By Bart Potter
There’s a scientific explanation for “gear effect,” all about bulge and roll and clockwise spin of the golf ball off a clubface that isn’t flat.
Josh Fischer has a better explanation, and he borrows a marketing phrase from Harley-Davidson when he says, “If you have to ask, you don’t understand.”
The truth is, gear effect is better experienced than described.
Much the same could be said for owning and playing with wooden-headed clubs.
“The new person who actually finds us says, ‘I can’t believe they’re still making wood golf clubs,’ ” said Fischer, marketing director for the Louisville Golf Club Company.
“They find us, and it’s like they found the keepers of a secret or something.”
For the layman, it works to say gear effect is what happens with a wooden club head when a ball is hit off the toe, then corrects in the air, toward the target, and flies farther than it has a right to.
Fischer can talk the science of gear effect, without sounding like a geek, and also the elusive art of marketing a small niche company among the industry big boys in a world dominated by multi-metals and composites.
For all their technology, you don’t get gear effect with metal woods like you do with wood woods.
Louisville Golf, all eight employees strong, is in Louisville, Ky., and it is not to be confused with Louisville Slugger, the baseball bat wing of Hillerich and Bradsby , which also makes golf clubs under the PowerBilt brand.
You won’t learn about Louisville Golf at the big industry shows or in full-page ads in golf magazines. You might notice a much smaller ad in the back of a magazine.
Fischer went down to the PGA show in Orlando, the biggest in the game, but only to walk around.
“Certainly no one down there is doing what we do,” said Fischer.
Louisville’s products don’t fit with what the industry calls “green grass” retail, meaning golf course pro shops. Word of mouth is big in this corner of the marketplace, and Louisville has built a solid database of loyalists, Fischer said
“We’re more of a specialty item,” Fischer said. “It’s an interesting marketing challenge. Figuring it out is the fun part.”
Mainly, Fischer tries to get people to the company’s Web site (http://louisvillegolf.com), where they can learn about its history and its products.
It all started in 1974 when Elmore Just founded Louisville Golf to provide high-quality persimmon clubs to major companies, all of which at the time were still using wood for their clubheads. His customers included Ben Hogan Golf, Wilson, Spalding and Tommy Armour.
By the latter part of the 1990s, when big companies had gone toward metal, Louisville began marketing its wood clubs directly to the public.
Fischer said the company had a good 2009-10 holiday season, but sales slowed after that and have just picked up again now that the weather is better. Its line of authentic and playable hickory-shafted replica clubs, which includes models like the spoon, baffy and cleek, has helped the company weather the storm in the Great Recession.
Louisville Golf might not play in the big national golf shows, but it is active in the sub-niche community of hickory enthusiasts. Mike Just, company president and brother of the late founder, is the main hickory guy.
The company’s bread and butter, however, remains modern wood clubs for the modern game of golf. It offers a variety of persimmon drivers, fairway woods and hybrids, with modern metal or graphite shafts suited to the persimmon clubheads.
The Niblick fairway wood, offered from a 2-wood to a 15-wood, is the company bestseller.
Purely personal opinion: They’re beautiful clubs, and the thwack of a well-struck persimmon wood is superior in feel and audio to the tink and krang of a metal wood.
Louisville offers putters in various combinations of walnut and bloodwood, maple and mahogany, pear and purpleheart. Put one in your bag, and it’s a guaranteed conversation piece.
For the long clubs, persimmon is king. Some fruit trees come close to its qualities, Fischer said. Dogwood comes close.
But persimmon stands alone. It’s easy to work on, it’s very dry, it doesn’t crack.
“The species itself is like nature intended it to be a golf club,” said Fischer. “Density, weight, durability, modulus of elasticity, all those things.”
I let “modulus of elasticity” go – I don’t really need to know.
I do know the gear effect is real. And it’s better enjoyed than explained.