Ely’s Gift to Golf
Dr. Irving P. Krick was long ago consigned to history’s footnotes, and is now largely forgotten. A renowned meteorologist, Krick was enlisted to provide General Dwight D. Eisenhower with long-range weather forecasts in advance of D-Day in 1944.
What Krick has to do with golf — notwithstanding Ike’s incorrigible affection for the game — is nothing, other than what he tells us about the man who began a revolution with the introduction of the Big Bertha.
Nearly 30 years after D-Day, a retired textile-industry icon, Ely Callaway, bought 150 acres in a sparsely populated area in south Riverside County’s Temecula Valley. Callaway hired Krick to evaluate weather patterns there and determine whether they were conducive to growing wine grapes. Krick’s judgment: Affirmative.
Callaway Winery became the first large-scale winery in what today is a burgeoning wine region. In 1982, Ely sold his winery, reportedly at a profit of $9 million, then bought a small, obscure golf company, Hickory Stick, that would morph into Callaway Golf.
Diligence, Benjamin Franklin once noted, is the mother of good luck. Callaway’s hiring of Krick showed a man who did his homework. That, along with his business acumen and instinct, would transform the golf equipment industry.
First came the Big Bertha, then the Great Big Bertha, products that fulfilled Ely’s mantra that his company’s clubs should be demonstrably superior and pleasingly different, and that ushered in a new era in technology. Callaway’s instincts routinely helped reinforce the company’s bottom line.
When he was first shown the Odyssey Two-Ball putter, presented as a teaching device, Ely hit a few putts with it and asked what the forecast was. Twenty-five thousand units, he was told. “You’d better double or triple that because we’re going to sell a million of these,” Ely replied. Two-Ball putters became one of the most popular models in history and remain part of the Odyssey line.
Golf’s charm in part is its history, and this year will mark 20 years since pancreatic cancer claimed his life. Ely is worth remembering.
Callaway was a rarity, a celebrity in golf outside the confines of leaderboards. Most days, he made the short drive from the company’s Carlsbad headquarters to the Four Seasons Aviara to have lunch. Invariably, he ordered a half lemonade, half tea. It became known there as an Ely Callaway.
One day, Callaway took Arnold Palmer there for lunch. When the waitress asked Ely if he wanted an Ely Callaway, Palmer was taken aback, noting that that’s an Arnold Palmer. “Not here it isn’t,” Callaway replied.
The World Golf Hall of Fame does not honor titans of industry, though maybe it should. One Callaway executive recognized what Callaway meant to him and to the equipment industry, indeed to the game, via a vanity license plate on his Porsche.