Lou Ullrich cares so much about his club fitting clients it hurts — a little. Even with the expertise that comes with an 18-year career, during which he has been named a GCA Top Ten Worldwide Clubmaker, he worries a bit about his customers’ satisfaction.
“I’m still concerned,” he says, “and I still feel that anxiety when the client walks back in my door. And that gets me wondering, ‘Why in the world would I be in a business that puts me in a stressful, anxious situation?’”
He answers himself quickly. “The upside,” he says, “is that it does make you feel good when you’ve taken a player who’s really given up on golf to a certain extent, or is convinced that fitting won’t make any difference, and you prove to them that it absolutely makes a difference. And when they see that and recognize it, you get a real sense of accomplishment.”
It all began in 1984, when a single broken club sent Ullrich’s life down a whole new path. “I was an engineer working for an airplane manufacturer in California, and I broke a 6-iron. And I was lamenting the fact that I broke that club, talking with someone I worked with, and he said ‘Well, why don’t you fix it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know how to fix a golf club.’ He said, ‘You mean we’re building 2000-mph airplanes, and you can’t fix a golf club?’”
That friend, it turned out, had more to offer than just a challenge. He had worked in a pro shop in his youth and was able to teach Ullrich a few repair and assembly basics. “That’s how I got started,” Ullrich says. “It was just fixing my own golf clubs, and I realized I could go out and buy a shaft and put it in there and regrip it myself. If I hadn’t broken a 6-iron, who knows what would have happened?”
A relocation to Nashville, and then an opportunity to move his basement shop to a local driving range, began the San Antonio, Texas native’s professional club fitting career in 1990.
These days, he does fittings in a 2900-square-foot shop equipped with all the latest high-tech fitting equipment, including a full-swing simulator, a launch monitor, a video system and his newest tool, an electronic pad that measures clients’ in-swing weight shift. He has an ever-broadening range of clients, thanks to recent economic and population growth in Nashville. “There’s been such an influx of industry and jobs,” he says, “and people coming from the north who think this is warm weather, that we’ve become more of a full-season golf city than it was when I got into the business.”
Ullrich’s approach to club fitting includes a lot of interactivity. “We never leave the customer alone,” he says, “and we try to keep the downtime in the interactive process to a real minimum.”
The process includes an unusual way of demonstrating the benefits of custom fitting: recruiting clients to become data entry clerks. Using a computer program Ullrich wrote, his clients key in club specifications as he calls them out. “By having them become interactive in the act of running down the specs, they are able to see and experience what this equipment really is, so it really gets them involved in the process. It really lets them see what they’ve been playing with, and even they start to think, ‘Wow, I had no idea.’”
That kind of innovative, hands-on service goes a long way toward explaining Ullrich’s success, that he expects to continue, despite ever-present challenges. “We’re showing some really good positive signs,” he says, “and we’re looking for a really good year this year. Which is kind of tough to do in this market where the big boxes are dominating and all the little shops are under a lot of pressure to survive.”
If his achievements so far are any indication, Nashville’s “big boxes” don’t stand a chance against him.
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