Ping Golf has revolutionized not just an industry but also a sport played by nearly 29 million Americans. The innovative product designs of company founder Karsten Solheim made a difficult game easier -- and a lot more fun -- for golfers at all levels. His sons, especially CEO John Solheim, honed a business model that set standards for the industry. Today, the third generation is getting ready to assume the mantle of leadership while fourth-generation Solheims will be coming along soon. They are inheriting a $300 million operation with 1,000 employees, about 850 of whom work at the main campus in Phoenix, Ariz.
It all started with Karsten Solheim's obsession with the game, which he didn't take up until age 42 while still an engineer at General Electric. He began experimenting with clubs and patented his first product -- a putter that on contact with a ball made the distinctive sound that gave the company its name -- in 1959. Production took place in the garage and was literally a family affair. John Solheim was 13 at the time. "When we started, I drilled the holes in the putters where the shaft went," John recalls. "My brother Allan was putting the grips on. It was fun."
That first putter's heel and toe weighting helped the player keep it on line. It evolved into the Anser model, which featured several other advancements.
"If you look at nearly every putter on the market today, they're all descended from the Ping Anser," says John Buczek, head golf professional at the fabled Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., and PGA National Merchandiser of the Year for 2006. "It's amazing what they've done in the golfing world since Karsten developed the original Ping putter in his garage," Buczek says. "They've been leaders in putters, in irons, and even in golf bags."The first major tournament win for the company came in 1969, when George Archer used an Anser Putter to win the Masters. Every time a tour player wins an event using a Ping putter, a gold one is inscribed and given to the player and a duplicate is placed in the company vault to commemorate the occasion; more than 2,300 of them are there today. Angel Cabrerra, the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters winner, uses Ping clubs as does the world's leading female player, Lorena Ochoa. The company sponsors the Solheim Cup, the premier international event for women pro golfers.
This article appeared in Family Business Magazine, Summer 2008
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