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August 12, 2013

Loran Smith: White is the maker of the clubs of champions

ALBANY — When Jack Nicklaus sold his last piece of ownership of the MacGregor Golf Company in 1992, he told Don White not to worry — he would still be making Jack’s clubs. Nicklaus doesn’t play much anymore, but when he does, he likely uses clubs made by his old friend.

Now working with the “Scratch Golf Co.” in Chattanooga, White continues to make custom-designed golf clubs and remains the leading handcrafted club maker in golf. To date, players using clubs made by White have won a total of 14 major championships. He began making Nicklaus’ clubs in 1972.

White still has a home in Albany but works in Chattanooga. He has designed clubs for more than 200 tour players over the years. He is a master of forged clubs, which he has been making for more than 40 years.

“Don has a gift from God,” Chi Chi Rodriquez once said.

That gift was developed with his grandfather, Doc, in a work shed in Leary, 25 miles west of Albany. Intrigued by his grandfather’s ability to shape things with his hands, the younger White began to develop his own touch.

“My grandfather gave me my art sense,” he told Sports Illustrated a few years ago. “He could make something out of nothing.”

Recently, I sat down with White at a well-known address in Albany — the Merry Acres Motel — and talked with him about his success making clubs.

“When I started at MacGregor, I had never picked up a golf club in my life,” White said. “I had learned how to work with my hands from watching my grandfather and have enjoyed my work in golf. There is no schooling for the work I do.”

White has never seen a major golf tournament but developed relationships with many professionals who have won them. In addition to Nicklaus, there are Greg Norman, Curtis Strange, David Graham and Jose Maria Olazabal.

He has an interesting story about the latter, who won the Masters in 1994 and 1999, and it helps explain why golf equipment has become so advanced.

“Everything Jose was hitting was going to the left,” White recalled. “He wanted a club that would help him with his ball flight to the right.”

White went to work, and before long he had a club with which Olazabal was comfortable. The Spaniard won the Masters in 1999 with clubs White made for him.

“He was one of the easiest players to work with,” White said. “I would meet him on the tour somewhere, and we would work on his clubs after he had played. Then we would go to dinner. He would introduce me to other players. In addition to having a lot of fun, I got to meet a lot of players, great players you see on TV every weekend.”

White was introduced to Nicklaus before the 18-time major champion purchased the MacGregor Golf Company.

“He was very particular about what he wanted,” White said of his relationship with the six-time Masters champion. “I think that is why he won so much. He obviously knew how to win and was a great competitor, but he could talk in detail about club making. He was very knowledgeable about what we were doing with the clubs we made.”

When Nicklaus won his final major, the 1986 Masters, he autographed a photo and sent it to White. It remains one of his prized possessions. When Olazabal won the 1999 Masters, he gave White the bag he used during the tournament.

White has never had any training for the job he does.

“It is,” he said respectfully, “a God-given talent. What really excites me about Scratch is they are the only club maker which makes clubs the way they are supposed to be made.”

Scratch clubs are used on every major professional tour worldwide, according to the company’s website. Ari Techner, President and CEO of Scratch, said, “Don’s craftsmanship and eye for detail are unmatched in the golf world.”

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@ sports.uga.edu.

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