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HOW IT’S MADE: The 1999 Hogan Apex Blades

Today's article comes to you from Jeff Sheets from Sheets Design Group. The members of the Sheets Design Group have participated in the design and development of hundreds of golf club models over the past two decades. From tournament player designs to game improvement models the Sheets Design Group has had a hand in shaping the direction of today’s high tech golf equipment industry.

Some of the companies they have designed for include: MacGregor, Ben Hogan, Wilson Staff, GolfSmith, Lynx, Founder's Club, Top-Flite and many more.

And today you get to hear about how the great iron design of the 1999 Hogan Apex blades came to life.

A Look Back In Time & Inside The Design: {1999 Hogan Apex Blades}

By Jeff Sheets

If you have been around the golf industry for as long as I have there are few brands that resonate with purists like the Ben Hogan Company. Unfortunately Hogan is just a shell of the company it once was. Started in 1954 by the Hawk himself, the Hogan golf club company was always known for its innovation in forged irons. It never carried the moniker as the market leader in sales but those who understood the product were always impressed with the clubs Mr. Hogan produced. Today the Hogan brand is owned by Callaway Golf. It was a brand that was arbitrarily acquired when Callaway purchased Top-Flite Golf from Spalding Sports Worldwide.

Different From All Other OEM's On Tour At The Time

Back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s Hogan had a really great tour staff. Most of their players were at the top of their games. They had the likes of Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins, Steve Pate, Chip Beck, and David Frost. In fact, one year around that time period I believe every staff member had a PGA Tour win during the same season. That’s a pretty impressive feat when you’ve got eight or nine staff members. I was working out on the PGA Tour at that time and got a chance to work with most of the Hogan staff members in my tour van since Hogan didn’t have their own. There was one thing about the Hogan equipment (we’re talking about irons for the most part) that separated them from all of the other OEMs. When a Hogan staff member came into my shop for any work the equipment specs were always right on. They were one of the few manufacturers that ensured their tour staff had precisely built clubs. And that was not the norm.

Hogan Made My Job Easy

Today you see better specs on off-the-shelf equipment sold in a Golfsmith than what the touring pros were receiving back then. It was my job to get the specs right and Hogan was one of the few manufacturers that made my job easy. Even those hosel pins weren’t an issue when re-shafting their irons. Just pretend like they aren’t there. Because the Hogan Company had a really cool touring staff and outstanding equipment I cherished the thought of working for them one day.

Fast forward to about seven years later and I can be found up in Chicopee, Massachusetts working as Director of R&D for Spalding Sports’ Top-Flite Golf division. A couple of years earlier the Hogan Company had been sold to a party in Richmond, Virginia who uprooted the organization from its Fort Worth, Texas home to break free from the workers’ union. Few of the employees were offered to relocate in Virginia as the company began sourcing its components from inferior suppliers to reduce manufacturing costs. The Hogan brand was in danger of losing its heritage as the premium forged iron company it had always been.

The Re-Launch Of The Hogan Brand

Late in 1997 Spalding purchased the dwindling Hogan brand with the intent of making it their flagship golf club company. The job I had always dreamed about landed in my lap. With this I took part in the re-launch of the Hogan golf club company.

Immediately rumors ran through the industry that any new Hogan product would only be a Spalding club with “Hogan” stamped into it. Being responsible for the new designs I swore that no one would ever be able to make such a damning remark. The last forged blade that Hogan had introduced was a slightly oversize design in 1994 that Mr. Hogan himself had modeled many years earlier. It had a channel running from heel-to-toe behind the face with a distinctive arched muscle to it. Justin Leonard was playing that Apex blade since its introduction and would continue to do so through his British Open victory in 1997. Instead of focusing on a subsequent generation of the ’94 Apex I took a step back and I engulfed myself into everything Hogan.

