Feature Interview with Ari Techner
How did you develop an interest in golf clubs? Do you play with hickories?
Golf equipment has always been one of my biggest passions. I got into a golf at a young age and I was always fascinated with the different kinds of clubs out there and why certain clubs played the way they did. I was especially fascinated with persimmon woods and the thought that someone was making those essentially by hand out of a block of wood. I have a large collection of persimmon drivers that I still take out on the course every once in a while and also a large collection of hickories that I love playing with. If I played on a course that was consistently firm and fast I would play a good percentage of my golf with hickory.
What prompted you to found Scratch Golf? Put another way, what gap in the equipment market existed that you thought could be profitably filled?
I started Scratch Golf with Jeff McCoy in 2003 because there was nobody in the golf club business making wedges at the time with any thought going into fitting the sole grind of the club to the player’s swing who would be using it. Jeff has an amazing talent for shaping golf clubs and I have a critical eye for what I like and don’t like in a golf club. Jeff and I set out to make me a set of wedges that had the specs and features I wanted built into the sole of the club. We tried to accomplish this using wedges that were already on the market and modify them but this proved impossible mostly due to weighting issues. We then set out to find a raw wedge head with extra weight that Jeff could shape into custom wedges with virtually any specs and sole grind. That wedge became the first Scratch Golf custom wedge offering.
How do boutique club manufacturers like Miura, 14, Scratch, etc. compete against the massive R&D and advertising budgets of Nike, Taylor-Made and Titleist?
The simple answer to that question is by making better golf clubs. Scratch Golf takes no short cuts in making the best golf clubs in the world. The other, larger OEMs all take various short cuts in making their clubs simply for logistical reasons. Our clubs are forged in Japan from the finest soft carbon steel and are ground by hand by one of our Master Craftsmen to the exact specs of the player that will use it. The larger OEMs make the same club over and over again and expect it to work for everybody. The golf swing is very unique. It is like a finger print. No two are the same and golf becomes a much easier game if your clubs fit you properly and allow you to play with your natural swing with the most success.
When faced with budgetary constraints, is it more important to sink money into the shaft or the head?
The best thing that anyone can do for their golf game is get properly fit for their clubs. Having a quality fitter help you determine the specs that you need will help you improve your game more than anything. Its amazing to me how many people out there who are knowledgeable about golf and golf equipment still end up using clubs that do not fit them at all. There really is no good answer to shaft vs head as both play a vital role in the overall club but I would say that going out and buying the latest and greatest head does not necessarily mean that you are getting a product that will work better for you. I have seen plenty of players using for example a driver that is a few years old with a shaft and head combination that fits them perfectly and not be able to find anything new that works better or even as well.
Do shafts wear out/lose their effectiveness?
Shafts do not wear out as long as you take decent care of your clubs. If you left clubs with a steel shaft consistently somewhere wet and or humid you could rust the shafts from the inside out but that only happens if you neglect taking care of your clubs. A good tip would be to not leave your clubs in your trunk all summer when it is hot outside.
Talk to us about the importance of club fitting and the benefits that a golfer can expect.
I believe that club fitting is by far the biggest technological advance in the game in the last 10 years and the best thing you can do for your golf game. Golf is a hard game. Why play clubs that do not fit you and make it harder? It’s like a pair of shoes. You would not go into a shoe store and buy a pair of shoes that do not fit you, why do that with golf clubs?! When you go into a golf store, or go on-line and buy a club off the rack the chances that it will truly work for you is low. When you get fit for your clubs you are putting yourself in a position for success. You are removing one variable of this very difficult game. The key to fitting is that you end up playing clubs that allow you to take your normal and natural swing without having to compensate for the way your clubs are setup. All golfers should expect to make better, more consistent contact with clubs that are fit properly. They should expect their shots to start and stay online more consistently. They should expect to play the game a little better and a little more consistently.
Suppose you are a member of a Golden Age parkland course with push-up greens. Wind isn’t a dominant factor. Construct a set of clubs for a 5 handicap golfer.
