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MacGregor in Dayton 


Display from MacGregor Exhibit at Carillon Park in 2001

Where Innovation Was The Hallmark 

 MacGregor: The First 100 Years

The MacGregor Golf Co. was founded on innovation -- on the creative process of making something new from existing resources.  And through the thick and thin of a storied business history, the company

has maintained that particular inventive genius in golf equipment design and manufacture.

 

The Copying Lathe and The Rise of MacGregor Golf

 

It began in 1829, when the Crawford brothers founded the Dayton Shoe Last Company, in Dayton, Ohio.  From shoe lasts to golf clubs? Yes, and it wasn't as circuitous or accidental a connection as one might

assume.  The lasts used by shoe manufacturers were made by a copying lathe, essentially the same device by which keys are today made in a hardware store.  A model of the item to be copied is secured on one side of the lathe.  As it turns, its contours are passed over by a stylus.  cutting tool also secured on the lathe is connected to follow the path of the stylus.  In doing so, it transforms a piece of unformed material into an exact replica of the model.  The copying lathe was originally invented to form irregularly shaped rifle stocks.  Eventually, it was adapted for numerous other manufactured items, including shoe lasts, baseball bats, and the wooden heads for golf clubs.

 

In the early 1880s, two Daytonians, John McGregor and Edward Canby, became major investors in the Dayton Shoe Last Company, which now became known as Crawford, McGregor and Canby.  Of the two new partners, Canby was the more dynamic businessman, but McGregor had a not insignificant role in the company's move into the golf industry.  native Scot, he talked Canby into trying the game of golf, which at the time -- near the turn of the 19th century -- was practically brand new to the United States.  An avid sports enthusiast, Canby liked the game. A visionary as well, he became convinced that golf would become a major sport -- and business -- in America.  He soon began to play a pivotal role in those developments.

 

To understand this turn of events, it is necessary to understand how wooden heads for golf clubs were manufactured until the late 1800s. It was a relatively primitive, and certainly labor-intensive technique, done entirely by hand.  Beginning with a hunk of wood roughly in the shape of a thick boot and called a flitch, the clubmaker, using a saw, a chisel and hammer, a file, and sandpaper, worked the flitch down into a clubhead.  He then coated it with varnish, and attached a shaft to it. This laborious process produced perhaps one finished head per day, per

worker.  Now, the story of how this changed, and how it brought the MacGregor Golf Company into existence, becomes anecdotal.

 

Robert White, born in St. Andrews, Scotland, was among the vanguard of his countrymen who emigrated to the United States and became its first golf professionals. He was never much of a golfer, by

professional standards, but he had a long and distinguished career in American golf that included helping found the PGA of America; he was the association's first president.  Incidentally, he also helped create MacGregor Golf.

 

Golf pros of the time were jacks-of-all-trades -- they taught golf, maintained the course, made clubs.  One day, in 1894, while the professional at the Myopia Hunt Club, in Massachusetts, White was in his

shop laboring over a new wood clubhead.  A local carpenter, named Gardner, happened by.  After watching White saw, file and sweat over his creation, Gardner remarked, "There's a shoe factory over at Lynn where I could do that wood job of yours in two or three minutes." LynnMassachusetts was then the center of shoe manufacturing in the United States.  White gave Gardner a chance to match deed to word, and said later, "The fellow did turn out some beautiful clubheads." He did, almost certainly on a copying lathe used for making shoe lasts.

 

Apparently, White was not moved enough by the carpenter's

example to look further into how he did the work, for when he became the

head professional at the Cincinnati Golf Club, in Ohio, in 1896, a

similar incident seems to have occurred.  This time, a member of the

club saw White hacking out a wood clubhead the old fashioned way, and

told the pro the work he was up to could be done better and much easier

on shoe last machinery.  White could see for himself by visiting the

Crawford, McGregor & Canby company, a few miles up the road in Dayton.

 

White went to Dayton and met Edward Canby, who realized an

opportunity.  He could turn out wooden clubheads on his copying lathes.

This would provide a source of income and keep his workforce active

through the inevitable down periods in shoe manufacture, when the need

for lasts slowed.  Furthermore, making wooden clubheads would come

easily to workers generally trained in woodworking.  In addition, Canby

learned from a newspaper article that some 500 golf courses were in play

around the country, that $50 million was invested in the game, and that

over 125,000 golfers in the country were spending an estimated $10

million per year on golf. These were intriguing numbers for an

enterprising businessman like Edward Canby, and in March, 1897, Canby

diversified; his company would make shoe lasts and golf clubs.

 

Crawford, McGregor & Canby got off to a quick start as golf club

manufacturers. Within the first year or two, they were turning out

clubheads at a rate of up to 250 a day, thanks to the copying lathe.

Such production figures immediately put the firm at the forefront of the

industry as it was developing in the United States.  It followed that by

making golf clubs more widely accessible, and affordable, the game

itself could grow.  And it did, exponentially, not only for Crawford,

McGregor & Canby but for other manufacturers coming into the business.

But where the company really enhanced its position in the new and

burgeoning American golf industry was in the use of persimmon for wooden

clubheads.

 

Hail Persimmon!

 

Persimmon is an Algonquin/Creek Indian word for a medium-sized

tree native to the United States, which is found mainly in the American

mid-south.  The wood was well-suited to shoe lasts, and because the

persimmon market had long been in Memphis, Tenn., making it

geographically convenient to Dayton, it was used almost exclusively by

the Dayton Last Works.  It was the logical wood of choice for the

clubheads the company began turning out.  In doing so, Crawford,

McGregor & Canby's golf fortunes were turned up another notch because

persimmon was discovered to be far more suitable to golf than the

dogwood and beech that had been used for clubs since the 1400s.

Relative to persimmon, beechwood was too soft; dogwood, harder but

brittle.   Persimmon struck a happy medium.  A member of the ebony

family, it is hard enough but has an interlocking grain that resists

splitting.  It is also relatively light, and can therefore take lead

filling and a metal sole plate without getting too heavy for golf.

 

Another advantage to persimmon is that it is relatively free of

knots, which makes for less spoilage in the turning process.  Also,

persimmon does not contract and expand as much as other woods in hot and

cold weather, an advantage in that golf is played in widely varying

climatic conditions.  Finally, it gives a clean and smooth look when it

becomes a clubhead, as well as a certain soft feel when it strikes a

golf ball.

 

All this practical and aesthetic delineation of persimmon is

effectively a nostalgic reminiscence, for the wooden clubhead has been

relegated to the dustbin of golf history by the metal "wood." But back

in 1900, when Crawford, McGregor & Canby was merely three years into the

golf business, so prized had its persimmon heads become that it shipped

100,000 machine-turned golf heads annually to Great Britain alone.  This

quantity of business got CMC off very well in its new venture, and by

all means established the company's persimmon woods as the benchmark of

excellence.  It was a position it held for some 75 years.  To this day,

vintage MacGregor woods are among the most prized by golf club

collectors and the few remaining traditionalists who actually play with

them.

 

How MacGregor Got Its Name

 

There is a subtle touch of innovation in how MacGregor Golf got

its name.  In March 1898, Edward Canby hired Willie Dunn as his head

staff professional.  Dunn was the eldest member of a famous Scottish

golfing family.  He was reputedly the first golfing professional in

America, was runner-up in the first US Open and was a builder of golf

courses, including the original Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.  Canby

wanted Dunn's golf expertise, but he also understood the credibility

value a Scots name would bring to his golf division.  Dunn's name was

featured prominently on the first CMC line of clubs, and in all the

company's advertising.

 

However, the relationship between Canby and Dunn didn't wear

well, and when Dunn left the company there was the problem of keeping

the firm at least nominally connected with golf s birthplace.  Canby

found the solution in the next office over.  He obtained a trademark,

"J.  MacGregor," to be used on CMC clubs, which he could do because

there was a person by that name with the firm--John McGregor, of course.

 

The interesting thing about this is how John McGregor's name

came to be spelled MacGregor, in respect to its use by the company.  The

Gaelic word "Mac" was used originally by both Scots and Irish as a

prefix to surnames.  MacGregor is to say, son of Gregor.  At some point

in time, though, Mac also came to be spelled Mc.  This variation came to

be associated mainly with the Irish.  That, along with the fact that

Mickey (from Michael, the Irish Patron Saint), was a common Irish name,

led to the derogatory name for Irishmen: "mick." This word, slang

etymologists say, originated in the United States around the mid 1800s,

when there was a huge influx of working-class Irish immigrants who were

treated disrespectfully by the English-rooted establishment.  It is pure

speculation at this late date, but it is likely that Edward Canby did

not want his golf equipment to carry a name, however Scottish its owner was, that had an Irish connotation.  Mac became a Scot-only prefix.  Hence, McGregor became MacGregor.