The Process Of Resurrecting A Brand

My design journey began in Ft. Worth, Texas by interviewing long time Hogan club professionals, ex-employees along with some of the re-hires made by Spalding after the purchase. One of the key individuals providing me with my education was long time tour rep Ronnie MacGraw who I had known from my days working the tour. We were able to put together a collection of nearly every forged iron that Hogan had sold since that first set in 1954. I spent hours pondering over the models, inquiring about the unique characteristics found in many. Fortunately it was not all new information to me because I had worked with so many of the blades in the past.

For example, Mr. Hogan (he was never referred to as “Ben” by work associates) liked utilizing an under-slung hosel on many of his earlier irons. An under-slung hosel is where the heel of the club projects away from the face in order to get the shaft axis closer to the irons’ center of gravity. According to Mr. Hogan this helped make working the ball a bit easier. Today all we look for is a lower hosel MOI (moment of inertia) rating which depicts the same type of performance trait.

The Birth of the Hogan Apex Blades

Another Hogan design attribute is the blade-on-blade geometry. I honestly don’t know if this was Hogan’s name for the design but it became an element I clued in on when studying his work. This feature provided a thicker mass behind the face while keeping the center of gravity more heel-ward for easier workability. It also enabled a longer blade length without forcing the center of gravity further away from the shaft axis.

There were more than twenty iron models that I pondered during my design phase of what would eventually become the 1999 Apex irons. In my quest to interview the Hogan die-hards I found that the 1988 Apex was a favorite to many. It featured a slightly broader sole and a muscle shelf along with a blade-on-blade backside. The ’88 Apex’s sweet spot wasn’t so small that many golfers couldn’t hit it easily. Unfortunately that was the case with some of the previous blades.

The Famous Hogan Iron Poster

As a byproduct of my research I photographed each forged iron and laid them out in sequence by their date of introduction to the market. I did this using a 1-megapixel camera (it was now 1998 and 1-megapixel was it!). I laid each head on a black towel on my credenza and snapped the shots, doing my best to avoid the mirrored reflection of me or the camera in each shot (try this, it isn’t easy to accomplish). Eventually I had put together a photographic chart of every Hogan forged blade starting with the ’54 Precision. This became such a common reference for us at Spalding that we eventually had a professional photographer recreate my compilation using premium equipment in a studio. Thousands of these prints went out as posters to the industry yet I never grabbed a final copy for myself. The poster has become a collectable to Hogan aficionados.

The Prototype Stages of the 1999 Hogan Apex

My internal development staff at Spalding included only myself and my CAD operator, Charles Lovett. We had hired Charles away from Mizuno a year earlier and the finesse in which he modeled irons on a computer was unmatched. We initiated some early blade designs but were challenged by marketing to pursue a cavity back forged design instead. The thinking there was that there would be far greater sales in a game improvement product than a forged blade. So we developed a cavity back forged iron to appease marketing while still pursuing the ultimate blade design.

The cavity back iron turned out fine – if it was going to be branded anything else but Hogan. My first challenge with the design was to fight against my greatest fear: labeling a club as “Hogan” that didn’t retain the appropriate qualities of the lineage. Callaway made the same mistake when they launched the 17-4 investment cast Hogan BH5 irons in 2004. With enough cajoling I was able to convince our marketing group that Spalding needed to re-launch the Hogan brand with a blade, not a game improvement club. I was challenged to present a prototype for consideration so they could make their decision.

Lanny Wadkins Inspired - An eye for "The Look"

There were a number of design attributes I could have pursued in the design of the ’99 Apex. I ultimately settled on a contemporary looking face profile with medium-thick topline that Lanny Wadkins had inspired. I had done a number of custom grinds for Lanny when he was on my Founders Club staff. He shared much with me about shaping Hogan irons which ultimately influenced the Apex face and hosel transition characteristics in this new model. When Lanny was a Hogan staff member his personal grind became a favorite of the rest of the tour staff. He had the eye for ‘the look’ and I took advantage by learning from him.

