One of the events we’ve really been looking forward to as a Golf Club Fitting class has been our end-of-semester tour of the PING manufacturing and club fitting plant located in Phoenix.
Last Monday, half the class (myself included) drove about an hour north through morning rush hour traffic, excited for what we heard from previous semesters was an awesome tour. Unfortunately, the tour we thought we were going on was disappointing and underwhelming – to say the least. As a result of our experience, the tour that had been scheduled for this morning for the other half of the class was postponed until further notice.
It wasn’t our tour guide’s fault. Mike McCann is a great guy and has been with the company since 1988. PING has just started a major remodeling project, and Mike didn’t find out from the engineers that tour access was restricted until the morning of. That’s too bad. We couldn’t take pictures of anything, but it’s not that we would’ve wanted to anyway. We couldn’t see anything. It was simply a leisurely walk from one big building to another.
I hope the tour gets rescheduled for next semester because the PING facility is very impressive. There’s a lot going on, and you can tell the workers there take a lot of pride in what they’re doing. In any event, this article written by about.com’s Judy Hedding back in 2008 will give you a good idea about what you can expect to see if you’re interesting in taking the PING factory tour:
Take a Tour of Karsten Manufacturing
By Judy Hedding
You might not know it by the name Karsten Manufacturing, but PING Golf is the name by which Karsten Manufacturing Corporation is known worldwide. The name Karsten Manufacturing came from the original creator of the first PING club, a putter.
That man was Karsten Solheim. Karsten designed and built his first putter in the garage of his home. Thus began a legacy that would endure for generations to come and make him the only golf club manufacturer to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Although Karsten Solheim passed away in 2000, his sons have continued to manage and advance the family business. If you are interested in learning more about the humble genius behind PING golf clubs, you can read his biography, Karsten’s Way: the Life-Changing Story of Karsten Solheim – Pioneer in Golf Club Design and the Founder of Ping.
The Solheim family is proud to share the history and success of PING Golf, and one of the unique ways in which they do that is by offering free tours of the manufacturing facility in Phoenix. Reservations are required, as they will only take a limited number of people on each guided tour. During the busy season (October through April) they are often booked months in advance.
Beginning the PING Tour
The factory tour of PING begins in the club fitting area where you sign in. In the waiting room the newest PING clubs are on display, and you can drool over them, er, I mean, see what new products are being offered.
There is a small lecture room where you will begin your tour. You’ll be introduced to your tour guide, learn about the history of the company and its founder, Karsten Solheim, and hear about the rest of the Solheim family and their involvement with the company.
The second and third generations of the family are very much involved in the business. Louise Solheim, Karsten’s wife, has always been involved in the business. She celebrated her 90th birthday in 2008.
Although the name Solheim isn’t technically part of the company name, it might sound familiar to golf fans. That’s because Karsten Manufacturing (PING) sponsors a tournament in professional ladies golf called The Solheim Cup. It pits 12 of the top European-born players against 12 top American-born players. It is a prestigious event that occurs only every other year (odd years), alternating between the U.S. and Europe. That tradition began in 1990.
After the tour guide presents an overview of PING, you’ll see a video that includes, among other things, the physics of golf club design.
What You’ll See at PING
As you walk with your guide through the various sections of the PING manufacturing plant you’ll see real employees, many of whom have worked there for decades, performing real tasks. They are analyzing shafts, painting logos, adjusting weights and balances, filling orders, implementing quality checks, and doing the hundreds of tasks that go into producing various types of golf clubs. You’ll see irons, woods and putters.
You’ll see accessories. You’ll step into the international shipping area. You won’t see much inventory – don’t forget to ask your tour guide why!
What you won’t see at PING: You won’t see any financial information about the company on any of the walls, in any of the brochures, or on the PING web site. You can’t buy stock in PING. That’s because it is a privately held company. It is owned primarily by the Solheim family. Will they tell you how much the company is worth? No, they won’t.
PING is About People
Without giving away too much of the tour’s thunder, I will tell you that one of the fascinating aspect of the PING operation is that their golf clubs are basically all made based on orders. Sure, there are many demo sets and standard display sets of golf clubs created, especially when a new line is introduced. But while you are walking from building to building seeing hundreds of people work on golf clubs, understand that there’s no huge inventory of off-the-shelf clubs here.
Someone has purchased a putter, a pro shop has ordered some demo sets, or a set of PING irons needs adjustment. On this tour you’ll see the people – yes, people, not machines – taking care of it.
Update 2012: When I took this tour, in 2008, there were club molding and club making processes here. Those processes no longer take place at this location. PING has a foundry in southwest Phoenix that does make heads and monitors the molding process, but obviously that is no longer part of the tour.
