Suppliers for Clubmaking Components

Dave Tutelman -- May 31, 2006 plus updates

I am frequently asked who I buy from -- or who I'd recommend -- for clubmaking components and supplies. I've put together the following annotated list of suppliers I have dealt with, so I don't have to compose the answer every time. First some notes:
  1. In the "what" column:
    • H = Club heads
    • S = Shafts
    • G = Grips
    • P = Supplies (Epoxy, ferrules, weights, etc)
    • T = Tools
  2. The "comments" colums contains my own editorial opinion of how well they do.
  3. I have only included suppliers who will deal with all comers. There are suppliers (Tom Wishon Golf Technology and KZ Golf come to mind) who will only deal with professional clubmakers with a clubmaking business, that they qualify to be their customers; I didn't list them for that reason. (The two that I mentioned above make excellent products, and I recommend them if you qualify to buy from them. Neither is an inexpensive supplier.)
  4. That brings me to another controversy about component sellers: some of them (most of the ones on my list, in fact) compete with their own customers. That is, they sell completed clubs as well as components, those clubs made from the components they sell. For instance, I as a custom clubmaker might be challenged by a potential customer, "You use Snake Eyes heads in your clubs. But I can order Snake Eyes clubs from Golfsmith for less than you charge." The customer may or may not know that I buy my Snake Eyes components from Golfsmith, who happens to be the manufacturer. Then I add in my cost of a complete fitting -- which you do not get when you buy mail-order clubs from Golfsmith -- and my business overhead. And I have already paid Golfsmith a profit, through their component business, when I bought the head and shaft. Naturally, I have to charge more.
    Several component suppliers protect their custom clubfitters by putting a base under the price someone can advertise clubs made from their components, called MAP (Minimum Advertised Price); this becomes part of their contract with their component customers. KZ Golf, which only sells to business clubmakers and doesn't sell finished clubs itself, does this. So does The Golf Coast, if you build clubs with their Vector or Trinity components. If the clubs you build are for your use only, not for sale, then this does not affect you -- though KZG will not be selling to you (see note #3 above).
  5. In 2007, Dynacraft was bought by Hireko. They still sell some of the Dynacraft-label components, but I don't know for how long. The good news is that Jeff Summitt is the combined company's Chief Technical Officer; he gives excellent support, and writes some of the best articles, which can be found on their web site. In fact, as of 2009-2012, my irons and hybrids are all Jeff Summitt designs.

Clubmaker Online
An Internet-only supplier, Clubmaker Online also supports an archive of good clubmaking articles and tips, and the Shop-Talk email forum for clubmakers. Tends to sell unusual and/or top-of-the-line components -- generally much better that you'd get from the OEM clubmakers.
Diamond Tour Golf
Good prices and good service. They have their house brand components, which are at least OEM quality. They carry the Integra line, which is a quality budget clubhead. I have also used other brands in their product line with good results.
They have been bought out by Hireko, but their design line continues. Good, solid designs that are occasionally innovative as well. Jeff Summitt is well-known in the industry, and personally provides most of the tech support. Several clubs in my bag have Dynacraft heads.
I don't deal with them when I can avoid it. See why below.
Second only to Golfsmith in variety of tools, supplies, educational material, etc. Ralph Maltby's designs have always been very functional and often innovative, and I think they're more aesthetic than they used to be. My 3-wood is a Maltby Trouble-Out, and I built another one with the same head for a backup; it's a dozen years old, and I have yet to find a better one.
Hireko Golf
Very good prices and variety, and good customer service. Now that Jeff Summitt (from Dynacraft) is there, the technical support is a lot more savvy. The head designs tend to be of solid quality. Their house brand shafts include some that are very effective, but some have prominent spines that have to be found and oriented. (Once aligned, their performance has been very satisfactory, especially for the price.)
Pro-Swing and Trident Golf
Pro-Swing makes and sells the Trident brand of heads. In the past they have tended to be rather blatant clone vendors. But I see a few novel designs in their catalog these days. My current (2012) putter head is from them, mostly because it is a rather unique design and just what I was looking for. I have had quality problems with several components I bought from them. Nothing an exeprienced and well-equipped clubmaker couldn't handle, but a beginner might have had problems. (A beginner might have even built with out-of-spec components and never noticed -- but the 8i and 9i may be giving the same distance, and a big gap from the 7i to the 8i. That was indeed one of the quality problems I encountered.)
Raven Golf
Tony Miller's company does not have as much variety as he used to, but I'm sure the quality is what it used to be. I have built and used several iron sets with Raven forged heads, and they look good and play well. Raven also carries the hard-to-find Graman line of shafts, which my tests show to have superb quality control. BTW, I first became aware of Raven in the mid-1990s, when one of their employees (Paul Nickles) collaborated with me on an early research project.
Star Grip
This is a little-known but outstanding manufacturer of grips. IMHO, these are the best quality grips on the market, and at a reasonable price. As of this moment (late 2011), they are reworking their dealer network and their web site is under complete reconstruction. So they may be a bit hard to find for a while. Worth looking, though. I have bought Star grips through Clubmaker Online, and that should work just fine while they get their business act together.
Vector (The Golf Coast)
The Golf Coast is not primarily a component supplier; they are a custom clubfitting "boutique", and they are very good at it. They have developed their own design of clubheads that they use for the custom clubs they build, but they will sell the clubheads (and perhaps the shafts) to clubmakers. Their trade names for the components are Vector, Trinity, and Seahawk.
Most of my favorite drivers since 2000 have had Vector heads, including my current one (as of June 2006). Update Dec 2008: I've been through several drivers, and my current driver is yet another Vector. Update Nov 2011: My #1 and #2 drivers have Vector heads, and the #1 has a Vector-designed shaft.
David Dugally, who owns The Golf Coast and designs their clubheads, is very smart and helpful.

