KARSTEN SOLHEIM (1911 - 2000)
Solheim was a General Electric engineer when he took up the game of
golf in 1954, and he immediately became a golfing enthusiast. But he
found, to his despair, that he had a problem shared by millions of
other duffers - he couldn´t putt.
Most golfers would have
accepted that fact, or given up the game, but not Solheim. As a
mechanical engineer, he started examining the mechanics of putter
construction and came up with the design for a highly superior putting
instrument. Because his putter head put most of the weight on the toe
and heel, leaving the middle almost a shell, it made a «ping» sound
when it met the ball. So Karsten called it the Ping Putter. For years
he made his putters by hand, but the demand became so overwhelming that
he left General Electric in 1967 and established the PING in northwest
As chairman of the board of the firm, Solheim has
presided over one of the miracles of modern business. PING sells a
complete golf club line through pro shops on every continent. Solheim´s
name is now known throughout the golf world, and many of the leading
tournament professionals depend on his clubs for their spectacular
Born at Bergen,
on September 15, 1911, he is the son of Herman A. and Rogna Kippen
Solheim. Karsten´s father, a shoemaker, brought his family to America
in 1913 and settled in Seattle, Washington. He taught his son the
shoemaking trade, and Solheim credits that early experience with
developing the manual skills he has used ever since.
graduating from Ballard High School, Seattle, in 1931, Solheim entered
the University of Washington, where he hoped to become a mechanical
engineer. But the Depression had the nation in its grip, and after a
year he had to leave college because he had run out of money. In 1935
he met Louise Crozier
of Renton, Washington at church. They were married in Seattle on June
20, 1936 and have four children, Louis, Sandra, Allan, and John.
Solheim operated his own shoe repair shop in Seattle for several years,
but when war created a need for defense workers, he resumed engineering
training through a University of California extension course. He then
moved to San Diego, advancing to a position as flight research engineer
at Ryan Aeronautical by 1945.
After World War II had ended, he
was factory representative for a Chicago firm selling cooking utensils,
but in 1951 he joined Convair as a project engineer for the first
ground guidance system for the Atlas missile. It was in 1953 that he
began his long association with General Electric. At GE´s Advanced
Electronics Center, Ithaca, New York, he became a mechanical design
engineer on sophisticated radar and other electronic guidance systems.
Then came two years of design engineering on GE portable television
sets at Syracuse. In 1956 he was sent to the General Electric computer
facility at Palo Alto, California. It was in California that he started
making his first putters in 1958. Almost every golfer who saw the Ping
Putter wanted one, and its fame spread by word of mouth. Soon requests
were coming in from pro shops as far away as Florida, New York, and
Wisconsin - all without any advertising or marketing effort.
Solheim moved to General Electric´s Phoenix plant in 1961, he set up a
club making shop in his garage. Among the first playing professionals
to become interested in Solheim´s new clubs were Julius Boros, Doug
Sanders, Jack Nicklaus, Chi Chi Rodriguez, and Gary Player.|
1967, the demand for Ping clubs was so great that Solheim left his well
paying position with General Electric and started manufacturing golf
equipment full time in a small building near north 22nd Avenue and
Desert Cove Avenue. "My parents told me I was out of my mind to leave
GE after investing 14 years with the he company," he says. "But it has
turned out pretty well."
That´s a rank understatement. For the
past nine years, PING has been growing as fast as new buildings could
be erected and new personnel and equipment obtained. When the necessary
manufacturing machinery was not available, Solheim designed his own.
Unique equipment and processes are in use throughout the big new plant
at 2201 West Desert Cove, and tight security is necessary.
PING now employs 1,500 people in a futuristic manufacturing operation, and
it ships orders to Japan, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, and
throughout the world. Solheim spends a sizable portion of his life on
transcontinental airplanes, opening up new markets all over the globe.
His wife, Louise, has remained active in the business and often travels with him. He
feels he is fortunate to have his three sons in executive positions so
that things run smoothly at all times, whether he is in the office or
traveling the globe.
His youngest son, John has worked with his
father since his junior high school days when they were making putters
in the garage after school, heating the putter head on the kitchen
stove. Son Allan left General Electric in 1967 to join his father and
brother in business. Louis, the eldest son, joined the firm in 1975
after many years as a computer engineer with IBM. Sandra (Mrs. Alex
Aiken) lives in Phoenix. For 10 years she was the receptionist with the
winning smile for the company. Also, there are ten grandchildren.
the growth to mass production, Ping Golf clubs still have Solheim´s
personal touch, and each set bears a distinctive serial number that
enables the firm to replace any club with a carefully made replica that
fits perfectly with others in the set. The demands of his skyrocketing
business take up most of Solheim´s time, but he and his family enjoy
their summer home on Puget Sound whenever possible.
a member of Moon Valley Country Club, Wigwam Country Club in the
Phoenix area and Fairfield Country Club in Flagstaff, but doesn´t have
the time to play much golf anymore. A lifelong churchman, he is active
in Bethany Bible Church, Phoenix. The leap from shoe repairman to
international manufacturing executive is a breathtaking one, but
Karsten Solheim has made it look easy. A brilliant innovator and a man
of incredible energy and devotion to work, he has created one of
America´s most celebrated success stories.
On May 23, 1988 Solheim was honored by President Ronald Reagan as the recipient of the President´s "E" Award for Export Expansion.
The "E" award recognizes organizations that demonstrate outstanding
export growth over a four-year period. In 1992, the company received
the «E Star» Award for continued export excellence.
PING currently exports PING products to 66 countries worldwide.