iGen Golf is asking you a question you probably thought you’d never thought you’d have to answer. In fact, we’re pretty damned sure it’s a question you never thought you’d even be asked.
Should your junior golfer game a $1,200 set of forged irons and wedges?
Now, before your head explodes and you start pounding the keys with righteous indignation, you should at least hear out Patrick Dempsey, iGen’s owner and founder.
No, iGen’s forged irons and wedges for juniors aren’t for every kid. But if you have a junior who’s serious about the game and has advanced beyond the boxed starter set, there’s a path that says a set of iGen forged irons and wedges might actually be a money-saver in the long run.
There are a few ifs and maybes behind that statement but the math, in theory, does work. And it’s all the work of a guy who can legitimately challenge Miguel Angel Jimenez as The Most Interesting Man in Golf.
A Real-Life Crash Davis …
The more you learn about Patrick Dempsey, the more fascinating his life’s journey becomes. Dempsey, you see, is (deep breath …) a career minor-league catcher turned long-drive Hall of Famer turned PGA TOUR rep turned custom club builder turned junior golf club OEM.
And he can sing, too.
“I played pro ball for 12 years, all in the minors. I actually made the Oakland A’s in 1981 when Billy Martin was managing but damned if I didn’t hurt my arm between the time they told me I made the club and the time we left spring training.”
That injury turned out to be a chronic rotator cuff problem.
“I never did go get surgery and went from prospect to suspect. I was a good catcher but had more value in Triple A, teaching prospect pitchers how to pitch. So I never did get to the party.”
If “Dempsey” and “catcher” sound familiar, you might be remembering Pat’s older brother Rick, a longtime catcher with the Baltimore Orioles and a 1983 World Series champion.
“I wanted to be in the big leagues like my brother Rick but it just didn’t work out.”
Turned Accidental Long Driver …
Several years later, Dempsey was hitting golf balls at a driving range for fun when some random guy told him he was hitting the ball pretty far and should try long-drive competitions.
“I didn’t know what ‘far’ was. I’d just go to the driving range and pound some balls. I didn’t know anything about golf but worked hard at it.”
Dempsey was ranked in the top 10 in the world by 1998 and wound up winning four world titles in the Senior Division. He was inducted into the Long Drive Hall of Fame in 2012.
It was during his long-drive days that Golfsmith hired Dempsey to work on the Killer Bee driver with designer Jeff Sheets. And that experience led to his career as a PGA TOUR rep for UST Mamiya. But it was his association with Sheets that brought Dempsey to the custom club business and, eventually, to iGen Golf.
“I’d work the Tour and then come home and work on my custom club business. And I’d start getting all these high-end juniors with swing coaches and putting coaches. They’re playing in junior tournaments all over the place and they started having me build clubs because they couldn’t get good clubs anywhere.”
Dempsey sourced lighter heads from Asia and shafted them with UST Mamiya Recoils in AA or AAA flex.
“I’d build them these irons and was discounting them because I’d be embarrassed. Their parents were spending $1,500 for a set of irons that would last maybe a year to a year-and-a-half.
“And people were thanking me. So I had to look into this because the junior golf business is the last business I ever thought I’d be in.”
… Turned iGen Golf Proprietor
“Not to bash anybody’s product but the junior golf club business is shit,” says Dempsey. “I started to think about what parents deal with and what I could do to help.”
To be clear, Dempsey isn’t talking about a run-of-the-mill boxed starter set to see if your kid likes golf. Those, he says, play an important role. But Dempsey is offering top-quality forged irons and wedges for kids with a passion for the game and for those who compete at advanced levels. The American Junior Golf Association, for example, runs up to 60 tournaments annually for boys and girls ages 12 to 15. Sponsors include pros such as Billy Horschel, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Corporate sponsors include Wyndham, Under Armour and Rolex.
“I went forged for bendability, not feel. I want to bend the lie angle and lofts because every kid is different. And as they grow and their trajectory changes, parents can go to their local club builder and have their lofts and lies adjusted.
“Or they can just send them to me and I’ll do it.”
The iGen idea is to have one set of heads for the entirety of your junior’s career. Forged allows for bendability, while shafts can be extended and eventually replaced. And iGen Golf’s unique weight ports allow the swing weight to be adjusted as the junior gets stronger.
“Most companies just offer different lengths based on your kid’s height. And it varies every three inches of height. But they don’t do anything about swing weight which is especially important for younger kids.
“The weights cost three bucks each and I send you the wrench. In a matter of minutes, you can add some weight, have your kid hit some shots and see what they think. If it feels heavy, you can dial it back.”
