The creation myth of Carlsbad, Calif., as the center of the golf universe has always gone something like this: With the defense and aerospace industries clustered in Southern California during the Reagan years, the burgeoning golf equipment companies were drawn by the engineering talent and manufacturing infrastructure needed to produce increasingly high-tech clubs. Carlsbad made sense as a home base because of its relatively cheap land, its glorious year-round golf weather and the annual Tournament of Champions, which was held at the La Costa resort.
"Total bull----," says Mark King, the CEO of TaylorMade, who has been making the scene in Carlsbad since 1981. "It's all folklore. The truth is, the whole thing was coincidental. Basically, Ely Callaway lived here because his vineyard was nearby [in Temecula]. After he sold the vineyard in 1981, he was bored, so he bought into a little company in Carlsbad that made hickory-shafted golf clubs. Gary Biszantz was the big car dealer in the area, and he cofounded Cobra Golf with Tom Crow, so in the beginning they used a little tiny office of Gary's to run the company. Gary Adams founded TaylorMade in Chicago, but his West Coast guy, Gordie Severson, lived here. He could have been in Santa Monica, or Santa Barbara, or anywhere, but he happened to be here, so the company moved out here too. It was all a big accident."
There's truth in each narrative. Adams was indeed living in the Midwest when he designed the first metal wood, in 1979, but manufacturing the club required an investment-casting process that was used extensively in defense and aerospace; he relocated to Southern California to be near the foundries and toolmaking companies that specialized in it. Crow was a native of Australia who cared more about Carlsbad's sun, sand and surf. "I could have chosen any place in the world to put my company, and I chose here," he once told SI. "It's simply a beautiful, healthy place to live. I've always felt that people are happier and more productive when the sun is shining."
The presence of this big three—Callaway, Cobra and TaylorMade—created a kind of golf Manifest Destiny, luring numerous component companies such as Aldila, the leading shaft manufacturer, which would settle a bit to the south, in Poway. (Founder Jim Flood took the same material used in the wing construction of the F-11 fighter and molded it into the first graphite shaft, in 1972.) Even the quintessential East Coast institution, Titleist, lit out for this brave new world; the company's executive offices remain in Fairhaven, Mass., but in 1993, Titleist moved all of its R&D to Oceanside, which shares a border with Carlsbad. "We wanted a think tank where every thought is about the future, and Carlsbad is where people in our industry wake up in the morning curious about golf clubs," Wally Uihlein, chairman and CEO of Acushnet, the parent company of Titleist, FootJoy and Scotty Cameron Putters, told SI in early 1995. "If we were going to give our best people something with the lure and romance of Shangri-la, a place with inspiration, this was the place."