SMT Golf: 'Swing Hard, You Might Hit Something'

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

SMT's Murderer's Row of clubheads and LDA champs

OSWEGO, Ill. - The casual passer-by would notice nothing remarkable about this steel-gray warehouse in this nondescript commercial park thirty minutes outside of Chicago.

The cagey golfer, however, will sense something distinctly golf-related behind these walls. And if that golfer has done a bit of homework, he might in fact know that from these humble digs a company called SMT Golf is building up a substantial head of steam, as well as an influential following.

But even if you haven't heard of SMT, maybe you've unknowlingly uttered the company motto to your buddies on the links: "Swing hard, you might hit something."

Twenty-eight year veteran golf pro Mike Tait is the founder and president of SMT golf. Ask Mike what credentials he has for starting an equipment company, and he demurs: "I'm just a golf pro."

At one time the youngest PGA Class A professional in the state, Tait has no engineering background. But this has not kept the drivers he has designed from scratch from capturing four Re/Max Long Drive Championships. His 455 driver, in fact, is, "the winningest clubhead in the history of long-drive golf," says Tait.

Tait also points out that his Spectrum driver is also, "the longest driver on any tour in the world." Nationwide Tour pro Victor Schwamkrug used his Spectrum to blast a 429-yard drive at this year's Shell Houston Open, the longest recorded drive on the PGA Tour.

"Funny thing is," chuckles Tait, "is that the course was soaking wet. It was pretty much all carry."

SMT's secret

A lot of things about SMT are funny, besides the motto. Tait himself is engaging and self-deprecating, noting repeatedly how his 6,000 sq. ft. office/warehouse space is tiny compared to the equipment companies with whom he competes.

SMT President Michael Tait at his workbench "That's up from 2,000 sq. ft. two years ago," notes Tait. "And now I have six employees, up from one."

So what's the secret behind SMT's success? Tait seems to possess an uncanny knowledge of what golfers want in a driver. From sketches on paper to final product, he does it all.

And he also possess a work ethic that makes Vijay Singh look like a slacker. "I can't take a day off," explains Tait. "I love [the work]." He must. He personally handles every one of the 10,000 clubheads they ship out of here each month.

During my Saturday visit, Tait was in fact working on clubs for tennis legend and celebrity golf ace Ivan Lendl, his old adversary Michael Chang, and a couple of PGA pros known as Slu and Calc.

There is one more ingredient to SMT's success: Quality. Tait proudly displays the rough casts and forgings of his clubheads, showing all of the numerous places where they differ from the competition's.

Tait insists on plasma welding of the joints, for one thing, which is more expensive but more precise, requiring far less hand-grinding. "I want as few people touching the heads as possible," he says. "The more people that have to work on them, the more chance for variability."

Tait also explains how he insists on using only the heart of the pressed raw titanium for his club faces, to avoid getting near the edges where invisible fissures might compromise the structural integrity of the metal. "You should see the guys from two of the major equipment companies standing in line to buy my scraps," laughs Tait. "And the metal's already been heat-treated, so it has to be re-melted, which completely messes up the structure of the metal."

Tait proudly displays his USMC Humanitarian Award And when one of the biggest driver producers cancelled an order for 300,000 clubheads at the foundry in china where SMT's heads are forged, and the foundry offered them to Tait for pennies on the dollar, Tait just laughed again: "I didn't want their clubheads at any price!"

Despite the high standards for quality and materials, the prices of SMT drivers are well below the sky-rocketing market average, at just $85-$159 per clubhead, or $200-$250 for assembled clubs.

Building a reputation

So how does someone like Tait make it in a business where less than 10 percent of new companies stay solvent for two years? A lot of it comes down to reputation.

Strict quality control is essential, along with customer service. "We offer a lifetime warranty on all clubs and shafts," says Tait, "for any reason, including stupidity." The industry standard for breakage is 3 percent; for SMT, "it's less than 1 percent."

Performance doesn't hurt in establishing a reputation, either. In 2002, Pat Dempsey won the Re/Max Long Drive Championship Senior Division with a 342-yard blast from his SMT Nemesis, and Carl Wolter ripped a 382-yarder to win the Open Division with his 455.

In 2003, Fred Hooter won the Supersenior Division with a 345-yard shot from his 455, and Jonathan Blasko won the Junior Boys Division with a 366-yard shot using the original SMT design, the Shinnecock.

In 2004, 32 competitors used SMT clubs. The club earned one spot in the Open Division, one in the Senior, three in the Junior, and two in the Ladies, although no winners this year.

Quality is important to these monsters of the fairway, whose clubhead speeds are in excess of 150 mph (Tiger's around 120 mph). Every clubhead (that's every single clubhead) takes 50 shots from an air cannon at 160 mph to make sure they're up to par before it's even painted.

The clubheads can then be custom fit and custom painted for even the most exacting long-drive standards. One past competitor actually wanted a driver with a -1 degree loft!

The personal side of golf

SMT recently donated 40 drivers to the U.S. Marines stationed at Kandahar Airfield in Kabul, Afghanistan. "They'd asked other companies and been turned down," marvels Tait. By way of thank you, Tait was presented with a flag flown over the base and signed by all the marines stationed there, along with the prestigious USMC Humanitarian Award. "That brought tears to my eyes," he admits.

