Our guest this episode is the CEO of Sub 70 Golf, Jason Hiland. A nearly 30-year veteran of the golf business, Jason is the founder of Diamond Tour Golf and Hurricane Golf. His latest venture, Sub 70 Golf, offers premium golf clubs using a factory direct model.
In this interview with Jason, we learn:
- The benefits of factory direct golf clubs
- Why Sycamore, IL is home to three successful golf brands
- The secret to keeping a thin 1.8 millimeter iron face from breaking
- How factory direct clubs can also be custom fit
- The common trait of the best looking and best performing putters
- Why Sub 70 offers a unique 60-day 100% satisfaction guarantee
Interviewer: Walter Lis. Running Time: 23:51
Click here to download an MP3 file.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: When did the idea for Sub 70 come to you?
JASON HILAND: It was probably somewhere close to four years ago that we started thinking of the idea as other industries were going more factory direct that could we do this with an OEM golf company. We saw some other companies do it like combatant gentlemen for men’s clothing.
I really liked the quality of what they were doing. It was just a much better value. As we saw these other industries changing that we thought, if we do this right, we can do this in the golf industry as well and cut the costs and the overhead and make it more streamlined.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: Can you just give a brief overview of your history in the golf business?
JASON HILAND: In the early 90’s when I was in college, I started working for Mike Tait who started SMT Golf and he had a golf component company called Mirage Golf at that time. I worked for Mike all the way through college and went to the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. I graduated in 1995 then started Diamond Tour Golf, which was my first golf company and it’s still in existence today.
And then we started Hurricane Golf in 2008. Then, like I said, Sub 70 Golf sort of started the concept and you know, three and a half, four years ago. We launched Sub 70 in December of 2018. So I like to tell people I’ve yet to have a real job in life. I’ve been lucky enough to work in my favorite hobby. I’m 46 years old and have been doing it since 18-19 years old at this point.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: And are all the brands that you mentioned still based out of Sycamore?
JASON HILAND: Yes, we run three different golf companies out of the same facility, but each has its own separate niche. We’re in Sycamore and then we just, we’re basically just shipping boxes all over the world on a daily basis.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: And then with like the Sub 70 brand, are you involved with the design of the club? How did the whole design of the irons and then the woods come together?
JASON HILAND: Team effort. I kind of call it like a garage band. When we started this, we knew we didn’t have the resources to go hire an outside firm. We’ve worked with some major brands and helping them with some stuff. So we had the resources there and we had the kind of idea of the style of clubs and wanted to do.
It was a team effort with our ideas and the engineer’s overseas to put this together. And then the garage band turned out to be pretty good.
When we tested everything, it took a while to get it to where we wanted it. That’s why it took a few years for us to actually launch it. But we had to get the products right or this thing wouldn’t work. We just worked as a team to get the products where we wanted them to. I couldn’t have done it without the help of the engineers and my friends overseas at the foundries to help us with the project.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: Let’s take a deeper dive with the irons. You’ve got three different irons that you produce for the Sub 70 brand. Can you kind of give an overview of each of them?
JASON HILAND: The 639 series are forged series for a little bit better player. We’ll have an MB coming soon, which is our tour blade. And then we have the CB, which is a forged cavity back. We’ll also be able to do combo sets for that. That’s going to be for your, you know, player wants a little bit more of a workability, feel feedback.
The 699 is kind of our in-between iron which has technology with the ultra-thin face, the TPE material behind it, but it looks really clean so it’s still workable but yet still forgiving. That’s our good combo-type club.
The 739 is our total game improvement club. Two-piece construction, real low center of gravity meant to get up in the air and go really straight. We kind of have hit the three different major segments that we thought we had to have an iron in the market.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: With the 699 iron, it has a screw on the side. What is that for?
JASON HILAND: That’s where the TPE material goes into the head after produced. You have to have that TPE material which supports the face. Otherwise the face would break because it’s so thin at 1.8 millimeters. That’s where the material goes in into the hollow part of the iron and that’s what supports the face. But also lets the face be thin enough where the iron sort of acts like a titanium driver where the face flexes and accelerates the ball a little bit better.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: The iron that I have had a chance to test as the 739 nine. It’s a beautiful club. As you said, it’s a very forgiving. It feels there’s a huge sweet spot involved in that. How, how did you come up with the idea for that?
