ORLANDO — Ed Mitchell, maker of Steelclub loft and lie machines, became a club professional in 1962 and has attended somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 PGA Merchandise Shows.
That alone qualifies him as a Golf Elder – someone with experience, wisdom and insight into the golf business.
But there is more. The former director of golf at Bonaventure Country Club in Weston, Fla., Mitchell followed a 20-year career as a club pro with other diverse golf jobs. He was an early sales rep for TaylorMade. He was something of a visionary when he opened an indoor golf learning center. He became a pioneer in the use of video for teaching. He started a club repair and clubmaking business, where he developed an obsession with loft and lie machines.
For the record, a loft and lie machine allows a craftsman to secure an iron, wedge, metalwood, hybrid or putter in a clamp and use a bending bar to change loft or lie.
Some sophisticated loft and lie machines can bend irons, metalwoods or hybrids. Simpler versions may bend irons only. Mitchell makes a highly precise model designed specifically for putters and the exact lofts that are necessary for these instruments.
“When I got started in clubmaking, I realized the bending machines I had weren’t accurate,” said Mitchell, headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. “Nobody had a machine that could bend cast golf clubs. It was pretty clear what I had to do. I decided to build my own.”
In 1988, before the inaugural PGA Teaching & Coaching Summit, Mitchell constructed five loft and lie machines and transported them to Dallas, site of the T & C. They caused a clamor, because it was clear this golf pro from Jackson, Mich., had built a better mousetrap.
“I probably had 300 golf pros converge on me,” Mitchell recalled. “I sold all five machines on the spot, two of them to Australians.”
Little did he know his Steelclub bending machines would become the gold standard in golf.
“Everybody has them,” said Mark Timms, founder of Cool Clubs, whose flagship custom clubmaking store is located in Scottsdale, Ariz. “They’re in tour vans, they’re everywhere.”
Added Allen Gobeski, a master fitter who works for Timms: “It’s as close to a monopoly as you’ll find in golf.”
Fast forward to 2013. At this week’s PGA Merchandise Show, Mitchell is exhibiting his machines. Their cost? Various models sell from roughly $900 to more than $3,000.
At the Masters, Mitchell is the official clubmaker and repair person. He was chosen for this position by Augusta National Golf Club. It is an honor bestowed on no one else.
At the 2006 Masters, two-time champion Jose Maria Olazabal misdirected his opening shot into the woods. He selected a 4-iron to slash the ball off the pine straw and toward the elusive putting surface. He swung and … clunk!
Olazabal’s clubhead slammed into a rock that could not be seen beneath the pine straw. The result was a distinctive dent in the otherwise smooth sole of his forged MacGregor 4-iron.
When the round was finished, Olazabal took the club to Mitchell. Using a ball-peen hammer, Mitchell nudged the steel back into the crater. “Just like fixing a ball mark on a green,” he said. Then, he polished the sole. It was impossible to see the rock-inflicted damage.
That was club repair 101 for Mitchell. Considerably more complicated is the process of inventing and perfecting a loft and lie machine.
What’s so important about loft and lie, anyway?
Loft is straightforward. Less loft equals more distance. Lie, though, is more difficult to understand. A club that is too flat can easily result in chronic fades or pushes. A club that is too upright can promote draws and pulls.
“The lie can make all the difference in the world in irons,” Timms observed. “Every golfer should pay very close attention. That shot to the right or left, the one that you can’t seem to straighten out – it might be caused by a bad lie angle. You need to find a loft and lie machine.”
That’s Ed Mitchell’s territory.