To a Tee
Louisville Golf Club Company Creates Handmade Clubs
Writer / Tyrel Kessinger
In the nearly 45 years they’ve been in operation, the Louisville Golf Club Company has seen its share of ups and downs. But the company, created by Elmore Just in 1974, has also carved a niche for themselves throughout the world of golf. No one knows this better than Nancy Silk, unofficial company historian and an employee since the beginning.
“Elmore Just founded the company after he got out of the army,” Silk says. “He worked at H&B for a year and then decided he could do this himself. So he started doing the business in his dad’s garage. He was one of five boys, all who were golfers, and all of his brothers have worked here. When he passed away in 2001 his brother Mike took over.”
Sadly, In January 2016, Mike passed as well and the company went up for sale. In January 2017, Jeremy Wright and his wife Yin-Yin, living in Houston at the time, bought the company, keeping the same onboard staff employed prior to his purchase. Wright, now living in Louisville, is, as you would suspect, an avid golfer and was already a long-time admirer of the Louisville Golf Club Company.
“When the offer to buy the company came up I was highly interested,” Wright says. “It’s certainly a passion and I have also been a customer. For me, the opportunity was there and at the right time. I was in medicine before, I was a consultant for spinal reconstruction therapy, and I had come to the point where I was tired of that and ready for a change. And it worked out. We’re thankful we’re here.”
While the bare bones mechanics of golf hasn’t changed since its invention, buyers’ habits certainly have. Where once the avid golfer might have custom sets made they eventually began to favor mass-produced sets available at stores such as Dick’s and Sports Academy. This development led to a major industry downturn for club makers like the Louisville Golf Club. Over time, the employee roll fell to a fraction of its original count over time and the amount of produced clubs fell dramatically.
“We have four guys in the back now who have all been here between 40 and 44 years, and we have three of us up front,” Silk says. “Back in the mid-80s, we had 125 employees. We were making about 800 clubs a day then. Now, we’re probably doing a couple hundred a month.”
Elmore managed to keep the business afloat through the leaner years, at one point having to sell the company but regaining it a few years later. It was shortly thereafter when Mike became the president of the company. Ultimately, two things provided the company with the resources to stay in the club-making game. One, they were, and still are, quite known for their putters, custom made and custom inscribed with anything from wedding dates to business logos. The second was due to the rise of hickory only golf tournaments and its hardcore devotees.
“In 2003, Mike went to a hickory tournament and got bit by the hickory bug,” Silk says. “So he started buying hickory clubs and having them sent back where he would fix them up and make them playable. As he got into it, so did a lot of other people throughout the country and the world. Unless you were able to spend thousands of dollars on originals, it was a hard game to get clubs and play. So we started making replicas.”
“Hickory saved the company,” Wright adds. “That’s what’s driving the business right now.” Wright is, expectedly, an avid golfer and one who has also developed and maintained a devotion to the world of hickory golfing.
The clubs at the Louisville Golf Club Company all begin as a block of wood, which is then cut and pared to a basic head shape. The same process is completed for the shaft. Through various workstations, the club head is more completely shaped, sanded, plated, painted and coated in shellac before being paired with its respective shaft. The craftsman the Louisville Golf Club employs have the creation of their distinct hickory clubs down to an artistic science. What starts out as a simple block of wood eventually becomes a beautiful piece of art. Art that is destined to be dent and dinged on the golf course, but art nonetheless.
Wright explains the process further:
“We start with the raw persimmon wood, we rough turn it out and that’s when the process starts,” Wright says. “They get weighed and sorted and that way we know if they’re going to make drivers of 3 woods or 5 woods, whatever the block is going to be best utilized as. Then, based on our production needs that block will go onto one of our lines to be made. We carry probably 80 to 100 different models that any given block can be turned into.”
And while the company business model and level of production has changed over the years, Wright has still found a way for it to grow.
“I kind of like to think of us as more of a craft brewery versus your big breweries like Budweiser or Coors,” Wright says. “We’re just a small craft golf company. It’s handmade, it’s very specialized, it’s tailor-made to the individual. It’s a personal touch that we add that you can’t get in the big retail stores.
“People love that,” Silk says proudly. “They feel as if they’ve designed their own clubs. And we love that. We love what we do and we see how happy our customers are. So that makes all this worthwhile.”
“We’re a unique company,” Wright adds. “In the fact that we do everything from the modern perspective of persimmon. We don’t do metal woods. I don’t know of any other company that focuses on that. It’s everything from modern style down to the pre-1900s. So it’s a big portfolio of products we carry and it’s all kind of niche at this point. We’re the only company continuously turning wood golf heads.”