Ben Hogan Golf has endured low moments, but is committed to making quality clubs that Mister Hogan would approve
An elderly woman parked her old pickup truck in front of the Ben Hogan Golf Co. building in Fort Worth, Texas, several months ago and began to unload two old chairs.
When employees hurried out to tell her she must be in the wrong place, that this wasn’t the city dump, she said, “No, no, I used to work at the Ben Hogan factory. I was there in 1953 when it opened and I was there when it closed.”
The company was sold in 1993 and its furniture was left behind when the new owners made an ill-advised decision to move production facilities to Virginia. Hogan Company employees were offered the chance to purchase unwanted furniture before the sad exodus began. The woman bought two chairs that Ben Hogan, Mister Hogan, used in his office for visitors.
Now that Ben Hogan Golf has been resurrected for a third time and firmly re-rooted in sunny Fort Worth, she wanted the relics returned to their rightful home.
“They are just about the most uncomfortable chairs in the world,” said Scott White, Ben Hogan Golf’s president and CEO. “They weigh a ton, they’re like World War II issue. The people who knew of those chairs said, ‘Yes, they were that way by design. Mr. Hogan didn’t want his visitors sticking around too long.’
“They’re in our office now. They’re a great daily reminder and another piece of Mr. Hogan’s DNA, our company’s DNA.”
The @BenHoganGolf PTx PRO Black.— Ben Hogan Golf (@BHGolfEquipment) October 31, 2019
The irons @BenHogan would make with today’s technology.#benhogangolf #exclusivelyonline #noretailmarkup #factorydirect #nomiddleman #benhogan #golfislife #golfequipment #custom #customized #handcrafted #craftsmanship #PTxPRO #irons pic.twitter.com/GXkwEgELqE
The Ben Hogan Golf brand seems every bit as tough as Hogan himself. It has run aground a few times, but keeps reinventing itself. In its newest back-to-the-future version, Ben Hogan Golf has been successful with what may be the golf equipment model of the 21st century — direct-to-consumer sales (BenHoganGolf.com).
There are no store sales, no golf shop sales, no demo days, no club-fittings and no tour players being paid to use Hogan clubs. This is a way to keep overhead down and prices low for a new generation of golfers who aren’t averse to internet purchasing and, in fact, prefer it.
While the company is now more competitive on price than ever, it still pitches traditional Ben Hogan Golf quality, what Hogan once insisted upon. It focuses on its bread and butter, forged irons and wedges, but now offers a full line of equipment, including drivers, fairway woods and putters.
“We had some good irons and wedges that were developed before our last bankruptcy,” White said. “When we came back, so many customers asked us, ‘When are you coming out with a driver? I don’t just want the irons, I want the full line — woods, umbrellas, bags, the whole thing.’ So earlier this year, we brought out all of the products we thought were worthy and became a full-line golf company again.”
It took a full year of development to come up with putters, fairway woods and a driver. White, honoring Hogan’s promise of quality, made sure the products weren’t rushed to market. So far, so good. White said sales have doubled in 2019.
“Our core customer is probably 45 or older and knew somebody who played Hogan clubs in the past,” White said. “That’s our low-hanging fruit. We’re also shipping product to internet-savvy 25-year-olds who see they’re all forged clubs, read our reviews online and aren’t afraid to order. It’s kind of an online phenomenon.”
That’s been an untraditional path for what was once a traditional golf company. That realization sank in when the company filed for bankruptcy after a small group of Fort Worth investors briefly revived the line in 2015.
“We looked around and said, ‘We can’t do business the way the big guys do, it doesn’t work for a niche brand like us,’” White said. “We kind of stumbled upon this internet plan.”
After the bankruptcy, the company used its robust database to contact some 60,000 customers to alert them that a reorganization was in progress and offer them a chance to purchase Ben Hogan Golf products at near-wholesale prices.
“We were completely unprepared for the response,” White said. “We didn’t have website up, we had to take orders over the phone — it was utter chaos for months. We just needed to raise capital to keep the lights on. From that response, we knew we were onto something. That’s when we decided to become an e-commerce company.
“Mr. Hogan was an innovator in a lot of ways, on the course and in business. He was a shrewd guy, I think he’d like this.”
Hogan might also like the new line of product offerings. I got my hands on a Hogan precision-milled blade putter at the start of this year. It had a grooved face, an over-sized SuperStroker grip and a nice feel. I was surprised at its quality, to be honest, and it became part of a four-putter rotation I used this year, something that wouldn’t be necessary if I could DH for the inconsistent geezer wielding those putters.
With no presence on tour or in stores, though, I mistakenly wrote off the putter and Ben Hogan Golf as probably irrelevant. The release of Hogan PTx Pro Black forged irons caught my eye, though (seven-club set, $805), and subsequently changed my mind.
I love dark-colored irons. I’m a sucker for them. When square grooves were outlawed for competition in 2009, I ordered a set of Adams irons because I needed a conforming set in a hurry but mainly because they had black heads. They were disappointing but boy, they looked good.
Hogan’s PTx Pro Black irons hooked me on their looks, too, and this time, I’m not disappointed. They have a sleek, stylish, modern appearance. They’re forged yet they have the game improvement qualities I need. They’re not like traditional forged irons that need to be struck right on the button to perform. They feel slightly firmer than the irons I was using but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
First impressions matter. If you make a couple of lousy swings right off the bat when trying out a new club, you may never make enough good swings to overcome those bad memories. I pulled out the unmarked, virginal black PTx Pro Black 9-iron at my favorite local range in Cranberry Township, Pa., launched a nuclear strike with my first swing and was sold. I hit several more sweet shots before a few reality-check clunkers but those were on me.
The reverse of first impressions is also true. Hit some good shots right away and you may never make enough bad swings to forget them. The PTx Pro Black irons in their intimidating dark beauty are in my bag for a while. They are half an inch longer than my previous gamers, a fact I am compensating for by gripping down half an inch versus having the clubs shortened and regripped.
The PTx Pro Black irons also come in a traditional nickel-chrome finish. The company also has a unique tryout policy. For a $20 fee, customers can sample a few Hogan clubs for a few weeks before deciding whether to buy.
That’s an innovation Mr. Hogan might like, especially the part about people who love golf hitting his clubs. The feedback the company has been getting from customers, White said, “has been rewarding.”
The putter and the diamond-black irons are winners. All I’ve got to do now is find Hogan’s famous golf secret. It’s around here somewhere. Maybe I’ll look in the dirt.