JASON HILAND: We kind of started with the idea of that we needed to have a real low center of gravity. We still want to still look fairly clean. We always wanted the brand to kind of look a little bit understated, elegant. We didn’t want a ton going on. Then I kind of expressed my idea to the engineers overseas and said, here’s kind of what we think we want for that segment. Help us put the materials together, and the engineering of what you guys think would be the best way to do it.
They put their input in of materials, how we could design it, how you would do it, and then it’s the back and forth and the testing to kind of get it all right when we experiment with different materials for the faces. But that was us kind of saying, I think this is what we need and then asking their opinion. Then there’s just a bunch of testing back and forth in different ideas and time to get the product up to market and to the level of quality we wanted to. But definitely a group effort on that one.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: Being then that these are factory direct clubs, what are the metrics that you’re looking for in order to fit them for the right shaft and the right grip for each of these three different head styles?
JASON HILAND: Once we figure out what iron they want, grip size usually kind of goes by hand size. We might start off with what size golf glove do they wear for example, or something to that extent and what grip size are they comfortable with. If they are fit locally, that’s great. You can’t give us too much information.
If somebody really has absolutely no idea, we would encourage them to go get fit locally. It’s almost like the doctor notes from that. As long as they’re using a similar type of golf club with the same type of attributes of the head, we can take that information and pretty much go ahead and fit them.
Most of the people seem to have a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for. Then we can just sort of guide them. If they’re saying they want to hit the ball a little higher or a little bit lower or pick up a little bit more distance, then we’ll try to ask the right questions to get the information from the client and put our 2 cents in to try to make sure that what they’re getting will actually help their golf game out.
I think that’s also why we have to have that 60-day money back guarantee. They’re trusting us to build these things before they hit them. We know what we’re doing, but we always want to let the customer know, “hey, if they’re not working for any reason, you’ll call us and let us know.” But honest to God, we have not had one set of irons come back yet. You can kind of dial it in. But we always tell people, if you can get fit locally, we can really interpret that information and that helps us tremendously.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: You have three different wedges as well. How did you determine those three different finishes?
JASON HILAND: I wanted to do the satin, the black and the raw. I’m personally a huge fan of raw finishes on wedges or irons. I love the look of it.
Our team went through the finishes that we liked, and we wanted the first wedge to be very universal. We kind of made a sole design that most everybody can use. It’s got the roundedness to it. It’s not too crazy one way or the other. It’s good for all turf conditions.
We went with that classic, almost 588 inspired, soft round wedge of the soul and the right amount of bounce. We know it will work for most conditions. We’ll be expanding the wedge line. Jeff does all the wedges. Jeff will be having some different grinds coming out next year that we’re working on this year. They’ll be a little bit more nichey, per se, but we wanted the first one to fit most playing conditions and most golfers. I think we accomplished that.
When we were designing it, we wanted the wedge to flight a little bit lower. We like how better players see that pinched wedge or that better player ball flight. Then we ported the wedge to take some weight out of the bottom or out of the lower portion of it to kind of give it that better player ball flight. We experiment with different materials and different steels to kind of come up with the overall feel and performance that we wanted. And it took a little bit of time to get there, but I think we got it.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: You mentioned how the line will keep evolving. You’ll have more different variations of these clubs as you go. It looks to be the same way with the woods. You have some beautiful woods that seem to be in the pipeline. Can you tell me a little bit about the woods?
JASON HILAND: We wanted to make the fairway wood very user friendly. Most people can get the benefit out of it, which is the 939x, so a little bit longer from toe to heel. It’s very easy to hit it out of the rough. It gets it up in the air, doesn’t spin terribly much so you can flight it and it’ll go into the wind.
Then we were starting to play around with the idea for the next one and we started working with different ideas. The factory came up with a really low spinning face. The first body design wasn’t too great from a sole plate standpoint, but the face was really, really low spin. Then we started working on making our Pro Series.
