Staying the course on quality golf clubs

Tribune golf reporter

In 1990, David Glod designed the first wide-sole, cavity-back iron for histhen fledging company, Tour Edge. The club caught the attention of Pingfounder Karsten Solheim, whose irons revolutionized the game in the 1980s.

"One day, Karsten came up to me and said, 'You know, you're infringing onmy patent,'" Glod recalled. " 'But you're so small, I don't care.'"

Glod can laugh about that conversation now as he walks through hisstate-of-the-art 55,000-square-foot facility in Batavia. Tour Edge definitelyisn't small anymore.

The company Glod launched out of his Warrenville condo in 1986 has growninto one of the biggest success stories in the golf equipment industry.

At a time when many manufacturers are struggling with sagging sales -- oreven going out of business -- Tour Edge continues to post annual double-digitpercentage increases in sales. Glod won't disclose actual figures, butindustry estimates put revenues at $25 million to $30 million.

According to Golf Datatech, a firm that monitors equipment sales, Tour Edgeranks in the top 10 in market share among companies for woods, hybrids, ironsand putters. Its clubs are sold in more than 40 countries.

That might come as a surprise to some people since Tour Edge doesn't haveinstant name recognition. Glod doesn't believe in shelling out millions to topstars like Tiger Woods (Nike) and Phil Mickelson (Callaway Golf) to get themto use his clubs. Also, viewers won't see ads for Tour Edge airing ontournament broadcasts; the company has a relatively modest advertising budget.

The approach has allowed Tour Edge to stick to its mission.

"Produce top quality products at a reasonable price," Glod said."Midwest-thinking."

When Glod was in the early stages of developing Tour Edge, he thoughtseveral major companies were producing inferior products "and selling them for$600 per set." Glod decided his company had to do it better and cheaper.

"The only way to sell our clubs was at half the price," Glod said. "If thehot driver was going for $300, ours had to be $149. It had to be as good andmany times perceived as being better."

Consumers bought in. Tour Edge's best marketing proved to be word-of-mouth.Golfers saw its moderately priced products as an alternative to higher-pricedbrands.

Tour Edge currently has a driver that sells as low as $49.99 withhigher-quality versions going for $149. Premium drivers sell for as much as$500.

"If you look at any consumer survey, price and value are way up there withpurchase decisions," said Michael Johnson, the equipment editor for Golf Worldand Golf Digest. "Tour Edge offers a good option. If somebody is on the fence,the salesman might say 'Give this a try.'

"They may never have heard of Tour Edge, but once they see the price,they're like, 'Whoa.' You can get tour-quality equipment at 70 percent of whatyou'd pay elsewhere."

Glod's equipment roots started while in high school at Glenbard South, whenhe began repairing clubs. He then played college golf at Florida SouthernUniversity, where his teammates included PGA Tour winners Lee Janzen and Rocco Mediate.

Glod continued to tinker with clubs while in college, restoring and thenselling classic versions. He even redid a driver for Greg Norman.

After college, he was a golf professional for two years at Village Links inGlen Ellyn. But after he realized he didn't like teaching and wasn't goodenough to join his old teammates on tour, he devoted all his energy to makinggolf clubs.

"My second love," he said.

Initially working out of his condo, he sold custom clubs. Then he starteddeveloping his designs, including those wide-sole cavity back irons that gotthe attention of Solheim.

Glod eventually opened a 5,000-square-foot facility in West Chicago.Throughout the 1990s, while local golf equipment companies such asNorthwestern, Ram and Tommy Armour struggled or even went out of business,Tour Edge continued to enjoyed steady, solid growth.

"We stayed the course," said Glod's brother, Gordon, who oversees thecompany's sales efforts. "We didn't shift our approach. It was quality,affordable golf clubs all the way."

Glod's biggest breakthrough came in 1999 when Tour Edge won product of theyear with its Lift-Off Iron-Wood. The club was a hit and one of the firstversions of the popular hybrids that now are a staple in most golf bags.

"The designs David comes up with are magic," said Bob Polivka, the owner ofGolf Shack, with four locations including Rockford and Kenosha. "For a companythat doesn't have the [research and design] of the big companies, he is ableto put heads and shafts together that perform. They just keep coming out withgood stuff."

That includes Tour Edge's launch last year of the new Exotics line. In ashift of strategy, these drivers, fairway woods and irons are priced in thepremium category; the Exotics driver goes for $399.

Initially, Tour Edge's sales force tried to talk Glod out of the idea. ButGlod was so sure of new technology in which the club heads would be chemicallyand laser-bonded together, replacing welding, he pushed on.

"We're able to do something like this better than the big companies," Glodsaid. "At Callaway, you've got to go through various levels to get somethingdone. Not here. We're small and nimble."

Glod's vision paid off. He estimates the Exotics line will account for halfof Tour Edge's revenues in a couple of years.

Tour Edge never will approach the major golf companies such as Callaway andTaylorMade in sales. Johnson compares the company to a mid-major schoolcompeting against Duke and North Carolina in college basketball.

"But they are one of the few mid-majors [in the golf industry] that arereally thriving," Johnson said.


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