Their Own Words MacGregor Golf

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Editors note: For over 100 years, the name MacGregor has been synonymous with golf. In the early 1880s, two Dayton, Ohio businessmen, John McGregor and Edward Canby, became major investors in the Dayton Shoe Last Company. A native Scot, McGregor talked his partner in to taking up the game of golf; at that time, quite new to the United States. By 1897 Crawford, McGregor & Canby had fully diversified in to golf club manufacturing. In 1898, as the company obtained a trademark, the spelling of the name was changed to MacGregor.

MacGregors now fabled tour staff first took shape when Toney Penna signed Jimmy Demaret at the 1937 U.S. Open. In 1939 Byron Nelson signed on and won the U.S. Open two weeks later. Soon thereafter, Ben Hogan came on board. Perhaps no other player is more closely associated with MacGregor than Jack Nicklaus who played the clubs for the majority of his professional career. In fact, MacGregors chief club maker, Don White, still hand grinds Mr. Nicklaus irons to this day, now under the careful eye of Nicklaus club designer, Clay Long.
 
Throughout MacGregors history, the company has prided itself on many firsts and records in golf. The firsts are represented by a significant number of design patents and technology achievements. Perhaps their most beloved record is the 59 major championships won with MacGregor irons and woods.
 
Jim Bode majored in Chemical engineering at Vanderbilt. Throughout his school years, Jim repaired clubs and made persimmon woods during the summers. After college, Jim started at MacGregor as a Chemical Technician specializing in electroplating and Chemical Q.C. He progressed through the ranks to R&D engineer specializing in irons, shafts, and testing; then to New Project management, eventually achieving the position of VP R&D.

 
A Conversation with Jim Bode, Vice President of Research and Development, MacGregor Golf.
 
Casey/Q:
First of all, Jim, tell us a little about your responsibilities at MacGregor Golf.
 
Jim/A:
It's two fold, really. Number one is to develop the new productswoods or irons, wedges, etc. Second is to support our various tour players through custom grinding golf clubs and the fitting of the clubs to the players.
 
Casey/Q:
Sounds like a blast.
 
Jim/A:
It's a pretty good job because, basically, we're charged with making the best product that we can make without, really, consideration for the cost or challenges we face as club designers. This flows from the philosophy of our owner better technology, better materials, better design, no matter the cost.
 
Casey/Q:
And when you say no matter the cost, you mean the cost to MacGregor?
 
Jim/A:
Oh, yes. We spare no expense here to make sure we are designing and manufacturing the finest equipment we can that bears the MacGregor name. A lot of that is in the quality of materials we use.
 
Casey/Q:
How do materials vary in quality?
 
Jim/A:
A better material is going to be a more high performance material. With the restrictions placed on drivers ' size and COR limits - we've seen a lot of companies in the last few years sort of just retrench and go back to materials we worked with ten years ago. Materials like 6-4 titanium's and
SP-700kind of alpha beta or alpha materials. But, we've continued to go forward with newer materials like 15-3-3-3 and tbc which are very hard, strong beta titanium.
 
Casey/Q:
Within the engineering limits of the USGA?
 
Jim/A:
Of course. Were engineering using these advanced materials so that we get maximum properties still within the limits of the USGA requirements. But, we are still able to maximize our performance especially as far as weighting and face structure.
 
Casey/Q:
Relate the better technology, better materials, better design philosophy of the company to the NVG2 driver, for example.
 
MacTec NVG2 Tour Driver
MacGregor's NVG2 Tour model driver.
Jim/A:
In the NVG2 driver, especially the NVG2 Tour model driver, instead of using graphite in the crown we're using a titanium material. It's a very thin type of technology to make a very thin crown that gives the same or similar weight as a graphite structure but will still maintain the good sound that the players expect. And the center of gravity drops seven percent. And in the face, instead of just stamping a shell that gets welded to the club face, we actually make a full cup shaped face and weld this to the actual body of the club.
 
Casey/Q:
This is where the challenge you referred to earlier comes in to play?
 
