Creative Type Even at age 85, prolific inventor Tony Antonious never stops searching for his next bright idea

Dec. 16, 2002
Dec. 16, 2002

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Dec. 16, 2002

Creative Type Even at age 85, prolific inventor Tony Antonious never stops searching for his next bright idea

Tony Antonious, 85, doesn't have senior moments, he has eureka
moments--magical visions that this self-proclaimed oldest living
inventor of golf products says are so powerful that they must be
the stuff of divine provenance. "An idea can simmer in your
mind," says Antonious. "You know it's there, but you haven't quite
put it all together. Then one day everything falls into line
and--boom!--it hits you, because God sees you're ready for it."

This is an article from the Dec. 16, 2002 issue

As Antonious speaks, he gazes across the practice tee at the TPC
at Prestancia, in Sarasota, Fla. A few feet away George Slupski,
a thick-necked 37year-old and a 12-time national long-drive
finalist, is whacking golf balls with one of Antonious's recent
creations, the Awesome Steel Giant. The Steel Giant looks nothing
like other drivers. The clubhead is wider and longer. A ring of
steel circles the back of the head from toe to heel. The grooves
on the face are vertical, not horizontal. The sole is U-shaped
and concave. "It works like the Concorde," says Antonious,
rubbing the sole of the club. "Everything on the market looks
alike--they're all big and bulky. It's better to be trim and

Antonious's name does not appear on the club, but something far
more important does: a host of numbers, as well as PATS. PEND.
(for patents pending). Antonious is believed to have accrued more
golf-related patents--more than 250 and counting--than anyone in
U.S. history. And if anyone, anywhere, ever builds a driver with
vertical grooves, a ring of steel around the back or a concave
U-shaped sole, without a licensing agreement with Antonious, they
will find themselves in court faster than they can say Eureka!

Antonious has made a fortune--he will not say how many millions
he is worth--by issuing licenses on his patents and trademarks
and pursuing the companies that he believes have infringed on
them. "I'll go against a thousand attorneys," he says. "Nobody
frightens me, because I know more about my products than anybody
else on earth." Says Dennis Antonious, 64, Tony's son (he also
has two daughters), "He's like a pit bull. If he gets his teeth
into your neck, you won't get him off."

Antonious currently holds more than 220 golf-related patents (a
patent, depending on its classification, must be renewed
periodically), and says he has applied for two dozen more. "All
kinds of ideas pop through my mind lickety-split," he says. "I
can't write them down fast enough." Antonious's prolificacy might
give the impression that acquiring patents is simple, but each
application must prove in specific detail that it offers a unique
innovation, and one patent can cost up to $15,000 in processing
and legal fees.

The son of Greek immigrants, Antonious and his three brothers and
sisters grew up on a farm in Williamsburg, Va. After completing a
two-year accounting and auditing course at the University of
Maryland, he took a job with Davison Chemicals, which became part
of W.R. Grace. During his more than two decades there, he was
constantly tinkering with inventions and peddling them to area
businesses. Most of his gizmos and gewgaws had a
smack-on-the-forehead logic to them: a tongue-and-groove closure
for plastic bags, a jar lid that doubled as a coaster and a
contraption made of canvas, steel rods and suction cups that
prevents snow from piling up on a windshield.

Antonious is strictly an idea man. His first wife, Sarah, who
died of cancer in 1971, was an artist who used to limn his
visions on paper. Today he hires designers.

In his heyday Antonious was a hearty athlete who ran three miles
each way to high school, and as an adult he became an
accomplished duckpin bowler. He began playing golf in his late
40s and was a five handicapper in a couple of years. One day,
after injuring his hand swinging a club through some rough, he
started experimenting with golf gloves. In those days most gloves
were closed with a snap, but Antonious came up with the idea to
use Velcro instead. He patented the concept and produced several
batches of gloves to take to a golf merchandising show in Miami
in 1970. "I brought a hundred dozen gloves, and they vanished in
two days," Antonious says.

That success helped convince Antonious to leave his job at W.R.
Grace at age 54 to go into inventing full time. He struck
licensing deals on his gloves with several companies, most
notably FootJoy, which incorporated Antonious's design as an
entry point into the glove business and is now the world's
leading manufacturer in that category. The FootJoy deal was
lucrative for Antonious, but not nearly as much as the 14 cases
of infringement he he filed against other glove manufacturers.
Those lawsuits took almost 10 years to play out, but all were
settled in Antonious's favor, and by the time he was 65, he was
independently wealthy.

