An Interview with Carter Penley of Penley Sports

Penley with logo

Readers who are familiar with my writing know of my fascination and respect for US manufacturers of, well, pretty much anything. The commercial forces of the day seem destined to make the US ever more of a consumer and ever less of a builder every year. Those who continue to choose to make their products in the US are now a hardy few who must enjoy the manufacturing equivalent of swimming upstream,

Carter Penley of Penley Sports is a guy like that. He and his company are dedicated to producing their product one at a time, right here in Southern California. Not only that, but Carter is on the production floor every day, ensuring that each shaft meets both his design and manufacturing criteria. It’s also interesting to me that Penley places a good deal of his design focus on amateur players rather than tour pros. Aren’t the pros good enough? Don’t they enjoy the lion’s share of the benefits of most technological advancements anyway? I’m truly honored that a true legend in the golf industry has taken the time and expended the effort of an interview.

Paul Cervantes: When it comes to the golf industry, most players seek the latest in technology. What materials and / or technological innovations do you see on the horizon for premium golf shafts? Will these new materials benefit the average player or will most of the rewards be to the “better” and tour players?

Carter Penley:
Materials are primary to the design of golf shafts as is in all products that incorporate CFE (Carbon Fiber Epoxy) and is the primary driver in the design solution and DSO (Design Service Objective).

Technical innovations not only incorporate materials but require knowledge of and the analysis of the entire lay-up schedule to calculate the compressive/loading strength to perfect the best geometric shape to generate to most efficient load path from tip to butt of the golf shaft.

The advantage of CFE is the freedom of design it affords the composite engineer over metals.

As for on the horizon I am focusing on several design criterion. Number 1 on the list is to incorporate new/exotic materials to enhance playability for all levels of player, 2nd is a quasi-monolithic laminate schedule to advance a more stable performance platform and 3rd is geometry.

As mentioned above my designs tend to lean more toward the average player more than the touring pros. In reality the touring pro being the much better player (usually) is not my first choice for testing because they are so skilled that if there is a problem / defect in a design that in a couple or so hits they will pick up on the problem right away and correct for it and say it plays OK or good, well, that gives me a false positive, therefore I may put into production a less than perfect golf shaft.

In aerospace, testing is performed to fail structures, not to pass them.

Paul Cervantes As a follow up to the first question, how do you equate technological advancements in available materials and innovation to the importance of design and manufacturing precision?

Carter Penley:

As for equating the importance of technological advancements / designs I rate my most critical analysis requirements for me are as follows; laminate schedule analysis represents ~ 50%, materials represent ~30% and ~20% for geometry calculations. Manufacturing processes and fiber alignment although not listed above, to me are critical to the overall analysis for quality and performance of the Penley product(s) and is another reason why I manufacture all my shafts in the USA.

I firmly believe that I need to be in the plant and on the manufacturing floor each and every day to insure all product is manufactured exactly to my design and quality level.

Paul Cervantes: Penley shafts are made in San Diego under your supervision. What are some specific shortcomings that come from overseas manufacture. How much cheaper is it to make shafts offshore?

Carter Penley:

In my opinion the major short comings of overseas manufacturing is control of the manufacturing processes for the Manufacturing Engineer and Quality Assurance Inspector to have the ability to make corrections instantly on the floor during a manufacturing run before hundreds or thousands of bad product is shipped to the customer(s).

Prior to a full production release as a part of my quality assurance program I will, especially for new product, require a 10% pre-production run. The pre-production run is to provide a baseline to verify that the full production run will meet and or exceed all specifications of the shafts physical and mechanical properties. After which all production runs will be subjected to a 10% AQL.

When it comes to the cost of producing product in the US versus offshore it is of course much less expensive for a host of reasons. Primarily are labor cost; particularly in Asia, which I have heard that maybe are as much as 90% less. When NAFTA came along and the large shaft manufacturing companies ran to Mexico, hourly wages were $2-$3/hour and the manufactures on this side of the border just 20 miles north of Mexico were paying $12-$15 / hour.

Secondly the overhead cost are also much less approximately 70% -80% or less than we were paying on this side of the border and the same for facilities and utilities.