Jim/A:
Yes. Technology wise, it's difficult because the mating of the shell and the face must be exact or else we have a weak spot and we'll get de-lamination. So, it's not an easy thing to do. But, the performance that we get from using the cup face is tremendous compared to what we were doing a couple of years ago with a standard face. Were very excited about the new technology. In fact, we have several patents for that technology.
 
Casey/Q:
What kind of welding do you employ?
 
Jim/A:
It's a plasma welding that is cam operated. So, it's a very sophisticated type of a joint.
 
Casey/Q:
As a designer, how do you translate sound as feel as it relates to feedback to a golfer?
 
Jim/A:
With woods, I tend to think that sound basically is feel. With drivers, what people think sounds good has changed over the years. But, certainly, clubs that are very dull sounding the golfer may think the club is dead. When in fact they may hit the ball fine; but if the club sounds dead to them it may also feel dead. So sound is feel. Conversely, a very high pitch sound might make the club feel almost like the club is breakingas if the club is just crumpling and there's no energy imparted to the ball. So the pitch of sound made at contact is very important for giving the player a good confident feeling in the club.
 

Casey/Q:
What challenges do you face as an equipment designer with the restrictions and limits placed on you by the USGA?
 
Jim/A:
Well, the limitations that we have as far as club head size and COR and club head inertia directly relates to how we have to approach design. The club face and COR, for example. You know, almost all drivers now, right at the impact point, are very close to the co-efficient of restitution limit. But, as you move away from the center of the club face the rebound drops very drastically. So our design challenge is to spread the hot energy out across as much of the club face as possible. Using the cup face technology and some very special welding techniques and material manipulation inside of the head, we're able to get a very hot face that is also conforming. So, anywhere within about an inch and a half area of the center of the club face a golfer is going to get maximum performance and maximum distance.
 
Casey/Q:
Were all paying more attention to shafts these days. You guys are touting the Quadra Action shaft you use in your drivers.
 
Jim/A:
The Quadra Action shafts consist of four distinct stiffness zones and three bending points. The butt section is very soft so at the top of the back swing it loads and stores energy. The next section down is stiffer which gives the shaft stability and control. The third section, which is even stiffer, offers more stability and control and also begins to unleash the power as the shaft prepares to unload its energy. Then the tip section is softer which allows the tip to kick through the ball at a higher speed.
 
Casey/Q:
Im sure youve tested extensively. What do your test results show?
 
Jim/A:
Our tests show that a typical golfer is going to pick up two, three, sometimes four miles per hour in club head speed without swinging any differently. And it's all based on the way the shaft is designed to bend and load. So, with no more effort, if you can pick up a few more miles an hour club head speed which translates to an increase in yardage, we think that's a very positive thing.
 
Casey/Q:
What kind of feedback have you had from your tour staff on the driver?
 
Jim/A:
Very goodextremely positive feedback. With Greg Norman, for example, he picked up over twenty yards compared to the driver he was using previously. Steve Elkington who we signed not that long ago, he's picked up seven to ten yards switching to this technology. The guys are hitting the driver extremely well. So, we're very pleased with that.
 
Casey/Q:
Lets make sure people knowwho do you have on your tour staff now?
 
Jim/A:
Yes, its a very cool tour staff. We have Jose Maria Olazabal, Greg Norman, Steve Elkington, Aaron Baddeley and Spencer Levin. Bob Evans, our chief tour rep, does a great job taking care of these guys. And Bobby Grace, who does our putters for MacGregor, spends a lot of time out on tour as well. So, we have a nice mix of players and they have a wonderful presence out on tour.
 
Casey/Q:
Lets talk a bit about your irons. First of all, from a historical point of view, you guys have been at the irons business for a long, long time.
 
Jim/A:
Its amazing, really. MacGregor's been well known for irons going all the way back to the old 985 version which came out just after World War II. Most people are very familiar with that shape which became kind of a standard or trademark look for Macgregor irons. But MacGregor goes back well before that when it comes to irons. As a 109 year old company, we have a long history of and comprehensive knowledge in designing and making irons. This has been passed down all the way from Tommy Armour in the 20s to Tony Penna in the late 40s and early 50s, to Art Emerson in the late 60s to Don White who took over in the 80s.
 
