My golf career began in 1993 after seven years in the aerospace industry performing space launch vehicle structural analysis for General Dynamics Space Systems on Titan/Centaur rockets. Working for over 23 years with Aldila Golf Shafts, I advanced from shaft design manager to Vice President of Engineering and finished my Aldila career as Vice President of Product Development, Sales, and Marketing. Proudly, I recently accepted the position of Chief Product Officer for LA Golf Shafts.
THE OLDENBURG STORY —
As a young engineer a year or so out of college, working as an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist in the aerospace industry, I was introduced to golf by several coworkers. I really didn’t start playing the game until my mid to late 20’s, but like a lot of golfers out there, once I jumped in, I was hooked. Even being hooked I was terrible, carrying an index just south of 30. As my aerospace career advanced and my golf game improved, I became disillusioned with life in the highly political and overly regulated aerospace industry and decided my career ambitions lay elsewhere.
It was at this same time that I really began to look at the technical aspects of golf equipment, the clubs, the balls, the shafts, and the grips. And, it just so happens that this was the beginning of the period of phenomenal growth in the game of golf and the time when technology in the design and development of golf equipment skyrocketed. Friends of mine from aerospace began to move to the golf industry as the mecca for the major golf companies in the US was in nearby Carlsbad. Now I knew where I wanted my career to go and I landed my first job in golf as a product design manager for Aldila Golf Shafts. The rest, as they say, is history.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
To have equipment designed by me used with great success by those that are the best in the world at their craft. To design equipment that helps these players achieve the pinnacle of success in their sport, winning major championships
What distinguishes the product line of LA Golf Shafts from your competitors?
The biggest point of differentiation within the LA Golf Shafts product line is authenticity. With LA Golf Shafts, the consumer knows their product was made here in the US at our facility in Anaheim, CA. They know the shaft was made by us and was not contracted to a 3rd party Asian vendor for manufacturing or that anyone else but myself and the team at LAGS designed the product they’re planning to put into use on the course or range. There is simply no “bait-and-switch” methods with LA Golf Shafts, no dumbed down versions for high-volume products. When you buy an LA Golf Shaft, you know what you’re getting. Every shaft we sell is the authentic tour product we designed and manufactured here in the United States.
The biggest mistake many golfers make when deciding upon golf shafts is what?
The easy answer is their ego. Ask most male golfers how far they hit the ball and they’ll tell you 260+ yards using a stiff or x-flex shaft. It’s critical to get a proper fitting and believe the numbers coming out of the fitting that allow you to select the proper shaft. The goal is to hit the ball further and straighter, so don’t worry about what other people are swinging — get the shaft that fits your swing.
From a technological standpoint — how much better can shafts be in the years ahead?
I think composite shafts have been improving in quality, consistency, and performance incrementally for the past 20+ years. A true breakthrough is going to come from some type of new materials. Hickory was around for 100+ years, then steel came along and has been here for about 100 years. Graphite has been in use since the early 70’s, but I firmly believe there is something out there that will replace graphite shafts as there are a lot of interesting new materials being discovered all the time, they just don’t lend themselves to the production of golf shafts yet. With that being said, I think we will see something come to the forefront within the next 10 years.
There’s always been a healthy and sometimes loud debate featuring golf regulators like the USGA and R&A and those on the equipment side. How would you characterize the relationship today?
Cordial but contentious. The rules of golf are still a bit stifling from a technical innovation standpoint. I, and many others, believe this needs to change for the game to thrive. Trying to staunchly maintain the historical game is a bit near sighted. It’s bad for the game of golf and it’s bad for the business of golf.
Customer service is regularly touted by those in the golf equipment arena. Define the term and the approach taken by LA Golf Shafts?
We aim to be a very consumer facing company. While many others in our industry put a great deal of effort into taking care of the large OEM golf equipment manufacturers, we want to make getting fit for and purchasing the right shaft for your game easy and enjoyable for the customer. Golf shafts are confusing, there are a whole lot of choices and a whole lot of big fancy technical terms thrown around. This makes information and education paramount from a customer service standpoint. That’s what we plan to do. Develop product lines and present them to the consumer in a manner where they can feel comfortable that they understand the options and can be highly confident in the product their club fitter has chosen for them.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally – what would it be and why?
Bifurcate the rules. Allow for the development of an off-shoot from traditional golf that is easier, faster, louder, more colorful, and has significant electronic content to draw in an expanded audience. And, do it in a way that allows the use of existing properties that are struggling mightily today. Top Golf has done an awesome job of creating a golf-based game that people love, but it is played at their locations. Create a new game or rules modifications that allow for the average player to excel and allow for new innovations in equipment. It would be analogous to what adult league softball is to baseball. A game that your average Joe or Josephine can enjoy without having to compare themselves to world-class athletes and be forced to play by the same rules with the same equipment.
You played an instrumental role in getting graphite shafts in irons. Is it inevitable steel shafts in irons will fade into oblivion over time?
Yes, I think it is. As I mentioned earlier, graphite is getting better and better all the time from a consistency standpoint, and that has been one of the perceptions (or should I say misperceptions) that has held graphite back in irons. Graphite is a much better material from the standpoint of tailor-ability; being able to make significant design adjustments in the performance characteristics of the product. Steel is limited because it is a single material with only a few new alloys available. Graphite and composite materials offer an immense library of materials and a wide variety of processing and material placement technologies. The design envelope with graphite is almost limitless. The design envelope with steel has about reached its limit.
Over the course of your career — any regrets — missed opportunities?
Truthfully, no. I’ve had a great career, working with fantastic people in an awesome industry. And, now, I have the opportunity to continue that career with a new company that I believe has the strategy to be the absolute best in our industry.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
Simple – listen! The president of Aldila in my early days was Ed Abrain. He told me, “people don’t want to hear how smart you are, or what you think you know. They want to know what you can do for them. You will never know what you can do for them if you don’t listen to what they need.” This holds true for innovation. You never know where a good idea might come from. If you’re not listening — and I mean to everyone — you will miss it.
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