By Tony Dear
James Patrick Harrington remembers wrapping his Cleveland RTG wedges in a wet cloth and leaving them in the bathroom overnight to hasten the rusting process. This was sometime in his early teens and the first indication he might be a golf club geek.
Twenty years on, Harrington, now 35, has his own wedge label and the keys to the Acushnet kingdom. That’s overstating it a bit, but he is a significant part of the billion-dollar company, with stablemates like Titleist, Scotty Cameron, and FootJoy.
A graduate of Arizona State University’s Professional Golf Management program, Harrington first learned to grind wedges at club-fitter Hot Stix, where he interned while at ASU. “I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I’d just sit behind the grinding wheel and go off into my own world.”
While at Hot Stix, Harrington ground some clubs for Aaron Baddeley, auditioning on the 3-, 6-, and 9-irons: Baddeley liked them so much he was soon back with the rest of the set, and a few weeks later, he won his maiden PGA Tour event. Other players came calling—Peter Jacobsen, Kevin Streelman, Cameron Beckman, Ryan Moore.
Harrington proposed to Hot Stix that they subcontract the grinding side of their business to him. When they turned him down, he left, but was soon building clubs again, this time at Cool Clubs, another club-fitter started by the founder of Hot Stix. At Cool Clubs, Harrington was in charge of custom orders. But he left after a year to go home to Wisconsin.
Living in his mother’s basement and working in the garage, he kept building clubs, posting pictures of his work to social media and acquiring a cult following of equipment nerds. He even spent time with the Kyoei family, picking up tips from one of Japan’s original forging houses.
In April 2013, after nearly four years of grinding (literally and figuratively) in Wisconsin, he got a visit from Dennis Doherty, senior v.p. of human resources at Acushnet, who sat in the garage listening to Harrington talk wedges. A few weeks later, Acushnet President and CEO Wally Uihlein showed up to see, and hear, for himself.
“Wally—well, he was Mr. Uihlein at the time—was there with Dan Stone, Titleist’s V.P. of R&D,” says Harrington. “I was obviously very nervous, but to be honest, when we started talking about wedges, I just threw it all out there.” Just as he had for Doherty, Harrington ground a wedge for Uihlein. He still keeps the “Wally Wedge” in his workshop.
Harrington was at Acushnet’s Carlsbad, Calif., complex soon after for a more formal interview, and signed a contract that gave him the time, space, and money to build his perfect wedge. He worked under the radar with Japanese pros and on May 5, 2017, more than three years after arriving in Carlsbad, JP Wedges was officially launched.
The initial product is available in 36 different combinations of loft and bounce, and features a unique leading edge and sole camber, the result of years of experimentation. Harrington builds each wedge by hand to the tightest of tolerances, and spends two days a week fitting customers at the Titleist Performance Institute in Oceanside, Calif.: A fitting with him takes about four hours and costs $2,000, which includes three wedges. (Custom-built wedges are available by calling the JP Wedge Concierge at 800-324-3350.)
Harrington is thinking he might build irons someday, too. “They intrigue me,” he says. “Really, wedges are an extension of irons. I might even do putters.” For now, though, he is in his element building ultra-premium, bespoke wedges for customers who appreciate quality.
“I just love messing with golf clubs,” Harrington says. “I still feel like the kid wrapping RTG wedges with a wet cloth. And I’ll always have the garage mentality.”