Casey/Q:
And Ive had the pleasure of meeting Don White. Quite a story there. Hes still with MacGregor, correct?
 
Jim/A:
Mr. White is a thirty year employee of MacGregor who's still here and making the tour players equipmenthand grinding the tour players irons. So, we have a great tradition and a great knowledge of all the subtleties that come from working with our staff players over all these years. There arent too many other companies that have that kind of history and experience. Wilson Golf has a long history as well, but really, its a pretty small club.
 
Casey/Q:
I think what is most interesting about what you said is the fact that its not just that the company has been around for so long, rather, you still have a direct connection to your past history and experiences by virtue of someone like Don White being trained by Art Everson.
 
Jim/A:
It is so interesting and, I think, compelling. There is a feeling here at MacGregor that we really have a direct connection to our past and we take all this knowledge and experience we have and use that to our advantage as we constantly search for new innovations and new technologies to satisfy the demands of golfers today. Its something we are all very proud of.
 
Casey/Q:
Just as auto makers take the technology lessons they learn from their racing projects and apply them to making the cars we drive, what do you learn from the tour players that you apply to the clubs that make it to retail?
 
Jim/A:
That's interesting because a lot of it translates into the shaping of the clubs. There's very subtle things that good players look for as far as toe shape and top line blending and leading edges and solesthe way the club is going to set up to the ball, etc. We're able to translate from what the tour players tell us they want and that gets funneled in to the products we design in our retail lines. I mean, our guys are all playing forged blade irons and those irons are custom grinded for them. And by the way, we have a custom grind program for consumers, too. So, I dont want you to think we only do this for tour players.
 
Casey/Q:
Wait, wait, wait. MacGregor will custom grind irons for customers?
 
Jim/A:
Sure will. We have three levels of customization here at MacGregor. Custom Express takes our standard retail models and custom fits it to a player for loft, lie angle, shaft length, shaft type, grip type, grip size, things like that. Then we have Custom Grind where we take a set of existing stock heads and they are grinded to your preference for toe shape, bounce angle, top-line thickness, etc., plus the things that are offered in Custom Express. For the ultimate custom experience we offer Tourney Personal. And with Tourney Personal, you are basically treated like we treat our tour staff. You come to our facility in Albany, Georgia, we take you through a fitting process and we will actually custom grind a set of irons for you from a raw blank.
 
Casey/Q:
Im afraid to ask what that costs.
 
Jim/A:
Its expensive. But, hey, if youre in to that, and you can afford it, theres not a more unique experience in the industry. Youre talking about getting a one-of-a-kind set of custom grinded forged irons made by the same staff that makes clubs for major championship winning golfers. Thats pretty cool.
 
Casey/Q:
Take us through your iron line. Lets start with the M675 model.
 
M685 Forged Irons
MacGregor's M685 forged irons.
Jim/A:
The current M675 is an off shoot of our old VIP type blade line where the 7-iron through the pitching wedge in this set are all single piece forged. But, the improvement on the long irons is that they're actually two pieced forged with a forged face hosel and a forged shell welded to the back. So on the longer irons, this is allowing us to get the weight a little bit deeper and lower so the ball gets up in the air quicker. Even a lot of the better players these days, who play with clubs like our forged irons, want some trajectory help with the longer irons.
 
Casey/Q:
Is there a difference in feel as the set transitions from the single piece forged to the two pieced forged?
 
Jim/A:
No, its a seamless transition. Considering the better player target market these irons are designed for, it was a very important aspect that the transition between the one piece clubs to the two piece clubs was absolutely seamless. We are able to achieve this by varying the face hardness and thickness, things like that. The clubs definitely feel the same all the way through the set.
 
Casey/Q:
The newest irons in your line are the M685 model?
 
Jim/A:
Yes, that's our newer irons that we're very happy withthe MacTech Forged M685. These have a similar construction as the M675 except it has a cavity type of design. The short irons have quite a bit of mass directly behind the ball but also have a cavity for a little bit of forgiveness. The 7-iron through pitching wedge is single piece construction. The 6-iron through 3-iron have a two piece construction with a forged face hosel and a forged unit welded to the back that gives us even a little bit more forgiveness than the player would get with the M675, or, a pure forged blade.
 
