The only re­ward greater than dis­tance is knowl­edge

Golf Digest (Malaysia) - - DO IT YOURSELF - BY MIKE STACHURA

Given that the lat­est driv­ers are eas­ier to find than ever, and cus­tom-fit irons are ac­ces­si­ble with a cou­ple of mouse clicks, the idea of mak­ing your own clubs seems about as worth­while and ar­chaic as build­ing model trains or can­ning your own veg­eta­bles. But com­po­nent club­mak­ing beats to a dif­fer­ent logic. The pas­sion isn’t about arith­metic or eco­nomics or even lu­cid cal­cu­la­tions of cost-ben­e­fit analy­ses of time com­mit­ments. No, it’s a hobby fu­eled by a rav­en­ous quest for self-knowl­edge. The whys don’t re­ally en­ter into it.

For Glenn Weather­spoon of Ar­vada, Colo., who has been mak­ing his clubs for four decades, no other way makes sense. His voice echoes with the ex­pe­ri­ence of a base­ment work­shop full of chop saws, belt san­ders and enough two-step epoxy to shin­gle a roof. It all be­gan for the 6-foot-10 Weather­spoon when a lo­cal golf-shop sales­man swore every­body’s specs were pretty much the same. “The guy was 5-5,” Weather­spoon says. “How can he not see that my knuck­les are a foot far­ther off the ground than his? When he said, ‘Build­ing your own clubs? That’s im­pos­si­ble,’ well, that re­ally got me go­ing.”

Ba­sic club­mak­ing is fairly straight­for­ward. Guides and videos abound on sites like Golf­works.com and Hireko.com on how to cut a shaft to the proper length, how to use the right amount of sol­vent to slide a grip over an ex­tra wrap of dou­ble-sided tape, how to line up a fer­rule flush against a club­head. But at­ten­tion to de­tail is as manda­tory as breath­ing. Any mis­take, and you’ll likely be start­ing over. A ba­sic home work­shop might re­quire only tools picked up at a lo­cal hard­ware store (bench vise, sand­pa­per, util­ity knife, hack­saw); oth­ers might feature swing­weight scales, club mo­ment-of-in­er­tia mon­i­tors and dig­i­tal-fre­quency an­a­lyz­ers.

More of the lat­ter is what you’ll find at Dave Tutel­man’s work­shop in Way­side, N.J. The Bell Labs en­gi­neer of 40 years has even built gauges and scales. His back­ground has fu­eled his in­ter­est in un­der­stand­ing not merely how to build the best clubs for him­self, but turned him into a self-made golf-tech­nol­ogy re­searcher. His web­site (tutel­man.com) has deeply con­sid­ered an­swers to ques­tions rang­ing from av­er­age golfer dis­tance po­ten­tial to sin­gle-length irons. His start in the 1980s, how­ever, was based in practicality. “My kids were just start­ing their teens then, so I cer­tainly got into it be­cause it was a bar­gain,” he says. “But I con­tin­ued it be­cause I was an en­gi­neer, and it was re­ally fun to fig­ure it out, to build it and see whether it works.”

Tutel­man has never stopped see­ing whether it works. He’s got an e-book on his web­site that cov­ers ev­ery as­pect of club­fit­ting and club de­sign. He presents a com­pelling tech­ni­cal anal­y­sis that driv­ers with ex­tremely low cen­ters of grav­ity might pro­duce less spin on tee shots but might have a point of di­min­ish­ing or even coun­ter­pro­duc­tive re­turns.

Though it’s hard to paint the lot with the same brush, these geeks seem to adopt that same in­tense in­quis­i­tive­ness, that de­sire to ex­plore through ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, all while craft­ing an im­ple­ment that is as much tool as it is trea­sure. Ron Zaskowski, a for­mer Evans Scholar and re­tired IT spe­cial­ist in Michi­gan, has been help­ing make clubs since his days as a cad­die and later as “free week­end help” at his fa­ther’s golf shop. He con­tin­ues to straighten out strug­gling play­ers on the lo­cal high school team, spot­ting a dys­func­tional club as eas­ily as a vet­eran birdist rec­og­nizes a black-crowned night heron.

“I’ve al­ways had the feel­ing that I was in more con­trol of the fin­ished club if I was do­ing it my­self,” he says, ac­knowl­edg­ing that to­day’s preva­lence of cus­tom club­fit­ting by all the ma­jor brands and re­tail out­lets has re­duced the ap­peal of do-it-your­self equip­ment. “Sure, the stuff to­day is bet­ter than it was 15-20 years ago. But I just en­joy the process, dis­cov­er­ing some­thing I didn’t know. A lot of folks just aren’t like that any­more.”

Though the num­ber of club­mak­ing hob­by­ists has dwin­dled since the 1990s, there is ev­i­dence of a resur­gence. “We’ve re­ally started to see our schools fill up, and our tool sales like grip-chang­ing sta­tions, shaft pullers, swing­weight scales, we can’t sell that stuff fast enough,” says Britt Lind­sey, vice pres­i­dent of tech­ni­cal ser­vices and R&D for The Golf­works, from whom you can buy a build-your-own-driver pack for less than $200.

Talk to this crowd for even a few min­utes, and the mod­esty falls away. There’s pride in the work, con­fi­dence in know­ing what can go right or wrong with ev­ery pass of a sole un­der a grind­ing wheel. Golf-club hob­by­ists say it makes them bet­ter at golf, what­ever “bet­ter” means. For Weather­spoon, a big-hit­ting com­pet­i­tive amateur in his day, it’s more than the num­ber.

“You don’t have to be a met­al­lur­gist, but you do have to spend time look­ing into the dif­fer­ences be­tween steels and their char­ac­ter­is­tics,” he says, like how much more dif­fi­cult it is to bend his se­verely up­right lie an­gles with a cast 17-4 stain­less-steel head com­pared to 431 stain­less. “And that spoke to me. At the same time, I don’t have to pay at­ten­tion to all that back­ground noise about the next lat­est and great­est. It gives me a bit more seren­ity in my game.”

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