FootJoy’s golf shoe plant in this quiet town south of Boston is the last footwear factory in the former shoe capital of the world. Dozens of three-story brick buildings with big, rectangular windows and hardwood floors housed thousands of machines that clacked away, shift after shift, since the early 1900s. At one time, fully half of the country’s footwear came from Brockton.
Lately, FootJoy’s recently updated factory on Field Street produced the high-end models Classics Tour and Classics Dry. These were Goodyear-welted shoes, using a special process (and machinery) to join the upper, a comfort foot bed made of cork and a material called Poron, and the sole of the shoe with an extremely strong fastening system – call it “power sewing.” The result was a rim, or lip, along the bottom perimeter of the sole, almost like the running board on an old-style Buick. This was how the sturdiest dress shoes were once made, and the appearance and performance resonated for decades with discerning golfers.
Rapid advancements in epoxies have yielded huge performance gains in golf shoes, both in durability and waterproofing. So-called “cement” shoes have become the standard in the sport, and they make up most of FootJoy’s line now. From a competitive point of view, FootJoy felt compelled to shut down Classics and its related dress and casual lines.
“This was a very difficult decision made necessary by the declining demand for premium welted, leather soled golf footwear,” said Jim Connor, president of FootJoy. “While this factory produced a small portion of our worldwide supply of golf shoes, some of our craftsmen and women were from several generations of shoe makers. All of us at FootJoy are deeply saddened by this outcome.”
And touring the plant, which I did several times, you could feel it. The people who made these shoes, whether they cut the leather, assembled the insoles, handled the welting or watched quality control, had pride coming off of them like heat waves off a summer highway. The building itself, until its recent update, spoke of New England in another time: the well-worn floors, grooved by hundreds of carts carrying shoe parts, each set tagged so that every person who handled the more than 80 steps involved in the process would know what they were making. Those parts might have just come from the third floor to the second down a steel chute, where smart-stepping men and women took picked them up and took them to third-generation shoemakers at their machines and tables. There, they worked in summer sunlight streaming in through open windows, not with the repetition of drudgery, but with the confidence of craftsmen. It was industry with a distinctly human touch, hard to find these days in golf, or anywhere.