He didn't need a new job, just a few sets of knee-high clubs.
George Todd never expected to revolutionize the golf equipment
market. He had plenty to do as the owner and CEO of StrutTech, a
Seattle firm that makes industrial parts from plastic
composites, but when his kids took up golf and Todd went
shopping for children's clubs, he found the cupboard bare.
"Adults' clubs were too long and too heavy, and most of the
clubs made for kids were toysplastic drivers and putters," he
says. "It was as if kids under 16 didn't exist." So Todd began
moonlighting. Using some of the materials and machinery at
StrutTech, he built light, flexible clubs for his daughter,
Natalie, and his sons, Jarin and Janssen. Todd's kidsticks
worked so well that junior players all over town were soon
clamoring for them, and in 1997 he founded FirstTour, the first
golf equipment company to put first-graders first. "Now my wife
is going nuts," he jokes, "because my second job takes up so
Todd founded FirstTour in 1997 with his kids in mind.
In mid-May, while Callaway slashed prices and Spalding announced
a $13 million loss in the latest quarter, Todd found himself
delegating duties at StrutTech to make time for what began as a
hobby. FirstTour's lightweight, carefully balanced junior clubs
have made Todd's baby one of the hottest firms in golf's
fast-sprouting junior market.
Would you saw Mark McGwire's bat in half and hand it to a Little
Leaguer? That's what golf has done to kids since Young Tom
Morris was a pup. Until recently, equipment makers routinely
ignored young beginners, though there are 3.2 million golfers in
the U.S. ages five to 17. "With Tigermania, the top companies
finally began to see junior clubs as a lucrative market," says
Matt Adams, head of Triumph Golf, which got into the kids'
market before the giants and has seen its sales triple since
1996. "I love Tiger Woods. I root for him every week," says
Adams, who thinks each win by Woods sells thousands more junior
Traditional clubmonger Taylor Made has jumped on the bandwagon
this year. So has Wilson, which offers a line of Michael Jordan
junior clubs. Titleist just introduced a lighter Pinnacle ball
to complement its T-Rex junior clubs. Maxfli, too, has a junior
ball. "This is a trend that's good for the game," says Dave Van
Horn of U.S. Kids, another clubmaker hoping to succeed by
selling short. "Cutoff regulation clubs really hinder kids.
Unless they're very strong, kids can't swing cutoffs through the
ball, so they get discouraged."
Todd's daughter, Natalie, spends as much time swinging her
FirstTour clubs as other teens spend on the phone. "She's saving
her babysitting money to go to the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy,"
says Todd, "and when I took her to Palm Springs for her 13th
birthday, she told me, 'Dad, I don't want to shop, just play
golf.' For a golfing father, that's as good as it gets." Gary
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Issue date: June 1, 1998