 

Oddly, the company was inconsistent in referring to itself.  The

J. MacGregor tradename was used on equipment beginning in 1900, but in

the advertisements it produced, the company referred to itself as

Crawford, McGregor & Canby.  Editors didn't help the matter.  For

instance, in a June, 1935 issue of Golfdom magazine, a headline read:

"Joyce Wethered Added to the McGregor Advisory Staff." Another newspaper

headlined the news, "Joyce Wethered Joins MacGregor Golf Staff."  In

1944, the confusion was eliminated.  P. Goldsmith, Sons now owned the

golf company, but the president of the golf division, Clarence Rickey,

decreed that it would be known as MacGregor Golf.

 

Socket Construction

 

Every great artist, from Michelangelo to Picasso, begins by borrowing if

not outright copying from the works of previous masters. He then

modifies, adapts and transforms the original until it becomes his own

creation. This same process exists among manufacturers of products. To

see the value of someone else's work, and make something entirely

different out of it, is a talent in itself -- and MacGregor Golf was

never short of it.

 

For example, around 1898 a Scot named Scott took a patent on a wood club

with the shaft inserted in a hole (socket) drilled in the neck (hosel).

Until then, shafts were spliced around the outside of the neck and held

in place with glue and a strong thread called whipping. Splicing was not

the most secure way to attach two parts of a club at the point of greatest

stress when a ball is hit, and Scott's was a huge fundamental

improvement in club construction. MacGregor was first to license the

manufacture of golf clubs using Scott's idea. It wasn't long before all

golf clubs were made this way, with variations to bypass Scott's patent, which eventually was rendered null and void.

 

The Insert

 

The first use of inserts in wooden head clubfaces came around the middle

of the 19th century, with the advent of the gutta-percha ball. Until

then, the golf ball was a leather bag filled with feathers. It was not

much of a threat to the condition of the clubface. The solid,

hard-rubber gutta-percha, however, caused nicks and dents in clubfaces, and finally just wore them out. To prevent this, someone got the idea of putting a slab of thick leather into the center of the clubface. It made manufacture costlier, but saved throwing the entire club away when it became too guttie-worn.

 

When persimmon became the material of choice for woods, the need for a

protective insert declined. At around the same time the three-piece,

rubber-core golf ball was introduced, which made the insert even less

necessary because it had a much softer cover than the guttie. However,

the insert was given a new reason for being. It was felt that an insert of

the right material could give the already much peppier new golf ball an

even faster sendoff, and added distance. Thus, in 1913 the company began

offering clubs with a variety of insert materials -- for example, one of

compressed paper. But MacGregor's insert piece de resistance was of

genuine ivory. A MacGregor catalog described it as follows: "Used by

Charles (Chick) Evans and many other prominent golfers, the J. MacGregor

Ivory Face Clubs have made a Big Hit."

 

Irons, by the rules of golf, could not have inserts. But the idea of

something on the face of an iron to provide a "target," and to frame the

ball for the golfer was in Toney Penna's mind when he created the

MacGregor "Colorkrom" MT (for MacGregor Tourney) iron, in 1955. The

entire scored area of the iron's face was bronze-colored. It was derided by some people as strictly cosmetic, but it did indeed give the golfer a good picture of

where the club and ball were supposed to meet. It sold very well.

 

Wood Heads Go Compact

 

By 1910, MacGregor was recognized as the preeminent manufacturer of wood

clubs. The reputation was further enhanced when Will Sime was hired, in

1912. A Scot who had made clubs for Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor and James

Braid (the famed British Triumvirate of champions), Sime was

signed on as MacGregor's chief club designer. He may have been the first

in the industry to ever hold that specific title.

 

The shape of wood heads for almost as long as golf had been played was

long-nosed. They looked much like a hockey stick, not surprising in that

the origins of the game have been traced to a form of hockey played by

the Dutch. This shape, called "long nose," was gradually being

transformed, and Sime completed the transition with a shape inspired by the shape of a biscuit his mother baked, called a bap, which was blocky in

configuration. The idea behind Sime's MacGregor "Bap" driver and brassie

was that a more compact head could deliver a more solid and powerful

blow. The "Bap" was introduced in 1921, and proved extremely successful.

For 15 years it was the best selling wood in the MacGregor line, and

owing to this success the rest of industry developed similarly shaped

heads. The MacGregor "Bap" effectively revised the basic design of the

wooden clubhead.

 

The First Coming of Steel

 

The most substantive and influential development in golf equipment in

this century, after the invention of the three-piece golf ball, was the

introduction of the steel shaft. MacGregor was the first to use it in

its equipment, and was thereby an integral part of the revolution it

caused in equipment and how the game was played.

 

The first known steel shaft appeared in Scotland in 1893, brought out by

a blacksmith named Thomas Horsburgh. It didn't catch on, probably

because it was a solid piece of steel and too heavy for golf. United

States patents for two other steel shafts were issued between 1910 and

1915, one to A. F. Knight, the other to Allan Lard. These were hollow tubes,

therefore relatively light. Lard's version was perforated, to reduce

torque. Neither caught anyone's fancy, if only because golf's two main

ruling bodies, the USGA and the R&A, would not allow them to be used in

its competitions.  (Only hickory was allowed.)

 

Nonetheless, in the early 192Os, the British company, Apollo, introduced

and marketed the first viable steel shaft. This shaft didn't appear in

the United States at the time. However, during this period, the Bristol

Steel Co., in Connecticut, also developed a sound, tubular steel shaft.

What made it eventually successful was that whereas the Knight, Lard and Apollo

shafts were tubes with an overlap, Bristol found a way to weld a seamless tube. This made it more consistent in its performance, and more attractive to the eye.

 

Getting the steel shaft "legalized" by the sanctioning bodies was a

problem put in the hands of Harry Lagerblade, a club professional hired

by Bristol to head up its steel shaft division. Lagerblade was aware of

animosity toward the USGA held by the Chicago-based Western Golf

Association (WGA). The WGA, founded at almost the same time as the USGA, felt the USGA was an elitist east coast group that shouldn't serve as the Game's

central ruling body. Lagerblade thought the WGA might be interested in

recognizing the steel shaft, if only to tweak the USGA, and arranged a

test of it at WGA headquarters.

 

On a cold and windy day in May, 1922, at the Edgewater Country Club,

Chicagoan Charles "Chick" Evans, the great amateur champion, and two

highly regarded professionals, Jock Hutchison and Laurie Ayton, hit

balls with both hickory and steel shafts. In attendance was WGA

president Albert Gates. The players found the steel quite acceptable, as did

Gates. A newspaper account of the test also made an argument for the

coming of steel, noting that it was more uniform and durable than

hickory, cheaper to buy, and that with the growing popularity of golf,

some 5,000,000 feet of hickory was used annually for golf clubs. In short, the hickory supply was becoming limited. This was also noted by George Mattern, the

MacGregor plant manager, who was at the test site. Mattern was quoted as

saying that while his firm was able to get all the hickory it wanted, it

had been forced to reach out farther into the available supplies and

figured that 75 percent of the usable hickory had been exhausted.

 

For economic and supply reasons alone, steel shafts were becoming more

viable, and Albert Gates announced that the WGA would permit their use

in its tournaments -- which were consequential. The Western Open was at

the time considered a "major" title, and the Western Amateur was on the

same level on the simon-pure side of the game. Lagerblade's ploy worked.

Not long after the WGA approved steel, the USGA said it would reconsider

its ban, and in January, 1924 finally sanctioned steel shafts.

 

But the Bristol company -- and MacGregor -- did not wait for the USGA to

get off its high horse. Bristol began turning out its shafts in 1922,

and MacGregor was its first big customer. A Bristol ad in the May, 1922

issue of Golf Illustrated magazine said: "Golf Clubs fitted with Bristol

Steel Shafts can now be supplied by the Crawford, McGregor & Canby Co., of Dayton, Ohio, and the (much smaller and younger) Hillerich & Bradsby Co.,. of

Louisville, Ky."