Before leaving, I had to ask two obvious questions: First, where did SMT's motto - "Swing Hard, You Might Hit Something" - come from?

Tait laughs again. "That was a joke that started at an LDA event," he says. "It just caught on."

Second, what does SMT stand for?

He explains, with typical humility, "SMT actually stands for my son. They are his initials. To more ‘business-like' I have often said Superior Metal Technology. It really is about my son though."

To learn more about SMT's drivers, Solitare fairway woods, or Avocet hybrids, visit smtgolf.com.

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Illinois. Read his golf blog here.


Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • New Golfer

    Vinny Gaglio wrote on: Nov 19, 2010

    I am not sure how to express my thanks. I am a new golfer to the game this year. I absolutely Love these clubs. I have One Indio, One DB, and One DB Plus. I also have one Avocet at 19 degrees and 2 3390 Fairway woods. I play another company right now with my irons. I love practicing and Love playing Golf. There is no such thing as a Miracle Club. However this is pretty close to being just that. I am not even going to look at anyother manufacturer. Keep on doing what you are doing. Thank you so much Vinny

    Reply

  • SMT Golf

    Steve Monroe II wrote on: Feb 2, 2005

    Finally! A story about this company.
    The kind things that Mike has done for so many of us golfers, and the things done to help out mankind, it is simply uncountable.
    The clubs are beautiful, the lifetime warranty is unmatched in the business. There are many who would do well to watch what SMT Golf is doing.
    You will never be sorry with an SMT club.
    Congratulations Mike, finally getting noticed.

    Reply

  • Babylon

    Robert wrote on: Jan 23, 2005

    I have a Babylon 11 loft. I am a 6 index. I have reached grass way out on the fairway I had never visited on my first shot yet. Congrats Mike.

    Reply

  • Spectrum

    warren tennyson wrote on: Jan 20, 2005

    The SMT Spectrum is a great driver.
    Thanks to Mike!!!

    Reply

  • SMT

    Dariusz Jêdrzejewski wrote on: Jan 20, 2005

    Excellent golf clubs made by a great company owned by a very good man. Not a word less not a word more.

    Reply

  • 455 Deep Bore 8*

    Lee A. Propst wrote on: Jan 19, 2005

    I discovered SMT while searching the web for information on titanium metals. SMT and Bang Golf came to the forefront. I first built a Big Bang 450 7.5 degree and was pleased. Then I finally took the plunge and built a 455 Deep Bore 8* w/Harrison UL 54gram 2.5 torque shaft, 46" long. What a treat to hit. I can truly say I finally have a drive I "love" to hit. Long (for me) and forgiving. WHAT A CLUB! I have emailed Mike Tait previously asking various questions and Mike has always answered me personally. Whould love to meet him. Anyway, forget Taylormade, Titlesit, or Callaway. SMT IS THE PLACE TO BE. I am a 5 hdcp with a driver distance of approx 285yds..... NOW! Thanks Mike.
    Lee A. Propst

    Reply

  • SMT

    Bobby Stephens wrote on: Jan 17, 2005

    I have 4 SMT drivers. They are the most solid, well built driver heads I have ever had. SMT can stand on their reputation for quality. Highly recommended.

    Reply

  • Great Drivers!

    BOBBY VALAGUE wrote on: Jan 17, 2005

    I own a SMT Nemesis 7 degree which i truly love. The ball comes off soo hard it's not even funny. 360 yrd drive this weekend....what else do u want!

    Reply

    • RE: Great Drivers!

      Jodi Persicke wrote on: Aug 29, 2007

      nice bobby valague! miss u,,,jodi

      Reply

  • SMT

    Keri Gardiner wrote on: Dec 1, 2004

    I also met Mike Tait when he came to Australia... He gave me the best advice I had ever heard...."Hit it my way, not there's". Using my Nemesis 9 degree I blasted that ball and won the National Long Drive Ladies Title. Now I only use SMT Drivers and have several in my evergrowing collection. The best clubs I ever used from the kindest person I have ever met. How lucky am I ???
    I wish Mike every success, as SMT will snowball with it's fantastic line of irons soon to be out. Well done Mike.

    Reply

  • SMT

    Shaun Womersley wrote on: Dec 1, 2004

    Got to say that you will not find a more genuine guy than this one.
    After working in the industry over 20 years, no one comes close.
    On top of all that the product matches the guy, pure quality and the best after sales guarantees of anyone in the industry.

    Reply

  • SMT

    James Stammer wrote on: Nov 30, 2004

    As a golf media member, I get to try out plenty of clubs. SMT's products are consistantly the best in the business. I have two drivers in my inventory, including a Babylon in the bag now. I'd have more, but my nephew and son have each put one in their bags.
    The fact that Mike Tait is also a stand-up, hell-of-a-guy guy is icing on the cake. He does business the way we customers wish everyone did business.

    Reply

  • SMT

    Craig wrote on: Nov 30, 2004

    I met Mike Tait here in Australia, real nice guy and deserves every success.
    I have Nemisis and Solitaire.

    Reply

Comments Leave a comment