TaylorMade in McHenry: Adams’ legacy endures

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 12:22 a.m. CDT

LAKE FOREST – When U.S. Open winner Justin Rose steps up to his first tee box Thursday at the BMW Championship, he’ll carry a piece of McHenry with him.

So will Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.

So will Brandt Snedeker, Boo Weekley and Rory Sabbatini.

Wherever you see a TaylorMade logo, you’ll see a dream that started in the basement of Gary Adams’ McHenry house and grew into a billion-dollar company.

“Not a day goes by when we don’t talk about Gary Adams, the beginning, what the company was founded on,” said Mark King, the president and CEO of TaylorMade. “And it’s our responsibility to move it forward.

“So there’s a lot more Gary Adams-McHenry than anyone from the outside world would ever know or realize. It’s every day.”

And these are special days.

Seventy of the world’s best golfers will compete at Conway Farms Golf Club this week as part of the second-to-last tournament in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs. But take a trip west, past the immaculate fairways and perfect greens and swanky buildings, and you’ll find a landmark of golf history in the most unusual place.

Near the northeast corner of Crystal Lake Road and Mill Street sits a 19th-century building that long served as the McHenry Flour Mill. It’s the place where Adams’ vision became reality. In 1979, he took out a $24,000 loan on his house, agreed to lease the 6,000-square-foot building, and aimed at revolutionizing the sport.

TaylorMade executive vice president Sean Toulon smiled fondly at the memories of his early days with Adams, who was 56 years old when he died of cancer in 2000. Toulon came from Madison, Wis., while King came from farther north in Green Bay.

Toulon’s first position with the company was as a sales representative whose region included Wisconsin and Minnesota. This was long before Google Maps or GPS, so Toulon quickly memorized the “squiggly roads” that led to the McHenry facility. 

“It was a cool place,” Toulon said. “But it didn’t really look like a place you’d build golf clubs.”

They did, anyway.

On that site, Adams and a small group of colleagues produced a 12-degree driver made of stainless steel. A metal wood, in other words.

Until then, woods were made of … well, wood.

It turned out that Adams, whose father, Vale, worked as the golf pro at McHenry Country Club, had discovered a billion-dollar oxymoron. No one knew it at the time.

Not King, an enthusiastic golf lover who joined the company in 1981.

“I was 21 years old, so I didn’t know anything about anything,” King said. “I was going to be a club professional, and the guy I worked for in the summer up in Green Bay, his name was Eddie Langert. He was Gary’s best friend. He quit his job, shut down his business, went to work for Gary and hired me.

“It’s the fondest memories of anything other than your children is how this thing started. The fact that there are 10,000 start-ups every year and two of them make it, and we were a part of one, it’s spectacular. It’s just spectacular.”

Before long, TaylorMade had launched like a ball in flight. The company opened another facility in Vista, Calif., in 1982, which operated in conjunction with the McHenry plant. Not long after French company Salomon A.G. acquired TaylorMade in 1984, all operations were moved to southern California.

More than three decades after their first days on the job, King and Toulon continue to emphasize innovation at TaylorMade. Their roles and addresses have changed, but their mindset remains the same as when they first went to work with Adams.

“We were doing what we loved and we were around a bunch of people that felt the same way,” Toulon said. “ I never really felt like we weren’t going to make it. I guess I didn’t know any different or any better. You just fell in love with what you got to do every day, and it ended up growing to be a big company.”

All thanks to Adams, the young man from a small town who had a big idea.

These days, golfers at McHenry Country Club can remember Adams as they cross the Walking Bridge on the eighth hole, which is dedicated to his memory. Near the 10th tee is the “TaylorMade Tree,” which was carved and dedicated in 2009 during the club’s inaugural golf tournament in Adams’ name.

“He was just a dreamer,” King said. “I think if you look in the dictionary under entrepreneur, his picture is in there. I don’t think he was a very good businessman. He was a dreamer, and he thought that he could do something nobody else could, which was to change a material and change the way the game was played.

“This relentless pursuit of making things different, it started 34 years ago. And it’s lived on. And it’s living on.”

• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at tmusick@shawmedia.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.

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