 

As an example of how steel shafts drove down the cost of a quality golf

club to the average golfer, and thereby made the game all the more

accessible to the masses, a 1923 MacGregor catalog offered its BB Six

Spot Ivory Face Brass Back Drivers and Brassies with steel shafts for

$6.25 wholesale, and for $8.25 with hickory shafts.

 

Protecting Steel

 

The first steel shafts were basically uncoated and subject to rusting.

What's more, many golfers were still fond of hickory and complained that

cold hard steel didn't look as good as hickory, and also caused a lot of

shock vibration in their hands. MacGregor found a way to keep the steel

from rusting, and dampen the shock. It developed a celluloid tradenamed

"Macoid" which looked something like wood, and helped prevent rusting.

 

Spalding would use a similar coating, in tan, on its first Bobby Jones

Signature irons and woods, introduced in 1930. It wasn't until the auto

industry found a way to make chrome adhere to steel for car bumpers that

the rusting problem was completely solved for the golf equipment

industry.

 

That chroming process found its way into the manufacture of iron

clubheads, and MacGregor was probably the first to produce chrome-plated

irons when it introduced the "Radite No-Rust" iron, in the late

1930�s.

 

Dampening Steel

 

The other complaint about steel, the shock or vibration factor, went

beyond mere aesthetics. Steel didn't have the nice soft feel of hickory,

and on mis-hits in particular could be painful for those who played and

practiced a lot. MacGregor was the first to counter the vibration

problem with its "Neutralizer," a wooden dowel of tough spring hickory inserted in the shaft where it joins the lubhead. It absorbed shock and vibration, while

also  strengthening the neck of the club. Other clubmakers would devise

shock absorbers of their own design.

 

Testing, Testing

 

By the late 1920s, Edward Canby, now age 70, had such a good feeling of

well-being and was so optimistic about MacGregor's business future that

built a 9-hole golf course on company property. The first known company

golf course. it was excellent for employee morale, as they could play

for next to nothing. But the course also gave MacGregor a very sound

selling point in that the people who made MacGregor equipment could try

out new ideas in their own "backyard!" And they did. In its

advertisements, MacGregor claimed rightfully that its equipment was

"course-tested." Indeed, the MacGregor golf course in this respect

preempted the test facilities of other companies by some 65 years.

 

Hard Times Breeds the Best of Times

 

For all its success through the 1920s, when the Great Depression hit in

1929-30, MacGregor began to have its own hard time. By 1932 its

workforce was halved, and those who did keep their jobs came in only two

or three days a week. Indeed, by the beginning of 1934 the specter of

bankruptcy was looming over MacGregor.

 

Although a well-established and profitable company, it did not have the

diversification of its arch rivals, Spalding, and the newer but growing

Wilson Co. The latter two made equipment for a variety of games, whereas

MacGregor was only a golf company. Basketball, baseball, and football

were far more economically accessible to a strapped populace than golf.

Furthermore, MacGregor had not established itself as a golf ball

manufacturer, whereas Spalding had long dominated this end of the

business and Wilson was gaining ground. People could do without a new

set of clubs, or make do with what they had, but balls, which didn't

cost all that much in the first place, were regularly lost or beat up.

Spalding and Wilson could count on getting business whenever golf balls

were sold.

 

At the same time, Edward Canby, who had become MacGregor's controlling

stockholder and chief operating officer, was at an age (80) when he

could no longer handle the day-to-day stress of running a large

business. With neither his son or grandson suited to take over the

concern, and facing the prospect of simply closing down a business he

had proudly grew to prominence, Canby called in a Cleveland management

consulting firm, Robert Heller, Inc., to put MacGregor in shape for

sale. This last-ditch effort proved to be one of the most providential

decisions Canby ever made vis-a-vis MacGregor Golf.

 

Robert Heller, Inc. assigned Clarence Rickey to the MacGregor project.

Rickey's father was a cousin of Branch Rickey, the progressive

major-league baseball executive who broke the color barrier when he

signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Clarence was

himself an athlete, earning a football scholarship to Northwestern University. After military service in World War I, he played professional baseball and

eventually became a sporting goods salesman. A physically imposing man

with a quick mind, and what Byron Nelson would describe as a

"flamboyant" personality, Rickey took on the MacGregor job with gusto

and a clever business sense. He decided that MacGregor was still a

premier name among golf consumers, had the best bench trained clubmakers

in the industry, and with some fresh approaches could come back to

prosperity.

 

Not long after Rickey arrived on the scene. Edward Canby died. This

forced the issue of selling the company. Two firms bid for it, Wilson

and P. Goldsmith and Sons. Rickey recommended Goldsmith, feeling that

Wilson would simply dissolve MacGregor and eliminate a major competitor.

Goldsmith was a full-range sporting goods manufacturer that had tried

unsuccessfully to get into golf, and felt this would be the best way.

Goldsmith got the prize, with the proviso that Rickey stay on as

president. The deal was done in 1936.

 

Going after the "Carriage Trade"

 

Rickey's main plan was to identify MacGregor as golf's quality house,

which meant courting a pro-shop-only trade. While Rickey wouldn't ignore

the retail stores in city downtowns, he left the bulk of that business

to Wilson and Spalding and went for the moneyed members of private

clubs.  This was where most pro shops were located at the time. Hence,

the "carriage trade."

 

The Armour and Penna Connection

 

The first step in implementing the pro-shop only policy was to bring to

MacGregor a high-profile professional. The choice was Tommy Armour, who

qualified in a number of ways. Armour was a champion player and winner

of the US and British Opens, the PGA Championship, three Canadian

Opens, and a Western Open. This gave him absolute golf credibility among

the club pros that the company would be attempting to seduce.

Furthermore, Armour was well-educated -- he was a graduate of Edinburgh

University and had an aristocratic bearing, dressed with quiet good

taste, and had a resonant voice and the speaking, style of a dramatic

actor. Perfect for courting the carriage trade.

 

 

Armour's Irons . . . and Woods

 

In later years. many thought Tommy Armour was little more than an

up-front man for MacGregor, that he made no real contribution to the

design of the clubs under his name. That was not at all the case. Armour

not only brought his sense of style to MacGregor clubs, he also added a

significant technical advance. Armour didn't like the bulkiness of the "Bap" woods. He wanted the clubs to "flow," as he put it, and he had the "Bap's"

sharp edges rounded, and the top of the clubhead slightly crowned. It

became the classic MacGregor wood that would entrance golfers then, and

does to this day with its beauty.

 

Bulge and Roll

 

But Armour also added a functional element to the new woods he helped

design. The "Bap" had a bulged face, a convex curve from the top line to

the bottom line. Armour added a convex curve from the toe to the heel.

He got the idea from an engineer friend who was the director of the

Illinois Institute of Technology, in Chicago. The bulge had been part of clubface construction for many years, the roll was something new and different.

The combination of bulge and roll formed a 10 to 11 degree point at the

center of the clubface, the sweetspot. The point provided a livelier

send-off of the ball. Furthermore, on off-center hits the roll acted to minimize or correct to some extent a slice or hook by what is known as the gear

effect. The result was MacGregor's "4-Way Roll" wood, which was both a

huge financial success and an important advance in golf club design and

technology.

 

Toney Penna's Input

 

Toney Penna was a kind of antidote to Tommy Armour's slightly regal

manner with the club pros. A tough little man who emigrated to the

United States from Italy when he was a pre-teen, and remembered well how

it was in the bottom of the "banana boat" that brought him over, Penna

was a pro's pro. He got into golf as a caddie, learned clubmaking from an

early American master, Cuthbert Butchart, worked as an assistant to the

legendary "Wild Bill" Mehlhorn, and became a fine tour pro with an

excellent and much admired golf swing. He was also a restless, firebrand

personality, a classic case of the minority immigrant out to make good

in America.

 

Rickey hired Penna to travel the country calling on club pros, not so

much to take orders (although he would) but to sell MacGregor as the

company through which they could make a good buck. Penna's other charge

was to play tour events from time to time, and otherwise hang around the

circuit and scout players to sign on as MacGregor staff players. The

club pros were impressed with Penna's knowledge and ability to play; the

tour pros were impressed by his ability, his knowledge of the golf

swing, and his free-spending ways. Rickey put $ 10,000 in a special

account for Penna to draw on, and when it was used up he put in another

$10,000. Penna never filled out an expense report in his entire career

with the company.  He drove big cars very fast, talked police out of

speeding tickets with a dozen golf balls, stayed in the best hotels,

and, with his bright smile and energy, signed one of the most impressive

tour pro staffs the game has ever had.

