Fifty years ago today, the first PING® putter was shipped from the Redwood City, California garage of Karsten and Louise Solheim. The PING 1A™ putter shipped that day represented the beginning of a revolution in golf club design and manufacturing that would see Karsten’s company grow into a world-renowned brand known for innovation and unequalled quality.
The engineering theory behind the first putter, termed heel-toe balance because most of the weight was concentrated in the heel and toe, set the standard for modern club design. Karsten, with his family at his side, went on to pioneer custom fitting and bring new processes to the manufacturing of golf clubs, including investment casting and heat treating.
He recognized the value of scientific research and employed high speed cameras and a robotic golfer (The PING Man) to analyze the dynamics of the golf club. His insistence on adhering to strict engineering principles and tight manufacturing tolerances raised the level of product performance and quality throughout the golf industry. It all led to more enjoyment for golfers all over the world.
When Karsten passed away in 2000, he left a legacy of innovation that culminated with enshrinement into the World Golf Hall of Fame a year after his death. An engineer by trade, with an extensive background in the defense, aerospace and computer industries, he remains the only engineer to be honored by the Hall of Fame. Among the game-changing products that will be forever associated with Karsten are the Anser® putter and EYE2® irons.
His wife of 63 years, Louise, who turned 90 last year, vividly remembers the moment Karsten informed her of his new putter’s name. “He came running into the kitchen,” she recalled, “and said, ‘I’ve got a name for my putter.’ I said ‘That’s nice, honey,’ and we ate our hamburgers and vegetables without any particular celebration. I always wished I’d shown more enthusiasm that day because he was so excited. It changed our lives forever.”
“It’s fun to look back on those early years working with him while I was a teenager,” says John A. Solheim, the youngest son of Karsten and Louise. “When we were in our garage, which was just outside of the Phoenix city limits at the time, I remember my dad watched the late news every night. At the same time, I’d be doing my homework and getting ready for bed. As soon as the news ended, I’d get a knock on the window of my bedroom, which happened to be connected to the garage. When I heard that, I knew it was time to go to work.”
He’s been coming to work ever since. Today, the Phoenix, Arizona-based company, where more than 1000 workers leave their marks on PING products every day, is under his leadership as he serves as Chairman & CEO.
The company remains family owned in its quest to develop the most innovative and highest quality golf equipment in the world. It was John A. who was at his father’s side from the very beginning. His entire work career has been at PING, having collected his first ‘paycheck’ from dad at age 15. Like his father, John A. shares a passion and understanding for engineering that sets the tone for the company’s insistence on improving a product’s performance through innovative design and precise manufacturing techniques.
At PING today, the primary task of leading the product development effort is in the hands and mind of John’s oldest son, John K. (Karsten), who trailed his grandfather around the plant during summer breaks from high school. Among his experiences was witnessing the transition of the product design process into the computer age.
As developments in technology transformed club design from the hands-on, keen-eye craftsmanship that was the genius of Karsten into today’s reliance on 3D modelling and supercomputers, John K. gained an appreciation no textbook could ever provide.
With that knowledge, he went on to Arizona State University where he earned a mechanical engineering degree and an Executive MBA. He assumed his current role of Vice President of Engineering in 2001 and leads a team more than 50 engineers and researchers. In 2007, he guided the in-house development of PING’s nFlight™ Custom Fitting Software which provides golfers an interactive, virtual fitting experience complete with gaming-quality graphics.
“Working with Karsten was very enjoyable and educational,” says John K., 34. “Every day was an adventure. He had an amazing passion for what he did and everyone respected his thoughts and ideas on every topic. He was an engineer in every sense of the word. We never left for the day without a solution to that day’s problem.”
The company plans to celebrate the milestone throughout the year. It kicks off its celebration 28 January at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida by hosting a birthday party for itself with industry leaders and key customers. At that time, it will announce several 50th anniversary-themed products, including a limited edition PING 1A putter.
“We’re humbled by this accomplishment,” says John A., who was joined in the family business over the years by brothers Allan and Karsten Louis and sister Sandra. “In today’s market-place, it’s very refreshing to see that a family-owned company like ours can continue to be a major contributor and leader in the industry. I know my dad would be extremely proud of this day knowing we’ve grown PING to what it is today while building on the foundation and philosophies he and my mother established 50 years ago.”
PING, Anser, EYE2, 1A and nFlight are trademarks of Karsten Manufacturing Corporation.