During the 1970s and ’80s, Tom Lupinacci’s pro shop at the Sterling Farms muni in Stamford, Conn., was metro New York’s unofficial used-club emporium. The golf industry was giving up on persimmon and forged steel in favor of irons that were investment cast and woods with metal heads. This one shop, with its bins, barrels and racks of both old and new equipment, bridged the two eras smartly.
In the used-club section, classics that had stood the test of time were displayed alongside oddball clubs that were flunking the test miserably. Collectors came through on a regular basis, and Lupinacci once owned an ultra-rare George Low Wizard putter “for 15 minutes,” as he recalls, turning the club over to a connoisseur for $12,000 immediately after buying it for $8,000.
But his shop was hardly elitist. Quirky products that had sold poorly to the mass market would get a mulligan at Sterling Farms, where a narrow but loyal following would sometimes be identified on the second go-round. Remember the Wilson Reflex iron, an innovation from the ’70s that featured a slit of air behind the face and promised extra yardage due to a “rebound” effect? If not, don’t feel too bad.
“That Reflex idea went nowhere,” recalls Lupinacci, who gave up the Sterling Farms shop but continues to operate his golf-ball salvage business as well as give lessons at Montauk Downs. “It was a nice-feeling club, but beyond the initial curiosity there wasn’t much interest.” Lupinacci learned long ago the difference between nostalgia and bona fide demand. “You’ve got your classics, which command a premium price,” he says, “and then you’ve got products people remember simply because they were strange or unusual.”
Which is why, he reasons, there are no museums or private collections containing Power Pod drivers, optic orange golf balls and Browning 444 low-profile irons. And yet, most golfers who go back to the days of three-wheeled Cushman carts cherish the memory of these items.
For example, who can forget the Basakwerd putter? It drew double-takes on putting greens from coast to coast when it first came off the drawing board of Jim Flood, original founder of Aldila and later the inventor of the Power Pod, the Little David driving iron and even the Odyssey insert putter. His Basakwerd had a shaft that connected at the toe of the blade, not the heel. Flood showed one to Gene Littler at La Jolla C.C. in ’83 and within two years there were 11 Senior PGA Tour titles won by Basakwerd-wielding pros.
A lawsuit involving one of Flood’s overseas distributors took the club out of production and halted what looked like a runaway bestseller. But Flood’s upside-down putter was a pure fad, if you judge by the clientele at Sterling Farms. “I had one of those Basakwerds sitting in my shop for two years,” recalls Lupinacci. “I was thrilled the day somebody finally bought it.”
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