PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA | It’s a few minutes after 7 on a Sunday morning. The once-dense fog has started to disappear from Okeechobee Road. Shuttered from the string of fast-food restaurants and gas stations along the road connecting Interstate 95 with Florida’s Turnpike in Fort Pierce, the behemoth Titleist Tour Trailer sits quietly next to a Fairfield Inn & Suites.
This is where the week starts. Over the next four days, this trailer and a dozen others like it will set up shop in the parking lot directly behind the practice range at PGA National Resort so the best players in the game can adjust their equipment appropriately in advance of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic. It’s a crucial part of what happens prior to a tour event each week. But many fans rarely see the trailers in person because the trailers arrive on the Sunday morning preceding the tournament and are gone by Wednesday afternoon before the first official shot is struck. For that reason, what happens in the trailers is a part of tour life shrouded in mystery.
Emerging from his hotel with a coffee in hand, Titleist tech rep Pete Bezuk is going to help unravel this mystery for us. After climbing into the truck and taking a few minutes to let it build pressure for the air brakes, Bezuk and I are headed down the highway from Fort Pierce to Palm Beach Gardens, a 45-minute trek.
Our conversation starts with the 42-foot, 72,000-pound trailer, the office on wheels that transports the machinery and products necessary to cater to every tour pro’s equipment needs. Titleist has two of these beauties (one for the PGA Tour and one for the Web.com Tour), and please sit down before reading how much each one costs: The custom-built trailer, not including the equipment inside of it, is worth about $650,000. The truck cab that pulls it along is worth about $150,000. If you add in the contents of what the trailer takes with it to each tour stop, the value is well over a million dollars. Part of the reason for the expense is because trailers like this are different than your typical semi; these are customized to “pop out.” When parked, both sides of the trailer expand to create enough room for a mobile equipment center.
Bezuk says the trailer’s lifespan is about eight years and the one we are riding in is about six years old, meaning the process for developing a new version has already begun. It travels more than 40,000 miles each year, often being hauled across the country, like its recent journey from California to Florida. Improvements are made along the way, but like anything else in life, the time for a replacement eventually comes.
One of the first things Bezuk explains as we head south on the turnpike is that everyone who drives this trailer is part trucker and part club builder. Before he started in his current role with Titleist, the company sent him to truck-driving school for a month.
“It may not seem like it, but the toughest part of driving this is backing up straight,” Bezuk says. “It’s the opposite of how you would back up a car, so it takes time to get used to.”
The trailer is driven to essentially every tour stop with a few exceptions like those in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Canada. That means Bezuk and the two other main drivers spend an abnormal amount of time on the road. A few years ago, Bezuk logged roughly 200 hotel nights. Now that he has a wife and a 10-month-old child, he estimates he travels a little more than 100 days per year.
Some months are busier than others. In May, he’s scheduled to be home in Jacksonville, Fla., for only one day. Much of the rest of the time is spent alone listening to Sirius XM radio as he hauls the trailer to its next destination. For the record, there is a small bed inside the truck with a Shinnecock Hills U.S. Open flag in a net pocket just in case the driver requires an emergency nap.
As we pull into PGA National, Bezuk claims a prime spot in the parking lot and says hello to a fellow driver for another equipment brand. There is a sense of family regardless of employer.
Once the trailers are parked, you can’t simply walk inside and get to work. It takes about four hours to set up a trailer for service. Bezuk starts on the outside by stacking wooden planks on top of metal stands to stabilize and level the trailer once it is lowered. The walls of the trailer have to be cranked open. The metal stairs have to be properly slotted. Once inside, the pieces of the floor go together like a jigsaw puzzle and every crevice has to be vacuumed.
“It’s especially fun to clean the week after it rains,” Bezuk said. “The Honda used to be the week after Pebble (Beach), and it would take forever to get all of the mud out.”
As if being a truck driver, club builder and maid is enough, Bezuk also has to serve as an amateur mechanic. Because the trailer was custom-built in Iowa, issues are not easily solved. He tells a story of how, upon discovering a faulty retractor, he had to go to White Pigeon, Mich., to find someone to fix it. Then there was the time when, as he was driving from Jacksonville to Dallas, he stopped at a random gas station in Mobile, Ala., and noticed his air compressors were getting low. He had to keep adding air every 10 minutes the rest of the trip.
To the bystander, managing all of this seems overwhelming. It takes a certain kind of person to have intimate knowledge of golf equipment while also tending to a complicated truck and trailer with so many moving parts. Bezuk is passionate about the process. He started building clubs for himself at the age of 16 once he and his dad recognized they could do the job themselves. In college, he worked at a golf store doing club fitting and repair, a skill that eventually led him to the San Diego Golf Academy. After five years working on the Titleist consumer van that travels around to ranges for demo days, he has now been “on tour” for six years. It’s a labor of love.
