Of Golf and Manufacturing

 Turning Point

For me, golf is probably the most interesting game conceived by man. In what other sport is the opponent a number (par)? OK, for argument sake, I’ll count bowling.

I’ve tried to play golf since I was 12 years old. Like most golfers, I’ve had my share of success and more than my share of failure. I’ve also been blessed to play some beautiful courses all around the U.S. and once even in Japan (a rare treat).

Golf is a character building endeavor. There is no one to blame when things go badly. I’ve said for years that one round of golf can be as revealing of a person’s personality than 2 years of casual friendship.

Golf can reveal a person’s frustration threshold and if he or she cheats. Since the game is not policed with a referee or umpire, rule infractions are on the honor system. I’ve played with cheaters in golf, which begs the obvious larger question of character.

Speaking of character, at a recent PGA event Tim Clark was in the hunt for first place when he failed to properly mark his ball on a green. Two holes later he realized his mistake and called a penalty on himself—two strokes. It took him out of the tournament, but it testifies to the ideal of integrity in the sport. I like that about golf.

In my mind, playing golf is in some ways like metalworking. For example in a job shop, generally there is one chance to make the part right—as in “profitable.” In golf you get one swing at the shot.

Golf shots, like the workpieces found in metalworking shops, can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The shot may call for a slice or a hook. It may need to be played low, because of wind, or high for the same reason.

Likewise, a new job may need to be turned and drilled or drilled then turned for burr elimination, cut wet or dry, single-pointed or formed. Variables abound, and it’s up to the player/machinist to eliminate as many variables as possible to ensure a satisfactory result. Of course, this takes practice.

There are a maximum of 14 tools (clubs) available to the golfer. Depending on the course and conditions, a player may choose to eliminate a three-iron in favor of a utility wood. The pros carry a mix of clubs that represents the kinds of shots they expect to play on a given course. They plan.

Many machine tools are restricted by the number of tools available to the operator or layout person. Like the golfer, they must anticipate what cutters will be needed to do the job by narrowing down the selection available to accommodate the machine’s capacity.

In golf, execution is everything. The best laid plans regarding shot shape, club selection and windage may all fall apart if the swing is bad. That’s another similarity to machining that I see.

The golf swing is about repeatable results, and so is machining. Tweaking a first article to meet spec is doable in most cases. However, meeting spec on the tenth, hundredth or ten-thousandth part is the ticket.

Golf shots can be lucky, and results can occur from poorly executed swings. But the proof comes over time. I’ve lucked into some decent scores for a round, but over time my natural level of play comes to the surface.

I enjoy golf and covering precision machined parts manufacturing for the similar reasons. First, I get to meet and know interesting, committed people who know what they are doing and why. There is a social aspect to golf and my job that I really enjoy.

Second, golf has taken me to some wonderful places, each unique and interesting in its own way. Likewise, the many shops and factories I have the privilege of visiting afford me a similar education. None of them is the same. Like golfers on the course using different clubs, shots and skills to compete against par, shops use their tools, processes and skills to compete in the commercial world.

Lately, I’m thinking golf may be the lesser challenge. 