A New Golf Company with Years of Experience
Written By: Spy Zinger
When I say the name Greg Hopkins, in the context of golf, what comes to mind? Probably nothing, but for many years that was by design.
Now how about this: "The Year of the Wedge. The guy with the argyle sweater. Cleveland Golf? Does that ring a bell?
Most golfers, at least MyGolfSpy readers, would probably recognize or remember the guy in the Cleveland Golf commercials that aired shortly after the USGA imposed the new groove rule. At the time, Hopkins, the CEO of Cleveland Golf (a position he held for 16 years), was attempting to convince golfers to buy up all of the Cleveland box groove wedges since it was the last year they'd be manufacturing them. I actually thought the message was relevant, and in my own way, I did just what he prescribed.
I am pleased to report argyle sweater guy is back, and yes, he is still in argyle. Greg Hopkins, former CEO for Cleveland Golf resigned from that position in September 2012. In June of this year (2013 for the Calendar-challenged), he launched a golf company bearing his own name; Hopkins Golf. At present, they are exclusively a wedge company, but in time you can expect Hopkins Golf to evolve into a broad spectrum golf equipment brand.
After leaving Cleveland, Hopkins's plan wasn't to start Hopkins Golf. The plan was to retire, fly his plane, and chase his grand kids around. That didn't last long. He contemplated several options, one of which was working as Vijay Singh’s agent, but after 30 years in the golf equipment business, he decided to stick with what he already knew.
For years Hopkins had an idea for a direct-to-consumer golf company in the back of his mind. He ultimately turned that idea into Hopkins Golf, which offers direct to consumer wedges, built to their desired specifications and customizations.
Hopkins Golf provides a tour van experience for the average player.
One aspect of the Hopkins business plan is particularly shocking. So much so that I ask Hopkins to repeat it, because I wasn't sure I had heard it correctly. My first reaction; Is this guy insane? Then I thought about it for a minute...I mean, really thought about what he was saying. What Hopkins came up with is an ingenious concept and will forever change your understanding of the slogan, “What can brown do for you?”
What Can Brown Do For Your Golf Clubs?
Listen to how Hopkins Wedges are created and eventually make it to your doorstep.
Hopkins wedges are cast from 8620 carbon steel in the same Chinese factory where other well-known American brands are created. The heads are designed by Greg Hopkins himself. Although the phrase "Hopkins design" never made it into the marketing, it's something he had been quietly doing for years at Cleveland.
The heads, along with all of the other component parts, arrive at a UPS Distribution Center in Southern California - one of the largest in the United States. Hopkins Golf has a unique partnership with UPS, and that's where the Hopkins story gets, well...different.
UPS employees build your clubs.
Let me say that again.
UPS employees build your clubs...assembly, paint-fill, custom stamping...everything.
UPS does it all.
Hopkins developed an operational partnership with UPS and secured 18 employees dedicated exclusively to the Hopkins Golf Company. Hopkins built an assembly plant inside the UPS hub in Mira Loma, CA. The employees were chosen directly from the UPS roster and trained to build golf equipment.
The result is one of, if not the fastest turnaround for a custom built club in the industry.
The entire process is completed in one building. When the customer places the order online, it’s immediately built onsite, packaged, and shipped in less than one business day.
It works, I verified it with three of my own.
The idea originated on the golf course, during a round at Oakmont with the President of UPS. It started as just two guys kicking around an idea. Years later, it’s the Hopkins Golf reality.
Building Clubs he Hopkins Way
Hopkins asked if I had ever seen a factory or assembly facility from a major OEM. I thought, of course I have. I am SPY ZINGER. He made light of the fact that companies do not make it a common practice to hire professional club-makers to assemble their clubs. They hire employees then teach them the trade. “I had to go in and train them and spent weeks and weeks doing it.” That’s exactly what he is doing here, teaching existing UPS employees how to build clubs the Hopkins Golf way.
So if UPS is heading up this process, they must come dirty, beat up, and looking like they’ve been through war, just like their packages, right? I put their process to the test, and here is what I have found.
Barely two months in, the Hopkins process is streamlined. Other than a minor cosmetic paint-fill smudge (an easy fix), the three wedges I ordered we flawless. The loft, lie, length, and swing-weight were exact. All wedges arrived at D4, which must be a stock weight because you cannot specify this when ordering.
The stamping was well done. The grinds were cut to perfection, and there were no bending marks or build defects to report. Apart from the paint smudges, the wedges arrived exactly as ordered; nearly perfect - almost like they came from a company who has been at this for a while now.
The wedges ship in a sturdy cylinder with the club-heads embedded into thick foam. They're packaged better than anything I’ve seen to date, and will almost certainly arrive to your doorstep undamaged. I love to give you a list of their shortcomings, but short of the smudged paint fill, there really aren't any.
Direct to You
For now, Hopkins golf has no plans to bring their equipment to big box retailers or green grass shops. Direct to consumer is their business model and where they intend to stay. Giving the customer a variety of custom options is difficult to do in big box environment and would make it more difficult for them to manage inventory.
Currently Hopkins only offers wedges in one finish; Tour Raw. They chose that finish because, as the name suggests, it’s what is preferred on tour. “We’re a tour authentic company, so that’s the finish we launched with.” However, more finish options (black and chrome) are arriving soon along with some additional grind options and additional lofts (46, 48, 62, 64).
While Hopkins Golf currently manufactures and sells wedges exclusively, Greg Hopkins says the plan is to progress through the bag, and will most likely be adding irons to the portfolio next.
Hopkins Golf On Tour
Hopkins golf already has a fairly significant presence on the Champions Tour. The reason for the focus on the Champions Tour, Hopkins said, is twofold: “Most of these guys, I have known for most of my life, most all of them are friends of mine.” Hopkins said that with all of the full-bag contracts on the PGA Tour, the available population pool for his wedges is fairly small.
I asked Greg if, having worked at TaylorMade as a salesman, and at Cleveland as CEO, if he was having fun working on a start-up company bearing his own name.
At first glance, Hopkins Golf would appear to be the latest in a growing line of niche wedge companies, but in talking to Hopkins, I got the sense wedges are really just the beginning. It's clear to me that if all goes according to plan, the direct to consumer, tour van experience is going to eventually cover every club in the bag.
Just listening to Hopkins talk; he seems genuinely excited to present his brand, and it's obvious he believes in both his product and his business model. My impression is that Hopkins is going to perfect each category of equipment, then move along to the next. First wedges, then irons, driver, fairway, and eventually, perhaps even putters.
Personally, I would love to see the tour van custom Argyle sweater vest