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Bag Chatter: An Interview with Steurer & Jacoby

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Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email [email protected] for consideration. This interview is with Will Jacoby of Steurer & Jacoby.

“I’d love to have you come and visit our shop sometime so you can see what we do,” Will Jacoby said. “The reason I’d like to have you here in person as opposed to just a phone call is because the story is in our product. It’s in our seamstresses. I’m not the story. I’m just some old guy. But once you come in and you see everything first-hand and you touch it and experience it, I think you’ll be impressed.”

The above is a synopsis of my first phone conversation with Will Jacoby, an affable gentleman who can tell stories for days of playing golf with Sam Snead or making golf bags for Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan. He tells me about his repeat customers from Switzerland to Singapore. They’re his “Johnny Appleseeds,” as he calls them, spreading the gospel of his products wherever they go.

As far as credentials go, Will has been in the golf industry for over 40 years in some capacity. In the 1960’s, his first job out of college was as a sales rep for Wilson Sporting Goods, who offered him his choice of three territories. He chose Kentucky because it was the closest to his roots in the Chicago area.

In the 1970’s, he went to work for Brunswick, then-owner of MacGregor Golf Clubs. He rose up the ranks in its plant in Eminence, KY, that made golf bags and bowling bags. Then in the 1980’s, Will established his own company called Royal Dublin Golf. That company made golf bags for the likes of MacGregor (which shut down it plant after Will left the company), Hogan, and many others.

For roughly 20 years, he was behind countless golf bags around the industry under various manufacturers’ names. He was granted several patents, most notably for the cart bag he developed that had a reversed top to allow for better access to the clubs and pockets when mounted on a cart. Ultimately, he retired to Florida in the late 1990’s. He then grew tired of the retirement life, which ultimately led him to run for mayor of his town in Florida.

“Thank God I lost,” he says.

In 2012, he got a call from his friend, the late Mike Just, owner of Louisville Golf, who enlisted Will to produce a quality, period-correct pencil bag for his customers’ hickory shafted clubs. Will’s first call was to his right hand man, pattern maker Steve Steurer, to figure out how to make it work. As a nod to Steve (who started designing products with Will in 1981), Will decided to add his name to the bag, even if he wasn’t interested in participating beyond that initial layout. And that’s how Steurer & Jacoby was born.

All of this has resulted in a guy who will only use solid brass D rings, steel frames, and waxed canvas that’s roughly 7 times the price of the nylon used in today’s bags. It’s also the guy who sews all those components together with the same threads and fabrics used to assemble parachutes for the military. It’s also resulted in a guy who opened his door to me until 9 p.m. on a Thursday night.

“I’m just so grateful,” he says. “I can talk your ear off, but I admit I haven’t embraced social media and the internet like I probably should have.”

He may be just some old guy (to some), but he’s definitely an old guy with a story. The product isn’t too bad either.

Steurer & Jacoby bag with oak stand at Whistling Straits

I think every person I’ve spoken to has said that their quality is striking with their products. I’m not saying anyone is wrong, but my point is that it’s a word that’s thrown around a lot. What does that mean to you? How did you get to this point?

I suppose it really started when I was at Wilson. The chairman drove quality into everyone’s head. It was the mission for everything that was done. In those days, Wilson was a leader. We had Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller… you name it. And we won a ton of majors. Wilson also had the NBA basketball and the NFL football. They were almost obsessed with being the best. Having the highest quality in the industry was drummed into my head and it just became a part of me. When I went to Brunswick, I told them we had to get out of K-Mart and stop selling $19 golf bags. That was an unpopular conversation, but I still to this day stand by that decision. If you’re going to make a quality product, that’s who you are. You can’t make a Chevette in the same plant as the Cadillac. Our defect rate was less than half of one percent in the plant that I ran. I was really proud of that. I just always wanted to have the best. I wanted to be the best. I don’t think I know any other way. Since we’ve opened our doors, I can count on one hand the number of defects I’ve had to rectify with customers.

How do you think the game of golf developed you as a person? Tell me about how the game helped you personally and how it helped this business.

Golf is a game of integrity. You can tell a lot about a person when you play golf with them. Do they use a foot wedge? Do they give you questionable scores to write down? Do they have a temper? All of that stuff gets revealed over the course of a round of golf. It reveals things that are already in you. Here’s the thing. In golf, you’re playing against yourself first, then your opponent. You have to gather from within. I remember one time I got an 11 on a hole at Mid Pines. Now, not many people would admit to that, but I’d rather not lie to myself. There’s no reason to lie or cheat in golf because you’re only lying and cheating on yourself. I think it’s a very good game for character building. It teaches you so much. There are bad breaks and good breaks and you have to be able to handle all of it. It’s served me well in life and in business.

You’re pretty big in the hickory golf world, which is kind of a niche within a niche. To those who are unfamiliar with it, what are we missing? Do you think anything is lost when playing modern golf as opposed to hickory golf? Are you hitting modern golf balls with hickory clubs? What yardage do you play from?

We play from about 5500 yards, maybe 6000 at most. Yes, we use modern golf balls. I have a friend named David Brown of McIntyre Golf Ball Company who takes modern balls and overmolds them for a slightly more period correct golf ball. I took a friend of mine to a hickory tournament. He’s a very low handicapper, but he had never played hickory golf. Then he took second place in the tournament! For a good golfer, it doesn’t make a difference. You learn how to club yourself. No one is hitting 300-yard drives, but you learn to adjust. To be honest, though, I didn’t really know a whole lot before Mike Just got me involved in 2012. I sold to these guys before I played with them. My brochures say “Tradition and Quality.” That’s who we are. That happened to resonate with this group. They wanted something of exquisite quality that didn’t have a brand name plastered all over it. We do brand our bags, but it’s not a billboard. Our bags are something that takes you back to the birth of golf.

