Terry Koehler believes he has created a set of golf clubs worthy of carrying Ben Hogan’s name. Today, he’ll find out what the golf world thinks.
Koehler, president and chief executive officer of the new Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Co., will debut the company’s first set of Hogan irons at the industry’s annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla. It marks the return of an iconic brand to the golf equipment market as well as the rebirth of a familiar business in Fort Worth.
For 40 years, the Ben Hogan Co. turned out golf clubs in Fort Worth under the watchful eye of the legendary pro golfer, who famously survived a near-fatal auto accident and went on to win nine major golf championships and build a successful golf club manufacturing business. Hogans were among the best-made clubs on the market in the 1970s and 1980s, favored by many pros and good players. But a progression of different owners, starting in 1993, disrupted the company and Hogan clubs eventually disappeared from pro shops.
For Koehler, a life-long golf equipment designer and executive, relaunching the Hogan brand offers a second chance. He served as director of marketing for the Ben Hogan Co. from 1993-1995, when the company left Fort Worth and began its descent. He now wants to rebuild the company in the image of its founder.
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Since striking a deal with Perry Ellis International last year to license the Hogan brand for golf equipment, he has assembled a team that includes veterans of the old Ben Hogan Co., including a director of operations from the Fort Worth factory. He said the company is trying to approach the business as Ben Hogan himself would have done it.
“This is the real Ben Hogan Co.,” said Koehler, 62, who since 2011 has run a company in Victoria called Eidolon Brands that produced a line of wedges under the SCOR4161 name. “We have up to 150 years of Ben Hogan Co. experience on this team, including people who worked side by side with Mr. Hogan.”
With that in mind, the new set of Hogan clubs being unveiled this week, dubbed the Fort Worth 15, combines the sleek look of traditional “blades” with state-of-the-art perimeter weighting technology to offer a high-performance premium club for the serious golfer. (The company can no longer use its famous Apex model name, which was retained by Callaway Golf, the old Hogan Co.’s last owner.)
“We really believe this is the best Hogan iron ever made. The Hogan fans are going to be elated about the golf club that has his name on it once again,” Koehler said.
And in a novel approach, the company will allow golfers to create their own set from a selection of 44 different irons, including 16 wedges, numbered by loft angles from 20 to 63 degrees instead of the traditional 2-9 plus wedges.
The clubs will be sold exclusively through golf professionals at country clubs and learning centers, where players will be custom-fitted and provided help to choose the lofts that fit their game. They’ll be priced at $149 apiece with steel shafts, and $165 with graphite.
The new Ben Hogan company is currently working out of temporary space in south Fort Worth, but has signed a deal to lease 33,000 square feet of space in the former Star-Telegram printing and distribution complex at I-35W and I-20. (The Star-Telegram sold the building last year after reaching an agreement to outsource its printing to The Dallas Morning News.)
With the club heads being made in China, workers in Fort Worth will assemble, package and ship the clubs. The company expects to move into the facility by March and start shipping products to pro shops in April. Currently with just 14 employees, the company expects to have as many as 40 by the end of the year.
Mike Wright, director of golf at Shady Oaks Country Club, where Ben Hogan was a member and was known to try out new clubs on the practice range, said he already has a list of players who want one of the first sets without having even seen them.
“Our membership is thrilled and excited,” Wright said, noting that several of the club’s members are investors in the company. “We’re happy to be a part of contributing to and enhancing Mr. Hogan’s legacy.”
Wright, who has been at Shady Oaks for 31 years and knew Ben Hogan, said that while the loft-numbered irons certainly present “a learning curve” to players, he thinks the golfing legend would have been proud of the new approach the company is trying. Hogan died in 1997.
“Mr. Hogan was certainly an innovator,” Wright said, recalling early attempts by Hogan to develop a hybrid club — part iron, part wood — long before they came to market. “He was always thinking of something new.”
Jeff Harris, director of marketing for the Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Co., said characterizing the clubs will be his biggest challenge since they “defy description.”
“We’re doing something that’s never been done in golf before,” he said. “We call it our precise loft system.”
Koehler calls his team “respectful rebels” and plans to preach a simple message to customers.
“If you’re a serious golfer and serious about getting better and you want to have good equipment, that’s what the Ben Hogan Co. is about.”
Steve Kaskovich, 817-390-7773