 

The Fabled MacGregor Tour Staff Takes Shape

 

Penna's first catch was Jimmy Demaret, who was the same age as Penna,

and also liked to dress well and live the high life. Rickey had his

doubts about signing Demaret, a Texan, because Rickey didn't think he

could influence the eastern and midwest markets. So one evening in a

nightclub in Birmingham, Michigan, where the 1937 US Open was being played, Penna had his boss meet Demaret. At one point in the evening, Demaret got up to

sing a few songs with the Wayne King Orchestra, demonstrating not only a

pleasant voice, but a winning personality. Rickey was sold.

 

Next up was Byron Nelson. Here, Penna got a little lucky. Nelson had

been with Spalding for a couple of years when it changed its tour pro

program, putting together a cross-country exhibition tour featuring four

star players-Jimmy Thomson, Lawson Little, Harry Cooper, and Horton

Smith -- and releasing the rest of its staff.

 

"That was in 1939", Nelson recalled. "Toney Penna and Tommy Armour had a

lot to do with my signing with MacGregor. I signed the contract on June

1, 1939, picked out a set of MacGregor clubs from Armour's shop in Boca

Raton, and two weeks later used them to win the US Open."

 

Shortly after signing Nelson, Penna got Ben Hogan's signature on a

MacGregor contract. This seemed chancy at the time, as Hogan was still

fighting a wild hook that kept him from realizing his true potential.

"It was in Florida," Penna remembered. "Hogan was nearly broke, and

needed to get to Pinehurst for the North & South. I had $500 on me, but offered him $250 in case he wanted more. He took the two-fifty, and won the North &

South. It was his first solo victory as a pro."

 

The total outlay for signing Demaret, Nelson and Hogan to play MacGregor

equipment was $5,000. It was, in retrospect, one of the greatest

bargains of its kind in golf history.

 

However, MacGregor did have a bonus program, and it cost. "I got an

extra thousand for winning the US Open," said Nelson, "and we got maybe

three or four hundred for winning an LA Open or other tournaments that

were not majors but were notable. I believe when I won the US Open it

was the first major title by a MacGregor player in 24 years."

 

After Nelson broke the drought, there was a deluge. In major

championships between 1937 and 1959, MacGregor players won 10 PGA

Championships, nine Masters, eight US Opens, and one British Open. Also

in that time frame, ten MacGregor players were leading money winners on

the year, and eight were Vardon Trophy winners. Besides Hogan, Nelson

and Demaret, the MacGregor staff included Craig Wood, Lew Worsham, Jim

Tumesa, Doug Ford, Jackie Burke, Jr., Lionel and Jay Hebert, Bob

Rosburg, Herman Barron, Ted Kroll, Bob Toski, George Baver, Mike

Souchak, Frank Stranahan, Marlene Haiacre, Beverly Hanson, Louise Suggs,

Mickey Wright, among many others.

 

Taking Orders

 

While Penna was creating his fabulous staff of tour pros, Clarence

Rickey put together an all-star sales force. He made sure his men were

good golfers, and thereby able to gain the respect of the club pros. Two

in particular were Tom Robbins and Harry Adams. Robbins took up golf at

age 30, played in seven USGA Senior Amateur Championships, and won it

once, in 1958, at age 65. Adams wasn't quite up to Robbins' as a player,

but he was a good stick and a garrulous sort who got everyone's respect.

They and their kind made the pro-only policy work, and MacGregor rose

something like a phoenix from the ashes of the Depression. All the

while, it kept up its innovative clubmaking.

 

The Broaching Machine

 

Hugo Goldsmith was president of MacGregor during the most fertile years

of its association with P. Goldsmith Sons. Hugo had an inventive way

with machinery. He had devised a machine for automatically winding

baseballs faster and more economically, and adapted the machine to

winding golf balls when MacGregor began producing its own ball. But the machine

Hugo Goldsmith developed that had the most impact on club production was

his broacher. Until this was implemented, all golf companies had to buy

different forgings for every model of club it produced -- one for

raised-back irons, another for a plain-backed iron, and so on. With five

or six models per season, and nine or ten different heads for each

model, it was a high-cost inventory and production nightmare.

 

Goldsmith's idea was to have a basic forging with a flat back and an

extra amount of metal that could be broached into a variety of back

designs.  The only problem was, no such broaching machine existed. Hugo

approached the Cincinnati Milling Co. with his idea, and after three

years of work it designed a hydraulically operated broaching machine. It

was so big that when it was delivered to MacGregor, in 1946, a wall of

the factory had to be removed to get it in.

 

 

This machine could only cut or shave on a straight line, and another

milling machine followed that could cut on a contour. Both saved money,

and just as importantly, they gave the club designer a far wider

latitude than ever before for back-design conceptions. But more than

design features came out of it. The broaching machine allowed Toney

Penna to create the first lower-center-of-gravity iron, the famous MT.

 

The MT Iron Introduces L.C.G.

 

By the early 1950s, Toney Penna had risen to chief designer for

MacGregor. His first big hit was the MT iron, which was a radical

departure in two ways. One, it had an extremely small head, and was

especially shallow from top to bottom. The compactness of the blade was

accentuated by an unusually wide top line.

 

The second departure turned out to be a far-reaching technological

advance. Thanks to Hugo Goldsmith's broaching machines, Penna broached

the back of the MT in such a way as to distribute the weight in a kind

of delta-shaped plateau. The widest portion was directly behind and

slightly below the very center of the clubface. Thus, the center of

gravity (L.C.G.) was lowered, which helped get the ball airborne. With

this innovation, Penna and MacGregor were some 20 years ahead of the

times.

 

The ball went farther with the MT, in part because of where the weight

was concentrated on the back of the head, in part because of the height

LCG gave it, and also because Penna put a degree less loft on each club

in the set. The MT six-iron had 34 degrees of loft, the Armour six-iron

35 degrees. The lesser loft could be accommodated and golfers could

still get proper trajectory, because of the lower center of gravity.

Here again, Penna and MacGregor predated by some 20 years what would

become a common practice in golf club manufacture.

 

The size of the MT iron's head made all other irons, including the

Armour models, look like shovels. No one liked the size very much,

especially the staff pros, and after one year it got a little bigger.

But right from the start, the MT iron sold like wild fire. Said Leon

Nelson, a MacGregor executive at the time, "I never saw orders come in

so fast in all my life. I remember seeing orders from a single pro for

fifty and seventy-five sets at a time. That was just unprecedented."

 

Color Schemes

 

Penna's enormous success with the MT placed a burden upon him. He was

expected to come up with something new, and of course successful, at

least every two years, and so got busy. Penna had a special affinity

with color, and this would be a feature of many of his designs. He

introduced the "Colorkrom" iron, mentioned earlier. In 1959, he created

an even more dramatic frame for iron faces, the Flame Ceramic

black-faced FC-4000. It grew out of the nascent jet and rocket engine

industry, where metals needed protection against intensely high

temperatures. A process of applying ceramic powder to metal had been

developed, and MacGregor adapted it for its clubs. It was an early

instance of the co-mingling of golf and high-tech aeronautics that has

become almost standard practice today.

 

But Penna didn't stop only at coloring clubs. He more or less

revolutionized the golf bag, which had traditionally been a drab brown

or black leather. Bob Rickey, the son of Clarence, who became a

marketing chief and president at MacGregor, amplifies: "One day, Toney

made a trip through our athletic goods plant and saw them making

football uniforms of nylon and jockey silk in extremely bright colors.

The minute he saw those colors he had three staff bags made up, one in

royal blue for himself, one in pastel green for Louise Suggs, and one in

the loudest red for Jimmy Demaret, of course. The bags caused a

sensation at tour events. The materials used proved impractical for golf

bags, but the idea of color was established."

 

Penna's "Eye-O-Matic" insert on woods was another interesting and

somewhat pioneering use of color. It was a two-tone fiber insert, red

with a white or black horizontal strip running through the center.

Again, the idea was to frame the sweetspot.

 

The Double-Duty Wedge

 

Being a fine and serious golfer himself, Penna also brought out clubs

with improved playability factors. One very successful product was the

"Double-Duty" wedge. It had a shallow groove down the center of the sole

so it could be used with equal facility out of sand and off grass. It

became especially popular when Lew Worsham used it to hole a 102-yard shot for

an eagle two to win the 1953 Tam O'Shanter "World Open," in Chicago, and

the first prize of $25,000. The shot was seen on television by millions

because this was the first golf tournament to be seen on national

television. Good timing. The wedge is now in the USGA Museum.

