You never know whom you will run into when you hang around a golf course, driving range or country club grill room. Interesting stories abound and sometimes there is an educational lesson accompanying the tale. I recently came upon an interesting fellow that had, what Robbie Burns told me, was “quite the story”.
In 1979 Lee was a working at the First National Bank of Rockford in Rockford, Illinois. He oversaw business lending and back then the bank was the dominant financer in the area. One day Lee was sitting at his desk when his phone rang. It was the President of the bank. He asked Lee to come down to his office.
When Lee entered the office the President was in a discussion with three men. The trio wanted a to secure a loan to start a business in a tiny village east of Rockford. The place was Ringwood, IL. An abandoned warehouse seemed to be the focus of the three. Lee introduced himself to the men and sat down.
Apparently the men wanted to start a manufacturing company in this old warehouse just north of McHenry. They were going to make golf clubs. Not just any golf club – a driver made out of metal. Lee and the President were both members of Rockford Country Club and had a pretty good idea of what the concept involved. The man doing all the talking was Gary Adams. He would name his company TaylorMade Golf.
Needless to say the bank lent Mr. Adams the money. The rest is history. A few weeks later Lee drove through McHenry to visit some relatives. Just to satisfy his curiosity he drove north to Ringwood and past the warehouse.
“It wasn’t much,” Lee admitted. “Three guys were making golf clubs out of this old building. I guess they knew what they were doing but it sure wasn’t glamorous.”
A few weeks passed after the loan was approved. Gary Adams and one of the other men came over to Rockford to play golf with Lee and his boss. He gave two of his original drivers to the bankers. Lee still carries his in his bag. He showed it to me the other day. I took a look at it as the memories came flooding back. A small metal head with a shiny sole and dull crown stamped “Metalwood” reminded me of my days as an assistant professional just entering the business. The grey TackiMac grip had been replaced but another one dug out of the archives at Bob Burns Custom Clubs sat neatly on the end of the shaft.
I remember in the early 80’s the head professional I worked for at a club in Wilmette IL, Vern Fraser, would travel up to McHenry on Mondays grabbing every metal club he could. Adams had expanded the line and added 3, 4, and 5 woods. By Saturday afternoon they were all gone. I can’t imagine how many of those clubs we sold. It was a fun time in the business.
The era marked the beginning of one of the most significant technological revolutions in golf equipment. Ping had cornered the iron market with its Ping Eye. Hogan, never one for succumbing to innovation, surprisingly brought out the Hogan Edge iron. Soon other metalwoods found their way into the golf shops. It wasn’t long before the Tommy Armour 845’s and Big Bertha’s showed up. Yes, an exciting period in golf.
The funny thing about this story is that it doesn’t seem like it took place thirty-five years ago. But it did. Gary Adams passed away in January 2000 at the young age of fifty-six. The Hogan Golf Company has been long gone but currently is attempting to make a comeback. Callaway and TaylorMade are the dominant names you see on PGA Tour Player’s staff bags, not Wilson, Spalding or the aforementioned Hogan. Things have changed considerably but it’s fun to reconnect with the past and know you were witness to this revolution. It’s good to remember those who made a major contribution to the game. It was a pleasure to meet Lee and hear his story.