My Epic Experience

The Eli Callaway Performance Center (ECPC) is where Tour pros go to practice and get fitted.
The Ely Callaway Performance Center is where pros go to practice and get fitted.

About two months ago, I was asked to become a Callaway Golf staff member, meaning that I would represent the brand at La Paloma Country Club where I work. I had served as a Callaway Advocate since June, and after attending the company’s Epic Tour stop in Scottsdale in December, the decision was a no-brainer.

One of the perks of being “on staff” with Callaway is being custom fitted for a set of golf clubs. I’m contractually obligated to play at least 12 Callaway clubs in my bag of 14. While I could have elected to go to the Callaway Performance Center at Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale for an indoor fitting, my preference was to go straight to the source: Callaway’s corporate headquarters in Carlsbad, California.

Surprisingly, four of the world’s largest golf manufacturers are located within just a few miles of one another in Southern California: Callaway, Titleist, TaylorMade, and Cobra-Puma.

Andrew Mlynarski, who is our Regional Account Representative at Callaway Golf, is the guy I call every time we need to place an order for the Country Club. He’s great, and he was quick to set me up with a fitting at Callaway’s corporate office. But when I learned that it would be another indoor fitting, I asked if there was any way I could do an outdoor fitting at Callaway’s nearby performance center just a few miles up the road from the corporate offices. I could tell that this was going to be a challenge, but hey, if you’re going to do it, why not do it right?

Turns out it was a bigger deal than even I thought. After getting approval from his bosses and narrowing it down to a specific set of dates, we settled on a Friday in late March. At lunch before the fitting, Andrew told me that in his two plus years of being a Regional Account Representative, he’s never had a staffer go through an outdoor fitting at the performance center. The experience is generally reserved for Callaway Master Staffers (of which there are only about 40 nationwide), the occasional VIP, and Tour players.

In fact, many of the PGA, LPGA, and Web.com players who play Callaway and live in the area will use the facility as a private place to practice, which is why setting a fitting date was such a big deal. Callaway tells you when they can accommodate you, and if Phil Mickelson or Jim Furyk wants to use it, naturally they get first priority. Andrew told me, “I’m not saying this is a once in a lifetime experience, but it’s pretty close.” Now I was really getting excited.

All of the guests of Callaway Live sign a golf ball for the trophy case after the show.
All of the guests of Callaway Live sign a golf ball for the trophy case after the show.

But first we had some time to kill, and Andrew had offered to give me and my wife a behind-the-scenes tour prior to the fitting, an offer we graciously accepted. From the moment we walked through the doors, our treatment was first-class, beginning with Mary the receptionist who gave my wife a Callaway hat and visor. Then Andrew took us back into all the offices.

It was Friday, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood, from the people in the design center where they design all of the Tour staff golf bags (sadly, I couldn’t take any pictures here, but I can tell you that they’re working on some pretty cool prototype golf bags for the upcoming U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin) to the marketing and multimedia departments.

There we chatted with host and golf reporter Amanda Balionis and Harry Arnett the host of Callaway’s weekly variety show, Callaway Live. They couldn’t have been more gracious. Arnett has all of his guests sign a golf ball (or in the case of Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, a baseball) for the hallway trophy case. Here’s a video clip of Arnett explaining what the show is all about:

 

 

Jeff Neubarth is the Executive Producer of Callaway Media Productions and runs every Callaway Live show. I first met Jeff at the Golfsmith store in Scottsdale in early March of last year where I got fitted for a Callaway XR 16 driver by none other than Hank Haney. Jeff and his crew were on hand to document the experience, and ever since, I’ve been politely pestering Jeff for a copy of the video for my web site because I’d never seen it. I’d even gone so far as to follow-up with Jeff several months later to see if could get a DVD. He told me it was posted on Callaway’s Apple TV channel, but that was about as far as I could get.

Then, when I ran into some more of Callaway’s big-wigs at the Epic Tour stop in December, I got some more contacts and emailed them my plight in hopes of getting their help but to no avail. What, Jeff has nothing better to do than to track down video clips for a small-time blogger? So flash forward… back to the Callaway offices. There we were, standing in the office where Jeff worked on a regular basis only to find out that he was in Austin for the week’s Dell Technologies Match Play.

Roger Cleveland
Roger Cleveland has his own shelving unit in the Pro Tour Department.

