CAPSULE HISTORY OF THE PRO-MADE GOLF COMPANY 1934 – 1960
“The fairy tale story of a small Vancouver manufacturing company”
In the heart of the Depression, Roy Bertram (Bert) Francis had a vision to create hand made golf clubs in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Over the previous two decades, he manufactured world-class leather products in his 117 Pender Street BC Leather premises. Amazingly he undertook a more challenging product when golf showed marked decreases in the number of players after the 1929 crash. The average golfer could no longer afford private club memberships. Hence they turned to pay-as-you-play golf courses. This stemmed the tide of defections from golf. In particular, Vancouver Parks Board commenced construction of their new public golf course, the Fraser View Golf Course, by utilizing federal works grants.
Immediately after the acquisition of the Moore & Macleod Golf Shop, Francis registered the old Dave Macleod PRO-MADE trademark. (Collectors should note this date, 1934, as a key fact when identifying Pro-Made golf clubs. All golf clubs after 1934 showed the trademark as PRO-MADE registered trade.) Next, Francis formally registered the PRO-MADE GOLF COMPANY, Vancouver, British Columbia. Advertisements indicate Pro-Made took about three years before stating the company manufactured hand-made, hand balanced golf clubs.
A pedestrian walking up Pender Street in 1938 never suspected the premises at 117 in the Dawson Building housed a worldwide distribution golf manufacturing plant. Directly across from the Sun Tower and next door to the Lotus Hotel, Francis assembled a team of artisans to fulfil his vision. He prophesized he could sell “A $10.00 club for $5.00 by not paying professionals an endorsement fee”. How did he plan to accomplish this claim? Within three years after his purchase, Francis had assembled a team of twelve artisans headed by the genius Eric Wade. (Note, within ten years this group swelled to seventy dedicated employees churning out hand made clubs for worldwide distribution to five continents.) Francis always remained the visionary. Most important Francis now had Ralph Moore his friend, confident, and fellow Quilchena Golf Club member in position to oversee the distribution of the clubs. Because of his roots with the Hudson’s Bay Company, Moore provided the expertise in selling sporting goods products, particularly golf. At Pro-Made everyone shared the same underlying mission: to produce the best quality golf clubs available anywhere in North America and the world.
The Vancouver Daily Province recorded Francis’ vision in a 1937 newspaper article:
“So Mr. Francis sold Scotch clubs and he sold American clubs. But in his entire club selling he never found the perfect club. There was always something not quite just right. It took him time to gain sufficient self-confidence to augment his prosperous leather business – and swore that better clubs could be made in Canada.It was just this – to make the best clubs money could buy. We have never had expensive pro endorsements; we have never been able to afford international advertising. So we put all those extra costs into clubs. We had to put brains into them to keep on top.There is the banishment of all big, ponderous machines from the shop. PRO-MADE means made by artisans working with wood and steel not made by robots or mechanical miracles.”
Street onlookers peering through the windows at 117 Pender Street did not see huge monstrous machines clanging and banging away. Rather the curious smelled the pungent linseed oils and the turpentine, heard the banging of large hand held hammers as if the building housed a blacksmith shop, and saw the sparks from the iron fillings as the craftsman put the final touches to the iron heads of the golf clubs.
The company trademark PRO-MADE did not mean made by professional golfers for professional golfers. Rather the trademark referred to clubs “proficiently made by artisans who transformed the raw materials in an eight-step process to the finished product. Highly skilled craftsmen who really know golf make PRO-MADE clubs by hand. Into the creation of a PRO-MADE club goes that extra something, which gives life and feel to a golf club. It is that intangible something – that rare quality. Machinery plays no role in the construction of a PRO-MADE club. The finest of raw materials, sound sturdy workmanship, perfect hand balance, intelligent appreciation of the players angle, and an intense pride in the creation of a master golf club – these are the factors that have placed PRO-MADE golf clubs at the very top.”
Just as the company began to experience success, tragedy struck twice within two years. As the first golf clubs neared the end of the development stage, Ralph Moore died suddenly. On April 15th, 1936 Moore contracted pneumonia. Three days later he died at St. Paul’s Hospital. With Moore’s sudden passing, Francis lost his best friend and supporter. Moore was well known in the local golfing circles as well as nationally through his long relationship with the Hudson’s Bay Store chain. He gained national recognition as a War veteran serving in the Imperial Army for four years. In Moore, Francis could not have selected a better local golfer to launch his new innovative line of hand made golf clubs.
Immediately Francis turned to another prominent local golfer to replace Moore. Russ Case continued forward Moore’s marketing strategy for the new line of golf clubs. Then suddenly on Saturday January 8th 1938 Russ died from an apparent suicide. The PRO-MADE Golf Company had suffered another setback. Fortunately Francis had been slowly grooming his two sons, George and John, to assume control of the golf club manufacturing division. Perhaps their opportunity came somewhat early, but the two eager offspring undertook the challenges with full zeal.
The fairy-tale story of the PRO-MADE Golf Company contains many firsts. These include: the Shaft Adapter, the Corrector grip, the MAXIM shaft, the Glider Sole Plate, Perfectly Matched Sets of Irons and Woods, and a registration system for each club sold. Golfers who purchased Pro-made clubs could send the registration number to the factory to order replacement clubs. All of these innovations probably originated from the company golf club guru Eric Wade, the ultimate innovator.