How To Court Your Customers

 

The Goldsmiths had a paternalistic, family-style way of operating their

company, and handling their customers. It didn't have the cold,

efficient character of many large corporations. As Leon Nelson recalled,

"We were brought up at MacGregor to think that the club pro was king.

Bob Rickey would write two-page letters to obscure pros in tank towns, which

flattered them terrifically. They were not paid much attention, didn't

make a lot of money, many weren't very well educated, and to get a

two-page letter from the president of MacGregor asking how things were

going, if they needed anything, if the family was okay, that was quite a

thing. Of course, when they sold the odd set of clubs we hoped they

would push us."

 

Nelson might also have mentioned that Bob Rickey went out of his way to

find club jobs for pros who couldn't make it on the tour, were victims

of racism or were otherwise down on their luck. When Charlie Sifford,

Ted Rhodes, Bill Spiller and other black pros needed some clubs and were

short of cash as they struggled to break down the race barrier on the tour,

Rickey fixed them up with what they needed, no charge.

 

As result of all the above, by the mid-1950s MacGregor could claim

nearly 30 percent of the pro-only country club market. To indicate the

value of that position, in 1956 the US Dept. of Commerce reported there

were 2,996 private golf clubs in the country. With an average membership

of-300, MacGregor had over 30 percent of the business of close to 900,000

golfers who were paying top dollar for equipment with the best profit

margin.

 

The Ball Debacle

 

MacGregor was offering a golf ball under its name before World War II,

and it did well against the competition, although Spalding, Dunlop,

Wilson and Acushnet were still the more dominant. However, the ball was

being made for MacGregor by the Worthington Company, an Ohio-based

specialist in golf ball manufacture that made them for many other

companies. Hogan, Demaret, Nelson, and the rest of the MacGregor staff

played the ball on tour. But Hugo Goldsmith decided it was time for

MacGregor to actually make its own ball. After all, it made baseballs

for the major leagues, why not a golf ball?

 

It turned out to be a disaster. The first plant manager in the new ball

department, unbeknownst to anyone, happened to be a heavy drinker, and

mistakes were made with the first batch to market. In an extremely

competitive end of the golf market, the first impression could not be

overcome, even when MacGregor eventually began producing a good ball.

 

In the interim, the staff tour pros were allowed to use any ball they

chose until the MacGregor ball was up to snuff. When it was felt to be,

Ben Hogan, who was the biggest star on the staff and very influential

with the other pros in regard to quality equipment, was invited to

Cincinnati to observe the testing of the ball. The results led to a

classic episode in the Hogan legend, and also an unfortunate turn of

events for MacGregor.

 

Hogan spent three days in Cincinnati in early June, 1953 witnessing

every conceivable test of the new top-of-the-line MacGregor Tourney

ball. A mechanical driving machine cranked out one shot after another.

There are three versions of what happened next. Bob Rickey recalled that

the haracteristically taciturn Hogan watched all the tests without

saying a word. Then, on the last day, A.G. "Tony" Koegel, president of

MacGregor, asked Hogan if he had seen conclusive proof that the new ball

was good enough to use in the upcoming US Open. "The driving machine

should have proven this, conclusively," Koegel said. To which Hogan

replied, "I suggest you enter the driving machine in the US Open." He

then left for Pittsburgh, and won the US Open using another

manufacturer's ball.

 

Leon Nelson said that the tests proved the ball went far enough, but

that it wavered in flight. At least it did as Hogan saw it, for his

comment before leaving for Pittsburgh was, "I can hit it straighter than

that machine." Toney Penna suggested that Hogan had his mind made up

even before he went to Cincinnati. "At the time," Penna recalled, "Hogan

was playing the Titleist. So we put a Titleist marking, on a Tourney

ball, a Tourney marking on a Titleist, and gave them to Ben to hit.

Only, a few of us knew this. Of course, Ben didn't. He thought the ball

marked Titleist was the better one."

 

Hogan's refusal to use the MacGregor ball finally became unacceptable to

the company, especially because Jackie Burke, Jr. used it in winning the

1952 Vardon Trophy with a 70.54 stroke average. More intense pressure

was put on Hogan, who responded by resigning from MacGregor. Did Hogan

do this because the ball wasn't up to his standards, or because he

wanted a way out to found his own quipment company, which he did the

following year? No one will ever know the answer to that question, but

it was clear at that time that his leaving MacGregor and impugning the

quality of its product didn't help. Indeed, other staff members also

decided the ball wasn't any good, and when they wouldn't comply with the

company's "Play-It-Or-Else" edict, they also left. In 1957, Jimmy

Demaret, Doug Ford and Dow Finsterwald were released from their

contracts with MacGregor. Others would follow.

 

Although it wasn't apparent at the time, the ball debacle signaled the

end of the "new" MacGregor that Clarence Rickey had put together. But it

wasn't only the ball issue. The clubs and bags continued to sell well

even after the pro stars left, but now there were other forces on the

loose. The business climate was being affected by the "Go-Go Fifties," a

time of fast-paced, adventurous, some would say reckless stock market

dealing for large stakes, and some rakish corporate mergers and

diversifications led by freewheeling entrepreneurs. MacGregor, on the

other hand, was still a privately-held company run by the family that

owned it, and was having trouble keeping up.

 

What's more, the blood family that owned MacGregor was running out. Hugo

Goldsmith died in 1954, and there was no one among his heirs who wanted,

or were considered able, to take over. The upshot was that the company

was sold to the Brunswick-Balke-Coliender Co., of Chicago, a successful

manufacturer of bowling equipment. The transaction took place in 1958.

When P. Goldsmith bought MacGregor, the golf company was doing around

$100,000 in sales. When it sold out to Brunswick 22 years later, for

approximately $5 million, it had just completed a year when it did $17

million in sales and showed a profit of $4 million.

 

The Hard Times of MacGregor

Brunswick-Balke-Collender was headed up by Ted Bensinger, who earlier

had brought his company back from near total collapse to a spectacular

success. With great self-confidence, and a penchant for growth through

acquisition that was in keeping with the 50's and 60's business

mentality, Bensinger went on a buying spree. He took Brunswick into

school equipment, hospital supplies, surgical and laboratory

equipment,pleasure boats, a fishing rod manufacture, a hardware chain,

and now a golf company. The latter was just one of many new ventures. As

it happened, Bensinger seemed to have no special interest in golf.

What's more, he applied Harvard Business School management theories to

his operation, which were in essence contrary to the informal style of

MacGregor. The yellow pads of MacGregor's production manager -- to keep

track of things -- was replaced by an IBM computer. Research and

development meetings that included club grinders and buffers as well as

designers and plant managers, gave way to meetings between only certified engineers and corporate officers. That aside, the executives, dressed in fine

suits, stepped out of chauffeur-driven limousines and decorated their

offices with plush carpeting and fancy furniture -- all this in view of

a workforce that had struggled through the Depression, and understood

that equipment manufacture was a hard buck. Morale began to deteriorate

in the plant, and quality began to fall.

 

What's more, Bensinger determined that MacGregor's stance with the club

pros was so sound he could make a bigger effort in the retail market.

Instead, this served to alienate the club pros, who were used to getting

attention paid them, good service, and no competition from retail

outlets. On top of all that, the plant was moved out of Cincinnati to

Albany, Georgia. The move was not to avoid labor union pressure--there

had been only one strike at MacGregor in 50 years--it was to get cheaper

labor, and more space. However, unlike the move from Dayton to

Cincinnati, in which only a small number of workers and managers stayed

back, the move to Albany cost MacGregor an entire on-the-floor

workforce, and many experienced foremen and supervisors who could train

the new people. A few experts did make the move to Albany--the legendary

grinder Art Emerson, Jack Wulkotte, who later became Jack Nicklaus'

personal club maker and repair man, Jack Hesse--and the quality of the

product did not suffer disastrously. But there was a lot of turmoil

within, and without. The golf industry in general was going through some

watershed changes, and MacGregor's own disorder didn't help the firm

though these times.