PING is very proud of its partnerships with professional golfers. In every PGA or LPGA tournament you can be certain that there are a significant number of PING clubs on the course. One of the golfers of whom PING is very proud is Lorena Ochoa. Eligible to be included in the Hall of Fame in 2012, Lorena played PING clubs from the time she was 15 years old. The majority of the clubs in her bag are PINGs, including her putter. She has visited the Karsten Manufacturing facility several times over the years.
What You Need to Know Before Taking the Tour
The tour of the PING facility is fascinating and well worth the trip for people who love golf and want to see what a successful international golf club manufacturing plant looks like from the inside. You are sure to learn something that you didn’t know before you came! Still, there are some things you should know before you embark upon this tour.
1. The tour takes 2 hours or more. Much of that time you’ll be standing or walking.
2. Dress is casual. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
3. During the tour you will be visiting the actual manufacturing areas, not exhibits or replicas. That means that there will be people working and quite a bit of noise. You’ll be wearing goggles for eye protection and headphones so that you can hear the tour guide speaking.
4. Children under 9 years old are not permitted on the tour. I really don’t recommend this tour for children who are older than 9 unless they are really avid golfers. There’s nothing for them to do if they get tired or bored.
5. Most of the tour takes place indoors, but there is some walking between buildings which can be hot in the summertime.
6. There are no freebies or giveaways on this tour.
7. There are no hats, tee shirts or other souvenirs for sale.
8. There is no snack bar, but there are vending machines. No food is allowed on the tour.
What You Won’t See
You’ll get a thorough introduction to the world of PING Golf on this free factory tour, but there’s at least one thing you won’t see – “the vault.” What is it? That’s where PING keeps some very special clubs.
Every time a pro golfer wins a tournament using a PING putter, the company makes two gold-plated replica putters, engraved with the golfer’s name and the tournament name and date. One is sent to the golfer as a congratulatory memento.
The other is kept in the vault. What if a professional golfer wins a major with a PING putter? Then it isn’t just gold-plated, it’s a solid gold putter head.
This tour group was very lucky to find that four gold putters were being made on this day. Although we tried, we couldn’t convince them to let us put them away in the vault!
Club Fittings at PING
Anyone can walk into a sporting goods store and buy a set of golf clubs. Once you know you are devoted to the game you might want to consider getting fitted for your clubs.
At the PING facility you can get fitted for PING clubs. You can do that either before or after your tour. Fittings are provided on a first-come, first-served basis.
Since there is no charge for a fitting, fitted clubs don’t cost any more than off the rack clubs.
Why get fitted? A PING professional club fitter can help you decide which clubs are best for your size, your swing, your style. No two people swing a golf club exactly alike, and being fitted for your clubs will help you to get the most from your equipment.
Things to Keep in Mind About a PING Fitting
* You can’t make a reservation. Show up, sign in, and fill-out a form.
* I highly recommend getting fitted by a professional.
* PING will record the information for you. You have to it to a PING retailer.
* You can’t buy clubs at PING. The staff is there to assist you to assess the best PING equipment for your golf game.
* It’s a club fitting, not a lesson.
* Fittings are done Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
PING is probably best known for it putters, which were the first clubs designed by Karsten Solheim. While people spend a quite a bit of time and money to find the driver that will yield the longest drives or the best irons, those same people will often walk into a sporting goods store, pick up a couple of putters from a rack, try them out and then buy one. Did you know that putters, like woods and irons, have characteristics like club length and loft?
When I was fitted for my PING putter, there were several steps to the process:
1. Determining the best length of the club based on my stance.
2. Finding the consistent path angle of my putt to further define my putting motion.
3. Determining how the club lies during my standard address.
4. Recognizing any loft upon impact for longer putts.
5. Selecting a style of putter that was aesthetically pleasing and comfortable.
Since putting represents usually between 30 and 50% of our strokes, it only makes sense that we take as much care to purchase the correct putter for our game. At the Phoenix PING facility, you can also be fitted for a putter. Fittings are done Monday through Friday during their normal business hours.
Hours, Location, and Admission
Tours of PING Golf are offered Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays (except major holidays) by reservation only. They start promptly at 9 a.m. A limited number of people are allowed on each guided tour, and during the busy season (October through April) they are often booked months in advance. Call 602-687-5385 or 1-800-474-6434 to make a reservation.
If you make a reservation and won’t be able to keep the appointment, please call and let PING know. That way, people who are on the waiting list can take the tour. Are there ever no-shows? Well, yes. If you want to take the chance and show up on a tour morning to see if you can take the place of a no-show, you can do that. Of course, there’s a risk that you’ll make that trip and there won’t be any no-shows.
PING Golf is located at 2201 W. Desert Cove Ave. in Phoenix. Parking is free, and there is no charge for the tour of the PING facility.