Golf is where you find it, even in places where the grass is a bit sparse. True, we had to bring the worlds greatest game to one of the wonders of the world. But there we were, in China, on said wall, preparing to videotape my attempt to loft a Titleist into the wild lands beyond the parapets.
You can see how the shot came off on the season premiere of Whats In The Bag?, which is set for Monday, February 16 at 10:50 p.m. ET, part of TGCs Your Game Night. But theres much more to the show than my golf goofing-off north of Beijing. The WITB crew peered into the worlds least-known center of golf equipment manufacturing ' and into a particular company there ' and got a look at a big part of the future of golf gear.
First, an explanatory note about this season. There were 13 WITBs in 2003, and they were all topical: each show was about a topic, such as drivers, or golf balls, or some other subset of golf equipment. This year, we plan 24 shows, some topical, but others that are in-depth look at the companies and people who develop and build the latest in golf equipment. The first of these Whats In The Bag? Spotlight shows, which youll see Monday, is on Winn Grips, which is based in the Shenzhen region of southern China.
Its not the intent of these Bag Tags columns to give away whats in the show, but I dont want to be irritating about it either. So Ill tell you this much: turns out grips really are rocket science. Far from being a commodity item, grips are now performance enhancers for golf clubs. Its that premise, that desire to elevate grips from the dime-a-dozen reputation that once plagued them, that drove Dr. Ben Huang to found Winn.
Huang, a true rocket scientist who worked with the great Dr. Werner von Braun in the 1960s, switched to polymer science after his work with engineering doctoral candidates at Georgia Tech began to wind down. He was looking for a business opportunity, and after trying tennis and some other grip-central sports, landed in golf.
Theres much more to the story, but suffice to say, Winn brings a great deal of science to the process. At their plant in the town of Humen, Winn research engineers are using polymer technology with your hands in mind. We saw a lot of concern about and focus on how grips perform in wet conditions (from perspiration on your hand or the rain), and also about how grips should look. Youll even see some innovative ideas about how grips should be put together. But in the end, be it construction, design, or even cosmetics, the final goal is good feel in your hands.
Then there were the surroundings. China is a sensory feast for the adventurous traveler, a constant mlange of sights, scents and sounds that amaze at every turn. The Great Wall is one of those rare experiences that exceeds its own hype; seeing it snaking through the mountains in the distance, one is compelled to wonder, With terrain like this, why did they even need it? But mountains plus wall notwithstanding, the Manchurian horsemen finally got through, careening fearlessly down hillsides a man could hardly stand on, let alone a horse.
The Chinese as a people are warm and welcoming, even though they behold Westerners with a dose of curious wonder. They are not averse to laughing out loud at attempts to speak accent-free Mandarin, but they are always willing to smile, listen and help. More than once, I was certain that after I brushed against someone in the street and saying Ma fan nee, (excuse me), the brushee laughed and said to his companion, Where did that giant Westerner learn to speak Mandarin?
The most interesting golf fact, though, may be that much of the gear we all play is made by 18-year-olds from Sichuan, Shaanxi, Guangdong and other Chinese provinces. Much has been made in recent years of child labor abuses and other problems with workers in Asian countries, but we saw no evidence of that in our travels.
Instead, we saw well-fed, eager workers who are probably making more money than their families have ever seen. They take as much overtime as they can get (Dr. Huang said that in fact the company has to limit the hours so the kids dont get too tired), and they are quality freaks. Everyone has a caliper or other measuring device to make sure products are on the mark. The environment is clean and orderly. And when the work day is done, workers return to modern dorms, where they eat three meals per day, all prepared by a full-time kitchen staff. The young employees even gather every morning on the big basketball court between the dorm and the factory for a pre-work stretch.
I think youll enjoy our look around China, from the golf to the Great Wall and beyond. And for the February 23 show, its off to Japan to check out the latest in golf balls.
Thanks for coming along for the ride. Youre next on the tee.