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Nimble Approach Sets Sub 70 Golf Apart in Land of Clubmaking Giants

Becoming a large club manufacturer was never Jason Hiland's intent, but a couple of PGA Tour Champions players are helping spread the good word of the small-town company.
Word of mouth ultimately led to the creation of the Tommy Armour III (TAIII) line of clubs. 

Word of mouth ultimately led to the creation of the Tommy Armour III (TAIII) line of clubs. 

From his outpost in tiny Sycamore, Ill., Jason Hiland can gaze out onto the golf equipment landscape that’s bogged down to the equivalent of a six-hour round with supply-chain nightmares and he doesn’t have to worry about a good night’s sleep. Nor is he concerned whether he can take care of his customers at Sub 70 Golf.

In the land of six to eight weeks or more of lead time, Sub 70 is getting its customers mostly what they want in two weeks, which makes it an oasis in the golf club desert of delays. Being small has its problems but being more nimble and flexible isn’t one of them.

Hiland started the company in late 2018 with a direct-to-consumer model and an eye on grass-roots basics — developing his brand with custom club building, personal customer service and affordable prices. Becoming big wasn’t in the plans.

“It was always about ‘hobby farming’ in the beginning,” Hiland said. “We’re growing really fast and somehow, almost by accident, we’ve become a nice little golf company. Our stuff is being played on every major tour and, as a result, we’ve built a lot of friendships.”

Unexpected friendships, as a matter of fact. Mark Calcavecchia and Tommy Armour III are among a double handful of Tour players who have played significant roles in shaping some of Sub 70’s club designs. Armour now has a model of the company’s irons with his initials on them.

Tour players weren’t on Hiland’s radar two years ago. Sub 70 started with mostly irons and wedges, simply because they are easier to manufacture. Today, it’s a full-line company with everything from super game-improvement irons to a players’ driver.

When it became time to expand the product offering, Hiland began to surround himself with expertise, engineers both home and abroad. At the overseas factories that make Sub 70 clubs, engineers are on hand to assist with design and building — “almost engineering on-demand,” he said. And some engineers in the U.S. who worked for major OEMs, stepped up and offered assistance.

“As our little circle has become bigger, you have to hire real engineers who can put the puzzle together,” Hiland said.

He started with fairway woods, diligently testing each prototype on a launch monitor to make sure all the numbers — launch, spin rate, curve, etc. — are where Hiland believes the product can compete in the marketplace — “to make sure it’s up to our standards,” he said.

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Sub 70 Golf founder Jason Hiland began by making custom-made irons and wedges.

Sub 70 Golf founder Jason Hiland began by making custom-made irons and wedges.

Soon after the first Sub 70 fairway woods were introduced, Calcavecchia called Hiland and asked if he could get one. Almost immediately, the former British Open champion started offering feedback and a Tour-only fairway wood was created, with an open face and a resistance to hooking. Some players from other tours started asking for it and the Pro Tour Fairway wood is now in the product line.

“He’s been so kind,” Hiland said about Calcavecchia. “He doesn’t have to help us. There’s nothing in it for him; we can’t pay him. He was playing the club on the Champions Tour and put it out on his social media.”

Now Hiland has about 10 players from all tours, including the European Tour and Korn Ferry Tour, on his phone list. “Even if they don’t put (our club) in the bag, if you just listen, you can get such great feedback,” he said. And, remarkably enough, none of the tour players Hiland talks to ask to be paid.

However, one player is making money with Sub 70. Armour’s brother, Sandy, a longtime caddie, who was a good enough player at one time to be a touring professional, was on a podcast with Hiland. As a result, Hiland sent Sandy a set of irons.

“One day, the phone rang and it was Sandy,” Hiland said. “He said, ‘The big guy wants to talk to you.’”

“(Tommy) is asking about the company and says that Champions Tour players aren’t getting any money (from equipment companies) and they would rather play the equipment they want. Pretty soon, we’re talking every other day about the set of prototypes I had in my head. And, he’s into it. I said, ‘You get the veto. If we do this together and you don’t like it, I eat the cost. If you do, I give you a percentage of the sales.’”

About 18 months later, the TAIII irons are in the line. “He’s been a huge asset,” Hiland said. “He’s not just playing them, he had a hand it making them. We’re sending out sets to other professionals. It’s for the really good player. It’s done really well for that niche we’re going after.”

However, Hiland has not lost sight of who’s paying the bills — the rank-and-file customer. When the pandemic looked like it was taking hold, Hiland rolled the dice. He placed a huge order of clubheads, which would normally consist of three separate shipments. He could somehow see the demand coming. “We took the risk and it paid off,” he said.

In normal times, Sub 70 has a number of shaft and grip options for their custom orders but shipments of those components are hit and miss. Customers might not get the grip and shaft they want but Hiland says they have been understanding about substitutions, especially being easily able to discuss the change with one of Sub 70’s club builders.

“We’ve done things a little differently,” Hiland said. In some cases, difference can be distinction.