Ping started off in 1959 as a one-man operation making putters in a garage. Today, it is one of the most recognized names in golf equipment, with a product line that includes clubs, clothing, gloves and bags. Ping innovations like perimeter weighting, heat-treated clubheads and color coding of lie and loft are now considered the standard and used by manufacturers throughout the golf industry.
In 1959, a General Electric engineer named Karsten Solheim was dissatisfied with the putters available on the market. He designed a new one in his garage, calling it the "Ping 1A" because of the sound the metal blade made when it contacted the ball. The Ping putter's head was weighted at the heel and toe, which created a larger sweet spot in the middle of the clubface.
Founding the Company
Demand for Solheim's new design increased during the early part of the 1960s, spurred on in part by John Barnum winning the 1962 Cajun Classic with a Ping putter and a subsequent "Sports Illustrated" article. In 1966, Solheim developed the Anser putter, which has been used in more than 500 PGA Tour victories. Solheim quit his job at General Electric in 1967 to create the Karsten Manufacturing Corporation in Phoenix, Arizona.
Solheim expanded his product line in 1969, adding a set of irons that used the patented Ping heel-toe weighting. Solheim's irons were also custom-fitted to each golfer, which was unusual at the time. The loft and position of the clubhead could be modified according to the golfer's specifications during the heat-treating process. Once the proper fit was achieved, the club was color coded so the customer could easily order a replacement.
Trouble in the 1980s
Karsten Manufacturing was involved in legal battles with the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA Tour throughout the 1980s. The controversy started in 1984, when the USGA changed its rules to allow irons with U-shaped grooves. Ping rounded off the edges of its U-shaped grooves to protect the ball from damage, which the USGA claimed was a violation of its new guidelines. Solheim disputed this ruling and eventually sued both the USGA and the tour. The lawsuit with the USGA was settled in 1990, followed by a settlement with the PGA Tour in 1993. The courts decided that Ping's older irons were acceptable, but any new designs would have to be altered to conform with the USGA's requirements.
Karsten's son John took over as the company's president in 1995 and reorganized player sponsorship deals and marketing plan. Instead of offering bonuses to professionals who won tournaments using Ping equipment, the company signed several players to contracts that paid a full salary regardless of performance. The company's print ads were updated to reach a younger market, and television commercials were introduced. The product line was also expanded with a new series of oversize metal woods, which were becoming popular with recreational golfers.