Jack Wullkotte has been making clubs for Jack Nicklaus since 1963, the year after Nicklaus joined the PGA Tour. He met Nicklaus at MacGregor Golf in Cincinnati, the city where Wullkotte grew up.
“I was the one who discovered that Jack’s driver was indeed counterbalanced,” Wullkotte says modestly.
It was a MacGregor persimmon driver. It should have weighed D6, Wullkotte figured, but instead it weighed D2 on the swingweight scale. Why? “In the end of the shaft was a wooden plug, and somebody had poured lead in there,” Wullkotte recalls. “Jack didn’t even know.”
Nicklaus liked the feel and performance of the driver, and thus a 30-year counterbalancing odyssey was born. Every time Wullkotte made a driver for Nicklaus, he pounded a wooden dowel in the butt end of the shaft, drilled a hole in the wood, and poured hot lead into the space.
Nicklaus often said the added weight in the handle allowed him to stabilize his hands for a steady acceleration through the ball.
Counterbalancing has come a long way from the hot lead of the 1960s to the modern Balance-Certified method.
Wullkotte left MacGregor to help start the Toney Penna Co., but continued to make clubs for Nicklaus. In 1974, he went to work directly for Nicklaus and Golden Bear.
After 24 years as a Nicklaus employee, he started his own business in 1998. Wullkotte’s Golf Shop in Lake Park, Fla., is still going strong, and Wullkotte is a member of the Professional Clubmakers’ Society Hall of Fame. He still makes clubs for Nicklaus on a retainer basis.
“We counterbalanced all of Jack’s woods – drivers and fairway woods – up until 1995 or ’96,” Wullkotte says. “He won all his majors with counterbalanced woods.”
Perhaps Nicklaus abandoned heavier drivers as a concession to age. More likely, though, is this explanation from Nicklaus: He simply liked the metal drivers his company, Nicklaus Golf, was making.
Now he alternates between a Nicklaus 360 and 380 driver (which can be purchased by consumers for $279 each). Neither is counterbalanced.