You, of course, will have your own ideas, but please allow me to explain how I run the operation. I work on the honor system. The chipping desperate find their way to the website, and they send me an e-mail telling me how many clubs they want and where they want them sent. I mail them the goods and they mail me a check. How often do I get stiffed? Never! Often, the clubs and the checks cross in the mail. Repeat customers, and I have several, will sometimes include notes with their checks. They write things like, "Your club's pretty good." Or, "The E-Club saved me another shot today—now the wife wants one."
So what sort of magic does the E-Club pack? (This is the enjoyable, golfy part of the pitch.)
I'm sure you've seen golfers putt from off the green. You see it at Augusta National and on many hard, firm public courses, including the Old Course. When Tiger Woods won the British Open there in 2000, he putted from 70 yards off the green. You might know the adage of the yippy chipper: A bad putt is better than a bad chip. Putting from off the green works, but only to a point.
The main problem is that the putter has little loft, and fairway grass can be long and clingy, especially in the early morning dew or in the rain. You have to hit a putt from off the green with enough oomph to get it through the fairway, but then your ball starts breaking speed limits once it reaches the green. Three putts later it's, Put me down for a 7, Bill. We've all been there.
Tommy Armour, the 1927 U.S. Open winner and a Winged Foot member, used to play chip shots by putting with a lofted fairway wood so the ball would skim along the fairway and then go into a controlled and true roll when it reached the green. He taught the shot to Claude Harmon, the longtime pro at Winged Foot, who taught it to his son, Butch, who taught it to Tiger, who played the shot often before he left Harmon for Hank Haney. Years ago I asked Woods why he chipped with a fairway metal. He said, "Sometimes when you're chipping off a tight lie, you get nervous and you hit the ground before you hit the ball. An iron will simply dig into the ground. You're done. But with the big sole of a fairway wood the club will bounce off the turf and you can still make pretty good contact." In more recent years good-to-elite golfers have played that shot with utility clubs. Exhibit A is Todd Hamilton, who repeatedly used a hybrid chip when he won the 2004 British Open over Ernie Els at Troon.
A good shot for those guys, but not for the rest of us. For one thing, the shaft of a fairway wood or hybrid is too long, and the head is too light. It takes way too much skill, or at least it does for this 90 shooter. So it got me thinking about a chipping club that would allow you to stand with your head over the ball, as you do with a putter. A club with a lot of offset, to help your hands stay in front of the ball. With a heavy head, the weight of a sand wedge, so that once you brought the clubhead back, centrifugal force would return it somewhere near the ball. And with a head shaped like a small, playable four-wood. The club really does work, Mr. Buffett.
Don't take my word for it. (This is the tacky, name-droppy part of the pitch.) A PGA Tour pro I know once spent a weekend with George H.W. Bush playing golf. Forty-one had an E-Club. The pro told me later, "Every golfer over the age of 60 should have that club." Lee Trevino, all on his own, used the E-Club at his final British Open, in 2000 on the Old Course. Here's a man with thousands of clubs in his garage, and somehow the E-Club was plucked from the stockpile and dropped in his quiver.
Trevino wouldn't know me from Lady Gaga, but last year at a Champions tour event I found myself in an elevator with him. He remembered the club immediately.
"That's a hell of a club you made, young man," he said. (I'm a chip shot from 50 years old.) "My friends will say, 'Where can I get me one of them?' And I say, 'Damned if I know.'"
And that's the problem. When we began, in 1999, we had 70,000 heads made at a foundry in Taiwan. (The shafts are True Temper, and the grips are Golf Pride.) Selling almost exclusively by way of the infomercial on Golf Channel, we sold 50,000 clubs, at an average price of $130 a club, in less than a year. That was almost enough for us to break even.