by Bart Potter
It’s the kind of place you look for excuses to go back to. When you’re there, you make up reasons to linger.
Fortunately, if you play much golf at all, you need to visit somebody like Craig Foster sooner or later: shafts break, grips get slick, new equipment mysteriously finds its way into your hands.
Foster fixes, replaces, adjusts and customizes, all in a workshop in his Olympia, Wash., home. It’s a sanctuary for the golf-diseased and equipment-obsessed.
The tools of Foster’s trade are fairly simple – a vise grip, various epoxies, a blowtorch, files, drills, sandpaper. The one tool specific to the golf club industry is his loft-lie machine, which lets him clamp a club and then bend its hosel to custom-fit a club to a player.
The man at the work table, purely at ease in his domain, talks the game and its accoutrements better than anyone you’re likely to meet.
The club I brought him might be 60 years old.
It might have been my father’s. It might have belonged to a guy named Otis. Either way, there’s a story attached to it. It’s not a long story, because it’s sketchy in the details, and the people who could flesh it out are gone now.
Otis Hanstad was a Kelso cop back in the early 1950s. One bad night on the job, he took a bullet in the back. When I knew him, he looked so strong, in body and personality, that it was easy to forget he sat in a wheelchair.
Otis and my dad were close friends and, apparently, golfing buddies. When Otis was paralyzed, the story goes, Dad retrieved Otis’s clubs from his house so he wouldn’t have to be reminded of a game he’d never play again.
Otis’s clubs sat in the basement of the family home in Longview for decades, and my dad’s set from that time sat beside them. Whose clubs were whose in the two near-identical khaki-and-leather bags we’ll never know.
When my mother moved from that house a few years back, the woods in those golf bags wound up with me and my brothers. I don’t know what the brothers have done with theirs, but I know they don’t live anywhere near Craig Foster.
Foster, 59, isn’t getting rich with Craig’s Custom Clubs. He knows he doesn’t charge enough for the work he does. He doesn’t advertise, save for a simple listing in the Yellow Pages. Word of mouth – among players at every level of the game – is his bread and butter.
Recently, I watched as he reshafted a TaylorMade Burner fairway wood of a couple versions back for Keith Kincy, general manager at Delphi Golf Club. On another day, John Cassidy of Yelm, Wash., who played well enough on the professional Canadian Tour to earn fully exempt status, was in to have his irons adjusted.
Foster’s music helps pay the bills. He’s been playing since taking up classical piano at age 5, and he’s fluent at guitar and saxophone. He’s the leader of the band for Dan Whyms and Rock Island Line, a Johnny Cash tribute band that recently returned from a gig at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas, fleeing west afterward just in time to miss Hurricane Gustav.
He also holds out hope that the DynAlign Golf Alignment System (patent pending), what he calls “my baby,” might take off.
He knows from his first golf invention, the Right Touch putting and chipping training tool (U.S.patents 4,804,181 and 4,981, 297), that there’s no get-rich guarantee, even with a patent.
That’s not why he’s doing it, anyway.
“I can’t let go,” he said. “I realize the potential and how much it can help people.”
Foster’s golf club business doesn’t bring in as many antique-club restorations as it used to, so he was glad to have a chance at my old spoon.
The “before” picture looked like this:
The leather grip is intact, though worn and discolored and messy where masking tape had been affixed to keep it raveled. Foster wouldn’t do much here … leather cleaner, maybe, and rewrapping.
The shaft is unmarked. Foster believes it’s an early example of a metal shaft that was painted to look like wood. The brownish paint was applied by the clubmaker, according to the encyclopedic Foster, because users of hickory sticks didn’t trust those newfangled metal shafts.
The technician rewound the whipped hosel (the part where the shaft joins the club head) using pitched linen whipping. Foster showed me the box: “Stewart’s Pitched Golf Thread, Linburn, Northern Ireland.”
Between the time I dropped off the club and my next visit four days later, Foster had already sanded off the black paint that for no known reason had been laid on the clubhead by its owner.
What emerged after sanding was a lovely wooden head, probably persimmon. The name of the presumed manufacturer, “Lowe & Campbell Service,” was now clearly legible.
On the club face, round gold dots are inlaid around a single red dot, an example of what golf collectors call a “pretty face,” Foster said.
From that point, Foster stained the head – with a medium-dark reddish stain, called “Armour mahogany,” after Tommy Armour – and applied several coats of clear polyurethane to make it shine.
The engraved logo is now highlighted in gold paint, as it was originally, before Dad (or Otis) buried it in black.
My father never fully gave up golf, but he didn’t play very often after Otis got hurt. He knew little if anything of clubmaking, but he appreciated craftsmanship when he saw it.
He would have enjoyed meeting Craig Foster. I would have loved to show him the “after” picture.