Coming out of the Masters, a lot was made of the fact that Patrick Reed does not have an endorsement deal with a golf equipment manufacturer. Nike pays him to wear its clothing, footwear and hats, but unlike most star players, he is not under contract to use a specific brand of clubs or balls.
Equipment enthusiasts, however, also took note of two clubs in Reed’s bag at Augusta National, a pair of wedges by a brand called Artisan. One is a 51-degree gap wedge and the other is a 56-degree sand wedge.
Artisan is a new company co-founded by Mike Taylor, who is also its president. After getting his start at the Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company in the late ’80s, Taylor worked with Tom Stites for nine years at Impact Golf, developing and testing equipment, before it was bought by Nike and became the foundation for Nike’s club business.
After Impact Golf was acquired by The Swoosh, Taylor helped create wedges and irons for players such as Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie at The Oven, Nike’s golf research and development facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
In August 2016, Nike announced it no longer would make golf equipment. In the weeks that followed, Taylor and a handful of others were tasked with creating an inventory of equipment that Nike’s staff players could use until they found clubs made by other manufacturers.
“We were making things at a pace that we weren’t really used to,” Taylor said. “But it was inspiring and continued to fuel our passion, because a lot of that was driven by how well the players liked the stuff and their fear of not having more of it.”
After that job was done, Woods requested that Taylor come to New York City in October 2016 to attend the Tiger Woods Foundation’s 20th anniversary celebration. At that event, Nike founder Phil Knight saw Taylor and made a beeline toward him to talk.
“I did not realize until that day that I still bared the burdens of what happened,” Taylor said. “I was not bitter, but I guess I was in shock. He walked up to me and softly put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, ‘I just want you to know that decision probably hurt me more than anybody.’ That dried up a lot of the feelings that I was holding on to.”
As the cliché goes, from a hardship sprang an opportunity. Taylor and some of his former co-workers were able to buy from Nike the machines needed to make golf clubs, many of which they had built themselves, and start a business. Founded in 2017, Artisan Golf operates out of the same facility where Nike clubs were made.
This time, however, things for Taylor and his crew are going to be very different. Artisan provides high-end custom fitting services to golfers, encouraging players to bring their previously purchased clubs if they need to be tweaked, more precisely fit or customized with designs and paint.
Artisan is also a boutique wedge- and putter-maker. It does not make irons, hybrids or woods, and Taylor has no plans for creating those types of clubs.
Artisan’s scale is tiny, and Taylor wants it to stay small. At this point the company really doesn’t have “stock” offerings. Instead, the plan is to keep making custom. Instead of filling customer information by the client’s last name, each person who buys something from Artisan gets a custom number, for life. That makes it easier for Taylor and his gang to do the filing, and it creates a cool bond between golfers and the fledgling brand.
“J.J. Henry was here not too long ago,” Taylor said. “I think his number is like 64, 65 or something.”
The wedges, like Reed’s, don’t really even have names because everything is made to the player’s specifications, but there are serial numbers on the hosels so Artisan can maintain a record of what each player has and replicate anything.
Having worked with Reed when the young Texan was a Nike staff player, Taylor sent Reed some wedges he thought Reed might like at the end of last season. After some tweaks, Reed’s gap wedge and sand wedge were added them to his bag.
Artisan has a few major advantages other startups can only dream of, including long-standing relationships with players, a world-class facility and a location that is almost perfect.
“Fort Worth is a golf town,” Taylor said. “It’s the home of Ben Hogan and all of that, and we’ve also got the Dallas/Forth Worth International airport. You can get anywhere from that, so we have got guys who have popped in here and called up saying, ‘Hey, I want you to look at my stuff.’ Guys that I didn’t even know lived here walk through the door.”
But Artisan wedges and putters will not be carried through the door of most golf shops any time soon. The easiest way to get your hands on these wedges and putters is to make the pilgrimage to Fort Worth, enjoy some barbecue and visit Taylor.
“I remember the young players that used to come here, and the consumers that would come here, the Nike visitors that came to this facility,” he said. “Their aspirations were like, ‘Man, I wish I could get something like what those guys are making back there for Rory McIlroy or Justin Leonard.’ Well, now they can.”