The rear side of the ’99 Apex became a blend of the ’88 blade-on-blade design and the ’94 lower muscle. While there were plenty of Apex models with the blade-on-blade design it was the ’88 that had the finest balance in terms of appearance and performance. I studied multiple face thickness points across the blade, various dimensions and the center of gravity (CG) of the ’88 model to establish a foundation in which to build the ’99 design. The blade-on-blade geometry was shifted and tweaked to duplicate the ’88 Apex’s horizontal center of gravity but I wanted to pursue a slightly lower CG compared to the ’88 and 94’ models because wound balata balls were quickly being replaced by lower spinning 2-piece balls during the design phase (birth of the Pro V1). Applying the Hogan signature script and BH medallion to the back were not necessary to identify the design as an Apex. The geometry, styling, blade shape and performance cried out “Hogan” better than any engraving ever would.

Partnered Up With Tom Stites

With a CAD model completed I partnered up with Tom Stites at Impact Engineering. Tom had started his company when he and his R&D staff at Hogan remained behind in Ft. Worth following the company’s relocation to Virginia. We discussed the merits of the blade design I presented to him along with the marketing team’s choice of the cavity back iron. As a group of ex-Hogan employees, Tom and his staff were vehemently against Spalding re-launching Hogan using a game improvement club.

Impact Engineering (Stites Company at the time) was able to quickly produce our first set of Hogan blade prototypes for testing. Tom Kite and Justin Leonard were brought in for the initial evaluation. With some minor tweaks to the topline and some radii changes we had ourselves a final design ready for tooling. Clear heads prevailed back in Chicopee, Massachusetts and the commitment was made to re-launch the brand with the Apex blade.

Final Set of Prototypes Grinded by: Mike Taylor

Impact Engineering’s virtuoso grinder Mike Taylor incorporated the Kite/Leonard changes into a final set of prototypes. After reviewing the set in Ft. Worth I hand carried the final prototypes to Endo Manufacturing in Nigata, Japan for tooling. The set was so perfectly shaped that Endo was able to laser scan each head and cut the forging dies without creating any masters. This is seldom done with hand ground clubs.


Spalding successfully re-launched the Hogan brand at the 1999 PGA Show. In addition to the irons we also introduced a family of Hogan Special forged wedges, followed later that year with a more compact version of a forged cavity back iron called the Apex Plus. More than a decade later the ’99 Apex looks as contemporary as any new blade design. The billet forged 1030 carbon steel feels solid yet soft and the specifications remain relevant to today’s standards. For the treasure hunters out there a set of ’99 Hogan Apex blades can be found for a song. Hit a set and you too will be singing.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

P-Gunna April 13, 2010 at 9:09 pm

A wonderful story, its fascinating to read some of the history. I hopped on the Hogan bandwagon with a set of Apex Plus irons this year and am absolutely in love. I am hopeful that Callaway will humor us enthusiasts with one high quality forged Hogan blade.

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mygolfspy April 14, 2010 at 6:47 am

I agree P-Gunna I love to hear about the history and story behind some of these older designs. I feel like not many people know much if anything about them.

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P-Gunna April 14, 2010 at 7:31 am

I also forgot to mention that Hogan forgings were easily some of the softest the industry has ever seen. In a blind test, I bet an advanced player would take the feel of that ’99 Apex blade over any Mizuno that was available.

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John April 14, 2010 at 7:48 am

Very interesting read!

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Jacob Ajax April 14, 2010 at 10:13 am

I first learned to play with a set of Apex Plus’. I’ve since changed to a set of 2007 Callaway X-Forged. I’ve beent tempted to bring the Hogan’s back out in recent months though. While the Callaways are easier to shape in my opinion, the Hogan’s are about 10-15 yards longer. I shot my lowest score with them a couple of summers ago, a nice 74.

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Mike April 14, 2010 at 11:53 am

These irons are truly a dream, I’ve been playing the blades for the past two seasons, and was in the Edge Pro CB before that. I’ve had Titleist, Taylor Made, and Mizuno forgings and while some may feel almost as good as the Apex’s few are as controllable and workable as the Hogans. I’ve noticed the USGA has the Apex as ATR for grooves, but it also has a set of Apex that are considered legal, are the 99′s legal for the new groove rule? I know Langer has still been playing his 3-5 Apex’s but does anyone know if the 99′s are legal for new play?