Why I don't like Golfsmith

Perhaps you noticed that Golfsmith is not my favorite supplier -- not even close. Since they are probably the biggest -- and definitely the best-known -- of the suppliers for clubmakers, I probably should say why not.

Actually, I started in clubmaking with Golfsmith as my favored supplier in the 1980s. A lot of clubmakers did. Golfsmith founder Carl Paul was, more than anybody else, the father of custom clubmaking. So what happened?

Strike one: In the early 1990s -- say 1993 -- Golfsmith started to outgrow what it could do well. Their business expanded very rapidly, and they quickly exhausted the qualified labor market in Austin. So they hired people who didn't know much about clubmaking, and let them deal with customers anyway. It got to the point that I could not trust their phone support, and even their Internet tech support was very spotty. (They hired Mark Ehly to keep Tom Wishon and Britt Lindsey from being swamped with support work, but it took at least a year before he had enough experience to be helpful.) The worst of it was that none of their support staff felt it acceptable to say, "I don't know." They always gave you a confident answer -- just as confident when it was wrong as when it was right. It was the first time I realized that confidence does not equal competence. That, of course, renders the support totally useless.

Strike two: They expanded to OEM sales as well as components. Soon their OEM business was by far the bigger money maker, and this seemed to drain some of the resources and focus from the clubmaking business. About that time, they also started building retail establishments all over the country. As soon as they had a store in NJ, I started to be billed for NJ state sales tax on my Golfsmith mail orders. So the presence of the store -- which was a good hour's drive each way -- was actually a negative, a discouragement from doing business with them. Too far to actually shop there, but its existence added to the cost of my mail order.

Strike three: The Paul brothers cashed out; they sold Golfsmith to a large sporting goods retail conglomerate. Now the component business really became a stepchild. Tom Wishon left, and started his own company. (Tom was the designer behind the best and most innovative of Golfsmith's components in the '90s.)

Three strikes and you're out.

On the plus side -- yes, there is a plus side -- they still have the most complete line of tools, and probably of supplies. GolfWorks is a not-too-distant second. But Golfsmith is still first in this regard, and even now I occasionally go to them for this reason. That is why there are still more strikes on the scorecard...

Strike four: A Golfsmith store finally opened not far from me, about a half hour's drive. The clubmaking section is relatively small and in the back. Most of the stuff out on display in the clubmaking section is clubheads and grips. The more interesting things (tools and supplies) are behind the counter. Only their clubmaking specialist will go back there to get anything; if he's not there, you'll have to wait to be served until he gets back. And, if the rest of the staff is clueless, even the "expert" only has a fraction of a clue about clubmaking. Don't expect competent assistance there. I only use the store for things I'd buy from the catalog, but need now and would rather drive to the store than wait a few days for shipping (or a few months, see below). But I call first; their store inventory isn't nearly up to what's in the catalog.

Strike five: In 2010 I went shopping for a new golf cart, and hit all the golf stores within 30 miles to look at them. That includes Golfsmith. I was in the store on a weekday (so they were not very busy) from 11:30am to noon. I know this rather precisely. I had budgeted a half hour of my time for the visit, to mesh with another appointment in the area. Initially (about 11:35) a salesclerk helped me with some questions about the Sun Mountain Micro Cart. He didn't know the answers either, but together we were able to figure them out. He didn't feel he could take responsibility for opening any of the boxes on the display shelves to show me a cart. He said he would send someone out who could help me. I was there until noon, and no such person appeared. I stayed in the carts area the whole time, and twice flagged down people (not the original salesclerk), who also went to look for the "cart specialist". Finally, at noon sharp, I left for my other appointment. Half an hour plus drive time wasted because of employees just not giving service. (In all fairness, the store manager responded to my angry follow-up email. I don't have a lot of confidence he can solve the problem, but maybe he will try.)

Strike six: Not many places you could go for a 100g butt weight in 2011. Usually I make my own by melting lead into a section of scrapped steel shaft, but this time I felt it would be less effort to just order it -- and it had to be from Golfsmith. Placed the order on October 13. Nothing happened. That includes nothing happening in "order status" on their web site. I tried to call their customer service line, and couldn't get through the busy signal for a few days. I dropped it for a while and finally called them again Thanksgiving week -- well over a month after the order was placed. They discovered that the shipping point had been out of them, was still out of them, and wasn't going to get them in any time soon. They could, and should, have:
  • Informed me it was back-ordered.
  • Had another shipping point send it; apparently they ship from several places. After I called and woke them up, that is what they did.
Bottom line: Since I decided in 2008 that they were not worth the trouble unless I'm desperate, I have dealt with them about once a year. Each time, they have been somewhere between frustrating and useless.


MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) - Here's how MAP works, according to David Dugally of Golf Coast; I heard a very similar explanation from Jennifer King of KZ Golf a few years ago (though KZ tends to be far more aggressive about "protecting the brand").

The point of MAP is to protect the brand's reputation of quality and to protect the clubmaking businesses that feature the brand. Suppose someone buys the components to sell in finished clubs, and advertises those clubs at a lowball price. It makes the brand seem "cheap", hurts its reputation. In addition, it undercuts other clubmakers using the same brand of component.

Under a MAP agreement, anyone is free to sell for what they wish; you are just limited in the price you can advertise. The actual price is an agreement between the buyer and the seller, but any lowball deal does not become public information. In this way, both the brand's reputation and competing clubmakers' margins are not damaged.

Of course, if you are not building clubs for resale, this would not matter to you.

Last updated Oct 9, 2012