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  1. It's one of the most talked about equipment introductions of 2015 – the new Ben Hogan irons and wedges made their debut at the 2015 PGA Show. And by all accounts, the new sticks flat out perform. The new iteration of the Ben Hogan Company is the brainchild of Terry Koehler – the founder of Eidelon and SCOR wedges. “We had lots of electricity around us, driven first by the reintroduction of Mr. Hogan's ideals to the game, the equipment and the business,” says Koehler, who spent time in the 90's as Marketing Director for the original Ben Hogan Company. “We had countless golf professionals, and even industry people, tell us ‘thank you for bringing Ben Hogan back to golf.'” Koehler describes bringing back the Hogan brand as a “labor of love.” Whether it's moving the Hogan Company back to Fort Worth or bringing back the iconic Hogan signature to the new irons, Koehler has a keen sense of history and the Hogan legacy. That sense of tradition, however, is in sharp contrast to a very non-traditional approach to the new irons and to today's golf market. Terry shares his goals, ideas and the challenges the new Ben Hogan Company is facing in today's “5 Questions.” MGS 5Q's: The new Hogan irons were the buzz of the PGA Show. But why did you decide to go with the non-traditional loft numbering system instead of the traditional iron numbering system? Are you concerned that might cause some confusion for the golfer while on the course? Terry Koehler: Let me start with your second question. It's no more confusing than any new set of irons. Your new lofts will be different than your old ones, so you have to learn a whole new distance chart regardless, but that only takes a few rounds. With our approach, you are simply orienting a distance to a loft number, rather than a ‘6' or ‘8.' As to why we did it, we saw it as the only way to bring real precision back to the irons category. Haven't the numbers on irons been rendered relatively meaningless to the golfer, when the loft of the ‘six-iron,' for example, in the 2015 product lines range from 34 degrees all the way down to 27, with shaft lengths also varying by an inch or more? With everyone trying to make the longest hitting six-iron, lofts have been compressed at the long end of the set, and widened at the short end. The ‘typical' set of irons has 4 clubs to cover lofts from 21-30 degrees, and only three from 35-45 degrees. So the golfer – whether a tour pro or recreational player – has less at least twice the distance difference between his short irons as with the longer irons. I cannot find a way to make sense of that, if your goal is to play precision golf. Look at it this way; Mr. Hogan had seven clubs in his bag that went less than 160 yards. The modern tour player has only three or four. But the tour players hit almost 2/3 of their approach shots with an eight iron or less. Our research indicates most recreational players do as well. Why would anyone want only 1/3 of their clubs for 2/3 of their shots? The Ben Hogan Fort Worth 15 irons re-arrange the gaps to be more consistent from club to club, and maybe even tighter as you get close to the green. We essentially cover the range of 20-45 degrees with seven clubs instead of eight, so that you can also put a “true” pitching wedge of 48-51 degrees back in your bag. That club has been lost for decades. MGS 5Q's: Golfers may be reluctant to shell out $150 per club for a set if irons they can't try first – how large is your network of pros/fitters currently? What does your business model bring to the table for those pros and fitters compared to other brands of irons? What will the fitting process be like? How does the online “HoganFit” work? TK: You are absolutely right, and we wouldn't expect them to do that. We just launched the new Ben Hogan irons and wedges, and had tremendous interest from the golf professional and retail network. We are now building that network, but it will take time to get hundreds or thousands of Ben Hogan facilities in place. We ask for a little patience. We will begin shipping demos to our accounts in late March, and will go as fast as we can. If any golfer would like to demo the new Hogans, they can contact us to see where the nearest fitting center is located. As for our fitting model, we're focused on providing the golfer a complete experience, so we will be providing full sets of demos in various shafts to our accounts. We believe a golfer should be able to hit long irons, mid irons, short irons and wedges before they pull the trigger. It is not realistic, in our opinion, that you can hit the six-iron only and know that set of irons is for you. We will also have a fitting system that allows the golfer to determine the shaft, length and lie that fits them best. The HoganFit process will provide the golfer with a full bag “map”, or analysis of their current set make-up and its challenges. From data collected by measuring real golfers' actual distances, we can pretty accurately project a yardage chart based on the set make-up and strength profile of the golfer. HoganFit will show them how they can select the correct set of lofts in their new Hogans so that they have consistent gapping from long irons through wedges. This cannot be done without offering every single loft from 20-63 degrees. Our standard choice of shafts is the KBS Tour V for standard weight steel, the KBS Tour 90 for lightweight steel and the UST Mamiya Recoil for graphite. All are available in a range of flexes to allow any golfer to get what they want and need. We will stock and offer most of the popular shafts for custom orders, and will build a set of ‘Hogans' on any shaft a golfer