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People you should know in golf: Bob Parsons – Part 4

How engineers from Ping helped Bob Parsons realise his dream of making seriously good golf equipment...
 

Why did you decide to start a golf company?

PXG came about because I have always been a golf fanatic.

When my first business started becoming successful me and a number of guys started playing golf together. We’d take off on a Wednesday afternoon – we were so bad but once in a while one of us would get one in the air. Great shot!

It went from Wednesday afternoon to Thursday mornings then Saturday and Sunday then maybe go away somewhere and play.

None of us were really any good – I got to be about a 10 handicap. But I learned that the right equipment could make a difference.

You bought a lot of golf equipment right?

I would buy golf clubs. I bought whatever came out. I could tell within a few swings whether or not it delivered on its promise.

If it didn’t, I’d give it away. If I found something that had some promise maybe I’d get it re-shafted and try to bend it a little to adjust the loft and lie.

I started to understand golf equipment, the ballistics, the aerodynamics, the perimeter weighting.

And I got to the point where I had spent about $200-250,000. I checked the bills and it was actually $350,000. ‘How the hell did you do that?’ people asked and I said ‘credit cards’.

One thing I noticed was that the cycle of the quick upgrades never really delivered on their promises. Sometimes they did but quite often they didn’t.

So I had the idea that it would be neat to try and make clubs that were really better.

Where did you start from a research, development and design point of view?

I was quite tight with a guy that worked at Ping called Mike Nicolette. I spoke to him and said I wanted to start a golf company that made golf equipment  where we could spend whatever we needed to spend to make it the way it needs to be. Well it sure as hell would be fun to try.

After a while Mike decided to come on board with another designer from Ping.

During our first year year there was an agreement with Ping where they couldn’t do any design work which competed with Ping.

So we honoured that, Ping didn’t have a golf ball so we tried to make a golf ball. We did it, it wasn’t bad but we tested every golf ball on the market to compare.

The best golf ball by far for distance, dispersion, spin around the greens was the Titleist Pro V1x – there was not a better golf ball out there. I don’t care what Costco says. And Titleist own a lot of the patents which makes it even harder.

We eventually got to the point where we could start making irons and the guys came in with a pad and said ‘right Bob, give us some direction’.

Bob Parsons

I said I want to see an iron that looks like blade, little offset, little larger, very sexy to look at, it should hit the ball further without having jacked up lofts, it ought to go higher, it needs to feel wonderful, it ought to have a huge sweet spot and it ought to be incredibly forgiving.

They say ‘is that it?’ I say yep and they go to work on it.

What was the key breakthrough for making them how you wanted?

Bob Parsons

We had prototype after prototype which didn’t quite do it. Then we decided to use an empty cavity and a hard face. So it went like hell but felt like shit.

Then we got the idea of putting something in it which was this thermoplastic elastomer. They called me and said ‘Bob, we’ve had a break through’. And what a break through it was – those are our current 0311 irons.

 

They said, how will customers know that our irons are worth the money? I said ‘they’ll hit them, then they’ll know’. And when you hit them, you’ll know.

What are the goals for PXG moving forward?

When we release a product it will be the best product that is available. It won’t only be better it will be noticeably better – and that’s our promise to our customers and it’s one we are going to uphold.

The company is worth $2.4bn, we have no debt, we are committed to this industry and our commitment is the same as with out other businesses that we will deliver on our promises. Nobody makes golf clubs the way we do.

Bob Parsons

We will never be the number one brand because we are a boutique firm. We spend more in the weights around the perimeter of our irons than most brands spend on the entire head.

We will always be successful but we will not make things at the same value the other big companies which is why we wont compete with them.

What’s important to us is the integrity of our brand. You will never see our products for sale at a discount. When we release products they will be everything we have led our customers to believe that they will be.

I judge success based on the satisfaction of our customers. I got a text from an A-list celebrity recently, and this is how I judge success.

It said: “Just hit your irons. Wow man, fucking wow, wow, wow, fucking wow.” That’s a direct quote.

What’s your current handicap?

I play off 10.

Have you ever had a hole-in-one?

I’ve had two.

What one piece of advice would you give?

For anyone starting a golf company, my advice is that it helps to have a few billion dollars.

For life in general, my advice is do something you like. My father used to tell me that if you love something, it tells you all its secrets.

You’re willing to work harder at it you’re willing to learn all the nuances that make the differences between someone who knows what he’s doing and someone who doesn’t.

More information can be found on the PXG website

James Savage

Former equipment editor of NCG. Inconsistent ball-striker and tea-maker.

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