The Most Interesting Man in Golf with his Steurer & Jacoby golf bag

Another market you do well in is in Europe, where nearly all golfers walk (either carrying or using a push cart/trolley). Here in America, the vast majority of golfers ride in carts, yet the lightweight stand bags persist as the most popular option. What are the European customers “getting” that most American golfers aren’t?

I think we do well in Europe because of our quality. They’re probably more frugal than us in some ways. They spend money on things and hold on to them, whereas we are a pretty disposable society in America. We just throw stuff away. Lots of people will spend thousands of dollars on golf clubs, and then go and buy a $100 golf bag to put it in. Maybe they’re just used to them breaking. I don’t know. This stuff is like your favorite baseball glove. It’s functional. It wears well over time and starts to look and feel like your favorite pair of blue jeans. If you want something disposable, go for it. We’ll stand behind our product for years to come.

As far as the carry bag discussion goes, sure the bags from the common manufacturers are lighter. We’re not going to dispute that. Nylon is lighter than cotton and it’s completely consistent, whereas each piece of waxed canvas and leather is somewhat unique, but that’s what makes our products what we are. Our bags are going to have workmanship that others won’t. We have at most 2 or 3 people that will touch your bag. The bags from the major manufacturers will have no less than 6 people touching it before it leaves the plant, and almost certainly more. How can you accurately control quality in that environment? I’ll tell ya. You can’t.

What’s the hardest, but most important lesson you had to learn to succeed in this business?

As far as what it takes to succeed, I would say, “Give the customer an excellent product at a fair price and stand behind it.” That’s my ethos. I had one customer who was really on the fence about spending so much money on a golf bag. I told him, “I’ll tell you what. You place an order. I’ll ship it to you on my dollar. If you just don’t like it, you send it back to me on your dollar and I’ll refund your money.” He called after the bag arrived and just raved about it. I’m pretty proud of stories like that. I always get letters, post cards, emails, and phone calls from customers telling me how they love their new bag. I’ve never had anyone tell me I sold them a bad product. And I’m very proud of that. I always strive to exceed my customer’s expectations.

The hardest lesson I learned was putting too many eggs in one basket. I used to have a lot of business with one customer and they went out of business. It nearly killed me.

What’s something that might surprise people about Steurer & Jacoby?

We do a lot of work for businesses in the area. Jim Beam is a huge account for us. We do things all the time for CEO’s, presidents, royalty, you name it. Golf bags are 80 percent of our business, but the other stuff pays the bills nicely. We make duffle bags, shoe bags, head covers, even down to coasters. There’s a lot of stuff available. People have told me you get more than a golf bag; you get a lifestyle with our product. You’ll start with a golf bag and then you think, “Now I need a shoe bag.” A couple months later you’ll need a duffle bag. Give it a year and you’ll think, “I love my golf bag, but I’m getting tired of looking at green. I think I want a navy one now.” The whole process seems to snowball from there. I guarantee you’ll get tired of the color before it wears out.

Steurer & Jacoby golf bags with oak stands at Del Monte Golf Course

Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Are there any product releases forthcoming? Tell people how to find you.

So, we started this whole thing by making a pencil bag for hickory golfers. We’ve grown into what we call “The Airliner,” which has a 7-inch opening, but we’re now going to be releasing an 8-inch bag. Our 7-inch bag is quite workable for the modern golfer, but the 8-inch bag is really going to give that guy what he needs. We’ve also got some new head covers in the works. Those will be made with authentic wool tartan we’ve imported from a woolen mill in Scotland and also with a leather we are having tanned specifically for us. We’re also going to be using those materials on some new duffel bags, which will be great overnight bags, gym bags, or what have you. I’m not trying to get my product on the shelves at Golf Galaxy. I couldn’t possibly care less about that. But I am trying to reach the golfer who’s serious about his game, his equipment, and his investment. If you want something everyone else has, then go to Dick’s Sporting Goods. I’m not going to judge you for it. We’re not trying to sell thousands of golf bags a year. We’re more concerned about reaching the right customer.

Also, if you want something that isn’t shown on the website (www.steurerjacoby.com), give us a call or send us an email at [email protected]. If you want different color combinations or custom branding or something, we are more than happy to work with people on those types of requests. We’ve put fancy coat of arms and presidential seals on bags. We’ll do the same for anyone if you want it. We really are passionate about exceeding our customers’ expectations.

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Peter Schmitt is an avid golfer trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. He believes that first and foremost, golf should be an enjoyable experience. Always. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids. "What other people may find in poetry or art museums, I find in the flight of a good drive." -Arnold Palmer

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. onestogie

    Jan 10, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    Will is a great guy, his company makes outstanding products. We are fortunate to have him as a member of the Society of Hickory Golfers.

  2. Peter Schmitt

    Jan 7, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for reading as always, folks. I will concede this was a long one. If it’s any consolation, I trimmed out a whole lot between my first draft and the finished product. I wound up with a whole lot more to say than I previously thought. Hope you enjoyed our visit. Till next time!

  3. NormW

    Jan 5, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    Too long. Get to the point It’s a golf bag. Put it on a cart and go.

  4. carl spackler

    Jan 5, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    Im sure they are nice bags, but as a walker who wants to mess with trying to pull out a couple of wood sticks to balance you bag on.

  5. Ric

    Jan 5, 2018 at 11:46 am

    I really enjoyed this interview on bag chatter.It’s so great to see someone who is so proud of their product and has stuck to his values of producing a product with such pride and comment to quality.. That’s rare this day and time.. I do like the 60’s and 70’s era of golf , the styles where so cool and sharp looking .. The bags were sleek and clean looking ..

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