Exclusive: JP Wedges by Titleist Brand Launch
It was the fall of 2012. I was sitting at an Irish pub in the trendy “West End” area of St. Louis Park, Minnesota. It’s where my friends, Ryan Heiman, and JP, first introduced me to 2 Gingers Irish whiskey mixed with ginger ale. We had just left “The Grind House” in pursuit of nourishment. Although the common denominator that brought us together was the game of golf, ironically, when the three of us are together, we rarely spoke about the game or industry. That night back in 2012 was different and the conversation was consumed by golf equipment. That night, JP described his vision of where he saw JP Wedges going, and its place in the game. About nine months later, that vision became a reality.
I was first introduced to JP back in the winter of either 2007 or 2008. Today, the exact date escapes me. I was just finishing up a round of golf at Grayhawk in Scottsdale. Cool Clubs is custom club shop situated just down the road from Grayhawk, and I wanted to pay it a visit. Among the fitting bays and equipment fixtures was a glass display case almost in the middle of the store. It was consistent with the display cases you would see inside Tiffany & Co. housing fine jewelry. The cases contained some of the coolest wedges I had seen to date. They were Titleist Vokey wedges that were obviously modified from their original retail finish.
Fast forward a few years to 2010. I was sitting in my home office over the weekend reading the internet golf forums and came upon a post about a guy in Minnesota that was starting his own line of wedges. A few weeks later, a couple photos were posted, and I immediately recognized the JP stamp on the back of the head. I instantly recalled our meeting back at Cool Clubs, and knew it was the same guy I had previously met. It was about this time that I had started to write for a local golf newspaper in my spare time. I would eventually go on to write for some of the golf equipment websites. I knew there would be a story behind these wedges and wanted to share it with the golf world.
These clubs were something different, people would be interested.
I contacted JP and he invited me out to his “Grind House” in Minneapolis. He set up shop in a heated garage attached to his home. The industrial machining, tooling and grinding equipment was set up just like you would see inside of a major golf equipment OEM. He set out to create the finest forged wedge in the game.
The original JP wedges were sourced out of the Kyoei Forging House in Ichikawa, Japan. JP would receive the blanks in raw form that were thicker and heavier than a typical head. They were purposely heavier so JP could cut his own grinds and customizations into the head while arriving at a desirable swing weight. A signature of JP’s original wedges were the thinned out hosel, and tungsten inlays in the toe area of the wedge. A process that moved the center of gravity toward the center of the club-face, reducing vibration. At that time, other wedge manufacturers were designing wedges with the center of gravity toward the heel which JP believed was less than optimal. The result was a perfectly balanced wedge with more efficient energy transfer through the shot at impact. A craftsmanship that bred consistency. Oh, and they were the best looking in the game too.
One of the hallmarks of JP’s wedges were the customized, one-off grinds, stampings, finishes, and paint fill. JP would finish his heads post grind/stampings. This would help prevent the formation of rusted patina overtime that is common in raw or hand ground heads. This added to the aesthetic appeal of the custom product. It didn’t look like a post-production afterthought. His wedges were natural born pimps from the start.
One of aspects that made JP Wedges great was also roadblock in scaling the business for growth. JP built each head, each club, by hand, one at a time. That level of commitment and craftsmanship is all but extinct in the golf industry today. JP estimated at the time, the process for him to complete one custom wedge from start to finish could take up to eight hours. That attention to detail and level of craftsmanship came at a price as his wedges started at $300 apiece. However, it was a price discerning golfers were willing to pay. It was the price of doing business when you describe exactly what you want to the same guy that will make it by hand and from start to finish. He delivered every time.
By 2012, JP Wedges was a household name in the custom golf equipment world. He started and created what is still recognized as probably the most beautiful and best performing club heads ever produced in the game. He was at a turning point with his business and had graduated from the proof of concept phase and while preparing to scale JP Wedges to the next level. It was then, he received a phone call from Titleist.
Wally Uihlein visited JP at The Grind House and sat in the same chair that I would sit in while waiting for JP to finish one of my clubs. I asked JP, “Did Wally know that was my seat?”
