Feed on

It’s time for the next write up in the “Classic Club Profile” series and I thought the under-appreciated Spalding brand could use some love.

When reflecting on the successful designs of the 50′s – 80′s, it’s easy to overlook Spalding.  While never top dog,  Spalding held their own deep into the 80′s with shrewd, classic designs and formidable representation on tour.   In their prime, the Spalding team included, amongst others, Johnny Miller, Al Geiberger, Greg Norman, Ray Floyd, Payne Stewart, Craig Stadler, Nick Price, and Lee Trevino.  That’s  a lot of majors.

The Tour Edition was Spalding’s flagship design in the mid 80′s.  This forged blade descended from the Top Flite blades of the 70′s and early 80′s and features a single wide-milled cut through the top half of the blade.  The shape of the ’85 – ’88 designs are the same but in 1988 the “Custom Crafted” stamp was added.  In 1989 the blade was elongated and progressive offset was added.  Dynamic Gold became the standard shaft in ’89 as well.  The design remained constant until 1992 when an “S22″ stamp was added on the backpad near the heel.

In terms of playability, I would put the Tour Editions right up there with the Wilson Tour Blades and the Hogan Cameos as the upper echelon of the 80′s.  The strike is crisp with a tangible feedback and a moderate height.  The trajectory is more parabolic than flat which is an expected characteristic of the Dynamic Gold’s.  Plenty workable and visually appealing every time you pull them from the bag.

General thoughts on the design:

  • The feel is very “hefty”.  I’m pretty sure there is some butt weighting going on under the grips.
  • Very little offset, if any.
  • Extremely thin topline.
  • Very smooth, large-radius curves. No sharp turns or abrupt corners.
  • Short irons are not excessively oversized as you see with some older gear.
  • Beveled front edge – not nearly as sharp as typical Macs.
  • Moderate bounce, sufficient for easy playing off firm turf

Dead weights, by request(rounded to the nearest 1/4 oz), and shots of the shaft, grip, and sole of a short iron.

It is interesting to note that according to Maltby, Spalding began a corporate reorganization in 1992 (the penultimate year of the Tour Editions).   The idea was to break out Spalding’s golf division as a vertically integrated sub-division to capitalize on the popular Tour Edition golf ball and Spalding’s impending 100th anniversary in 1994.  1991 was a disappointing year and when General Manager Chuck Yash left for Taylormade, Spalding was left with a leadership void.  The decision to license the Spalding name to a multitude of value-brand models led to the undermining of the Spalding name and in 1995 it was determined that the “Top Flite” brand should be spun-out as a new, high-end club company.  This plan was somewhat successful and in 1997 Spalding acquired the Ben Hogan brand.  The idea was to position Ben Hogan as the premium “Low Handicap” line, Top Flite as the premium “Game Improvement” line, and Spalding as the low end “Value” line.

By 1998, Spalding’s golf revenue was  $394 million or 77 percent of Spalding’s total business.  Unfortunately, they weren’t profitable and sales of $431 million in 2000 and $409 million in 2001 resulted in losses of $27 million and $20 million, respectively. By 2001, long-term debt was $560 million. By then there was a shareholders deficiency (negative equity) of $246 million.  With the influx of aggressive new companies including Callaway and Nike, Spalding’s days were numbered.  The Spalding name was eventually sold to Russel Athletic but Spalding’s  golf business continued as “Top Flite”.  Top Flite’s one redeeming asset was their golf ball business and they eventually managed to sell their assets to Callaway who primarily wanted their golf ball related patents and facilities. (Source: http://www.gaiben.com/)

Even without the details, it wouldn’t be hard to see where Spalding went wrong.  The end of the Tour Edition series marked a change in direction from which Spalding Golf never recovered (images: ironfinder.com).

Fortunately for us, there are plenty of Tour Edition sets in good playing condition and available for cheap.  The Spalding brand may be gone but the Tour Edition designs need not disappear from discerning golfer’s bags anytime soon.

2 Responses to “Classic Club Profile: Spalding Tour Edition “Bird on Ball””

  1. Avatar of Jeff Stern Jeff Stern says:

    In the early 1990′s I worked for a large repair shop in Raleigh, NC that did the much of the repair/ club replacement work for Spalding east of the Mississippi river. The standards by which we built fresh Tour Edition clubs were very high. These were among the best balanced forgings available at that time; a time period when true forged heads were vanaishing from vendor catalogues. There was a sense of pride that went with every one of those blades I put together for the hardcore players that insisted on using them.
    All the best from the Forged Radical

  2. Avatar of Jeff Stern Jeff Stern says:

    As a followup to Top-Flite history- Rights to the Top-Flite brand were sold by Callaway Golf to Dick’s Sporting Goods about 2010. Although the upgrades to the golf balls have been maintained, the hard goods (golf clubs and bags) are the stuff of commercial grade. None of the clubs really compare to pro grade lines which Top-Flite/Spalding produced in the late 1980′s.
    The TF D2+ golf ball is rather a decent performer for a two-piece sphere. The three-piece gamer spins a bit more off the short irons. I’ve used both in playing my hickory clubs and my modern steel classic ones. Next year I intend to switch to the McIntyre Golf replica balls for hickory play. Those are more authentic for wooden stick play, although qutie a bit more pricey given the niche market McIntyre appeals to make their mark.
    All the best, the Forged Radical

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.