Clay Long is one of the most experienced and well respected club designers in golf. Little known to much of the golf world, he has been designing clubs for over 25 years, serving as the Vice president of Research and Development of Macgregor Golf Co., chief designer to Progroup and The Arnold Palmer Co., Vice President of Research and Development of Cobra Golf Co., and Vice President of Golf Club Development for the Acushnet Co. In 1992 he founded his own company – Plus 2 International – and today is responsible for Nicklaus Golf Equipment and Jack Nicklaus’s personal golf club designs. Many of Clay Long’s putter models were created on demand for Mr. Nicklaus himself. Mr. Long owns 26 golf related patents and is also a charter member of Golf Digest’s Technical Advisory Panel.
Recently, I wrote to Mr. Long to get some information about his fantastic and hard to find Personal Edition Putters and a new series of hand crafted wedges that he is releasing this spring. I asked him a few questions, which you can see below. Once we get a few samples of the new wedges, we’ll post a review! I for one can’t wait to try them out. They look beautiful, and if they perform as well as his putters they will probably go straight in my bag!
1. Your putters are as well made and designed as any from some of the more well known putter craftsmen out there, why don’t more people know about your putters?
I have been very low key since I introduced these putters. I’ve seen so many companies promote a new product heavily and spend beyond their means, only to see a product die when the money stops flowing. I didn’t want to do that to these products. They are outstanding in both quality and design and also timeless in style. They aren’t going to become obsolete or out of style, so there is no need to be in a hurry.
2. Has there been a deliberate effort on your part to remain small and exclusive, and not mass produce your designs? Do you plan to grow?
Yes, small is just fine as far as I am concerned. As long as my customers return I am quite satisfied. I would love to be a little bit bigger in volume, but not too much. My putters aren’t for everyone, they are at the upper end of putter price points so they have to be placed into the right places to be successful. I have never tried to “sell” putters into a shop. I’ll show them and explain what I am trying to do, but an account must be interested in selling them, otherwise I won’t even ask for an order. Now that’s the engineer in me not the salesman, and I have learned that I am not a very good salesman. I really need to spend more time on promotion I admit. I think part of that mentality comes from playing competitive golf for so long. You don’t go around telling people you are a good player, you let your scorecard do the talking, and if you are good people will know it. If you see one of my putters you will know its good, it’s the scorecard. (or you could ask Jack Nicklaus)
3. Some collectors are willing to pay $300-$400 for putter covers and $1000+ for a limited run putter from certain well known designers, do you think this is a clever marketing strategy or simply the true market value placed on these products?
It’s just a matter of what someone thinks it is worth today and possibility tomorrow. I think there is some clever marketing involved behind the scenes, but in the end, someone thinks it is worth something. Collectors are an interesting bunch and they set the prices by example. I certainly believe that some of these limited edition runs I have made for Jack Nicklaus will be very valuable in the future. I mean we are talking about 10 and 25 piece runs. You don’t get more limited than that, but I admit there isn’t an abundance of information out there about them either. I’ve seem one sell for $1200 though nonetheless.
4. Several well known putter designers are back on their own this year, including Bobby Grace and Bob Bettinardi. In your opinion, what are the benefits/drawbacks of being independent, as opposed to being in a contract with a club company?
That is a great question. It’s a complex relationship being a sub brand of a larger company. A large company has a number of wonderful assets that a putter sub brand can benefit from. A larger sales force, distribution (number of accounts), a credit department, marketing and other promotion the sub brand can tag along with to increase its exposure.
The down side is that it’s a profit and margin game in a big operation. There is always pressure to reduce the costs of the goods, and to ship more product to maximize profits. In the premium putter market there is a limit to both cost cutting and volume, beyond which the product begins to die. The trick is to balance the two to sustain status and demand and acceptable margins. The best use of a high end putter brand is image advertising for the company as a whole, where margins are a secondary consideration. The best example of this is of course the Cameron putter line at Titleist, not that I’m sure they don’t make plenty profit as well.
5. You have been making putters for years, now you are releasing wedges. What’s the next step for Plus 2 International?
Well, Plus 2 is going to continue to develop some outstanding products in these classic, timeless categories. Products that are difficult to make and produce at these high quality levels and products that don’t go out of style. Wedges are perhaps the most difficult club in the bag to make well. They are art for the most part along with some very difficult geometry to get right. They are incredibly hard to polish correctly as well, so a perfect master is just the first part of the process. We started this wedge process about six years ago with no completion schedule just one goal, near perfect wedges. Now, 90 masters later, we have our first four lofts completed and we think they will be very very good. No gimmicks, nothing tricky, just perfect.
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