Thirdly, last but not least are the state and federal rules, regulations, permits, taxes, fees and a plethora of never ending environmental regulations and won’t even attempt to go into comparing the labor law regulations and conditions! This alone can eat up a good 15% – 20% of your profit compared to off shore companies where most of the above cost is little to non-existent in most overseas countries.

Paul Cervantes: What is your opinion of the practice of many major club manufacturers that install shafts that look like the “retail” version of a shaft but then label it with a “designed for” designation to differentiate it?

Carter Penley:

Decorating shafts specifically for an OEM club company is not unique per se. I have done that for many club companies but my shafts are my designs only, and what you see in that club is the same as all the other shafts I have in my finished goods inventory; the only difference is the shaft they buy from me may have their name on it, but will say “Powered by Penley.” These shafts in our Part Numbering System’ (‘C’ Code) are referred to as private label product. The only difference, if any, is the base coat color and the decoration.

I never sold a private label shaft line to any OEM that said “Designed for or by Ping, Titleist or whomever” that I did not design from the ground up and did not meet my design and engineering standards; that would tarnish my reputation, and would be somewhat duplicitous. My name is worth more to me than the money.

If the original shaft manufacturer did not put their name or mark on the shaft then I would think that the statement “Designed for or by Ping, Titleist or whomever” may indicate that it is different than the original retail product, unless it was actually designed by the “whomever” which in my opinion would be highly improbable.

Obviously the main driving factors for cost are materials and labor. The first item would be CFE. Purchasing a lower grade, reduce the CFE layup schedule per design requirement also resulting in less inspection / QA time.

In my opinion all the above cost saving items are usually done at the expense of performance/quality. But when the question of cost versus performance / quality is broached the general response is: “We make a million clubs a year and if I save one dollar a club that’s another million dollars to our bottom line.” A club builder who worked for a well-known golf component company also added to the statement, “Besides most golfers can’t play good enough to tell the difference anyway.”

Paul Cervantes: Let me extend the question a bit with an example…

Let’s say there’s a shaft you can buy from your local club builder called the “Long & Straight” for $275.

But, when you go to buy a new driver you see one that has a version of the “Long & Straight” installed BUT it also says “designed by ping, titleist, or whomever” that looks like retail version yet the entire driver costs only $299.

So, the questions would be:

1) Are the two shafts really the same or did the shaft manufacturer make two versions of the shaft?

2) If they’re different, how are they different and how do the changes affect performance?

The fear would be that the club company would use the cache of a “$250” shaft to sell their driver yet the actual performance of the shaft would be less since the design and construction are different (lesser) than the retail version.

Or, the retail and “designed by” shafts really are identical which would mean the retail version was wildly overpriced.

Carter Penley: 

To further the thought you are putting forth there are several advantages for the club companies to use a well-known branded shaft. One of which is of perceived quality and or performance which obviously enhances the club companies marketing, promotion and sales success in which the club company can capitalize on the shaft companies claims mentioned above without any consequences of their puffing/hype reflecting on them.

I have seen some extremely high priced golf shafts and this subject has been noted by others (for example, John Muir’s Clubmaker Report Do You Need a $700 Golf Shaft?(4/18/2018) and I’m not sure how they got to that price but maybe they have arrived at that price legitimately, but in my opinion I don’t see how anybody could justify that price. Possibly they know something I don’t?

A second advantage is that the larger offshore shaft companies have is deep pockets and very large marketing budgets and this is not missed by the club companies because they too gain from the benefits of their marketing budgets which basically helps the larger offshore shaft companies close the deal and in some cases consequently eliminating the smaller independent companies.

Third is cost, which should be #1. This is the major item that really contributes to their bottom line and the smaller independent shaft companies take the biggest beating here again when club companies want to cut cost.

My basic business philosophy is not to criticize or make disparaging remarks about my fellow Made in the USA competitors whether it be pricing and or quality / performance of product. But I can give you some input that may influence cost at some shaft companies.

How they apply or place value is their sole decision and in some cases in my opinion they will push the envelope.

  1. Material cost, labor cost and overhead cost are of a few and they come with mark-ups and yield analysis, this is where most cost get inflated.
  2. What price will the customer bear?
  3. Greed.