 

Getting Jack

 

As Toney Penna got busier and busier with club design, his player

scouting activities were reduced. The slack was picked up by Leon

Nelson, a soft-spoken Virginian and a fine golfer, who had been a

stockbroker before joining MacGregor in 1945. Nelson became something of

an underground legend in the golf industry. He had considerable

technical knowledge of equipment, and the ability to articulate it; he

was a good golfer himself, and had a confident but unobtrusive manner.

All of which engendered confidence in him, among pros as well as young

amateurs with a future in the game. Young amateurs such as Jack

Nicklaus.

 

Nelson began tracking Nicklaus when he was a 15-year old Ohio high

school phenom. He recalled, "Jack would come down to Cincinnati from

Columbus fairly often. He liked to do a little gambling across the

river, in Covington, and I would take him around the plant. We would

always go over the new clubs, and select things he liked. I always thought it was interesting that when he was an amateur, Jack got a completely new set

of clubs every year, and just discarded the old ones, didn't keep the

driver or wedge, even. After he turned pro, though, you could hardly get

him to change anything. I had to be prepared, though. He broke a lot of

drivers, split them right down the face, so I always kept six of them in

reserve.

 

"I always saw something special in him, although I can hardly say I was

the only one," Nelson continued. "I stayed around him a lot, and his dad

Charlie. I said to Charlie once, in '56, 'Look, it may never happen, but

if Jack ever turns pro give me the first crack at him'; Jack had always

played MacGregor equipment, but I didn't want to take any chances."

 

When the time came, Nicklaus was ready to sign with MacGregor. But a

flashy entrepreneur named Jack Harkins, president of the First Flight

Golf Co., snagged the proceedings. He offered Nicklaus a huge bonus to

sign with his firm. Jack wanted to go with MacGregor, but the bonus

offer was very substantial. At that, Bob Rickey went to Ted Bensinger for

direction. He told his boss that MacGregor didn't have to top Harkins'

offer, only match it. Bensinger said, "Don't lose him," and Nicklaus

signed on with MacGregor. It was perhaps the best decision Bensinger

ever made during his reign with MacGregor.

 

Nicklaus joined MacGregor in late 1961, and very soon after began paying

dividends for the company. In 1962, he won the US Open plus two tour

events. and soon after the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. began using a

Jack Nicklaus Signature golf ball as a traffic builder in its stores.

Over a period of 12 years. more than 15 million were sold.

 

Discounters and Investment Casting

 

By the late 1960�s, there was a glut of golf clubs on the market.

The growth of new players had slowed, in part because golf's traditional

pipeline for new players/customers, the caddie, had been largely

replaced by golf cars. Besides, the hippie generation was not into golf.

As a result, manufacturers of original equipment found themselves with a

lot of unsold inventory at the end of every season. The pressure was

relieved by the emergence of the off-course golf discount store. These

were run by accredited PGA professionals, who bought in large quantities

and sold at prices much lower than the pro shop, and even the

traditional retail outlets. The discounter prices were so attractive

that even members of the best, wealthiest private club were bypassing

their home pro for equipment. The manufacturers unloaded on them, making

room for the next year's models of clubs. So much for Clarence Rickey's

"carriage trade" concept!

 

Secondly, there was a major shift in equipment manufacturing with the

development of the investment cast iron. With the lost-wax process, a

complete clubhead could be produced in essentially one operation. No

broaching or milling was necessary, no expert grinding, none of the many

hand operations that were required with traditional forged irons. The

most stunning implication of this was that anybody who was at all handy

with machinery, and had a few dollars to spare, could design and make a

clubhead, put a shaft in it and a grip on it, and open for business.

There weren't many of these free-lancers working out of their garages, but one of them -- Karsten Solheim -- would indeed make an impact.

 

Solheim was an engineer in the aviation industry who branched into golf

with the evolution of the lost-wax process. His first product was an

investment cast putter he called the Ping. From putters he branched into

irons.

 

Ping�s sales point was their perimeter weighting, which featured a

hollowed-out back and combined a lower center of gravity, and the gear

effect of the bulge and roll on woods. Solheim could knock these clubs

out readily, because little or no handwork was needed. MacGregor, based

in a classical club design tradition, wasn't in a position to compete -- at

least immediately. And time was of the essence in the new world of golf

manufacture. Brunswick's heavy management infrastructure didn't help

matters.

 

Toney's Out, Jack's In

 

Toney Penna was onto the lost-wax process well before it became a

reality. He showed a prototype and explained the process at a 1950s

national sales meeting. Penna recalled: "I brought it around to Tony

Koegel, the president at the time, but he said, �Why get into this

when the company was doing fine with the MTs, and everything

else?�." Even when investment casting began to make real headway,

MacGregor resisted because it was bent on retaining golf traditions in

design and materials. Tradition is what the company had come to stand

for. What's more, the staff tour pros didn't like investment cast irons

because it was a harder steel and didn't have the feel they were

accustomed to with the softer metal of forged clubs. MacGregor would get

into investment casting, of course, but by the time it did, Ping had a

large head start.

 

By the mid 1960s, Penna was being eased out of MacGregor. His

dictatorial style and improvisational methods didn't fit into the

Brunswick modus operandi. He left and started his own company. His first

product was an investment cast iron. Tommy Armour had long before left

off having any real involvement with MacGregor, and in the mid-1960s

accepted an offer to put his name on the PGA-brand clubs. No one from

Brunswick missed him. With Clarence Rickey, Penna and Armour gone,

MacGregor had lost the nucleus of leadership and ingenuity that made it

great. But the brand name was still so potent, and its equipment still so prized, that it enticed a number of up-and-coming young tour pros to sign on. They included Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Mickey Wright and Tom Weiskopf.

 

Brunswick Bails Out

 

Despite the surge Jack Nicklaus gave MacGregor, the total business

picture for the company was dim. Many felt the operating overhead

incurred at the executive level was eating up the profits. And interest

in golf had leveled out after the Arnold Palmer/ President

Eisenhower-inspired surge.  Also, the Viet Nam war was beginning to heat

up, causing an inflationary spiral in the nation's economy. In addition,

Brunswick upper management was experiencing considerable turnover.

Within one eighteen month stretch, MacGregor had five different

presidents. The company's golf ball was considerably improved, the

quality of the clubs had been restored, and the Nicklaus infusion was

very promising. But in the final analysis, the Brunswick corporate

style, and now the lack of continuity in the executive branch, spelled

big trouble. As a MacGregor man with the firm at the time put it, "You

can't run a golf business such as ours in a conventional corporate way.

It is too personal a business, especially the golf pro end of it."

 

In 1978, Brunswick began looking for a buyer of its golf division. There

was a sense among old-line MacGregorites that if Brunswick couldn't sell

MacGregor it would liquidate the "greatest name in golf " But a buyer

was found.

 

New Owners

 

In 1978, MacGregor was purchased by the Wickes Corporation, a firm that

ranked first in retail lumber sales to home builders, and second in

retail furniture. It had 280 stores in 37 States. and 65 in Europe. It

also owned a chain of drugstores and super-markets (Snyder and Red Owl),

a chain of retail clothing stores, and controlled a number of companies

manufacturing machinery and processing equipment for the lumber and farm

industries. A big company, it was golf related to some extent through

its wood-working interests, but more in fact of the executive vice

president behind the deal, Clark Johnson.

 

Johnson was a single-digit handicap golfer, and a real golf aficionado.

He belonged to La Jolla CC, in San Diego, where Wickes was

headquartered, to the famed Pine Valley CC, in New Jersey, and the Royal

& Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland. His boss, E.I. McNeely,

chairman and CEO of Wickes, was also a golfer, but at first wasn't sure if he should okay the purchase of MacGregor. Johnson convinced him to go forward, but

what must have been behind McNeely's reticence was the knowledge that

Wickes was getting into financial trouble. It had become overextended

with its many acquisitions prior to adding MacGregor to its list, and

with the economy on a serious downturn and Wickes' core business

slumping, things were not promising. Forced by its bankers to cut back,

in April, 1982 Wickes sold MacGregor to Jack Nicklaus and Clark Johnson.

Thirty days later, Wickes filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It was at the

time the biggest Chapter 11 filing in corporate American history.

 

Wickes gave MacGregor a good go, installing Jack Curran as president. An

accountant by profession, Curran was a hard-nosed businessman who

watched the books carefully, and otherwise allowed free rein to those

who knew their side of the business. Under Curran, MacGregor got back on

track selling clubs and balls, and the tour staff was holding up nicely.