It also just so happened that one of Jeff’s co-workers, Associate Video Producer & Editor Alexis Eader, who was there on the day of the shoot, recognized me from the video having edited the piece herself, and told me she would be happy to email me a copy of the video. It also helped my cause that we were both Arizona State University Alums. You’ve gotta help a fellow Sun Devil whenever you can! I was thrilled! Finally, after more than a year of attempting to track it down, my quest to reunite with the video was complete.

No matter what happened next, I was going to leave feeling satisfied. And the fitting was yet to come! The three of us milled about outside Research & Development hoping to gain access to the heart of Callaway Golf. Andrew’s security badge couldn’t get him in, but after a few minutes of waiting patiently for an opening, someone finally came to the door and invited us back.

We saw where they made and tested various golf balls, and we spoke to an engineer who let us watch the machining of an Odyssey putter. He also showed us the equipment where Rory McIlroy’s Callaway clubs were custom-fabricated over a period of several days. He told us they had to work around-the-clock forging McIlroy’s three sets of clubs to identical spec.

Then we walked through the Callaway Pro Tour Department, which is basically the warehouse where all of the Tour players club components are stored – everything from grips and shafts to older club heads in case a player prefers a little older technology that has been discontinued. When a Tour player wants something, all he has to do is relay the message to Pro Tour, and someone find and assembles all of the components to spec.

As we were walking through the warehouse, something unique caught my eye. I snapped a pic of a shelving unit with a sign that read, “Rack for Roger Cleveland.” Cleveland is the engineer who designed the famous Cleveland wedge and who has worked for Callaway Golf since 1996. I was told that he still spends a lot of time walking around the Callaway offices even now into his early 70s.

Anthony Taranto shows off his custom wedge for Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk.
Anthony Taranto shows off his custom wedge for Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk.

Just off the Pro Tour warehouse, we walked into Callaway Customs where we met a really cool dude, artist and wedge stamper Anthony Taranto. Andrew called him by the nickname, “A-T.” I call Taranto an artist because he’s become famous for his artistry on Instagram and other social media outlets. His title on Instagram is Pro Tour club builder/wedge art specialist at Callaway Golf. The man is super talented.

Michelle Wie recently commissioned a set of Harry Potter-themed wedges from Taranto, and when we were there, he was putting the finishing touches on a custom MD3 Milled Wedge for current Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk. He told us he was sending it to Furyk in a couple of days. Furyk hadn’t even seen them yet! Sorry Jim. But they look great!

Then it was finally time to head deeper into the hills above Carlsbad to what Callaway employees lovingly refer to as ECPC, Ely Callaway Performance Center. We followed Andrew into a non-descript cul-de-sac and through an electronic security gate. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d never even know that it was back there. When Andrew checked us in, he asked who would be doing my fitting. The receptionist replied, “Gerritt,” which referred to Senior Club Performance Analyst Gerritt Pon.

I was in not just good, but great hands. Pon is Phil Mickelson’s personal fitter, meaning he personally builds everything that Mickelson puts in his golf bag. Andrew and I parted ways with a handshake. For him, it was back to work. For me, it was time to get to work putting together my new set of Callway golf clubs.

Over the next two-and-a-half hours, I got to feel what it was like to be treated like a Tour player. From hitting wedges, irons, hybrids, and drivers out on the private driving range to rolling putts in the indoor putting lab, Andrew was right. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience! Gerritt was great too. As someone who does a little fitting at La Paloma myself, it was great to talk shop with a guy who does this for a living at the highest levels – from R&D to working with Tour players.

I got to really pick the brain of Gerritt Pon, the guy who personally builds all of Phil Mickelson's clubs.
Gerritt Pon is the only guy Phil Mickelson trusts to builds his golf clubs.

I got to really pick his brain as to what he’s looking for when doing a fitting, and he was really patient with me as we worked our way through the bag, different bounces, lofts, and shafts. It was approaching 5:00p, and we were the only ones still out on the range. Other employees were leaving to start their weekends, but not Gerritt. I might as well have been a Tour pro. He wasn’t going to leave until the job was done.

It was no surprise to me that at the end of what I’m sure was a long week for him, he still took the time to email me my specs before he left for the day. He could’ve easily waited until Monday. But it was important to him to make sure I had them before I left. And it was important to me. This was certainly an afternoon I will never forget.

Overall, I can’t say enough about the first-class treatment my wife and I received. I’m convinced that no other company in the golf industry treats its staffers better! Special thanks to everyone who we met and who treated us so well, but especially to Andrew and Gerritt who went out of their way to ensure that our time at Callaway was unforgettable.

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