Casey/Q:
They are still for the better player but they have some game improvement technology built in?
 
Jim/A:
Thats right. Better players through to mid-teens handicap players, I think, would enjoy the M685 model irons.
 
Casey/Q:
Then youve got your true game improvement irons, the MacTech NVG2 model?
 
Jim/A:
Yes. The NVG2 irons, they're really like a rocket ship. They utilize the cup face technology that we use in our drivers and fairway woods and utility woods but on an iron platform. It's a type of club with quite a bit of offset, very forgiving sole and a face that is really hot. This face construction launches the ball high but without too much spin so youre able to get maximum carry.
 
Casey/Q:
Now, you cant talk about MacGregor without talking about wedges, right?
 
Jim/A:
Id say that over the many years of MacGregors history, youd be hard pressed to find a tour player that hasnt at one time or another played a MacGregor grind wedge.
 
Casey/Q:
Whats the current line look like?
 
Jim/A:
There are two basic wedge designs that we have right now, both in the V-Foil line. There is the very traditional Tour Forged wedge with sharp square grooves very traditional shapes. Its versatile from any type of lie. Its a wedge designed for the better player who's looking for a wedge that's going to work well from the fairway, well for chipping and well from the sand. Then also in the V-Foil line there's a version called the Easy Out which has a very wide sole and a hollow interior. It's really for a little bit of a lesser skilled player who has a bit of difficulty from the sand traps. It's designed with an extremely forgiving sole where you dont necessarily have to have such perfect technique and you can still get the ball out of the sand. It is a pretty easy sand wedge to use; hence the name Easy Out.
 
Casey/Q:
MacGregor bought the Bobby Grace putter company and now Bobby is your exclusive putter designer. What was it that MacGregor saw in the Grace putters that made for such a good fit?
 
Bobby Grace putter
Bobby Grace putter.
Jim/A:
Bobby did something that MacGregor also had done many years before where we were trying to maximize the inertia of a putter. That way there's going to be no twisting of the putter head at impact if you miss-hit the putt. So we shared a common design theory with Bobby. But, Bobby has gone way beyond what we ever did with our Response putter of 20 years ago. The Response was a very high MOI putter and that is Bobbys approach to design as well. So MacGregor was kind of naturally attracted to what Bobby was doing. And, obviously, he does it very well.
 
Casey/Q:
Unique shapes and the ability to move weight away from the face seem to be key in Bobbys designs.
 
Jim/A:
By tri-weighting the putters - he has heel and toe weight on the putters to help prevent twisting - but he also has a massive amount of weight set very far back from the impact point. That weight very deep and back gives the putter a huge moment of inertia and also creates a very true roll. And that's really the genius behind his putter designs. In some of the models, the bulk of the weight is as much as five to six inches away from the face but directly behind the impact point.
 
Casey/Q:
How about the materials used?
 
Jim/A:
We use premium grade aircraft aluminum; top-notch stuff. If you look at the putters, currently there are many holes drilled through so that the frame that carries the face plate and the weights is as light as possible. Then a copper tungsten weight is used in the very back of the putter to really get the weight up and get the mass up. There are also two tungsten copper screws in the heel and the toe.
 
Casey/Q:
And the face?
 
Jim/A:
The face is a beryllium copper that's been specially treated so that it's very soft but still gives a good click.
 
Casey/Q:
It seems like new product launches come faster and more often all the time these days. How far ahead of the game do you have to stay in terms of new designs?
 
Jim/A:
You have to be very forward thinking in terms of new products and new technology in todays golf environment. Every time I design a club Im already thinking about the next design and how I can make it better. But I think thats pretty natural for a designer because Im usually learning something valuable in the design of a new product and then I want to apply that in the next iteration. Thats why we can continually make better and better products.
 
Casey/Q:
With limitations set the way they are, where do you look to advance technology?
 
Jim/A:
There are certainly still a lot of aspects to be exploreda lot of new advancements that are out there waiting for us to discover and apply. I think fitting drivers and driver face materials to golf balls is going to emerge as a major opportunity for advancements in driver performance. As balls continue to change, were going to have to become much more tuned in to matching shafts and heads to maximize performance based on the balls playing characteristics. And also, there's still quite a bit of room to manipulate weight within the club head and that will continue to make incremental improvements as we search for newer, more advanced materials.
 
