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From aircraft to golf gloves

The FootJoy glove factory in Laem Chabang industrial area, outside Pattaya, Thailand, employs over 1,500 people who put together 19 glove models in 16 different sizes. In all, 12 million gloves are made here each year.

Prabhdev Singh | Print Edition: September 7, 2008

Prabhdev Singh
Probably the most underrated of golf equipment, the glove has come a long way along with huge changes in golf ball construction and the making of golf clubs. Remember the earlier gloves? They looked nice and bright in their wrappings, but a round later, when the sweat would dry off them, they would get all shrivelled up and become hard as cardboard. It would take an effort to put your hand back into that glove, let alone grip a golf club. The next time around, it’s only when your hand would start sweating again, that the leather would soften up and you would be able to wrap your fingers around the grip. The only “feel” you would have is of your palm rubbing against hardened leather.

For all those twisted minds who are visualising something completely different, I’m still talking golf here! A recent visit to the FootJoy glove factory in Laem Chabang industrial area, outside Pattaya, Thailand, was an eye-opener. Not that the nightlife in the beach town wasn’t and the company needs to be congratulated for having picked such a spot for its plant. Kenneth Shim, MD, is a lucky man. The phrase “business-cum-pleasure” acquires a whole new meaning here. I jest. Shim is a married man who takes his work very seriously. He has to, considering the size of the operations. The factory employs over 1,500 people who put together 19 glove models in 16 different sizes.

FootJoy’s journey: From fighter planes to the golf course
In all, 12 million gloves are made here each year. Hell, how many zeros is that? Till the time you visit this place, you just don’t realise how much goes into making this seemingly insignificant piece of golf equipment. But come to think of it, it is the glove that connects you to the golf club and that makes it all-important. From fighter planes to the golf course, that’s the journey FootJoy gloves have travelled. The company that initially made hand-wear for Royal Air Force pilots, turned its attention to golf in 1979, using soft cabretta leather from the UK-based Pittards for their product.

The move was an instant hit. By 1983, the StaSof glove became a favourite with golf professionals around the world and it continues to retain that status. It takes more than 40 steps to make that one glove, starting with R&D where the leather used is put through tests for abrasion, perspiration, colour and tear, among other things. There is even a particular way of stretching the 0.4 mm patch of skin before it is diecut and ready for stitching. Quality control is strict.

Each glove is actually worn before it is packed and ready for shipping. Of course, the favourite with golfers across the board is the WeatherSof because of its durability and pricing. Another glove suited for Indian conditions is the RainGrip. The SciFlex is a leather glove that also provides moisture resistance. The company uses the “pyramid of influence” strategy when it comes to selling, according to Al Martin, VP (International Sales & Business Development). At the top of the pyramid are the tour pros and the base comprises club golfers. FJ relies on “product validation” from the top pros to push its products in the market. “Unlike some other brands that are into different sports goods, we only think golf,” says Martin. That might be tough to do in a place like Pattaya but the company has managed to keep the blinkers on.

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