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Dan Proctor July 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Hi Mike,

Why would the ’99′s not be legal? Thanks

Dan

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Jon January 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm

Mike’s speaking to the professional conforming groove rule. These clubs were built before the rule was in place, so presumably the grooves are (or at least could be) illegal.

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oldplayer April 15, 2010 at 1:47 am

I did in fact pick up a set of ’99 apex blades for a song a year or two ago. They are beautiful looking and performing irons. I was not aware however that they were Endo forged as this article states. Very interesting. This make them even more special !!

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Chuck Ludwig/Hogan Sales Rep 1974-2005 April 15, 2010 at 2:50 am

The Ultra Light Weight Apex Shaft was one of Ben Hogan’s secrets & was important to the performance in Hogan Irons. Every Hogan Apex Shaft weighed exactly the same, & was a taper tip design, not a parallel tip design shaft. Each Apex Shaft was installed by hand & were not jammed into the hozel with a machine (which changed the lofts & lies of the irons). Also, the grips were put on the shafts beforeassemble not after. Every Apex Iron had a “Broken & Rolled” leading edge. The profile of the #2 Iron Through the #7 Iron in every Apex Iron set was exactly the same. The 8-9 & Equalizer profiles were slightly different.
Sam Snead used Hogan Apex Shafts in his Wilson Irons for many years.

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Andy Greenwald April 15, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I have played Edge GCD’s since they came out in 95. They are a dream to me. I just bought some used Wilson Ci7′s, but the look and feel of the Edge GCD’s are perfect for me. I will probably go back by the end of the summer.

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Justin April 16, 2010 at 10:30 am

It’s amazing to me that as much as a company like Hogan is loved, it has found itself basically tossed to the wayside. Makes me wonder if it’s all in the ability to market that’s most important to brand survival. The “other” brands, like Lynx, Ram and even MacGregor are all just afterthoughts, even though players like Tom Kite, Ernie Els, Freddie Couples and Jack Nicklaus have won with those brands. Maybe “amazing” isn’t the right word, but sad and/or disheartening would be better…

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Justin April 16, 2010 at 10:31 am

“such a company” grr.

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Justin April 16, 2010 at 10:31 am

geezus… can I take back my takeback?

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P-Gunna April 16, 2010 at 12:53 pm

The sad part is that a bunch of accountants in a golf equipment conglomerate have stripped the brand of its patents, killed it and buried it.

Look at the 1994- Apex irons on the chart, and look up a picture of the new Callaway X-Forged and you will see its very clear where they got the idea.

One of the greatest and most talked about players in history applied his precision and obsession with perfection into some of the best forged irons ever, and it doesn’t look like anyone is going to show that brand the respect it deserves anytime soon.

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P-Gunna April 16, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Err I meant X-Prototype not X-forged

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Luigi May 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I have a set of Hogan Apex II irons, with Apex 3 (steel) shafts, which I bought on e-bay. I love them but they are too heavy for me. is it feasible to have them re-shafted, possibly with graphite shafts, in order to bring the weight down? And would this be a very specialist job? Or would it be better to buy a set of modern blades?

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Greg Anderson May 25, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I started using Hogan blades and woods (yes laminated wood) in the early seventies. I kept my set of Director irons for over thirty years. The Legend shafts were light years ahead of the opposition. Quality unsurpassed!

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David June 5, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I wish the original “Famous Hogan Iron Poster” shown above would have had a picture of the 1983 Hogan “Decade” special 25th anniversary edition irons like the one’s I still own (2-PW). Finding any kind of history behind this set of irons is still very hard to locate I pull them out from time to time to play and am still amazed at how accurate and long they are, just not as forgiving as my Ping Eye 2′s. I saw a set on Ebay today and they were priced at $3K for the set, but, you gotta have someone willing to part with that kind of money to make any gain. Hogan set the standard for the irons we all play today.

