By Tom Ward
May was a great month for golf here in North Texas. First was the HP Byron Nelson tournament from the 15th through the 18th. Then, last week turned out to be a resounding success for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial after a remarkable comeback by the new world #1 golfer Adam Scott, who beat Jason Dufner in a 3-hole playoff. Everywhere you looked, whether you were at the tournament or watching the telecast on the Golf Channel or CBS, there were countless images of the great Ben Hogan. The Hogan name was brought up numerous times by players and announcers paying homage to the man who symbolized excellence in shot making and hard work.
But even bigger news with a Hogan tie-in happened earlier this month. I was traveling out of the country when I first heard that Ben Hogan Golf was making a comeback and moving its operations back to Fort Worth. I got very excited because I’ve always been a big fan of Ben Hogan golf clubs. I still have my Hogan Apex irons and Tour bag and every year at the Colonial media tournament I take my set of irons out to play at Hogan’s alley, honoring the legendary golfer. After arriving back home to Texas, I contacted Terry Koehler, who is the President/CEO of the Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company. Prior to taking over the new reigns at Ben Hogan Golf, Koehler was Founder and President of SCOR Golf/Eidolon Brands, LLC located in Victoria, Texas. I asked Mr. Koehler how he got involved and what transpired to bring Hogan golf clubs back to Fort Worth.
“I actually made an inquiry when I saw that Perry Ellis had acquired Ben Hogan in 2012,” he replied. ” I had to think about it quite some time before deciding to pursue that. They indicated to me that they were receiving a lot of requests about Ben Hogan equipment and a lot of questions about it, but they’re an apparel company. So we started talking about it with them, as to why we were a good fit with the Hogan brand. We had 150 years of Ben Hogan company experience on our team here, because when I first started building this company I went after the best I could find and it just so happened that most of the people I knew were from the Hogan company. We started conversations and that evolved into serious discussion and that evolved into contract negotiations and we got all that worked out with the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted. We reached a long-term agreement with Perry Ellis to bring the Ben Hogan golf back to Texas and Fort Worth. Perry Ellis owns the whole Hogan brand pack and they’re an apparel company and they don’t have any hard goods and that’s why we’re involved. Perry Ellis will continue to manage the apparel side of the equation and we’ll manage golf equipment.”
After talking with Mr. Koehler I found out about his special connection with the legendary golfer. Koehler recalled, “My background in relationship to Mr. Hogan and his teachings goes back to my early childhood, because I was raised by a father who played golf with Mr. Hogan before the war and developed a great affection for the man. I’m not sure afterwards how many times they might have run into each other, but I grew up with a copy of Power Golf that Mr. Hogan had written. That book got lost somewhere and I hope one day it will resurface. I played Hogan irons my whole life. I got into the golf business in the 80’s and being director of marketing for the Ben Hogan company would have been my dream job and I found myself in that job in the early 90’s. Sadly, the company had just moved to Virginia and I had my one and only personal visit with Mr. Hogan, which is a another story in itself. I couldn’t convince the owners in Virginia what they were leaving behind and they wouldn’t listen. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore and I had to jump out of that frying pan and close that chapter of my life. So I went off and created Reid Lockhart Eidolon wedge company and we created an Eidolon branch that makes the SCORline clubs. All of those clubs have a Hogan influence in their design. I just knew that the man was onto some things that just really worked.”
“Mr. Hogan was painfully shy and a lot of people mistook that for being cold and aloof, ” Koehler continued. ” There are so many stories about his personal generosity and he didn’t want any recognition for any personal generosity. He was just a misunderstood man. He wasn’t perfect because no one is, but he practically invented hard work for golf. Mr. Hogan was noted for commanding the golf ball and nobody plays the game that way anymore. It’s not like these other guys out there on tour don’t have the skills because they’re all a bunch of talented guys. I watch these guys play and flail away and hit 2 out of 3 greens and lead the tour. I always come back to that Saturday in April of 1967 in Augusta when Mr. Hogan shot 30 on the back 9 at the Masters. He just dissected that back nine with his approach shots and drives. He said afterwards it might have been the finest 9 holes he’s ever played, ‘As I don’t think I missed a shot.’ I was a kid in high school when that happened. I remember my dad coming out to get me in a golf cart bringing me back to watch it on TV. He told me that Mr. Hogan was lighting it up and you need to see this and it was pretty cool.”
