The History of Callaway Golf

By J.D. Chi

Located in the North San Diego County town of Carlsbad, Callaway Golf is the biggest manufacturer by sales of golf equipment in the world in 2009. Callaway Golf came into being in the early 1980s when former textile and wine businessman Ely Callaway purchased a share in the Hickory Sticks USA golf company. After spending about 15 years developing new clubs, including the Big Bertha line, the company purchased Odyssey Putters in 1997 and Top-Flite in 2003. Callaway, an avid golfer and talented entrepreneur, died of pancreatic cancer in 2001.


After selling his winery in 1981 for a $9 million profit, Callaway bought a 50 percent stake in Hickory Sticks USA, a golf club company that produced shafts with steel cores and hickory coverings. After buying into the company for $400,000 in 1982, Callaway renamed the company Callaway Hickory Stick and personally sold clubs out of the trunk of his car. He also moved the operation to Cathedral City, California. Callaway became president and CEO of the company in 1983 and a year later bought the other half of Hickory Stick for $400,000 from original owners Richard Parente and Dick De La Cruz. Callaway then moved the operation to Carlsbad in 1985, where it remains. That same year, Callaway hired Richard C. Helmstetter, a billiards cue designer, to be his lead club consultant.


In 1986, Callaway became the first golf equipment maker to install computer-run milling machines. The technology was first applied to putters and ensured a uniformly flat putting face. That same year, Helmstetter became the head club designer. In 1988, the company was renamed Callaway Golf and it debuted its S2H2 core technology. The technology was used in irons before being applied to the first stainless woods the company produced in 1989. Between 1988 and 1989, the company's sales more than doubled, from $4.8 million to $10.4 million.


In 1990, Callaway's clubs got lots of publicity as Senior PGA Tour players began using them, and Don Bies won with the company's S2H2 driver. The company also rolled out the Ladies' Gem model. The Big Bertha driver was launched the following year and PGA professional Mark Brooks won twice with the club in 1991. By 1992, the company became big enough (sales topped $130 million) to secure a spot on the New York Stock Exchange and the Big Bertha was the most-used club on the Senior, LPGA and Hogan tours. Callaway moved his company to a larger location in Carlsbad. In the next few years, top players on all three tours, including Johnny Miller, Annika Sorenstam and Jim Colbert, began using and winning with the clubs. The company launched its forgiving Big Bertha irons line in 1994.


With sales in excess of $550 million, Callaway Golf became the world's biggest seller of irons and woods in 1995. The following year, the company formed its golf-ball division, swing guru David Leadbetter joined the company and Callaway partnered with golf club maker Roger Cleveland to develop a line of Tour-quality wedges. In 1997, the company bought Odyssey putters and introduced its tungsten technology. The following year, the X-12 irons, the company's most forgiving irons to date, were launched with huge success. In 1999, Callaway introduced its Hawk-Eye technology.


In one of its most exciting years, Callaway golf hired Arnold Palmer, released its Rule 35 golf ball, introduced the Odyssey White Hot Putter technology and brought its "variable face thickness" technology to market--all in 2000. Through the early part of the new century, the company continued to improve on its cutting edge products. Ely Callaway, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, retired as president and CEO in 2001 and died that same year. Ron Drapeau was installed as the new CEO and president. The company introduced carbon-fiber technology in 2002.


Callaway golf was the largest golf manufacturer in the world as it continued to improve its popular "X" series irons and carbon-fiber technology. Major touring professionals, including Phil Mickelson and the LPGA's Morgan Pressel, played Callaway clubs and won Major championships with the clubs, sealing the company's status through the middle part of the 2000s. In 2008, the company rolled out "i-bird" hybrid clubs for men and women as well as the "I-MIX" technology, which allows golfers to easily switch out some clubheads and shafts.


Callaway Professional Phil Mickelson continued his good run of form by winning two more majors, the 2010 Masters and 2013 British Open, while playingn Callaway clubs. In 2012, Oliver "Chip" Brewer III became the new CEO of Callaway. Many new clubs were introduced, including the GBB Epic and X16 series of drivers. 

About The Author

J.D. Chi is a professional journalist who has covered sports for more than 20 years at newspapers all over the United States. She has covered major golf tournaments and the NFL as well as travel and health topics. Chi received her Bachelor of Arts in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University and is working toward a master's degree in journalism.

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