Weird Clubs We Loved, Part 2

From the 1980s, a big dog on a stick called the Power Pod

Neither in the classified section nor in cyberspace chat rooms do we run across ads offering top dollar for old Stan Thompson Ginty woods–a fact that is hard to fathom. The company is out of business, of course, but the V-soled Ginty was a beloved “trouble club” before the term was even invented. Among golfers who were around in the 1970s, there remains a deep reservoir of affection for it. A recent conversation with the sought-after instructor Gary Wiren revealed how the Thompson Ginty first got its name.

“Stan was an accomplished sailor as well as a golf club maker,” explains Wiren. “One Sunday he went for a morning sail on the Pacific then played an afternoon round of golf. He hit a drive into some heavy rough and stood over the ball feeling frustrated. He said to himself, ‘I need a golf club that cuts through rough the way the keel of a boat cuts through water.’ The next day he went to work and asked one of his craftsmen to cobble something together.

“When the prototype came back, Stan showed to a couple of his salesmen,” Wiren recalls. “They told him it looked pretty awful, but after they tried it they came back praising it to the skies. Next they wanted to know the name, and Stan, who was from a long line of Scotsman, said, ‘We’re going to call it the Ginty, because ginty is what you call the smallest, ugliest runt in a big Scottish family.”

Tom Lupinacci’s salvage crews will clean out an ocean’s worth of water hazards before they find their next Polara golf ball, though in its early-80s heyday the Polara rocked the industry. It was a self-correcting, slice-and-hook-stopping ball with two dime-sized areas of nearly flat, undimpled cover surface. Like a gyroscope, it would correct any sidespin or wobble in flight, due to its surface geometry. In response to this affront, the USGA had to amend its rulebook–installing a symmetry clause in the description of conforming golf balls–then write an enormous six-figure check settling Polara’s restraint -of-trade lawsuit. 

An equally obscure ball from the ’70s and ’80s was the Spalding Molitor, named after a humble, doggedly successful chemical engineer named Robert Molitor who, on a winter day in 1971, ignored advice from duPont scientists and mixed zinc Suryln with sodium Surlyn to create a more-or-less miracle cover material for the original Top-Flite. The brand-new, cut-resistant  Top-Flite had been on the market for several months–selling briskly but on the verge of stupendous quality fiasco. “Cold-cracking,” the tendency of a cured polymer compound to break apart in cold or even cool weather, had been reported in Top-Flite covers. Molitor, his heart in his throat, was in the lab reformulating on the fly. The fate of the entire golf division was riding on this product, which meant that Molitor’s sodium-zinc recipe, once it passed all its tests, saved everyones’ hides. Then Spalding tested it for one other property, coefficient of restitution, and the Molitor formula scored higher than its predecessor, guaranteeing it would provide more distance on both machine and human tests.

That combination made the original Top-Flite a hot commodity and a true classic. The Molitor ball never did much besides fill out Spalding’s product line, but it was high-quality and premium-priced, and at least a few golfers swore by it. In fact, if you own any unopened sleeves of Molitor balls–well, dust ’em off and check with us later.

All these “cult classic” golf products represent some sort of noble idea. The Tommy Armour E.Q.L. irons fits that description. If you recall, the E.Q.L. was a truly innovative set in which every club from 3 through PW was built to 6-iron length. The idea for it emerged in 1988 following a careful study of the swing technique used by Moe Norman, the reclusive Ontario professional considered by some to be the finest ball-striker ever. According to Rick Papreck, then with Armour and now director of sales operations at Cobra, Norman’s swing on his 9-iron shots, his mid-irons and his drives looked astonishingly similar to an observor standing 60 or 70 yards away.

“Moe choked down on the longer clubs quite a bit,” says Papreck. “And he had his set reweighted to compensate for that. The comment people would make is, ‘Moe plays every shot the same.’ So, the E.Q.L. picked up on that. It was meant to give average golfers a better chance to try for a Moe Norman type of consistency.”

The E.Q.L.’s debut came just as a buzz of success began to surround Armour’s year-old 845 iron, but that momentum couldn’t propel the single-length club even to niche-level success. Papreck feels an idea like E.Q.L. might have benefitted greatly from infomercial marketing, had infomercials been part of golf marketing at the time. “When you’re trying to present a radical product idea,” he points out, “it’s twice as tough to sell it first to retailers and golf pros then turn around and help them it sell it consumers. With an infomercial, you can go straight to the end user and make your case.”

Under that logic, Jim Flood’s Power Pod driver should have been a superstar of the infomercial era. The original Pod, you may recall, looked as much like a ball retriever as a golf club. It had a normal grip and shaft but its neck was a strong, narrow curve of shiny steel and the head was a red plastic hemisphere, considerably offset. Flood produced it by pouring a half-inch thickness of high-density urethane around–no lie–a standard ping-pong ball.

“Then I capped it and added a plug,” explains Flood, who retired on the proceeds of his Odyssey putter success. “We sold over $10 million worth in ’85 and ’86. Then we had breakage problems. I had to replace $1.5 million worth of Pods before I fixed the problem.” Tiny ads and articles have appeared for the new “Power-Ti-Pod,” and Flood has been receiving faxes, letters and calls from former (and current!) Power Pod users wanting to buy or at least see the new model.

Just hearing about it makes you want to hitch up your sans-a-belt polyester slacks and give the crazy thing a rip.

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