Koehler mentioned to me that the Ben Hogan company has a plant in Fort Worth. He said, ” We do have a production facility in Fort Worth, but we still run the SCOR Golf corporation down here in Victoria. The manufacturing and shipping are now in Fort Worth. Currently, the new company is being organized and it will be a spinoff of what we are doing. We’re not sure of how we are going to transition everything yet, but it will be based in Fort Worth. We’ve got a big company to build and this thing is going to go on a rocket ride as we’re going from a small niche company that makes high-grade scoring clubs to a full-on golf equipment company in the next few years. We’ll be starting out making the irons because that was what Hogan’s foundation was and we’re working really hard on our first set of irons for introduction. We will need a lot of support positions from manufacturing to internal support, product managers, accessories, as this thing is really going to be like grabbing onto a rocket ride. We will be beefing up our team in the months and years ahead. The product is going to hold its own and we’re developing a product that I firmly believe Mr. Hogan would be extremely proud of. Everything we’re about is just unabashed high performance golf and no smoke and mirrors with no marketing sizzle. To me performance is the best marketing sizzle you can have, and we’ve earned that with our current golf club, the SCOR 4161 precision scoring clubs. It’s not even fair to call them wedges as it’s no more fair to call a model T a car.” Koehler added, “Ben Hogan was a Fort Worth treasure and having the Ben Hogan company not in Fort Worth is kind of like not having the Cowboys in Dallas, or the Packers not in Green Bay. It’s an institution! The plans are to have golf clubs ready for 2015.”
Koehler told me he lives in Victoria, but he plans on spending about 2/3rd or ¾ of his time here in Fort Worth. “I’ve got a nice home here in Victoria and I have a place down on the coast where I go fishing to get my ‘aqua therapy’ as I call it,” he said.
I’ve always been interested with golf technology and speaking with Terry was terrific, as he gave me some great insight about what he and his staff have been working on. Koehler said, “We have robotic testing that proves that what we’ve done in the high-loft golf clubs are reduce the dispersion patterns of conventional wedges and the thin-faced set matched short irons by 70-to 90 percent. It’s like cheating! This does to high-loft clubs what the hybrid did to 2 irons. I liken it this way as I was watching the end of the Nelson the other day. Think about how many times you’ve in your life and your players lives when you’ve hit a nice comfortable full sand or gap wedge to a green and you’re licking your chops because you’ve got it in wedge range and you catch it a hair fat or the ball’s floating up high on the face leaving you well short of the green. Well, what if that never happened again? If you felt it high on the face and it was 5ft shorter than normal instead of 15 yards shorter than normal? That’s what we’ve done. Very plain and simple; we’ve proven on conventional wedges that 7/8 of an inch of impact movement up and down the face will throw a 45 to 50 foot dispersion pattern. It’s not surprising. Low on the face it’s a heater. High on the face it’s a killer not going anywhere. We’ve reduced that dispersion pattern from 45 to 50 feet to less than 13. We’ve expanded this all the way down to 41 degrees so we can replace the 9 iron and pitching wedge. What we’ve found is all of this thin-faced technology that everyone is chasing trying to make the longest-hitting 6 iron, it has finished the destruction of short irons. We found that in a one and a quarter-inch circle around the face of a conventional high-tech pitching wedge, or P club that I call it, with a 44 or 45 degree loft as it’s not a wedge anymore. We found that this thin-faced technology everybody’s touting around that one and a quarter-inch circle will throw it 85 to 90 foot distance differential. Ours is 6! It looks like a little compact blade, but it’s the most forgiving club in the business by miles. It’s an amazing piece of technology and it’s a very simple clean club that I think Mr. Hogan would be proud of. By studying his notes is where I learned it. We’ve been back-dissecting Mr. Hogan’s iron designs from back in the 60’s and we saw some common threads that continue to make those the most demanded golf clubs by the better players. Ben Hogan golf was formed in late 1953, and Mr. Hogan famously scrapped the first batch of production that came out in early 1954. The first iron, called ‘The Precision’, came out in late 1954, the best we can put together.”
Before ending the phone call Koehler stated, “It is a dream come true to assemble and lead the team to bring the Ben Hogan Company back to the golf equipment industry. Our mission will be to make Mr. Hogan proud, and live up to the example he set for all golfers in dedication, pursuit of excellence, personal integrity and hard work.” So when you get a moment checkout www.benhogangolf.com. There isn’t any content yet on the site, but there is a place on the website to look at what they are doing. I can promise you with Terry Koehler at the helm, Ben Hogan Golf equipment is going to be a major player in the golf industry in the coming years and Ben Hogan couldn’t have hand-picked a better man to lead his golf company into the 21st century.
Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com