Ari Techner, the president/CEO and one of the founders of Scratch Golf Clubs, sats down for a Q&A. Scratch Golf is the fastest growing golf club company in the industry and a pioneer in wedge fitting and design. Techner is an expert in club fitting and design and has been in the golf business since he was 15 years old. He has fit thousands of people for clubs from Scratch's Tour Custom line as well as helped to design all the clubs that Scratch has produced. Scratch recently announced that they have hired clubmaker Don White to work with chief design engineer and master craftsman Jeff McCoy in hand crafting irons and wedges in Scratch's Tour Custom Department. White worked as master craftsman and head of club design at MacGregor Golf for nearly 40 years. In that time he has worked with many high-profile clients including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman.
Q: How did you manage to get Don White to come work for Scratch Golf?
A: First of all let me say that even with all of the exciting things that have been happening with Scratch Golf in the last few months like signing Ryan Moore and making the Golf Digest Hot List as a Gold Medal award, this agreement with Don has been the most exciting for me. The story of how this all happened actually spans all the way back to 1998. I had a friend who knew someone at MacGregor and managed to work it out for me to go down to the MacGregor factory in Albany, Ga., to work with Don on a set of irons for my personal use. The experience of going down there and working with Don was just incredible and it really opened my eyes about how a golf club was properly made. Watching Don make my clubs was actually what first inspired me to think about starting Scratch. The set that Don made for me was so much better than any other set I had ever had in terms of feel and consistency and I understood why after watching the time Don put into them when compared to the mass produced product that I got from other companies. Fast forward to 2009, MacGregor announced that they were going out of business and that they were closing the Albany, Ga., factory. I got a call from a writer at Golfweek that was doing a story on MacGregor and Don White. In talking to Don about who he should call for info on this story I was brought up as a person of interest and someone worth talking to. Apparently Don remembered working with me and had followed my career and Scratch Golf over the years. I was informed that Don had declined multiple seven figure offers from most of the big OEMs to come work for them and that he was considering retirement. I was given his contact info and gave him a call. I found out that not only did he remember working with me but he even remembered all of the exact specs of my set from 11 years earlier. Just amazing. He told me that he had in fact been offered jobs by pretty much all of the big OEMs but he had turned them all down as they would all require him to move out to California and he had no interest in leaving the south. We talked about Scratch and he expressed interest in possibly working for us but wanted to look at all his options before he decided exactly what he wanted to do.
Q: I bet when you went down to Albany in 1998 you never thought that Don would end up working for you did you?
A: It is kind of amazing how it all worked out. There was never a point before I talked to him again for the first time in 2009 that I ever though Scratch Golf would have had a chance to have Don White working for us. He is a living legend and possibly the best club grinder to ever live. The list of people he has worked with is just amazing. I am still a little bit in awe of him to be honest with you.
Q: Why do you think he was interested in working for Scratch when he had turned down every other major OEM that approached him?
A: Part of it was location and at first we talked about him staying in Albany and making clubs for us from down there. With our new studio in Chattanooga this seemed like a workable possibility. He also told me that all of the other companies wanted to use him as a name to put on clubs and basically have him work as an assembly line. He said he did not want to “make 3 irons on Monday, then 4 irons on Tuesday, 5 irons on Wednesday etc.” He wanted to “make clubs for specific people.” He likes to know the name of the person who will be playing the clubs he grinds. He liked what he was doing at MacGregor, which was making personal irons for customers who wanted a hand ground set with all their custom specs as well as working with Tour players on their irons and wedges. While he could have obviously worked with Tour players working for another company that work is always limited and he wanted to continue to make clubs the same way for the public during the rest of his time. He told me that he wanted to work for us and not another else because “Scratch Golf is the only company who still makes clubs the right way” and he wanted to be a part of that.
Q: How did it end up that he is moving up to Chattanooga to work at the Scratch studio?
A: It was a huge compliment and it was really when I realized that we had a great chance to have Don come work for us. In the end we both decided that it would be best for everyone if he came up to Chattanooga and worked with us directly at our new Studio. It was a tough decision for him but luckily he has some family in Chattanooga and has spent some time here over the years. I am not sure how many other cities he would have been willing to move to.
