Shaft Month: Oban delivers performance for a premium

In January, Brian Gay won the Humana Challenge with an Oban Kiyoshi Purple driver shaft in his TaylorMade R1 driver (set to 9 degrees) and an Oban Kiyoshi Purple fairway wood shaft in his Adams Super LS 3-wood (13).

Any amateur can buy the exact same setup, because Oban never makes a shaft that is tour-only. All of the company’s shafts are available to both pros and amateurs in just one grade – premium. As Oban officials are fond of saying, the shafts are premium in performance and premium in price.

Gay’s R1 driver and Kiyoshi shaft? $399 for the driver, $360 for the shaft replacement. That’s a total of $759 for a driver.

And the price is never reduced by golf equipment manufacturers such as TaylorMade or by clubmakers in the Oban dealer network. The retail price of the Kiyoshi Purple is $360. Its brother, the Kiyoshi White, is $400.

“Because we use premium materials and proprietary designs, we are able to produce some spectacular shafts,” said Oban president Victor Afable. “Many golfers will pay for a shaft that works really well. Most of our sales are for shafts that cost $360 to $400.”

That being said, Jim Furyk used a $190 Oban Devotion driver shaft for three years, winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup with the shaft.

A look at the Darrell Survey, which tabulates equipment usage on the PGA Tour, shows players such as Matt Every, Billy Horschel, Jerry Kelly, William McGirt, John Rollins, Kevin Streelman and Vaughan Taylor using Oban. Nobody is paid to play the shaft.

Afable confirmed that Oban will actively follow the Champions Tour with a tour representative this year for the first time.

Oban works very closely with all its dealers – regularly informing them, for example, which touring pros are using Oban shafts – because Oban is a huge supporter of custom fitting for golfers of all skill levels. The company maintains relationships with golf club manufacturers such as Adams, Callaway, Cobra, Nike, Ping, TaylorMade and Titleist to provide custom upgrades.

“We are very proud of our shafts,” said Pete Sanchez, senior vice president of business development, returning to the company’s top-drawer philosophy. “We don’t make less expensive versions of any of our shafts. If you see the name Kiyoshi on the shaft, you know you are getting the genuine shaft.”

Sanchez has worked in the golf industry for 38 years, while Afable has logged 24 years. Afable was best known as vice president of sales and marketing at shaftmaker Graphite Design, while Sanchez was president and chief operating officer at shaft manufacturer Fujikura.

Afable started Oban in 2008 with partner Ralph Reichert, his former college buddy at Marquette University. Reichert is Oban’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

The name Oban has a double meaning, according to Afable. Oban is the name of a coastal city in Scotland, and it is the name of a group of fierce Japanese warriors who centuries ago protected the emperor.

There also is a premium brand of Scotch whisky called Oban. Afable started a tradition by sticking a bottle of 14-year-old Scotch into the locker of any player winning a Tour event with an Oban shaft.

After Brendan Steele captured the 2011 Valero Texas Open using an Oban driver shaft, he quickly sent a text message to the Oban tour rep. The message said: “Where's my 14-year-old Scotch?”

Gay did better than that. For his Humana victory, he was rewarded with a bottle of 32-year-old Oban Scotch.

In a word, premium.

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