Ben Hogan: An iconic brand returns to the market
26 Jan 2015
by Corey Ross of amateurgolf.com

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The legendary Ben Hogan<br>(Images courtesy Ben Hogan Equipment Co.)
The legendary Ben Hogan
(Images courtesy Ben Hogan Equipment Co.)
No golfer in history has more short stories passed from player to player like the legendary Ben Hogan. Most of them involve his work ethic, legendary shot making, and ascerbic wit. On the equipment side, Hogan was so exacting that he is said to have ordered the entire first production run of clubs destroyed in 1953 because they did not meet his standards.

For all the recycled Ben Hogan stories out there (we'll leave those for another article), you probably thought you’d never hear another new one. Well, here’s one: The company he founded in 1953 is back.

After a seven-year hiatus from the market, the Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company re-launched its brand with a new club line at the PGA Show in Orlando. The company’s Ft. Worth 15 irons and TK 15 wedges were on display and quickly generated buzz at the show. First you notice the clubs’ clean, classic look with the iconic Ben Hogan signature. Then you notice something else: The clubs are only designated by loft, no numbers. In response to lofts being strengthened in the industry over the years, the Hogan Company dropped the numbering system and produced clubs in an “unprecedented” range of 44 lofts so golfers know exactly what loft they’re hitting when they’re trying to gap their set.

Hogan Ft. Worth Irons come in 44 different lofts

“We believe that’s the way Mr. Hogan would done it were he here today,” the company said in its release on the set. Many of them would know, because there’s a combined 150 years of experience in the company of people working with Mr. Hogan or the company. That includes CEO and President Terry Koehler, a Texan who grew up idolizing Hogan and was marketing director for his company for three years in the 1990s. It was Koehler’s idea to bring back the brand, which fell off after Mr. Hogan’s passing in 1997.

During the last day of the PGA Merchandise Show, Koehler spent a few minutes with AmateurGolf.com to share the reaction to the launch of the iconic brand and the company’s outlook for 2015.

AmateurGolf.com (AGC): How would you categorize the response the company and new club line received this week?

Terry Koehler: (TK): What’s really been gratifying, humbling actually, is how many golf professionals have come up to us and said, “I want to thank you for bringing this brand back to golf.” That’s been very rewarding. Mr. Hogan and his company touched a lot of people with their business practices, his legend and the quality of products that they always been known for, and we’re very committed to those principals. This is the real Ben Hogan Company. I think a lot of people wondered if we were the real company or just a bunch of guys with the same stuff, but I think we’ve earned that recognition. The real Ben Hogan Company is back.

AGC: Your staff has 150 years of experience working with Mr. Hogan or the company. That’s a lot of loyalty to the company.

TK: And that number is growing. We have a number of former field reps and managers who’ve come to us and said they’d love to be involved again. I think it’s safe to say that within a year we’ll probably have another 150 years more experience on our staff. These are guys that used to sell Hogan and still tell all the Hogan stories.

AGC: Who was Ben Hogan to the people who knew him?

TK: People who didn’t know Mr. Hogan will associate him as being stern and abrupt, but he had an unbelievable heart and showed an incredible kindness to people. Sure, he didn’t suffer fools and idle chit-chat, but he was a very interesting man. Dignified is probably the best way to describe him.

AGC: What did Hogan’s golf genius contribute to the craft of club making?

TK: The two things Mr. Hogan was really about were precision and improvement. And he was defined by hard work. One of my favorite Ben Hogan quotes is, “Hard work never bothered me like it does some people.” That applies to whether you’re building a business or trying to be the best golfer in the world. I don’t think anybody really analyzed how a golf ball really comes off a golf club as deeply as he did for his day. And that was without the aid of computers, launch monitors, what have you. He practically invented practice and was on a constant quest to improve.

That carried over into club making. He pushed technology. Who pioneered lightweight steel shafts (the Apex)? It wasn’t a shaft company. It was the Ben Hogan Company. Who perfected game- improvement forging (the Edge)? There might be debate about how invented it, but there’s no doubt Ben Hogan Company committed to it bigger than anybody else. Hogan was the first company to stretch points out longer so you could hit the ball further. There’s a room called the Vault where we have his collection of personalized clubs. There are clubs with aluminum heads, there’s one with a brass slab out at the toe. He was always looking for ways to make this game better. He never stopped, even into his 70s.

Note: At this point, Koehler looked across the booth and noticed a video was playing showing Hogan hitting golf balls at that age.

There’s a great story about that shoot. He was taping a commercial and the director asked Hogan to hit a ball up on the green, and Hogan said, “OK, what do you want me to do?” (Then the director repeated his request and Hogan repeated his answer.) The president of the Ben Hogan Company was there and said, “Ben, hit a nice little soft fade that cuts into that right flag.” And, sure enough, that’s what he did. He never hit a golf ball, or did anything, without a purpose.
And look at that swing. Even in his 70s, who wouldn’t take that swing today?

AGC: What’s been the response to the new irons? How do they combine past and present?

TK: I look back at the company’s club technology as sort of an observer and an anthropologist to figure out what he did. He developed weight schemes and the classic Hogan shape in the late 60s. I had a golf professional come up to me and tell me, “Do you know know why the Apex was such a great iron? You could get away with a miss on the toe. You couldn’t do that with anybody else’s blade at the time.” That’s the answer I knew, but I was glad he had the same one.
What we’ve done with this golf club is combine the genius of Edge and Apex into one golf club. You don’t sacrifice distance control or accuracy and it has a great feel, but you’ve also got forgiveness. And our lofting and gapping is changing the way irons are done.

AGC: What does a successful 2015 look like for the Ben Hogan Equipment Company?

TK: We want to begin to build a nucleus of a group of golf professionals that share our ideals and are committed to helping people improve. To me the mark of success are the emails from people saying, “I love my golf clubs.” The customer that matters is the golfer. And golfers never change: they want a golf club that delivers value that will make them lay down hard-earned money. Whether that’s better feel, distance or performance, they want value. Value means I’m glad I made that purchase. That’s the reaction I want. That’s success.

AGC: Is the association with the brand mostly nostalgic senior golfers or are you already seeing new audiences?

TK: I’m surprised by how many Gen X and Gen Y people have reacted positively to us. I thought that might take a few years to resonate with young people because they were barely alive when the man died. His legend is bigger than I thought it was. And he’s someone people have hardly ever heard anything negative about. He wasn’t perfect, but he was known for doing things right.

Learn more about the Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company here.

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