Q: What will Don's role at Scratch be exactly?
A: Don will be in charge of hand grinding our Tour Custom irons and wedges. He will be working with our every day customers along with our tour professionals on PGA, LPGA and other major worldwide tours. Scratch chief design engineer Jeff McCoy will work on tour rros clubs along with Don, but hiring Don will allow Jeff to concentrate most of his time in our new line of hand made putters which are already in play on the PGA Tour before their official introduction. Don will also work alongside Jeff and I and the rest of our design team on future Scratch products. We could not be more excited about the future of our golf clubs with Don on board.
Q: So you needed to bring someone else on to help Jeff McCoy make your hand made clubs anyways?
A: Yes that is what made the timing of this so perfect for everyone. We have been planning on introducing a line of putters for a little while now as we have gotten a ton of requests from our customers. We realized that we needed a craftsman to make our putters for us. Jeff had made some completely hand made putters in the past for some VIP customers that were incredible but simply did not have the time to make all of our irons and wedges along with all of our putters. He barely had enough time to make all of our irons and wedges. We explored some different options for bringing someone on to make putters but could not find the right long term fit. That is when Don came into the picture. We could not have come up with a better solution than bringing Don onto the team to work on irons and wedges to let Jeff concentrate on putters. It is perfect for Scratch Golf. We are bringing in one of the greatest club makers to ever live to work on our irons and wedges and we can have Jeff use his incredible talents to make our putters. Jeff's first hand made prototype of our new putter line is in play on the PGA Tour this week at the SBS Championship.
Q: What makes Don so special as a club grinder?
A: I read a quote from Chi Chi Rodriguez in an article talking about how Don's a genius along the lines of Mozart or Picasso and that his genius is in his hands and I think that really sums it up well. He has a touch with a grinder and an eye for clubs that simply cannot be taught. The clubs he produces are true masterpieces. The shape and sole grind of each club blends perfectly into the next club and each edge and line is perfect. His genius has been recognized over and over by the best players in the world and it is what has gotten him the reputation as the best at what he does.
Q: How else do you think having Don White as a part of Scratch Golf will benefit you guys?
A: Having Don as a part of Scratch Golf will make us a better company in literally every facet of our business. We are all incredibly excited to learn all we can from Don. He is a fountain of golf knowledge about making golf clubs. He knows everything. He has almost 40 years experience but he really has over 100 years experience as he has learned from all the great MacGregor craftsmen before him. I also am excited about how much he can raise the profile of Scratch Golf. As a small but growing company brand recognition and acceptance is one of the biggest challenges that we face and having a guy like Don associated with Scratch will really help.
Q: What is the benefit of playing with irons or wedges with a custom ground sole?
A: The key to seeing the benefit of playing a custom ground sole is making sure the grind that is chosen properly fits the players swing. Every person swings the club differently and depending on the players angle of attack and how the clubs goes through the ground a different sole grind is needed to achieve the players maximum ball striking potential. For example a player who has a steep angle of attack and is aggressive through the ball needs more bounce and sole width on their wedges while they need more bounce and camber on their irons. This helps prevent digging and greatly increases their chance for a purely struck shot. On the other hand a person who is has a shallow angle of attack and does not really have much turf interaction or take much of a divot needs lower bounce and a thinner sole on their wedges and lower bounce and less camber on their irons. This allows this type of player to get down into the ball without the sole getting in the way causing a thin shot.
Q: I have seen different wedge grinds before but I have never seen another company offer different iron grinds. Is this something unique to Scratch Golf?
A: Yes, we are the only company to offer different sole grinds on irons. We offer three different grinds on our retail irons and an unlimited amount of grinds on Don's Tour Custom irons. Other companies try to design a sole grind that will work for everyone by taking specs that work for Digger/Drivers and combining them with other specs that work for Sweeper/Sliders. The end result of this is a sole that almost works for some people but does not really work perfectly for anybody. With our irons you can match the sole grind of you clubs to your specific swing which assures better contact and better golf shots. It is also worth noting that while other companies offer different wedge grinds we are the only company that offers multiple sole grinds that are designed to fit specific swing types. Most wedges are designed similarly to most irons trying to make a sole that will work for everyone and making one that does not quite work right for anyone.