In March of this year, LA Golf Shafts officially acquired the inventory, assets, and patents from the now-defunct Matrix Shafts. Once upon a time, Matrix was a purveyor of high quality and high dollar shafts, but in recent years it suffered a variety of financial wounds, many of which were self-inflicted. Perhaps the most egregious misstep was selling shafts in the aftermarket for nearly the same price as a complete club with the same shaft. Not many consumers are going to pay $199 for a shaft when they can spend a couple of pennies more and get the entire club.
The pieces Matrix left behind (OZIK line in particular) provided a perfect opportunity for Reed Dickens. He promises that LA Golf Shafts isn’t going to be just another run of the mill blasé shaft company.
Given this context, LA Golf Shafts’ aim is to be exactly what most existing shaft companies are not, and that starts with the business model. Dickens started Marucci Bat Company out of a shed. Under his stewardship, it evolved the number one bat brand in Major League baseball, not by paying players to rep the product but by offering something more organic – equity positions. Now, Dicken’s latest endeavor (LA Golf Brands) is looking to replicate his uber-successful model in the golf space.
Companies often talk about finding athletes who fit the brand. This isn’t a simple matter of shuffling around puzzle pieces to get optimal brand exposure. LA Golf Shafts, via equity partnerships, places a premium on finding players who both fit the brand and want to engage in a different style of marketing platform. We’re talking about guys who will invest in both the “control and passive” elements of the game. Suffice it to say, how Reed decides to promote and market the brand will fit the premium nature of the product, but he won’t be afraid to push some boundaries either.
The theory is players who receive fractional ownership of the company in lieu of a paycheck will have a more vested interest in how the company performs. As such, LA Golf Shafts hopes to create a more organic experience by requiring its Tour staffers to have some proverbial skin in the game.
Unlike stock endorsement arrangements, the players don’t represent the company – for all intents and purposes, they are the company. As such, LA Shafts isn’t going to recruit every Tom, Dick, and Harry, but it would do well to have a major name or two to put in front of consumers to create some positive momentum and brand credibility before it makes product available to retail consumers – which should happen sometime in early 2019.
The 7th ranked player in the world, Bryson DeChambeau, is already on board, bagging an LA Golf putter shaft en route to winning back-to-back FedEx Cup events and being named to the United States Ryder Cup team over the last few weeks. That said, Bryson is a different cat. He’s an outlier of outliers in terms of his equipment, demeanor, and approach to the game. So, while his bent toward quantitative analysis and mad scientist persona sounds like a match made in super geek heaven, LA Golf Shafts will likely be looking to acquire a balanced stable of players, including several others currently ranked in the OWGR’s Top 10.
LA Golf wasn’t willing to name names, and while Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson have been tossed around the rumor mill, at this point, it’s all conjecture. However, what we do know is the OEM wants visible players who are active on social media and willing to embrace the R&D side of shaft creation. It’s hard not to think of names like Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, and Justin Rose. Rickie would make sense because he’s a media darling and Brooks is the poster man-child for free-agent golfers having won three majors in 15 months playing a set of Mizuno irons designed specifically for him – all without compensation. He hits the ball a country mile, and as one of golf’s young guns, everything seems to suggest he’ll be a constant presence on the professional stage. New World #1, Justin Rose, is a known serial shaft-swapper. The upside and downside are he’s shown a willingness to play whatever gives him the best performance – even if the relationship might be a little short-lived. Rose won three times in 2017, including the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, using a TPT 15 series driver then curiously switched to MRC’s Tensei Pro Orange for 2018. LA Golf Shafts could be a good fit for a player like Rose as it would be able to quickly modify designs to fit specific player needs – particularly if and when those needs change.
Additionally, LA Golf Shafts plans to be a global company, so it will work to find player/owners to fit each of the intended worldwide markets. It’s reasonable to expect the company to target international players with some pull in Europe and Asia and select players on the PGA Tour Champions. The concept is to cast a wide net and maximize exposure rather than trying to load up on a single marquee player or two.
The world of golf shafts – particularly those of the OEM variety – can be a shady one. On the shaft production side, working with major OEMs is often “a pain in the ass” according to industry veteran and noted shaft guru, John Oldenburg, who brings two decades of experience as the lead engineer at Aldila to his new role of Chief Product Officer at LA Golf Shafts.
Accomplished shaft designers are asked to take their best thinking, materials, and technology and cut it down to fit within the strict cost parameters set by the purchasing OEM. You might as well be asking Bobby Flay to make mac ‘n cheese out of a box. Because it’s a large volume conversation and a major profit center for the shaft company, it’s a necessarily evil companies have historically been forced to negotiate to remain relevant and move the requisite volume of product.
That said, LA Golf Shafts will not be in the OEM/inline business – at all. Every shaft will be exclusively available in the aftermarket and will be designed by Oldenburg. Moreover, all shafts will be 100% made in the good ol’ United States of America, in an environment where Oldenburg will be able to oversee the entirety of the process.
“It is a huge competitive advantage for us that all of the material sourcing, prototyping, manufacturing and testing is happening here in the US with a dedicated and talented workforce that has decades of experience creating prototypes.” – John Oldenburg
In a word, Oldenburg and his team are about authenticity– against the backdrop of an industry which has long struggled with transparency. “Whatever the shaft says it is, it is,” asserts Oldenburg. Consumers will know exactly what is under the paint and it won’t use names or clever paint schemes in an effort to dupe golfers into thinking they’re playing the same shaft as a tour pro. At the same time, if a shaft is sold as the same as one being used by an LA Golf Shafts player, it will be identical.
The truth is, even some very expensive aftermarket shafts work off blueprints which might be a decade old. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is misleading when the only new or improved element of the new and improved shaft is the paint job.
Unless someone is willing to put a signature on the design, consumers don’t know if the vendor simply chose a profile from a catalog or sourced the design work to a third-party. When production happens offshore, there can be little to no oversight by the shaft company which eventually slaps its name on the product. If it can’t speak firsthand to how the shaft is made, there might be a significant difference between what it knows and what it believes to be true.
LA Golf wants to remove all doubt and in doing so attract clients who are willing to pay a bit more ($400-$600 is the likely starting range for premium shafts) for a shaft designed by Oldenburg, crafted from the highest quality materials available, and built to the level of quality required by the world’s best golfers.
Regarding materials, Oldenburg told MyGolfSpy, “There are only a handful (of companies) that make really good composite materials, some of which aren’t golf specific companies.” Consider Mitsubishi Chemical. It’s primarily a carbon fiber company, and a very good one, but even at that, Oldenburg wants to push limits and explore other materials, which previously might have been off the table due to cost. It’s a liberating and motivating proposition for Oldenburg who will have a deeper well of tools at his disposal than at any time in his career.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve started to hear more about shaft manufacturing processes. It used to be that table rolling/wrapping was the only method employed, and while Oldenburg estimates at least 90% of shafts are still produced this way, companies are experimenting with other methods. Seven Dreamers cures shafts in an autoclave, and TPT says its thin-ply winding method eliminates human error by using advanced machinery and robotics. Oldenburg is quick to remind consumers that while it’s easy for companies to sell consumers on a revolutionary process, “The process doesn’t matter if the design and materials aren’t correct. You have to get all of the pieces right.”
Reed Dickens and company are intending on doing just that and giving the industry a taste of something different along the way.
Does it pique your interest? Which players do you think LA Golf Shafts should go after?