A Parent’s Dilemma
Any parent of a kid in competitive sports knows the high price of participation. It’s a bundle to participate and a bundle more for equipment. Ask a traveling hockey, lacrosse or baseball/softball parent and they’ll tell you they’re lucky to get a full season out of all that gear. Kids, it seems, grow.
“As a professional baseball player, I know how important good equipment is,” says Dempsey. “Catcher’s mitts, shoes, things like that. If a parent isn’t a golfer, keeping up with equipment can be a nightmare. How do you stay in front of it?”
iGen Golf, says Dempsey, is a one-man band. But every parent has Dempsey’s personal cell phone number and he’s more than happy to walk them through how to change the weights, how to add shaft extensions and how to have loft and lie adjusted.
“There’s no such thing as giving someone information over the phone and that’s it,” he says. “Once their kid has their clubs, we go to work on making it right.
“Is he hitting them left? Is he hitting them right? Do they feel heavy? They call me back and we can dial them in. They can have their local guy do it or send them back to me and I’ll do it for free.”
iGen Golf has been in business for three years now and Dempsey still talks with every customer and offers them the same deal: If we can’t make it work, he’ll give them their money back.
“People go, ‘Really?’ And you know what? In three years, I’ve never had a set sent back to me. And in the past two or three weeks, we’ve had 12 to 15 kids win their junior tournaments with these things.”
So, About That Math …
There are lots of kids’ starter sets out there and Dempsey says those are vital to get kids to try golf and see if they like it. But if a kid starts taking the game seriously, it’s time to get serious about equipment.
And $1,200 for a set of forged iGen Golf irons and wedges is pretty serious.
“It sounds like a lot but it’s actually cheaper in the long run,” Dempsey explains. “A junior set might be $300 and every year or so you have to get rid of them because the kid grows. They have no trade-in value.”
By that math, after four or five seasons, you can offset the purchase price compared to buying four or five starter sets. The offset is even quicker if you consider junior clubs made by major OEMs such as PING, TaylorMade or Callaway. And you’re getting top-quality forged heads with real-deal UST Mamiya Recoil shafts.
As mentioned, iGen Golf irons and wedges aren’t some off-the-shelf open models from China. Dempsey worked with longtime club designer Jeff Sheets – the man who designed the iconic 1999 Ben Hogan Apex and Apex Plus irons, among others.
“You’re not going to have to do this for another five or six years. There’s some value to that. Parents who play golf get it. For the parents that don’t, it’ll work out if I can get them on the phone and talk with them. Very few kids don’t get bigger and stronger over the summer.”
Is There a Market for iGen Golf?
It would appear so.
We’ve said it many times but price is nothing more than a number. It’s how one looks at that number that matters. Any parent with a kid in any travel sport knows the bills for good equipment never stop or go down. And what may be outrageous to one parent may, in fact, be a bargain to another.
“I’m not the brightest bulb in the tree when it comes to marketing,” Dempsey admits. “People tell me I can’t talk to that many people every day and still sell enough irons. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it but I don’t ever want to outgrow that.”
So while iGen Golf is a business, it’s one Dempsey plans to run his way with no apologies. So, yeah, $1,200 for seven irons and three wedges for a 12-year-old may sound crazy to some but the old adage applies: If you ever want unsolicited advice, just start a business.
“People say these are kind of expensive and they are. But not in the long run. We’re going to be successful because we really care. I can’t afford not to care because I’m not that slick of a businessman.”
iGen Golf: Serving a Niche
Here we are at the end of the article and we still haven’t mentioned Dempsey’s other talent: singing. A fine crooner, Dempsey opened the 2002 ReMax World Long Drive Championship with the national anthem followed by God Bless the USA. And in 2006, he sang both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems at an Orioles-Blue Jays game in Baltimore.
The catcher for Toronto that night? Greg Zaun, who happens to be Dempsey’s nephew.
Singing, baseball and long driving aside, Dempsey has been around the golf business long enough to know there’s a sizable and underserved market of talented junior golfers. And the fact a junior can play his or her iGen Golf irons from adolescence through their teen years and beyond (at 66, Dempsey games fully weighted iGen irons) has proven to be a value proposition.
And if the price tag does limit sales volume, that’s OK, too.
“There are more important things in the sports business than how many sets you sell a day or how many sets you get out the door,” says Dempsey. “If we can help these kids, the returns will come on the back side.
“People call me too old-fashioned to be successful but that’s what I’m going to hold on to for as long as I can.”