Artisan Golf in Fort Worth continues Nike golf equipment tradition
It reads --
About time you made a wedge I like!!
Your friend, Tiger Woods.”
Woods developed a relationship with Mike Taylor almost two decades ago when Nike got into the golf club making business when it acquired Taylor’s former employer, Impact Golf Technologies in 2001. Nike based its golf equipment headquarters in Fort Worth with a research and development facility known as “The Oven.”
At Nike, Taylor became one of the most renowned master craftsmen in the country after starting his career at the Ben Hogan Golf Equipment Company in the late 1980s. But his livelihood was put in jeopardy when Nike decided to shut down its golf factory in August 2017.
But Taylor, along with his former Nike colleague and partner John Hatfield, created their own custom golf club company, Artisan Golf, which launched days after Nike shut down. The Granbury residents are using part of the old Nike factory and machinery to run their business on the grounds of Leonard Golf Links in West Fort Worth.
Taylor and Hatfield have a passion for the game and club making, and a desire to bring the best to “athletes,” whether it’s a promising professional or a more casual player.
It shouldn’t come as a shock if a few players in this week’s British Open at Royal Portrush Golf Club in Northern Ireland have an Artisan wedge or two in the bag.
Heck, Woods — now with TaylorMade — still consults with Taylor.
“He worked on all these irons. He worked on all my wedges,” Woods told Golf.com before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last March in Austin.
“I talk to him probably every few weeks, giving updates on how I feel, things that I think could be better. He’ll bounce a few ideas off me, what I think, what direction we need to go down the road, how can we make them any better than what they are.
“And this is the same process I went through all those years when I was working with him at Nike.”
That “process” Woods is referring to is the same “process” that Taylor and Hatfield are bringing to everyday golfers through Artisan.
Taylor and Hatfield treat every client as though they’re Woods competing at the highest level. For now, the two are focused on wedges and putters for clients ranging from PGA Tour players and budding professionals to amateurs simply trying to lower their handicaps and scores.
Patrick Reed had an Artisan wedge in his bag when he won the 2017 Masters; Champions Tour star and two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer uses a couple Artisan clubs; Champions Tour regular and six-time PGA Tour winner Rocco Mediate recently raved about Aritsan on social media; and several promising young pros play Artisan wedges such as Scottie Scheffler, Abraham Ancer and former TCU player Paul Barjon.
When Ancer made his British Open debut last year, Taylor designed a wedge for Ancer to handle the links-style courses. Some players use different wedges for different style courses, while others use the same.
Woods, for instance, never changed his wedge setup.
“Tiger’s recipe worked for him globally,” Taylor said, smiling. “But some players had a wedge for Europe and a wedge for over here. If you look at a lot of what we made for a lot of Europeans back in the day, there was different geometry on the bottom of the wedges than what some of the guys played over here.
“Again, it’s all about getting these athletes the right tools. I want to fit people with the tools that bring the best balance for their game.”
Taylor and Hatfield treat -- and charge -- everyone the same. A wedge starts in the $300 range, while putters can run anywhere from $900 to $1,800 depending on the amount of customization.
“It’s all about execution of a process,” Taylor said. “A process that’s never-ending, trying to find a way to make something better. We document things very, very specifically as far as the build of the tools, the geometry of the heads, the soles, all of that. We protect that information on behalf of the athlete.
“You don’t just cook the stuff and hand it to a golfer.”
Taylor and Hatfield understand the importance of the “tools” for every golfer.
Working at Nike, they’ve got a who’s who list on who they’ve helped. Whether it’s on the golf front (Woods, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey) or other celebrities (Michael Jordan, George Strait, Ozzie Smith), there’s a board with signatures of each that every collector would covet.
In fact, their factory has a number of old clubs used by players such as Woods, Casey, Kevin Kinser (the 2017 Colonial champion) and Michelle Wie. After all, pros go through three or four lob wedges a year.
For as much history is in that factory, though, Taylor and Hatfield are more focused on Artisan. They’ve enjoyed bringing a professional-type experience to clients across the world, sending clubs to countries such as Japan, China, Australia, Canada and several in Europe.
