan himself. What an honor to have worked with so many wonderful people and it’s an honor to hear what you have to say. I will definitely be joining you for this “round” of golf.

  9. Reid

    May 30, 2015 at 3:50 am

    Definitely looking forward to your stories!

  10. Justin O'Neil

    May 30, 2015 at 3:15 am

    Mr. Stites,

    It will be a pleasure to read of your encounters and experiences from behind the curtain of the golf world. Your brother, Kirk, was the best man in my parents wedding. Jack O’Neil is my dad and he got me started on the game very early in life and shared some stories of you and your brother. He always went back to a round of golf with you at Oak Tree and discussing golf club tech. He also liked to tell the story of Kirk taking him up in his airplane on the morning of the wedding and doing a free-fall! Please, if you read this it would do me a great honor to have a personal correspondence with you via email. You can reach me at: [email protected]

    I am looking forward to this 18-holes worth of reading material!

  11. rymail00

    May 29, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Tom,

    Welcome to WRX. Reading your first article I got say I’m looking forward to more of them. The real “inside” of golf is something I’ll never be a part of so reading future articles or a book on that subject especially on Hogan and the Hogan company as well as Nike definitely peaks “my” interests. Hopefully people keep the comments to whatever is written in the articles and get to side tracked fanboys or haters.

    Like I said really looking forward to stories, and inside look into the golf companies regarding the good and the bad.

    -Ryan

  12. Ryan K

    May 29, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Sweet!

  13. Sean

    May 29, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Look forward to it Tom! Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  14. Scott

    May 29, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    This sounds like there will be some good reads. Looking forward to it

  15. Lynn Rowland

    May 29, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Eager to hear these stories. Would be interested in reading a book written by Tom and his experiences with Hogan (the man and the company) and Nike. As well as general thoughts on club design. I have a feeling he has some very cool stuff to share. Especially with Hogan/Nike fans like myself with an engineering background. Thanks Tom

  16. larry

    May 29, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    This is exciting. I’m sure Mr. Stites is well aware of the opinions that some folks have in regards to Nike clubs and this may be a real eye opener for some, and of course, hearing stories of Mr. Hogan will be awesome as well. Looking forward to this!

  17. alan

    May 29, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    looking forward to these stories and your opinion. not many folks willing to share less than pleasant encounters they have had with others. i personally think taylormade and callaway are killing themselves and having multiple releases every year. spending tons and tons of money on advertising and product rollouts cuts into their bottom line, further consumers dont want the value of their clubs to be nominal in less than 3 months.

  18. MHENDON

    May 29, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    To all you Nike bashers here’s your chance.

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Opinion & Analysis

What does it really take to play college golf?

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Much has been written and speculated about this question, both in popular media and by junior golfers and their parents and coaches. However, I wanted to get a more definitive answer.

In collaboration with Dr. Laura Upenieks of Baylor University, and with the generous support of Junior Tour of Northern California and Aaron R. Hartesveldt, PGA, we surveyed 51 players who were committed to play college golf for the 2021 year.

Our sample was comprised of 27 junior boys and 24 junior girls. Most of our respondents were either white or Asian. As for some other notable statistics, 67% of boys reported working with a coach once a week, while 100% of girls reported working with a coach at least once a week. In addition, 67% of boys were members at a private club, while 100% of girls were members of a private club. Here are some other interesting findings from the data:

-The average scoring differential for a boy who committed to college golf was -1.48
-The average scoring differential for a girl who committed to college golf was 3.72
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-The average boy was introduced to the game at 7 years old
-The average girl was introduced to golf at 12 years old
-The average boy first broke par at 12
-The average girl first broke par at 17
-67% of boys and girls who responded reported having won at least 10 tournaments

One of the most interesting findings of the survey was the amount of competitive golf being played. The data shows that 67% of players report playing over 100 tournaments, meaning they have close to 1,000 hours of tournament experience. This is an extremely impressive amount given all respondents were teenagers, showing the level of dedication needed to compete at the top level.

Another interesting showing was that 75% of boys surveyed reported receiving “full scholarship”. At first glance, this number seems to be extremely high. In 2016, in a GolfWRX that I did with Steph Acosta, the data we collected estimated this number was between 5-10%. This number is seven times greater, which could be due to a low sample size. However, I would also speculate that the data speaks to the extrinsic motivation of players in the data set, as they feel the need to get a scholarship to measure their athletic success.

Finally, boys in the survey report playing with a mixture of elite players (those with plus handicaps) as well as 5-9 handicaps. On the other hand, no female in the study reported playing with any plus handicaps. It also stood out that 100% of junior girls report that their fathers play golf. In ongoing research, we are examining the reasons why young women choose golf and the impact their environments have on their relationships with golf. The early data is very interesting and we hope that it can be published by the end of this year. Altogether, we suspect that girls hold lower status at golf courses and are less able to establish competitive groups to regularly play with. This could impact how long they stay in the sport of golf as well as their competitive development.

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Club Junkie: Callaway Jaws Raw wedge review and Strackaline’s yardage and green reading books

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