Casey/Q:
This is expensive, though?
 
Jim/A:
It is expensive. But we think you have to do it. You have to move forward because in golf right now if youre not moving forward, if youre just standing still, you are actually moving backwards. And, you know, the golf business is a tough business right now. Theres not as much growth as we would all like to see. So it becomes a matter of taking market share away from another company to grow our market share. And the only way we know to do that is to have a better product. And fortunately Mr. Schneider lets us do that.
 
Casey/Q:
Its not that you completely ignore margins, though is it? I mean, you have to make a profit or how will you stay in business?
 
Jim/A:
There are degrees, obviously. But as a designer, Im pretty much in a dream position; where Im not bounded by constraints or spending all my time trying to take costs out of a product to increase margins and things like that. Im really charged with building the very best product that I possibly can. And to stay ahead of the curve as a designer, thats exactly where I want to be.
 
Casey/Q:
Youve expressed to me on several occasions that youre concerned about the de-engineering you see in the golf industry. Can you elaborate on that?
 
Jim/A:
We very much believe that there's been a lot of
de-engineering especially in drivers. When the USGA imposed the limits for COR and head size, it was at a time when a lot of the companies were pushing the envelope on everything. How big can we make the driver head, how high can we get the COR in the club? And literally, almost overnight, that had to stop. Or at least they felt it had to stop. No one really wanted to be in the business of making golf clubs that werent given a stamp of approval by the USGA.
 
Casey/Q:
Initially there was pushback from the OEMs and some different marketing approaches, but eventually everybody fell in line.
 
Jim/A:
Yes. And thats obviously the right thing to do. The USGA sets the rules and we follow those rules. But what started to happen, and what I think is still happening, is that the incentive to utilize exotic or high performance materials became lessened because the COR limit had already been reached. Where was there left to go? The rebound properties are maxed out so why spend more money than you have to on exotic face materials? And thats where I think some companies are doing a disservice to their customers; de-engineering by virtue of not moving forward.
 
Casey/Q:
So if the COR is fixed and the head size is fixed, where do you go from there?
 
Jim/A:
Well, for many companies it has become about how thin can they make the walls and then try to take the weight they save and move it low and deep. Theres nothing wrong with that trend, however, there is still so much more that can be achieved. Weve never stopped working on face materials and thats something that we are very proud of. But, its expensive for us. Now, we still have to put a product out that sells for a competitive price, but its costing us a lot more money to make each club because of the materials were using. And, hey, business is business. Every company makes the decisions and choices they make to satisfy any number of different criteria.
 
Casey/Q:
But, youve got Barry as your owner?
 
Jim/A:
Weve got Barry Schneider as our owner and were very lucky to have Barry. And were lucky that we are a privately held company versus a public company. Because we have not had to follow the de-engineering trend. We are using better materials and these materials are more expensive. And thats a decision that Barry made some time ago and its an approach that we live and work by here. As a designer and engineer, Barry gives me the freedom to ask myself two basic questions everyday. What is the very best way to make a product and what are the very best materials I can use to make that product, no matter the cost? I believe we are unique in the industry in that regard and I believe we are very lucky to be in the position we are in.
 
Casey/Q:
Do you ever stop and think about MacGregors history and then think about the fact that youre the guy who has to make sure the product the company is putting out is living up to that history?
 
Jim/A:
Honestly, I think about it all the time. In a lot of ways, Im just a caretaker of what came before me. There have been a lot of brilliant people that have worked here over the last eighty years. They have come and gone but they have made great contributions to golf club design and have enabled MacGregor to become bigger than any one person who has ever been here. MacGregor is a treasured brand in golf. The history is rich and runs very deep. We all feel like we have a big responsibility here.
 
Casey/Q:
How do you think youre doing?
 
Jim/A:
Im holding my own. Hopefully in my tenure here I will be able to make some contributions and help to continue the legacy of those people that came before me. And just as importantly, we think, is to lay some good ground work for the younger people coming along in our organization.
 
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