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What’s in a Name? – The Origin Stories of Golf’s Biggest Companies
There are some excellent small clubmakers out there, but on the whole the golf club industry is dominated by a handful of big names. Other companies go so far as to produce knockoff clubs that look and sound similar to the big boys’ offerings, hoping to piggyback on the reputation of a product line. All this fuss over names and appearances leads us to wonder: what are the stories behind golf’s flagship names? Sure, the name typically has some relationship to the founder or original owner, but that’s not always the case (PING? Odyssey?). Without further ado, here’s a little background information behind the names of the ten biggest companies on the map, as well as some of the products that have changed the way we play.
Adams Golf – Barney Adams was a field engineer for Corning Glass before buying a defunct club-making company in 1987. Adams changed the company’s focus to custom-fit sets and gained a reputation for quality. Still, the company was only selling 2,500 clubs a year in 1995 when Adams’ brainchild, the Tight Lies rescue club, launched it into a full-fledged player in the industry.
Bridgestone Golf – The company is a subsidiary of the Bridgestone Corporation, founded in Japan in 1931 by Shojiro Ishibashi. The name Bridgestone is a literal translation of “Ishibashi”, which means “stone bridge” in Japanese. The company has been making golf balls since 1935, though it didn’t start producing clubs until 1972.
Callaway Golf – By 1984, former Burlington Industries exec Ely R. Callaway, Jr. had acquired full ownership of the former Hickory Sticks golf company. The company’s flagship club, the Big Bertha, was introduced in 1991, with name meant to conjure images of Germany’s gigantic Big Bertha howitzer used during the First World War.
Cobra Golf – While there isn’t an official explanation behind the name Cobra, founder Thomas L. Crown is from Australia, where many venomous snakes, including cobras, are found. Cobra Golf’s most popular line, the King Cobra, is also a specific snake species with a range throughout most of the Australian continent.
Mizuno – Rihachi and Rizo Mizuno started a sporting goods store in Osaka, Japan, in 1906 and is today one of the world’s largest manufacturers of sporting goods. The company has been making golf clubs since 1935, the first Japanese to do so.
Nike – One of the company’s first salesmen suggested the name after a dream about Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. The Nike Swoosh, perhaps the most recognizable corporate logo on Earth, was created for Nike founder Phil Knight by a graphic student whom he paid $35.00. Nike Golf’s signature line, the Victory Red, is named after Tiger Woods’ signature crimson-drenched Sunday attire.
Odyssey – No official explanation here, either, but we’ll offer a theory: in Homer’s epic “The Odyssey” there is a whirlpool name Charybdis (perhaps the inspiration for Odyssey Golf’s logo?) that was famous throughout the ancient world. Any ship unfortunate enough to get caught in its vortex would circle the drain until it disappeared forever. Hey, maybe we’re wrong, but it’s a perfect image to have in mind while you’re standing over a 5-foot knee knocker!
PING – Company founder Karsten Solheim was an engineer with a passion for golf when he began tinkering with putter designs in his garage. He came up with a putter, the 1-A, with a distinctive “ping” sound as it struck the ball, and the rest is history. Solheim expanded on the 1-A with another classic design, which his wife dubbed the “Answer” – later shortened to Anser so that it could fit on the putter’s toe.
TaylorMade – Since it started the metal wood craze in 1979, TaylorMade has been a leader in innovation, and its marketing department has used product names and images to the greatest effect of any clubmaker. Beginning with the Pittsburgh Persimmons — the name was a nod to golf’s history of persimmon and laminated-wood clubs that would be eclipsed by TaylorMade’s steel-headed designs –the company has matched great names to its signature club lines. Eschewing focus group data and criticism that the name sounded too much like “worm-burner” – a nickname for a drive hit low to the ground – TaylorMade named its driver line the Burner and, in later models, added a copper-colored crown and a Ti Bubble shaft that are synonymous with 1990s-era golf. Recently the company took another flyer with the widely panned name RocketBallZ, and it, too, has achieved a stunning level of success and visibility.
Titleist – An intentional misspelling of ‘titlist” — someone who has a won a title – the name was meant to evoke the superior quality and performance of the Acushnet Company’s original golf balls, compared to the poorly constructed, inconsistent balls that dominated the market (Acushnet itself is named for a river in Massachusetts).
What if the sound Karsten Solheim’s putter made was a THUD? What if the Burner drivers actually hit the ball straight into the ground? As it turns out, the real story behind the biggest names in golf is groundbreaking products and technologies.
Add your comments about unique clubs and names that left a lasting impression on your game!