In my opinion these three items are a few of the major price drivers beyond design and performance criteria; not necessarily in this order.

Paul Cervantes: Aside from cost, is there any advantage to steel over graphite when it comes to shafts for irons? Do lower swing speeds and high total club weight shift the balance back toward steel at all or should we all be moving toward graphite in all of our clubs?

Carter Penley: 

The short answer is no. There is no reason why a graphite (CFE) iron golf shaft cannot perform as well or better than steel iron shafts.

In the mid-late nineties I observed that many high school and college golf teams and a few PGA players were also playing graphite irons and realized that sometime in the near future that graphite would soon be more popular on the PGA tour and I wanted to get ahead of the curve.

I began a graphite iron design project and designed a set of graphite irons in the late 1990s / early 2000s. The first cut was called the Power Iron System, the Design Solution took ~2 years and ~$200K, and I was now ready to fabricate the first prototype set. The DSO consisted of the following, a full set of iron shafts (1-10) perfectly matched with progressive CPMs, descending torque values, and an internal weighting system that I had to develop that would yield a constant swing weight throughout the entire set no matter whose iron heads you installed and all shafts were precut to length ready to install with no tipping required and came in two weight sets 105g and 115g to start, but the design envelope could accommodate 135 grams plus.

All testing was very encouraging and went well but my partner(s) decided to put the company up for sale against my wishes and without my consent. At that time I pulled the plug on all ongoing projects including the Power Iron System.

Despite all the turmoil I had this burning desire to see how good my theory / design was. I arranged to build two sets for two very well-known PGA tour players both of whom had won major PGA events I believe one had won ~20 major wins the second player had 2 major wins and neither one had played with graphite iron shafts, I believe, but for sure I know that one of them had never played graphite iron shafts. With both playing the ‘Power Iron System’, one won a major event at his second or third event out and the other player won his very first event! So far looks like graphite iron shafts are up to the task!

It is my belief that graphite irons are still a viable design and is on the PGA’s horizon, at least still on my horizon. It also appears that my design was far enough ahead of today’s designs that it still is my opinion they can be successful and I plan to bring the Power Iron System back again?

Paul Cervantes: As a designer, what are you working toward in the next generation of Penley shafts?

Carter Penley:

Currently we are working on the marketing and sales distribution of our latest designs the ET2 Pro-Series, ET3 Quasar, Hybrid HH2, and Platinum Fairway woods. All incorporating the newly developed TBAR™ (Tip to Butt Aspect Ratio) theorem.

TBAR™ algorithm has been 5 years in development primarily a manufacturing process yielding the tightest tolerances in today’s golf shaft design bringing to the golf industry the best performing golf shafts, matched by no other golf shaft manufacturer.

See ‘TBAR™’ white paper on Penley web site Penley Golf Shafts ‘TBAR™, part 1 thru part 6.

T-BAR™ White Paper

Also on the drawing board for the near future are:

Q.M.I.T. (Quasi Monolithic Integrated Technology). My hypotheses is that a common defect in the structural design and physical properties which is inherent in tapered tubes because of the traditional geometric shape of the golf shaft. Basically this fault is more prevalent in drivers and also exist in irons too, creating an uneven offset load path that currently cannot be avoided. This affects all level of players to some degree and often leads to the compounding of their off center ball strikes (miss-hits) and also can cause erratic ball flight which will cause the player to start second guessing their swing technique and or lose confidence in their long/short game. If my working hypotheses is correct and proves out it will cause a paradigm shift in today’s golf shaft design for years to come!

A second generation project will be under study soon and is referred to as the Black Magic project and basically consist of a combination of exotic materials that exhibit unique micro mechanical property advantages over the more commonly used materials used in today’s golf shaft.

I’m looking at these materials to primarily design the next generation long drive (and future Penley tour level golf shafts) that will have a much more robust load bearing platform to withstand the ultra-high butt to tip load path and radial torque loads generated by today’s top long drive pro. In 2005, Scott Smith set the world record at 539 yards in an official LDA competition using a PENLEY shaft. His record still stands today. Look for 600 yard drives soon!

 

An Interview with Carter Penley of Penley Sports

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