Tommy Bolt still a sharp endorsement for Razor Golf

When I played golf in January with former U.S. Open champion Tommy Bolt, he was using irons from Razor Golf.

“Pretty sharp, eh?” he joked. Bolt carried the irons because they had his name on them – the Tommy Bolt Signature Series. He is paid by Razor Golf, located in Tampa, Fla., to endorse the clubs.

Bolt, who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in November, deserves tribute. So does Razor Golf, a small-fry company with the courage to seek a niche in the tumultuous golf marketplace. As mega-sized manufacturers increasingly dominate equipment sales, the little guys are forced to express themselves with nimbleness and ingenuity. They have to act fast and be creative.

Razor Golf first caught my attention when it signed two U.S. Open champions, Bolt and Jan Stephenson, as staff members. Technically it was the U.S. Women’s Open for Stephenson, but a U.S. Open is a U.S. Open. Winning this title is a very big deal.

“We made a conscious decision to promote ourselves by using former U.S. Open champions,” said Razor’s vice president of operations George Baker. “We like the veteran players. We believe that golfers like Tommy and Jan have not received their just rewards for everything they accomplished over the years. They have such drawing power through their name and recognition. We love being associated with them.”

Bolt long ago fibbed to the PGA Tour about his age, moving his birthdate two years to the young side. Today, 56 years after he turned pro at the age of 30, the Tour still can’t get it right. Ironically, Bolt now quickly admits to his real age, probably because he is the best 86-year-old golfer on the planet.

Bolt’s selection to the Hall of Fame was overdue, for he was a superb golfer and an even better showman. He remains one of the most popular golfers in the history of spectator golf – as colorful as Hall of Famer Chi Chi Rodriguez, but a much better player.

The Tommy Bolt Signature Series from Razor Golf includes a lineup of titanium drivers, stainless steel fairway woods and carbon steel irons, although it is the Jan Stephenson Signature Series that really gives Razor its identity. The company has chosen four knock-your-socks-off color schemes (amethyst, sapphire, ruby and emerald) for Stephenson’s Lady Razor clubs. The vivid colors can be seen from the clubheads to the shafts to the customized Winn grips.

“I know there is a theory that you shouldn’t have bright colors on women’s clubs,” Baker said, “but we decided to do it differently. We wanted to be very stylish, very artistic. I think we succeeded.”

The suggested retail price is $999 for an entire set of woods and irons with the Bolt or Stephenson name on them. Right now the company is throwing in a staff golf bag at no charge. For women, the set includes a titanium driver, four fairway woods (2, 4, 6 and 8) and six irons (5-iron through pitching wedge). For men, it includes a titanium driver, two fairway woods (3 and 5) and eight irons (3-iron through pitching wedge).

As a bonus, Razor offers custom options for length, loft, lie and grip size at no extra charge. Other manufacturers focus heavily on women’s clubs – including Lange Golf, Nancy Lopez and LaJolla Club – and these companies also have become very skillful at fitting women with the proper club specifications.

Perhaps Razor Golf will be successful, perhaps it won’t. The company was founded in 1996, then reorganized in March of 2002 under five new owners (Baker, Mike Vandiver, Barry Smith, John Reger and Thomas Bean).

“We are little, but we are enthusiastic, I promise you that,” Baker said.

Even big golf manufacturers once were little. There was a time when Titleist, now carrying the banner of the huge Acushnet Co. (Titleist, FootJoy, Cobra), was just a small golf ball manufacturer. Golfers of the 21st century may think of Titleist as the perpetual leader in U.S. golf ball sales, but it wasn’t always that way.

The Acushnet Process Co. was founded in Acushnet, Mass., in 1910. Soon it was a leading supplier of molded rubber products such as water bottles and bathing caps. It wasn’t until 1932 that its golf ball division was organized. In 1935, the initial Titleist balls were produced.

Titleist was first played in the U.S. Open in 1949. By 1958, when Bolt won the U.S. Open, Titleist was one of the dominant balls in golf. Eventually Titleist displaced Spalding, Hogan, Maxfli and Wilson atop the U.S. golf ball mountain.

In 1968, Acushnet Process changed its name to the Acushnet Co. After the acquisition of Bulls Eye putters in 1962 and Golfcraft golf clubs in 1969, the Acushnet Co. was regarded as an emerging powerhouse in the golf industry. Coincidentally, the earliest iron models from rival clubmaker Ping (Ping 69, Ping 68 and Ping Anser) were made from forged blank heads that came from Golfcraft. In 1976, the Acushnet Co. was purchased by American Brands Inc. (now Fortune Brands).

With the addition of shoemaker FootJoy in 1984 and clubmaker Cobra in 1996, the Acushnet Co. continued to grow. In 46 tournaments on the 2001 PGA Tour, the winner used Titleist balls 32 times.

At this point, Razor Golf can only dream of being hit by a lightning Bolt of such good fortune.

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