We kind of kept evolving with it. I actually drew the sole plate up for that just from ideas of the past of working. It’s real neutral, the face is really hot, doesn’t spin, made it more traditional shapes. It’s very workable both directions. It’s just square, no adjustability.
We kind of built that one as a fairway would that we would really want to play and just sort of put those pieces of the puzzle together. We got one that’s a little bit more game improvement. And then one for the better player that’s a little lower spin, more of a mid-trajectory and very workable. So we kind of have two different niches there.
Then on the driver, we really wanted to have a driver that was workable yet aerodynamic. So probably for a little bit better player. Not that a higher handicapper couldn’t play it, but we did definitely designed it to be workable. It’s a little bit more traditional shaped, low spin kind of like everybody wants to do with the driver.
We still want to be able to work the golf ball but look really, really clean to the eye. We put every piece of knowledge we had in quality we could put in the thing. It performs every bit as good as anybody else’s driver out there from a performance standpoint. The main thing we’re going to be able to do was just do it at a lot better price.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: The driver looks beautiful. When you’re designing a new driver, especially something like this from the ground up, how much of the design comes from the feedback you’ll get once you test it versus keeping an eye on the aesthetics?
JASON HILAND: We knew the shape we wanted to with it. Once we got the shape then the factory helped us design the face. Then we came up with the shape first that we thought would be workable and pleasing to the eye from a classic standpoint. It looks clean and crisp when it’s on the ground.
Then working with the engineers to try and design the best face we can based on that shape. It’s a matter of working and try to get the sound right and then coming up with an idea for the weighting where we want it simple with just a front and rear weight, nothing heal or toe at this point. A little less spin or a little bit more spin and it’s just a matter of it’s one or the other.
You just kind of keep going down the road of testing it, seeing how the numbers look, seeing what golfers give you from feedback and then go back to the drawing board. It’s just an evolution until you get to the point where you’ve got the performance that we want, the sound that we want, the look that we want and it’s something that we’re comfortable we’re ready to bring to market.
But first thing we did is get the shape that we kind of wanted to have the workability. Then how do we engineer that shape to be the best we can possibly make it?
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: You have three different types of putters currently that you’ll be offering. A mid- mallet, mallet and a blade. They all seem to pay the respects to your location. How did you decide on having those three and what does the design mean to you?
JASON HILAND: Clean, classic, all milled putters. I truly think if you take a full ingot of steel and you mill it with no cast, I think it’s the best feeling putter in the world to do it that way. It’s expensive, but they look beautiful. It’s functional and it’s art at the same time. Any all milled putter looks stunning.
The first three designs we wanted to come out with are the classic blade, a mid-mallet and a full mallet. But do it in the highest possible quality that we can do with it, with having them all milled. We’re probably going to do a, the full mallet coming up here later this summer and then an arm lock type version. By putting a little more weight to it, a little bit more loft, we can turn that into a, you know, an arm lock style.
Then next year maybe some different variations that we’re getting customer feedback that we’ll start experimenting with later this year and try to expand out on the line a little bit. But like I said, we want them to be very functional, but we also wanted to look like a piece of art as well.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: You offer a 60-day 100% satisfaction guarantee. With the whole idea that you wanted to be factory direct, do feel that’s a fair amount of time to get feedback on the clubs?
JASON HILAND: I think for the customer, just for them to feel comfortable, that just makes the most sense and we have enough confidence in the equipment that we think it’s going to fit you. Most stuff get shipped all over the United States or all over the world at this point. If somebody trusts us to build a set of clubs, I think 60 days is a fair period of time to evaluate the clubs.
It’s the most important thing to me that somebody gets the clubs, that they’re happy and they perform and they are at the customers’ expectations. If they’re not, I want them to call us or call me personally or get ahold of any of us here. We’ll try to make it right. And if we can’t make it right I don’t want somebody to have the clubs if they’re not satisfied with.
Because we’re a newer brand, because of the way we’re doing it with the factory direct model, it just seemed to make the most sense. It just kind of just made the most sense to me if I was on the other side of the transaction, what would I want from the company I was dealing with?