“When we play golf, we’re uncomfortable sometimes,” Taylor said. “You know what? When I fit you, I want the tools to make you more comfortable, more aggressive, more confident. That’s where we have an opportunity to improve.
“We’re building good, functional tools with those components that bring the best to your game.”
Hatfield started making golf clubs as a 19-year-old at the Ben Hogan Golf Company. Now 52, he isn’t exactly sure what sparked his interest in putters.
But it’s become his passion over the last 15 years and he’s now built 380 putters for Artisan clients.
“I love the looks and I love the lines of all the golf clubs,” Hatifeld said. “But the putters … you set the putter down, you go down to the head and it’s got a flow. Everything makes sense. The lines need to flow. Hard lines? Then the whole putter needs to be hard. Soft lines? Then the whole thing has to be soft.
“And then you’ve got to be able to make some putts or you’re not going to score. It’s such a huge part of scoring and just a part I really took to.”
Much like Taylor, Hatfield takes clients through the entire process of building a putter. It’s all about center of gravity for a putter, and then finding what head weights and balances work best for a particular player.
Some players may like to use a heavy grip with a heavy head, while others will go with a light grip and heavy head. It varies. At the end of the day, the goal is for every player to have the proper speed control with a given putter.
“I want it to be free flowing,” Hatfield said. “If we get the balance and weighting right, it’s natural.
“But, as I tell people all the time, the No. 1 thing is the putter has to look good. You’ve got to be able to set something down and go, ‘Oh, man. That’s good.’ That instills confidence. The second thing is it needs to feel good. It needs to give you that audible, ‘Oh, that’s good.’ I want to try and get everything right.”
To accomplish that goal is why Artisan treats every client as a PGA Tour or LPGA Tour pro. For Hatfield and Taylor, the golfer who plays at a local course once a week is just the same as one contending for major championships.
The pressure is to simply make the best product possible.
As Hatfield said, “I want to make them the best putter I can. It doesn’t matter who it is.”
The Leonard name is synonymous with golf in Fort Worth.
Marvin Leonard is the man who built Colonial Country Club and Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, as well as Starr Hollow Golf Club in Tolar. His daughter, Marty, has the same passion for the game, and owns Leonard Golf Links and the old Nike factory on the same grounds.
She built “The Oven” for Nike after talking with Tom Stites, who served as Nike’s chief club designer. Nike announced plans to get out of the golf equipment industry in August 2016, but kept “The Oven” open until Feb. 17, 2017 to serve the players under contract.
Three days after Nike officially closed up shop, Artisan Golf officially started on Feb. 20, 2017. But, as more of a niche golf club manufacturer with six full-time employees, it only uses about 8,000 of the 50,000 square feet of the facility.
“It’s been a mutually good arrangement,” Leonard said. “We haven’t had anybody come forward other than those two, but they don’t need the whole building. I want the whole building occupied and I’d prefer it to stay in the golf business, but we’ll see. I like the [Artisan Golf] guys and it’s been a beneficial situation.”
For Taylor and Hatfield, being based in Fort Worth is something they’re proud of. They love stamping “Made in Ft. Worth, Texas” on their clubs.
As Taylor said, “Fort Worth is a golf town.”
Of course, it is with Hogan and Colonial and a number of PGA Tour and LPGA Tour pros calling Fort Worth home. And the TCU golf teams have grown close to the Artisan Golf crew.
The current players are regular visitors to the facility, as is former Frog and PGA Tour veteran J.J. Henry. Everyone wants to see Artisan Golf succeed, and Artisan Golf takes pride in being a local company.
That’s why the company logo features a star much like the state flag.
“I’ve always liked stars, just look at a Texas flag,” Taylor said. “Hey, people all over the world love the state. There’s people in Japan that we’ve made clubs for that have the Texas star burned in the back of them and they’re fantastic.”
In keeping with today’s time, Artisan has the ability to do even more customizable logos and decals on clubs. They’ve burned everything from emoji flames to Olympic rings into clubs, rather than the standard initials of a player as they did in the Nike days.
All of it has been a hit so far.
“We’ve got a lot of great feedback,” Hatfield said. “It’s great when you go out and fit people and they text, ‘Oh, man, I’ve had my best round of putting.’ That’s what makes you feel good.”