In the 1975 Masters, which featured a terrific shoot-out between

Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf, the last four players on the

course were carrying MacGregor bags--the three named above, plus Tom

Watson.

 

After their purchase, Nicklaus and Johnson called their new company Four

Square, but of course sold the equipment as MacGregor. Nicklaus was

named the president and CEO of what was now a $40 million company.

Johnson didn't stay on very long -- leaving in early 1984 -- and was

replaced by George Nichols, who had been with Johnston & Murphy's golf

shoe division for 20 years, the last five as president. Nichols was also

president of the Bostonian golf shoe operation, which is how he came to

know Nicklaus. Nichols was effectively put in charge of MacGregor.

 

MacGregor Enters the New Golf Age

 

The first thing George Nichols did was sell off 75 percent of

MacGregor�s Japanese operation, MacGregor Japan. MacGregor was

doing well in Japan, but the profits couldn't be taken out of the

country without paving a huge tax. The sale of MacGregor Japan brought

Nichols important working capital for his job at home.

 

Nichols' next big move was to bring MacGregor's product line up to date

with the high-tech world of golf. Nicklaus and Johnson were golf

traditionalists at heart, and resisted the movement in the industry

toward "game improvement" clubs featuring investment cast,

perimeter-weighted irons, and overall lighter equipment.

 

MacGregor's Response: The First Oversized Golf Club

 

Nichols had inherited Clay Long from the previous MacGregor regime. Long

was a tour-quality golfer who decided to forgo that career when an offer

from MacGregor came to him in 1980.

 

Long's first project was to design an investment-cast, cavity-back iron.

The result was the CG-1800, and it got a big boost when Chi-Chi

Rodriguez used it to win a number of tournaments in one year on the PGA

Senior Tour. In fact, the CG-1800 was the first oversized iron in the

industry, but MacGregor didn't market it as such. The move to oversize came as part of another Long concept--the Response ZT Putter that Jack Nicklaus used to

win the 1986 Masters, one of the most dramatic victories in golf

history. The original sales forecast for this oversize, high inertia

aluminum putter was 6,000 units. This turned into 150,000 units, and eventually over the next three years 350,000. It was the single biggest seller in MacGregor

history. With the success of the Response ZT, MacGregor was back in the

modern age of club development.

 

Along Comes Titanium

 

In 1988, the oversize club evolution was well under way and MacGregor

had a role in the market place with a variety of models. Now they began

looking into how a bigger metalwood could be made light enough, but also

strong enough, to withstand the impact with the ball. With the steel

being used for the first metalwoods, to keep the overall weight at

around 14 ounces (considered the optimum), it meant stretching the metal

to get it bigger. This creates a thin clubface susceptible to caving in

at impact, which in fact was the case with Callaway's first metalwoods.

Long knew about titanium, and thought it was the answer because it was

very strong, and also lighter than the metal being used.

 

So it was a question of finding a way to buttress the clubface of a

titanium metalwood. Here, Long cashed in on MacGregor�s

long-standing reputation for innovation. Cray Research, the

Minnesota-based supercomputer manufacturer, was involved as a corporate

sponsor of the 1992 US Open, being played at Hazeltine CC, in Minneapolis. Cray wanted to demonstrate its capabilities in its corporate tent at the Open in a

golf-related way, and contacted MacGregor for an idea. Long was working

on the problems of titanium, and saw an opportunity.

 

"No one had ever done a finite motion and impact analysis of what

happens to a clubhead when it makes contact with the ball." said Long.

"Everyone knew the face gave way to some extent, but we thought there

was more to it. I asked Cray to do an impact analysis for us. It was

something we could never have afforded on our own. The computer time was

worth about $2,000 a our. Cray said they'd supply the computer  time,

and build a computer model of a metalwood impacting a ball at 100 miles

per hour.

 

"Cray showed the results in their tent at Hazeltine. The results turned

out to be an incredible piece of information. We saw all the stresses.

All of them!"

 

The New with Some Old Strikes Again

 

In 1988, MacGregor had another success story melding the old and the

new. The JNP iron was oversized, perimeter weighted, and cavity backed,

but forged rather than investment cast. There was a growing interest in

a softer feel than the investment cast clubs offered, and other clubmakers

had been developing equipment along this line. But MacGregor's version

had a thinner top line than the others, which was more appealing to

better players, and the model made inroads on the marketplace.

 

Nicklaus Eases Out of MacGregor

 

George Nichols' plan to revive MacGregor's fortunes worked. The company

had come back to profitability, and was retaining its panache as a

high-tech and classic club maker. However, Jack Nicklaus had a number of

other business interests that were taking a good bit of his time, in

particular his golf course architecture, and he had run into some

serious legal and financial difficulties in respect to a golf course

project he was involved in around the New York City area. He was unable

to further finance MacGregor, and the company was sold to Amer Group

Ltd., a Finnish holding company. Amer had extensive tobacco interests,

but also had been in sporting goods (mainly related to skiing). Amer

bought 80 percent of MacGregor, with Nicklaus holding the remaining 20

percent. George Nichols left MacGregor, his position taken by a number

of different men over the next few years. As in past regimes,

instability at the top of the executive ladder hampered MacGregor's

progress.

 

Things became more difficult when Nicklaus decided he no longer wanted

clubs with his name on them analogous with retail stores. Since the

1960s, the Jack Nicklaus Signature and Golden Bear brands had sold very

well at retail, but Nicklaus now wanted to be associated with the

"premium" equipment sold only through green-grass outlets. In a word, he

wanted only Clarence Rickey's "carriage trade." Amer Group was not happy

with this -- its considerable investment and the overhead of a big plant

producing a large volume of equipment was predicated on the volume of

sales Nicklaus generated in the retail stores. Nicklaus was insistent on

this new direction; Amer Group disagreed, and there was a parting of the

ways. Nicklaus sold his remaining interest in MacGregor to Amer Group in

1991.

 

Amer Group then brought in Dave Gibbons to lead MacGregor. Gibbons had

been with Wilson Sporting Goods for 14 years, and was familiar to Amer,

which had also bought Wilson around the same time it bought MacGregor.

In the six years that Amer Group managed MacGregor, the equipment that was developed and marketed continued to have the classic MacGregor lines, with some adaptations to increase appeal to the average golfer. In short, the MacGregor look was married to game improvement features such as off-set hosels, perimeter weighting, longer and lighter clubs, etc. But it wasn't only the average golfer who benefited.

 

The history of MacGregor Golf, through all its trials and tribulations,

is a remarkable story -- with dramatic highs and lows. Throughout, the

company has managed to maintain the special quality of the products that

have set it apart for over 100 years. And plans are well underway for

MacGregor's next hundred years.

 

The MacGregor History TimeLine

 

1829 -- The Crawford Brothers found the Dayton Shoe Last Company, in

Dayton, Ohio, the forerunner of MacGregor Golf.

 

1886 -- Edward Canby and John McGregor become partners in the Dayton

Shoe Last Co., which is renamed Crawford, McGregor & Canby, the

name by which MacGregor Golf operated until 1936.

 

1897 -- Crawford, McGregor & Canby (CMC) becomes the second American

manufacturer of golf equipment, after Spalding.

 

1889 -- Famous Scottish professional, Willie Dunn, is hired as CMC

(MacGregor) professional advisor, club designer, and celebrity pro

staffer.

 

1900 -- CMC ships 100,000 machine-turned persimmon clubheads to British

equipment manufacturers.

 

1900 -- CMC originates the golf store concept. shops within downtown

department stores of major cities as a way to reach more golfers.

 

1901-2 -- CMC licenses from the inventor the right to make its clubs

with the shaft inserted into the socket of the neck or hosel of the

head, rather than splicing it to the outside. CMC is the first American equipment maker to produce its clubs this way. Soon, all manufacturers follow

suit.

 

1912-13 -- CMC hires Will Sime, the noted Scots golf club designer, as

its chief club designer.

 

1921 -- Sime's first major contribution to CMC MacGregoris line is the

"Bap" driver and brassie, a redesign of wooden clubheads into a more

compact shape. The idea is taken from biscuits Sime's mother baked at

home, called baps. The "Bap" design effectively changes the essential

configuration of wood clubs, as it is followed by all other manufacturers.

 

1922 -- CMC/MacGregor is the first equipment manufacturer to offer clubs

with the new steel shaft.

 

1924 -- CMC/MacGregor develops the "Neutralizer," a wooden dowel

inserted in the steel shaft to dampen vibration when a ball is hit.

