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LORAN SMITH COLUMN: Albany’s White a legend in club making

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

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

Now working with the “Scratch Golf Co.” in Chattanooga, Tenn., White continues to make custom designed golf clubs and remains the leading hand crafted 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 over 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,” legendary golfer Chi Chi Rodriquez once said.

That gift 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, Don 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 Don at the Merry Acres Motel in Albany and talked with him about his club making success.

“When I started at MacGregor, I had never picked up a golf club in my life,” he 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.”

He has never seen a major golf tournament but developed relationships with many professionals who have won majors. In addition to Nicklaus, there are Greg Norman, Curtis Strange, David Graham and Spanish star Jose Maria Olazabal. He has an interesting story about the Spaniard, who won the Masters in 1994 and 1999 and therein explains why golf equipment has become so advanced.

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

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

“He was one of the easiest players to work with,” Don says. “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,” Don says 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 Don. The photo remains one of Don’s prized possessions. When Olazabal won the ’99 Masters, he gave Don the bag he used during the tournament.

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

“It is,” he says 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 website. Ari Techner, President and CEO of Scratch, says, “Don’s craftsmanship and eye for detail are unmatched in the golf world.”