While most people his age were taking long naps and watching
sunsets, Antonious amassed a small fortune by churning out scores
of inventions. In the early '80s he reaped another windfall when
Titleist licensed his Dead Center putter. In a particularly
feverish spurt in 1994 and '95, he applied for 72 patents in six

What Antonious lacks in formal training he makes up for with a
surfeit of creative energy, gleaning insights from natural
wonders like birds and fish. "Like my mama used to say, 'God is a
master craftsman,'" he says. "Look! The sun rises in the east and
settles in the west. And look! The ocean waters go out and come
back at the same time. You can predict it precisely to the
second. When a ball lands in a pond, look what happens to the
force. The ripples are in circles, and they're all parallel, and
then the force diminishes. Why? God gave me a gift to think and

A onetime altar boy in the Greek Orthodox Church who remains
devout, Antonious views the U.S. patent and trademark system as a
grand-scale morality play, pitting small businessmen like him
against malevolent conglomerates. "I've had talks with him during
which I try to get him to see a different perspective and
understand the cost of picking fights, but he doesn't see the
world that way," says Richard Stroup, a patent lawyer who has
worked for Antonious since the late '70s. "He sees only rights
and wrongs, and when a wrong has been committed, he's not
interested in what a rational businessman would do."

Antonious has litigated about a half-dozen major infringement
cases since his first bouts over the gloves. One trial that did
not go his way, however, was a case he initiated in 1994 against
Spalding, in which he sought several million dollars in damages,
claiming the company's Top-Flite and Tour Edition irons and later
its Intimidator woods violated his patents. In June '98 a U.S.
District Court in Maryland threw out the suit in summary
judgment, ordering Antonious to pay Spalding's court costs and
issuing a $30,000 sanction against Stroup's law firm, Finnegan,
Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, for failing to do an
adequate prefiling investigation of Antonious's claims. The
$30,000 sanction was reversed on appeal in a U.S. Circuit Court,
but the higher court agreed that Spalding had not infringed on
Antonious's patents.

Given his litigiousness, it's no surprise that Antonious has
earned the enmity of some executives in the golf industry who see
him not as a creative genius but as a gadfly who likes to
sprinkle the landscape with legal land mines. Antonious's
confrontational style may also alienate some potential business
partners. Even one executive who has licensed some of Antonious's
patents says his time demands can be onerous, adding, "You have
to take the bad with the good when you work with him." Says Larry
Hefter, another patent attorney at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow,
Garrett & Dunner, "He has a lot of very valuable patents that
have not seen the light of day, because I think these companies
are concerned about doing business with Tony. That's a shame,
because they're both missing out."

Not surprisingly, Antonious makes no apologies, nor does he
lament not landing a high-profile job with any of the leading
manufacturers. "Why do I need a job with one of these companies
when I've got more money than just about anybody I'm going to
talk to there?" he says. "I've dedicated more years to inventing
than anybody in their R&D departments. More than 60 years! They
don't even have anybody that old."

If Antonious's adversaries are hoping he will soon fade away,
they may be disappointed. He was diagnosed as having prostate
cancer in the early '90s (the cancer is in remission) and
underwent quintuple bypass surgery in July 2001, but is as fit as
most men 20 years his junior. He already knows the names of the
next drivers he will put on the market (Caged Fury and Sequoia),
and claims he'll need another 15 years to finish all his

The only downside to Antonious's work, he says, is that it keeps
him from spending more time with his wife, Pat, his children, his
eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Nevertheless,
retirement may be the one idea Antonious refuses to envision.
"Never, never, never will I retire, and my family knows that," he
says. "They will bury me with the last item that I invented in my

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON MAD SCIENTIST Antonious (with his Steel Giant driver) will fight anyone who violates his patents.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON TONY AWARDS Some of Antonious's innovations. 1) Most irons have horizontal grooves. This one has punchmarks with vertical scoringlines to minimize backspin. 2) More vertical grooves, in wood. 3)Hyphenated vertical grooves form a brick design. 4) A ring ofsteel surrounds the head, which has a U-shaped sole. 1) PITCHING WEDGECOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON [See caption above] 2) PERSIMMON DRIVERCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON [See caption above] 3) BALANCE PUTTERCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GARY BOGDON [See caption above] 4) STEEL GIANT DRIVER