 

1928 -- CMC/MacGregor introduces "Macoid", a celluloid the company

developed for steel shafts to prevent rusting.

 

 

1928 -- CMC/MacGregor builds the first company golf course, in Dayton,

for use by its employees, and as a testing ground for its equipment.

 

1931-93 -- In this 62-year period MacGregor staff tour pros win 18 PGA

Championships, 17 Masters, 16 US Opens, seven British Opens; ten

MacGregor pros lead the annual money-winning list, and eight win the

Vardon Trophy.

 

1932 -- The Great Depression takes its toll on CMC/MacGregor, which has

to halve its work force.

 

1934 -- CMC/MacGregor considers filing for bankruptcy. Edward Canby

hires a management consulting firm to put MacGregor in condition for

sale.

 

1936 -- CMC/MacGregor sold to P. Goldsmith Sons, a Cincinnati-based

sporting -goods manufacturer. Clarence Rickey named president of the

golf division. Rickey brings in Tommy Armour as the head of a professional

advisory staff. A line of Armour clubs is put in the works.

 

Rickey also hires Toney Penna as advance man contacting club pros, and

to scout tour pros as potential CMC/MacGregor staff players.

 

Clarence Rickey declares that the golf division will now be known as the

MacGregor Golf Co.

 

1937-39 -- Tommy Armour plays major role in redesign of MacGregor woods,

eschewing the blocky Bap shape for a sleeker look that becomes the

standard in the industry. Armour is also behind the development of the

bulge-and-roll clubface for woods, which also becomes a standard in the

industry.

 

MacGregor signs Jimmy Demaret, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan to its

professional advisory staff for a total of $5,000. Two weeks after

Nelson signs on, he wins the U.S. Open (1939) with a set of Armour irons he took off the rack in Armour's Boca Raton pro shop.

 

1941-45 -- During World War II, golf equipment manufacture was deemed

non-essential. Steel, rubber and other essential materials were

unavailable. For the duration, MacGregor managed to keep afloat by

taking in used golf balls for re-covering. The compant also manufactured

camouflage clothing, airplane safety belts, GI luggage, survival kits,

and sportswear (shirts, sweaters, rain jackets).

 

1945 -- Clarence Rickey, age 47, is killed in an automobile accident

while making sales calls.

 

1946 -- MacGregor begins to produce its own golf ball; stops contracting

the work out to the Worthington Golf Ball Co.

 

1946-49 -- MacGregor sets full-scale into the manufacture and

distribution of a line of golf clothing. This brings about a conflict

with McGregor-Doniger, an already well established clothing manufacturer. In

 

1948, MacGregor Golf agreed not to sell any clothing, under any name,

and McGregor-Doniger agreed never to make and sell golf equipment.

MacGregor moves from Dayton to much larger quarters in Cincinnati.

 

MacGregor designs first broaching machine for milling the backs of iron

clubheads, which saves considerable money and space.

 

1950-55 -- Toney Penna becomes chief designer for MacGregor Golf. His

first product is the MT iron, which proves to be extremely successful.

It incorporates the lower-center of-gravity concept for the first time in

the industry.

 

Penna follows this success up with a number of different products. He

introduces the Colorkrom MT iron, with a bronze-colored hitting area,

the black-faced FC (for flame ceramic)-4000 iron, which uses jet and rocket

industry metallurgy ideas-. brightly colored golf bags; the two-tone

"Eye-O-Matic" insert for woods; the "Double-Duty" wedge, for sand and

grass play.

 

1956 -- MacGregor Golf claims close to 30 percent of the private club

pro shop business, the result of Clarence Rickey's plan to make

MacGregor supplier of equipment to golf�s "carriage trade."

 

1958 -- The Goldsmiths sell MacGregor Golf to Brunswick-Balke-Colender,

a leading manufacturer of bowling equipment.

 

1961 -- Jack Nicklaus signs on to play MacGregor equipment.

 

1962 -- MacGregor plant moved from Cincinnati to Albany, Georgia. Tommy

Armour leaves MacGregor, signs on with the PGA Golf Co.

 

1963 -- Toney Penna leaves MacGregor to start up his own equipment

manufacturing firm.

 

1978 -- Brunswick sells MacGregor Golf to the Wickes Companies.


1979 -- Robert D. Rickey Writes the History of MacGregor (1829 to 1979) Read it HERE


1982 -- Wickes sells MacGregor to Jack Nicklaus and Clark Johnson.

 

1984 -- Clark Johnson leaves MacGregor Golf. He is replaced by George

Nichols, who assumes role of president and CEO. Nichols brings MacGregor

into line with the industry by introducing a light weight steel shaft

and begins developing perimeter-weighted, investment cast irons and

metalwoods.

 

At the same time MacGregor recalls golf�s older tradition by

introducing the Jack Nicklaus Limited Edition irons and woods. Each of

the 1,000 sets was promptly sold for $2,500 a set.

 

1986 -- Amer Group, a Finnish holding company, buys 80 percent of

MacGregor Golf from Jack Nicklaus, who retains the remaining 20 percent.

 

George Nichols leaves MacGregor.

 

1986-7 -- Clay Long, MacGregor's club designer and head of research and

development, develops MacGregor's first investment-cast, cavity-back,

and the industry's first oversize iron, the CG-1800. Chi-Chi Rodriguez

wins seven tournaments on the Senior PGA Tour using the clubs, including

the PGA Seniors Championship. The model sells well.

 

Long also develops the oversize Response ZT putter. Jack Nicklaus uses

it to win the 1986 Masters. MacGrecor sells 150,000 of the putters in

the year following the victory by Nicklaus, 350,000 over the next three years.

The club also touches off the oversized club revolution in the industry.

 

1988 -- MacGregor makes the first use of titanium with the introduction

of the T-920 oversized metalwood.

 

1990 -- Jack Nicklaus sells his 20 percent interest in MacGregor to Amer

Group.

 

1996 -- Using the MacGregor Tour titanium driver, the first metalwood

with bulge and roll, and shaped like a classic MacGregor persimmon club,

MacGregor staffer John Cook adds an average of 22 yards to his tee shot,

and sets a new PGA Tour 54 hole scoring record (189, 24 under par) while

winning the Federal Express-St. Jude Classic.

 

MacGregor PGA Winners

 

1931 -- Tom Creavy

1940 -- Byron Nelson

1945 -- Byron Nelson

1946 -- Ben Hogan

1948 -- Ben Hogan

1952 -- Jim Turnesa

1954 -- Chick Harbert

1955 -- Doug Ford

1956 -- Jack Burke

1957 -- Lionel Hebert

1959 -- Bob Rosburg

1963 -- Jack Nicklaus

1971 -- Jack Nicklaus

1973 -- Jack Nickalus

1975 -- Jack Nicklaus

1979 -- David Graham

1980 -- Jack Nicklaus

1993 -- Paul Azinger

 

MacGregor Masters Winners

 

1937 -- Byron Nelson

1940 -- Jimmy Demaret

1941 -- Craig Wood

1942 -- Byron Nelson

1947 -- Jimmy Demaret

1948 -- Claude Harmon

1950 -- Jiommy Demaret

1951 -- Ben Hogan

1953 -- Ben Hogan

1956 -- Jack Burke Jr.

1957 -- Doug Ford

1963 -- Jack Nicklaus

1965 -- Jack Nicklaus

1966 -- Jack Nicklaus

1972 -- Jack Nicklaus

1975 -- Jack Nicklaus

1986 -- Jack Nicklaus

1999 - Jose Maria Olazabal

 

MacGregor U.S. Open Winners

 

1939 -- Byron Nelson

1941 -- Craig Wood

1947 -- Lew Worsham

1948 -- Ben Hogan

1950 -- Ben Hogan

1951 -- Ben Hogan

1953 -- Ben Hogan

1957 -- Dick Mayer

1962 -- Jack Nicklaus

1967 -- Jack Nicklaus

1972 - Jack Nicklaus

1973 -- Johnny Miller

1980 -- Jack Nicklaus

1981 -- David Graham

1988 -- Curtis Strange

1989 -- Curtis Strange

 

MacGregor British Open Winners

 

1963 -- Ben Hogan

1966 -- Jack Nicklaus

1970 -- Jack Nicklaus

1973 -- Tom Weiskopf

1978 -- Jack Nicklaus

1986 -- Greg Norman

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