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Once the trailer is ready, it’s time for the Monday-Wednesday rush. Titleist had 13 employees at the Honda Classic, which included locker room attendants who place three to five dozen golf balls, hats, gloves and other materials in each locker; three club fitters on the range working with players; two builders; individual specialists for wedges, putters and balls; and a manager to oversee the operation. Their roles vary, but the mission concept is always to provide players the exact gear they need for that particular week.
Overseeing the crew is Chris Tuten, with Titleist since 2005. For Tuten and the others on the crew, it is usually eight weeks on the road and one week off. That one week at home is often filled with doctor’s appointments, rotating tires and running other errands.
There’s a misconception that the job ends when the team leaves on Wednesday, but really it never ends. Everyone is on-call 24/7, as evidenced by some of remarkable problems they have solved in the past.
One year in Malaysia, PGA Tour player Matt Jones had an airline lose his clubs. There’s no trailer on site when the tour goes to Asia, so there was no capability to build new clubs at the event.
“You’re waiting a day and thinking that they are going to figure out where the clubs are,” Tuten said. “A day goes by and they didn’t figure it out. So now we have a day and a half to try and get something done.”
So, a Titleist club builder in South Korea made Jones’ clubs there, got on a plane, flew seven hours to Malaysia, dropped off the clubs, then turned around and flew home. Everything worked out for Jones.
Another time, Adam Scott was at Doral when he heard a rattle in the head of his driver on Thursday morning. The trailer had already left Miami for Tampa. So, the club builder parked at a hotel, went through the process of “popping it out,” built a replacement club, put the trailer back together and then flew from Tampa to Miami to hand Scott his new driver. Hours later he was back on a plane headed back to Tampa, where he had left the trailer.
“We go to the ends of the earth to make sure they play well,” Tuten said. “It’s what we do. The players know that we consider ourselves the best in the world at what we do, so we feel like it’s our turn to step up and hit a 7-iron from 184 yards to 2 feet.”
Those may be more dramatic examples, but the day-to-day reality is still fast-paced. The company plays some role in the equipment of about 90 percent of each field any given week. Roughly 72 percent of a PGA Tour field plays Titleist golf balls. But some of the remaining 28 percent may have a Titleist club somewhere in their bag.
About half of any given field plays a Titleist wedge, which means specialist Aaron Dill is arguably the busiest person in the equipment game. He has trained under wedge maker Bob Vokey for 13 years and operates out of his own room in the front of the trailer.
“Bob paved the road I am walking on today and I am just trying to make the road better,” Dill said. “Most weeks we are looking at 200 wedges that we have to service, so that means I have to run fast.”
At the Honda, Dill is in constant communication with players as they adjust to Bermuda grass for the first time this year. When he arrives at a tournament, he will print out the field list, highlight every player who plays a Titleist wedge and head the range to visit with every player he can. The conversations focus on what the players are feeling on the course, making sure they have fresh grooves and inquiring if their wedge makeup needs adjusting. The top-level players generally don’t need a lot of service, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of players interested in experimenting with different clubs.
Tour player Peter Malnati recently came to Dill frustrated that he couldn’t hit a certain high, spinning wedge shot. The two looked over the purposes for each of his wedges and realized there was a hole, prompting Dill to recommend a 62-degree wedge.
“It was a game-changer,” Malnati said.
Like a lot of players, Malnati also credits Titleist tour rep J.J. VanWezenbeeck for being a constant aid on the range. If Malnati is hitting the ball a little low with his driver, VanWezenbeeck has a keen eye for spotting small differences. Being able to quickly process that information makes fitters invaluable.
Tour player Ryan Blaum had a conversation with VanWezenbeeck in the San Diego airport earlier this year in which they talked about a club’s weight and the effect it has on his swing. Several weeks later on the East Coast, VanWezenbeeck remembered that conversation when Blaum came to him for advice, which led to a slight tweak to make the club a little heavier. Blaum felt the difference immediately and had confidence in the switch.
“I think a lot of times a person’s golf swing matches their personality,” Blaum said. “I think what these guys are good at is getting to know the person, what they like, what they don’t like and then going from there. The precision of their guys is top-notch.”
Back at the Titleist ball plant in Fairhaven, Mass., 450 employees take pride when a player wins using their product. That same emotional connection exists with the employees who service equipment on tour. When it works, it’s a win for the family.
“We spend more time with each other than we do with our own families,” Tuten said. “We’ve been through births, we’ve been through deaths, sicknesses and promotions. We’re really tight and we really care about each other.”
It’s a difficult job full of sacrifice, but in the end it is worth the ride.
Top Photo: Sean Fairholm, Global Golf Post; Slideshow photos: Barbara Ivins-Georgoudiou, Global Golf Post
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