ESCANABA - The Bay Area Economic Club welcomed Escanaba native Chuck Thiry, vice president of Cleveland Golf/Srixon, at Bay College Monday night.
Thiry started his career in golf at 13 when he was hired in the bag room at the Escanaba Country Club. He later attended the San Diego Golf Academy, and worked as an assistant golf professional before entering golf equipment sales in 1985.
"I was very fortunate. I came into the golf industry in the late '70s early '80s, right when it was about go through a really dramatic boom and really dramatic changes," said Thiry.
Prior to the late '70s there were very few changes made to golf technology. In general, golf clubs produced more side spin and less back spin, causing golfers to hit the ball lower and shorter distances than modern clubs.
"The woods were exactly that - they were made of wood. They were either a solid block of persimmon wood or they were compressed laminated wood," said Thiry.
Because inexperienced or careless golfers would sometimes damage the wooden clubs, driving ranges had aluminum golf clubs available for golfers who showed up without a club or who were beginners.
"They didn't want to give them a good wooden one because they knew they would beat it up," said Thiry.
Golf salesman Gary Adams would travel to ranges selling the aluminum clubs, and frequently heard from customers that the clubs were performing better than their wooden counterparts. Inspired, Adams and his father began creating a metal wood in their garage.
"That changed the face of the business for the next 40 years," said Thiry.
Clubs used to be sold in sets, but Adams began selling the drivers individually and marking the loft degree on the bottom of the club.
"Now people buy four drivers for every one fairway wood they buy, and that's because they were able to separate them and buy them separate," said Thiry. "If they still had to purchase them in full sets they wouldn't make the purchases quite as often."
Golfers were eager to have the latest technology to improve their swing, and were quick to buy the new clubs.
"It started out as a metal golf club and then it became a titanium golf club, and titanium is much lighter and much stronger, so that allowed them to stretch that out and make the golf club heads bigger," said Thiry. "Every time they made it bigger that was a fantastic thing to be a sales guy."
In addition to changing the size of golf club heads, the switch to metal and titanium allowed for the heads to be hollow and the weight to be positioned in the head in specific ways.
"The only thing that's in there is a really light foam, so that allowed the engineers to take all the weight out of the middle of the golf club and put it around the perimeter of the golf club, which is what made the club more forgiving," said Thiry.
The changes in technology have had some affect on the way golf courses are designed, however, nationwide more golf courses have closed than have opened for the fifth straight year.
Currently there are around 20,000 people for every 18 holes of golf nationwide. In Michigan that number is closer to 11,000, and in Delta County there are 18 holes for every 3,000 to 4,000 people.
"If you're a golfer, fantastic place. Least expensive golf rates in the entire United States, high quality of golf, easy access. But if you're a golf course owner or if you're a member in a club and you're paying those bills, you really need to think about the future," said Thiry.
Thiry believes the community needs to work to keep the game alive in the U.P. by drawing attention to the game and the facilities available in the community.
"I can promise you that if those golf courses go away, what will be there will not be as nice as what is there," said Thiry.