The biggest blow to Pro-Made came on February 16, 1947. The visionary and founder Roy Bertram Francis died. He created many successes in his golf business over the ten years. He sold hand made hand balanced perfectly matched elegant golf clubs produced by craftsmen from a small manufacturing plant on Pender Street. Few Vancouver citizens knew little about his accomplishments.
Until the end, Francis always remained: “a leather man, and died a successful businessman in the distribution of trunks, bags, suitcases, and shoe findings. His game “golf” ruled his heart. He provided the encouragement and surroundings for his artisans to produce hand made golf clubs that were second to none.”
Would the company continue to experience success or would it flounder and die? Fortunately George and brother John played significant roles in the company from the formation days. The two brothers knew the leather business and the golf business well. Fortunately Monty Hill provided the necessary business contacts to make the golf company successful.
George, the leader between the two sons, immediately moved the operation to new premises located at 560 Cambie Street – just one block away from the Pender Street operation. Second, he introduced a new logo for the golf clubs. Third, he devised an innovative way to enable Pro-Made clubs to have Stan Leonard’s name on a line. Bert Francis stated proudly as part of his marketing strategy: “Pro-Made could sell $10 clubs for $5 because they did not give endorsements to professionals.”
Stan Leonard explained how George Francis solved the dilemma.
“After Bert Francis died the two sons George and John took over the business. Monty Hill was their salesman. All three were really good guys. Jim Brodie, Bill, my brother, and I decided to go and work for Pro-Made. I was beginning to show success in tournaments. I won some BC and Alberta Opens. I won some small events in Washington and Oregon. Pro-Made wanted to put my name on a line of golf clubs.
George Francis got control of BC Leather after his dad died. He came up with the idea of forming another company that would sell a line of golf clubs with my name on them. The brothers decided to call the company Royal Scot Golf Company. The clubs were made in the old Pro-Made factory down on Cambie Street. The heads were the same as one of the models Pro-Made already made. The factory just changed the markings on the back of the irons. You might even see some clubs with a Pro-Made name as well as Royal Scot.”
By forming this new company, Francis could remain true to the original company goal. Stan Leonard, the rising star on the Canadian golf scene could now be paid endorsements through Royal Scot.”
When asked where were these clubs distributed Stan responded:
“During the forties and early fifties I played in the open championships in western Canada like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba opens. I used the Royal Scot clubs in these championships. Pro-Made advertised in the local papers and the local professionals sold them in their shops. They were quite popular. “
Advertisements in the local papers by the Hudson’s Bay Co. indicate the Bay promoted the Royal Scot line as well as the other models of Pro-Made clubs.
Until recently the BC Golf Museum believed Stan Leonard’s name was the only name appearing on the Royal Scot model. A recent donation to the Museum illustrates this was not the case. A driver has the stamp Al Nelson on the top. Al served as the head professional at the Vancouver Golf Club from 1954 – 1989. He explained his recollections on the Royal Scot driver.
“When I first became pro at Vancouver G.C. I signed an endorsement contract with Pro-Made. They produced a model of woods and irons with my name on them. I never really knew where the clubs were distributed. One day a club member returned from a trip to Oregon. He showed me an Al Nelson wedge he had purchased on his trip to Oregon. I think Pro-Made and Golfcraft had an agreement to distribute each other’s clubs along the coast. This probably happened in the late fifties. I do not know where the clubs were made but I think they were done in Vancouver.”
Further in the conversation, Al believed other Canadian professionals signed contracts with Pro-Made to manufacture clubs with their name on them also. Advertisements in the “Canadian Sport Magazine” indicate Pat Fletcher; the 1954 Canadian Open Champion, probably had an endorsement contract with Pro-Made.
In 1957 the Francis brothers sold their golf companies to Gordon Southam, a member of the well-known Canadian newspaper family. Sotuham also purchased Pioneer Envelopes at this time. A search of the Vancouver City Directories from 1957 – 1960 indicates Pioneer Envelopes, Pro-made Golf Company, Royal Scot Golf Company and Golfcraft occupied the premises at 560 Cambie Street. Also in 1957 Gordon Southam formalized a relationship between his Pro-made Golf Company and Ted Woolley’s Golfcraft Company located in Escondido, CA. Southam signed a franchise agreement allowing him to manufacture Golfcraft clubs in Canada for the Canadian market. Woolley included the Pro-Made Golf Company, Vancouver, Canada in all the national advertising for Golfcraft clubs in North America. In 1960 Southam changed the name Pro-Made Golf Company to Golfcraft Canada Ltd, Vancouver, British Columbia. For collectors it is important to note, clubs bearing the name Pro-Made Golf Company were not manufactured after 1960. During the transition period clubs assembled at 560 Cambie in the Pro-Made Co. can have both the Golfcraft logo and the Pro-Made logo.
The BC Golf Museum has an extensive collection of Pro-Made Golf company golf clubs and company memorabilia. We are always seeking any Pro-Made memorabilia.
The research is now complete on the History of Golfcraft – The Ted Woolley Story.