Set make up in this case would be determined somewhat by the typical ballflight of the player. A player that hits the ball high will be able to keep another iron or two in their bag. Someone with a lower ballflight would want an extra hybrid and or fairway wood. This allows both players to be able to hit greens from farther away with the proper trajectory. The high ball hitter likely hits higher lofted hybrids and fairway woods too high to get optimal distance and the low ball hitter will not hit long irons high and soft enough to hold a green. Assuming standard lofts and a standard medium height player I recommend:
Would that configuration change for a 15 handicap?
Most likely I would not change the set makeup for a 15 handicap unless that player had major deficiencies that needed to be addressed.
How about if you were a member of an all-fescue course in a windy environment?
For a windy fescue course I would likely keep one more iron in the bag and remove the 5 wood or the hybrid. I know many look to remove a higher lofted wedge in this situation but in my experience the LW has become the standard ‘go to’ sand club for most players and I would never recommend removing your main sand club. If you play with a lower lofted wedge as your main sand club I would remove the LW and add another club that can be hit low and into the wind. I would also go down 1* or so on your driver loft.
You are a member at the Ross gem Franklin Hills, which measured just under 6,500 yards when it opened in 1927. Today, it measures under 7,000 yards yet still challenges the best. Talk to us about how it has evolved over the decades.
One of the things I have always said is I would love to jump in a time machine and see Franklin Hills around the time it opened. Franklin has been kept mostly original and true to the original Ross design over the years however it has changed and evolved like every other golden age course. I think course maintenance technology has changed the course as much or more than club technology. Franklin likes to keep the course lush and green and I believe that this has removed many of the ground game options that were present on the course originally. Club technology plays a roll is this also as the game became something that was played more through the air and less on the ground. The one thing club technology has really changed at Franklin is how the par 5s play. Franklin has long hard par 3s (the two on the back being considerably longer than 200y) but short and scorable par 5s. All 4 are reachable in 2 now to anyone with above average length with the two on the back playing considerably less than 500y. Franklin is a course you can really score on when you are on top of your game but a course that will frustrate and confound you if your game is a little off.
As a club manufacturer, I imagine you agree with the sentiment that golfers should have 15-20 clubs and customize their set per day based on the particular playing conditions (soft/rain soaked versus firm/fast) and type course (Golden Age or one that features a series of forced carries). What are some of the most versatile clubs that golfers could add in and out of their bag on a given day?
A player should have 16-17 clubs that can be changed in and out based on course and conditions but more than that I believe could cause some issues. I do believe that a little lower lofted driver will work better playing on a windy fescue based course where the ball rolls out. Everyone should have a lower lofted iron to use on a windy course also into the wind on par 4s or laying up on a par 5. Another example I have seen of players being successful with a specialty club is where you have a par 3 or other shot on your home course that requires a certain shot or distance that is generally not needed on other courses. Lastly I have seen players who have difficulty chipping off tight lies have success with various chipper type clubs on firm fast turf.
Wedges seem to be a world unto themselves. The term ‘bounce’ is widely misunderstood. When should golfers want more (9, 10 degrees) and when should they want less (5,6 degrees)?
Bounce is entirely about fitting. One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about wedges is that they need a higher bounce and a lower bounce wedge for different situations. Everyone swings the club a certain way and bounce is all about fitting the sole of the club to the player that using it. If you have a steep aggressive swing you need more bounce. If you are more shallow and sweep the ball then you need less bounce. This is consistent throughout the whole set and does not change based on conditions. For example, if you are a sweeper and barely make any ground contact during a wedge shot, why would it matter what the conditions of the turf are? Most people do not have enough bounce especially in their highest lofted wedge where many seem to believe they need lower bounce for versatility. When a player has one wedge with high bounce and one wedge with low bounce they always have one that they like better, have more success with and use much more often. That one is always the one with the bounce angle that fits their swing. I always recommend reconfiguring your wedge setup so all of your wedges have a similar bounce angle and one that fits your swing.
Talk to us about the different kinds of grinds and their importance.
