For those of us who enjoy a pleasant trip into the past on the occasion of a 50th anniversary, that milestone provided some interesting tales from Ping such as the ones told a year ago on GNN here.
It began so simply with an engineer named Karsten Solheim working at nights with his son in the family garage in Redwood City, Calif., the roots of what would become one of the major golf equipment manufacturers today and what is still a family-run business.
What came out of those 50 years were several innovations still used today, growth and even several disagreements between fathers and sons about the direction in which the company should be heading.
“We butt heads, but at the end of the day, we get along and kind of go in the same direction,” said vice president of engineering John K. Solheim, who is taking an increasingly important role with the company.
“It’s just sometimes which way to get there and sometimes, I like the fast way and he doesn’t like that fast way, although he drives a lot faster than I do, so I don’t know if that makes sense,” joked John K. about his dad, president and chief executive officer John Solheim.
It was his dad who worked so closely in the garage with his father, who would go on to become a World Golf Hall of Fame member for all of the innovations he provided for the golf industry. John K. says most of those innovations came from his grandfather Karsten’s knowledge of engineering.
“He really saw golf as an opportunity to take some stuff that he knew from being an engineer. The whole golf swing is really a big physics equation,” said John K.
“No one had really taken the time to do very simple things like heel-toe weighting. The principles that he had, we’re still applying every day,” he said.
“If he came and looked at the (Ping) G15 and i15 lines, he’d be very happy because all we’re doing is taking a lot of the ideas that he founded and expanding on them and using newer technologies to make them even better,” said John K.
His dad agrees.
“He wouldn’t say that much, but you’d see this little smile on his face and that would mean so much,” said John Solheim. “My dad, to his family members, he wasn’t much on compliments, but you could see that twinkle in his eye. It meant a lot.”
Like Karsten, none of the Solheims are overly verbose about what their company and family had accomplished over 50 years. They just use it as a foundation going forward into the future. The 50th anniversary last year was an important milestone, but the values were already instilled.
“We have a lot of strong tradition, a lot of pride in the family, what the family’s accomplished, what the company’s accomplished,” said John K.
“Last year, I guess we got to talk about it a little bit more, but I guess at the personal level, I kind of always had that. I didn’t say I need to recognize it more, but we definitely did talk about it more,” he added.
“It’s 51 years now and we’ve got this strong tradition that started with Karsten. He knew what he was doing and we still know what we’re doing,” he said.
“I grew up three houses down from his house. We were on the same cul-de-sac. He traveled a lot, so they were gone, I’d say, about 150 days a year, but they were around a lot. All the holidays, we were at their house,” said John K.
John Solheim says a milestone such as a 50th anniversary offers a pause to appreciate the past.
“There’s no question you live it every day, but it gives you the opportunity to look back,” he said. “When you live it every day, you’re so in focus on what you’re doing, but when a special anniversary like the 50th comes along, you stop and start thinking about the past more and you start appreciating where you are much more.”
Of course, John was there for all 51 years to this point and his experience was much different than John K’s.
“(Karsten) taught me an awful lot in that garage and there were good times, there were difficult times,” said John, recalling how he wanted to go to the beach on trips to Southern California, but his dad wanted to visit golf shops instead.
“I always remember whenever I traveled with him, if he drove by a golf shop, he was in there and we were sitting in the car waiting for him,” said John with a smile.
“Those are wonderful memories. You look at what he succeeded at and it’s important you have that kind of dedication, but today, we try to make sure people have family time too. John (K.) does a good job of that – he’s got a wonderful family and four kids now.”
John K. also worked with Karsten, albeit in a different era. He says his experience with Karsten was much different than his dad’s.
“A couple of summers, I basically was an assistant, so I got to spend eight hours plus a day with him, anything from going around looking at quality inspection to spending time up in engineering to finding who had visited Ping and inviting them to lunch,” said John K.
“I had a lot of good experiences, seeing how he ran the company, how he was kind of involved in everything and just always kept his eyes open,” said John K., noting how things were different for his dad.
“He was in the garage building golf clubs, but I was mostly in engineering. It was more of a corporation. We had 2,000 employees, so yeah, there were similarities in the ages and stuff, but big differences when we came into the company, where the company was at,” said John K.
Now that the 50th anniversary is over, Ping heads into a new era, one that begins with a challenging economy for the entire golf industry. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at how the lessons of the past will serve as a foundation as the company moves forward.