wants through special order. Our focus is on the golfer and taking care of their preferences. MGS 5Q's: What are your market share goals for 2015? What are your planned product lifecycles? Will you be changing the line yearly or every other year? Are you planning to expand into hybrids, FW's and drivers? Is there a timeframe? TK: We are brand new, so we really don't have any hard goals. We will be ramping up into increasing levels of production capacity as the year goes on. It's already obvious that we will be working hard to keep up with demand, and a reasonable wait is likely in these early months of our introduction. We don't know how large we can be, but it will be driven by golfers' desire to own the most precise scoring tools ever made, not by some arbitrary market share target or distribution model. Our singular focus is on the golf clubs, and the golfer who is going to play Hogans. As for product lifecycles, we don't have a plan to replace a product until we can genuinely make it better. Why replace a product that still works better than anything it is up against just because it is a year old? There are millions of golfers out there that want the same things – performance and value. We will continue to give them just that, and we will only alter or introduce products when we have something better to offer. As far as other offerings are concerned, we have many things in development at this time, and will roll out each of these when we have something that we truly believe will outperform the other options in the marketplace. We have no hard timelines. We believe there are many things that can be done in pursuit of the most precise clubs on the market that golfers are not being offered. In our view, golf is about making the ball go exactly where you want, how you want. The Ben Hogan Company will always be focused on that precision element of the game. MGS 5Q's: On our forum the reaction to Hogan is varied based on age – older guys like me, who remember the Hogan legacy and have actually seen “Follow The Sun,” are VERY excited. Younger golfers are much less so – what's your battle plan for tackling the two different demographics? TK: This is not about ‘nostalgia', but rather building better golf clubs for those who share our ideals that golf is a game of accuracy. If you play the game, you want to hit better shots more often. It doesn't matter how old you are or what your handicap is. ‘Better golf shots more often' – that is the allure of this game. And we have built the most precise irons and wedges ever. Accurate and forgiving. But actually, we had a lot of interest from younger golfers. That was the only surprise to us, really. The quest for precision knows no age limits. All these young guns are long. The only way to separate yourself from the pack is to be more accurate as well. This approach to irons and wedges – not just the lofts, but the entire weighting design – will deliver better accuracy and just as much forgiveness as any clubs on the market. If golfers try them, they will see for themselves that Hogan technology is genuine and real. In the end, it's all about the product. Does it perform as promised and deliver value? We believe the new Hogans do that better than any other. 5 MGS 5Q's: How would you describe the opportunity and challenge of bringing the Hogan line back to life? What would Mr. Hogan say about the state of the golf equipment industry today? What would he think of today's marketing? What would he think of the clubs you've created? TK: That is the toughest question you have asked. Mr. Hogan was my childhood idol, and along with my father, the man I looked up to most. In the 1990s, my time at Hogan allowed me to meet people who worked directly for Mr. Hogan, and I learned more about him. Since that time, I've always had a “Hogan wall” in my office, to provide inspiration. So in the summer of 2013, I made the call that changed my whole life, and that of many around me. We have over 130 years of experience on our team of people who worked for Mr. Hogan. We have surrounded ourselves with people who knew him on a personal level so that we could honor his legacy in the most accurate manner. This is not just some “brand” we are dealing with here. This is a real man's legacy. We take that very seriously. The opportunity is enormous, and the challenge rather daunting. Not because of market share or financial gain, but because of who Mr. Hogan was to so many, and to us. The first measure of any and every decision we make is simple. Would it make Mr. Hogan proud? If the answer is yes, then it is probably the right thing to do. As for what Mr. Hogan would think of the industry today? I can only guess, of course, as he's not here. I sure would love to ask him those questions myself. First, I think he would see this strengthening of lofts rather puzzling. To him, it was always about precision, the ability to place the ball where you want it, and get it there in the right manner. How far you can hit a ball with a given club is based on your skill and strength profile. Some people are longer than others. Fine. But that shorter hitter who is in command of his or her ball is a match for anyone. When Mr. Hogan started his company, it was with the simple statement that he thought he could make a better golf club. That drives us as well. So we believe he would be very proud of us for taking this approach to precision, given today's equipment environment. The most flattering comments we receive are those from people who knew him and his equipment, when they say, “Mr. Hogan would be proud.” If we continue to have that as our goal, we will be just fine.
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