This question goes hand and hand with the one above on bounce. The “grind” of the wedge includes all characteristics of the sole including bounce, relief, camber, rocker and sole width. The first step to wedge fitting is determining the correct bounce angle. The next step is setting up the rest of the sole for the shots the player typically uses the wedge for. If the player will open the face for flops shots, we typically add relief in the heel, toe and trailing edge which allows the player to open the face without the leading edge coming up off the ground. This allows the bounce to play at a consistent angle no matter the angle of the face. A lower lofted wedge that will be mostly used with the face square and for fuller shots will have a fuller sole with less relief. Scratch Golf offers an almost unlimited amount of grind options so that every player can find the right wedge for every situation.
Living around Pinehurst, playing off hardpan is an issue. What should players look for when playing off hardpan?
Hitting off hard pan is more a technique question that an equipment question. If you want to set-up a club for hard pan, a little thinner sole on your irons will make that shot a little easier.
Hybrids became the ‘thing’ a decade or so ago. Now I am seeing long irons return to bags of good players, or at least hybrids that look a lot more like irons than previously. Why is that? Have they become easier to hit?
At the beginning hybrids were set-up to hit the ball high and left to combat the low slice that most players had with their longer irons. Better players often find that they have a hard time finding a hybrid that they do not miss left. Due to this hybrid designs have gotten closer to long irons in design and offering custom lie angles for Tour players. Also there are more irons available with a lower COG (center of gravity) that makes those long irons easier to hit high and soft. Also as fitting has become more prevalent, more players are seeing that long irons are not as scary as they originally thought. One of the things we do in a fitting is try to see where the player starts to lose efficiency with their long irons and should start looking at transitioning to a hybrid or fairway wood. Higher ball hitters with above average swing speeds are surprised how much more effective they can be with a long iron over a hybrid. Like the rest of the equipment industry, I think the biggest change has been fitting and getting players using the proper clubs.
Since starting Scratch, what is the biggest change that you have seen in irons?
We started Scratch in 2003. The biggest challenge we have seen in irons has been the increased strengthening of lofts. This generally creates a huge yardage gap between the PW and their next wedge as the PW has become the loft of a 9 or even an 8 iron. For the player that does not have a keen understanding of equipment and lofts, this can be a huge problem. You have a player that hits his PW 140 yards but his “sand wedge” around 100 at most. When you have a player that does not know golf equipment they do not understand why this is so and often do not do anything to address it. They do not realize that their PW is extremely strong lofted while their “sand wedge” has stayed traditional at 56* and so they now have 10* to 12* or more of a loft gap between these two clubs. The larger OEMs like to sell distance, and that has slowly made irons stronger and stronger to the detriment of golfers. We try to leave our lofts more standard so the player does not have this huge gap but the challenge there is everyone likes to hit the ball far and lower lofted irons go farther than traditionally lofted irons. However, if you are 173 yards from the hole, you want to hit the ball 173 yards. Not 175 or 178 yards. Irons are about accuracy, hitting it the right distance and having the proper yardage gaps between clubs.
What is your involvement at Sweetens Cove?
I am the Co-Founder of Sweetens Cove. It is a project that I could not be more passionate and excited about. I believe it is one of the very special places in the game of golf and I cannot tell you how exciting it is to be able to share it with other golfers who truly appreciate what we have to offer. I love talking to people who are using Scratch Golf Clubs that have helped them enjoy the game more. I find equal satisfaction in talking to people who have gone to Sweetens and hear them talk about how amazing their experience was.
We are a semi-private club. We have some founding members and some local members and are also open to the public. We want everyone who loves golf and loves the experience of playing on a course that is truly special to come experience Sweetens Cove.
Are there holes at Sweetens Cove that you play differently with hickory than with modern clubs?
There is no question that I think about the game differently with hickory in my hands. The biggest difference is around the greens in deep bunkers. For example, there is a bunker short of the first green that is just nasty that I will literally play away from with hickory because I know I cannot advance the ball onto the green from anywhere close to the railrod ties in the front of the bunker. I always play to the open left side of the green with hickory even if the flag is on the right. The contours of the green can kick the ball to the right but I intentionally leave myself a long-ish lag putt instead of challenging the bunker, even with a shorter club. With my modern clubs I do not hesitate to challenge the bunker because I know with my Scratch 60* I can get it on the green or close to the hole from the bunker.