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jd June 22, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Does anyone have a complete history of Hogan Apex irons produced by Spalding? Was it only the Sheets ’99 design thru 2003 when Callaway took over?

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danny July 14, 2011 at 2:11 am

has anyone noticed that the adams mb irons have the same top line thing going on in as hogans

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mygolfspy July 14, 2011 at 8:07 am

Danny – we noticed the same thing…wrote about it in this article:
http://www.mygolfspy.com/adams-mb2-irons-2011/

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T Elleser July 8, 2012 at 9:52 pm

I picked up a set of the 1999 apex blades at a thrift store for hardly nothing. I was looking for the model and year built when I came across your article, just amazing. I have pulled my Callaway fusion wide soles out of the bag and replaced with a blade! That’s crazy because the head on the wide soles is like the largest head and sweet spot on the market. I played the hogans and shot my handicap right out of the gate. I can only see improvement with these irons, thanks for the info and great article.

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Hugo Lazer January 18, 2013 at 11:18 pm

When I was 14 my first 2 sets of competitive irons were a 2-E Medallions with 3 Flex shafts and then a 3-E Hogan Apex II Vector shafts 3 flex, with a “fifty three” gap wedge (unknown words at that times) and a “Sure-Out” SW…Good Times!!!

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Brian Cass February 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm

neat

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Andy June 26, 2013 at 9:48 am

I was looking for more info on these, and this is a fascinating article. I bought a set on eBay (3-E), including delivery, for less than $150. Took a few buckets to get used to hitting these after hitting 80′s-era Wilson Staffs, but WOW are these great. Working the ball is easy, high-yet-penetrating launch, and tons of spin. I can’t think of a better way i could have spent my $150.

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Bill Thornton October 11, 2013 at 9:58 am

A number of years ago, I called the Ben Hogan Company for information about a particular set of clubs. The lady answering the phone did not know much…I almost believe she never played golf. Very disappointing. Never have been disappointed with any of my Hogan sets…25 or so, It would be great for one of the old timers to write a book about Hogan clubs. This article was a great start.

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hoganforpresident October 17, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Well guys i just bought My Self a set of 1999 ers un played
They been hanging out/ o
or in a closet seans 2000 !! I’am the luckyone…..

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John R May 26, 2014 at 7:57 am

I’ve been playing the 1999 Apex since first launched and love them. Club champion and to this day, best ball striking ever (1 iron from 235 to within 3 feet…yes I made the putt). I played the H-40 before then for 3 years. The 1999 Apex remind me that it’s less about what today’s golfers are focused “forgiveness” and more about “the fundamentals” …a Ben Hogan value through his “Five Lessons”.

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george July 27, 2014 at 9:40 pm

I have a set of 1999 Apex irons I have purchased in 2000. I did take a 6 year break from golf back in 05. I was thinking of purchasing a new set of irons but I am not sure. I hit them well, love the trajectory, My 7 and E are worn in the face pretty good, plus I need to have the loft and lie’s checked. Any suggestions on where i could pick up the heads of those irons? Also I was looking on my registration card that came with the irons. They do not mention a head weight. I assume the heads were not offered in different weights. Can you confirm that?

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Col. Jim Leslie November 26, 2014 at 7:35 pm

I think I found a diamond in the rough today at the Annandale, Va. Goodwill store. I set of Ben Hogan Director irons never used. Also a Scottish green golf bag and a pair of size 12 shoes all new for a price of $25. They were a little dusty but I brought them home cleaned them and they are in perfect condition. I was going to change the grips to Mid size but perhaps that would decrease their value. I am anxious to try them out to see how they work. I had a set a few years ago and really like the blades…. Jim Leslie

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Garry December 8, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Help -

I purchased a set of Ben Hogan “Apex Plus” forged Irons this past Summer which were brand new …. If they weren’t new they sure never hit many balls.

The shafts are labelled Ben Hogan Apex 3 which I understand is a regular flex.

I can’t seem to find out what year these beauties would have been manufactured. How can I tell? In pictures on the web site they look to be about 2000-2001′s?

Help – Thanks in advance….Garry

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