By the summer of 2013, JP was hired by Titleist as a wedge designer tasked with creating a JP line of wedges for Titleist. A process that has now been about three years in the making. Since that time, JP has been out of the golf media. Depending on who you talk to, the rumors about what JP has been doing are endless. They span from Bob Vokey’s apprentice, to a guy making a Japan only Titleist wedge, to yes, even the janitor at Titleist! On guy even thought JP passed away. Not even close, pal, but he did get married.
The one thing that has remained constant is the man behind the brand. From the guy in the garage of The Grind House, to the man behind a brand at Titleist, he’s the same JP. Just another guy that likes golf equipment just as much as you do. As I’ve written many times in the past, when you talk to JP about equipment and design, you’ll feel like the most important person he’s ever talked to about golf. A genuine guy, that I have been lucky enough to call my friend over the years. It just so happened that he made cool golf clubs as a secondary bonus.
For the past three years, JP has been the principal designer for JP Wedges by Titleist. It difficult to describe the emotion I feel in being able to present this title to you after three years of “The Blood, The Sweat, and The Tears”. To have been a part of this journey from The Grind House garage to Titleist on Loker, has been a remarkable honor and privilege.
In late January, I got a call from JP. “Hey man, can you come out to San Diego in March?” “Tell me when, and I’ll be there,” I said. JP invited four guys out to the Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) in Oceanside, CA, on March 2, 2017. These four guys would later receive the titles as JP Brand Ambassadors. The purpose was to assist JP in being part of the video that would introduce his line of wedges to the world during the initial launch.
A 25 person film crew from Los Angeles took over TPI and recorded us hitting shots with the new line of JP Wedges. Living in Minneapolis, I had not hit a golf ball in about three months. I picked up one of JP’s new wedges out of his staff bag and met him on the practice area of TPI. “You brought me here for my looks on film, not my short, game, correct,” I asked. JP said, “Its just you and me buddy, just swing.” Yeah…the two of us and 25 other guys that are about to capture my chop on film for the first time with the wedge I’ve been waiting three years to see! “…No pressure” JP said.
The following day, the four brand ambassadors would return to TPI to be four of the first individuals to be fit for JP Wedges.
It was difficult to describe how I felt the first time I saw the JP Wedges by Titleist. There were a lot of emotions running through my mind, none of which really had to do with golf or the wedges themselves. Of course, it was awesome to be there and see the product for the first time, but golf equipment really wasn’t the focus of my thoughts.
Here is a guy, standing on the range at one of the most respected golf facilities in the world, that realized his dreams and aspirations. Seven plus years in the making, and I was chosen to be one of the few to see it for the first time. A part of one of the most significant product launches in the golf equipment industry. A product that will forever change the way the most lofted clubs in bag with be fit and finished. From the garage to TPI, I was a part of the journey. As strange as it may sound, it was difficult for me to hold back the tears. In an instant, ten years flashed through my mind standing on the most pristine turf in a pair of FootJoys. I was proud of my friend.
THE JP WEDGES BY TITLEIST
The JP Wedges by Titleist are beautiful and simple. The first thing you see on the back of the wedge is the familiar JP logo and nothing else. The back of the wedge is actually a forged milled titanium plate that is pressed and sealed into the back of the head. This plate allows JP to manipulate the weighting of the head to fine-tune the fitting process.
Out of the gate, there will be only one way you can purchase the JP Wedges by Titleist. You have to visit JP at TPI. He will personally fit your wedges utilizing his proprietary fitting system. The JP Fitting experience incorporates high-speed video with motion capture into the process. This allows JP to break down your unique impact dynamics, frame-by-frame to custom fit based on your turf interaction at impact. This along with Trackman, and SureFit Tools, JP cannot only fit your wedges, but have you swing the built demo heads during the fitting process to validate the recommendations. Once the fitting process has concluded, JP himself will hand build your wedges, one at a time, fit and finished to your exacting specifications.
You hear this all the time from some of the best. “The game doesn’t owe you anything.” Every success in golf is a testament to work you have put into it. It’s no different in the equipment side, and you don’t just wake up being great at something. The JP Wedges by Titleist are more than just another line of equipment in a product portfolio. They are a chronology of one man’s vision and his work to become one of the most talented professionals the equipment industry will ever see.