There aren't too many people in the golf business like David Whitlam. The man behind Whitlam Golf and Gauge Design has designed some of the world's finest putters for some very exclusive clients and Tour players. He has developed a cult-like following in Asia and Europe and anyone that has used his putters will tell you they stack up against anything you'll ever hit. His Whitlam Signature Series putters recently made Golf Digest's Hot List yet most golfers in North American know nothing about them. SirPutts and I set out to find putter designer extraordinaire David Whitlam and didn't have to look very hard… he'll often answer the phone at his Southern California shop and take a few minutes to talk putters with golfers like you and me. David gave us a few minutes recently and we had a chance to learn a bit more about his company, his designs and his goals for the future…
Tell us about how you got started in the golf industry and more specifically how you got started in the putter business.
I started in the industry working at Indoor Golf World in Edmonton, Alberta when I was 15 years old. It was a great job for a young guy who loved golf. We had the golf simulator screens and played Pebble Beach and few other courses when the store was slow. It was great selling equipment to customers and I liked that we were able to discount product to make sales. It was great first job in the golf industry.
When I graduated from high school, I took a year off and saved my money and then went to the San Diego Golf Academy. That was a lot of fun. I played golf everyday and learned more about the business from a club pro side. I realized early on that I did not want to be a club pro as the money was just not good. When I graduated, I took a job in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Discount Golf and Tennis because they had a manager trainee program and the salary was quite good. I did that for a few months and decided to go back to school to get a four year degree. I went to San Diego State and Cal State – San Marcos and graduated in 1993 with a BS in Accounting.
I worked for TaylorMade in product testing while in school. After graduation, I had three job offers. One was to run the lone tour van for TaylorMade, the second was with an institutional stock trader and the last job was with Plop Putters in sales. I ended up taking the Plop job and eventually ran the sales department. I got a great understanding of the golf business. Plop was sold to Zevo in 1995 and I took a job with Create Products… a Japanese distributor. We ended up distributing Odyssey and Adams in Japan until 1999. After losing our distribution deal and being tired of building other peoples lines, I decided to start my own putter line. Gauge Design was born. My years of experience in Japan meant that we had accounts already set up and it made things easier than starting from scratch.
You currently make putters under a couple of company names (Gauge Design and Whitlam Golf ). At one time there was some controversy surrounding the Gauge Design name. Without getting into a lot of detail… what exactly happened?
I started Gauge Design back in 1999 in Solana Beach, California. I used what I thought was a trusted friend and business associate to distribute my product. It turned out to be a bad decision on my part and cost me lot of money in the last few years. The good news is I kept my company and Japan Gauge Design which started in 2003 filed bankruptcy in 2006 and they were forced to close down and liquidate all assets.
Your putters are very popular in places like Asia and the U.K. but they haven't caught on as much in North America. Why do you think this is?
The North American consumer in my opinion is pre-sold. The “big three” companies spend so much money on tour promotion and advertising that we simply cannot compete. We make the best product around and have amazing customers who normally buy a couple putters. I am told we out sell Scotty Cameron 15 to 1 in our good accounts.
The PGA Tour plays a large role. Every week Titleist has 60 -70 players using Scotty Cameron putters and they are compensated very well for using them. The Senior and LPGA tours are great because the "big three" really do not spend any money there. We easily get product out there when we attend. I also have a couple OEM deals where I make some high end putters for Maruman. I also have done some runs for Kasco Golf and some additional small runs for Japanese retailers.
All of your putters are made in North America while some of your competitors have gone overseas to make theirs. What advantages do you see in keeping your production in the United States?
I am all about quality and when it comes to putters and we do a better job than China. Putters are very precise and I just do not want my product to look like everyone else's. I also like the fact I make something in the U.S…there are not many of us left in the golf industry that do. The only competitor that I really have is Scotty Cameron. There are a few others that try to do what we do but they are not all that successful. We have been doing this for about 10 years and have it down fairly well.
Scotty Cameron is very fortunate to have such a good company in Acushnet distributing his putters. It's all about distribution and they do it very well. If Nike were in need of a good designer we would do wonders for them.. "Hello anyone home?"! It's funny most of the product in this industry is made in Asia and all looks the same.
Check out David's designs on the Gauge Design and Whitlam Golf websites. You can also contact David by email at email@example.com or by phone at (760)591-9869. North American Account Representative Steve Smith can be reached at (866)932-9644.
That's all for now. Be sure to swing back to SirShanksAlot.com tomorrow for more with putter guru David Whitlam. What are his plans for the North American market? What does David think of high MOI putters? Is there a Gauge Design iron in the works? We'll talk to you tomorrow…