Looking good off the rack

By Lee Pace

Yes, I have a wandering eye.
I have moved from one pretty thing to another. I check out the curves, the details, the accessories. I enjoy going into a busy place with a pretty one on my arm. I reflect on my exes and wince that I could have been so stupid to have been with that. If mine is hanging out with others, I’ll generally snicker at the ugliness of all that surrounds my jewel.

I admit it —  I’m a bit of a tart for golf bags.

Just in the last decade I have been with Titleist, Sun Mountain, MacKenzie, Stitch and Nike (for the blink of an eye). I have had bags with a stand and without, made with leather, canvas and waterproof synthetics, and even with velour linings. Various models have had compartments or attachments for umbrellas, water bottles, iPhones and range finders, though the latter is a moot point. I’m too cheap to buy a high-tech measuring device, and I’m not vain enough to think it matters a whit to know I’m 133 yards from the flag for certain versus the 130 I can estimate for myself.

As I am ever the traditionalist who’d rather walk than ride, my bags have tended to the lighter weights and fewer geegaws, though I’m constantly in a balancing act between simplicity and lusting for modern creature comforts.

I was gifted one of the original MacKenzie Walkers in the early 1990s but didn’t have the good sense to appreciate the materials, workmanship and utter simplicity of the tan leather bag, benching it after a wet day when the leather seemed to hold the water like lead pellets. Over the years, moving it from assorted garages to attics, the bag developed a rash of mold and mildew, which the company tried gallantly six years ago to remove — with modest results.

I carried an apple green, double-strapped bag for a while but got a sore left shoulder with the pretzel motion of putting my left arm through the second strap. Once in a captain’s choice tournament, I won a hideous Nike Performance bag that had 12 slots for clubs and was white and black with teal accents; I quickly sold it on Craigslist to some poor fool who likely plays golf in sandals and black socks.

For several years I’ve carried a MacKenzie ballistic bag, a two-pocket, single-strap bag made of navy fabric in the same design as the company’s more famous leather offering. The bag served me well and I appreciated its simplicity. But over time I grew to want at least a nudge toward convenience — a more accessible spot for my wallet and phone without them mixed in with balls and tees, for example, or a place for a water bottle or umbrella. I considered yielding to the appeal of a stand bag to ease the wear on my back, but the spindly metal legs add such an artificial element I’ve resisted the urge.

I wrote in these pages in the spring of 2015 of an innovative company in Cary called Stitch Golf that makes stylish leather head covers and accessories under the “Dress Your Game” hashtag. Stitch flirted briefly in fabricating and peddling a utilitarian and soft-spoken carry bag in British khaki and green camouflage designs, but I found the five-slot opening a bit narrow and the clubs prone to getting stuck when you tried to pull one. In due time owner Charlie Burgwyn discovered a vintage golf bag company on the West Coast trying to reinvent itself and ditched his own model and began carrying the wares of the Jones Golf Bag Co.

Anyone who played high school or college golf in the 1970s and ’80s likely remembers the Jones bag, which came in basic primary colors with a wide white strap and a plastic base that could stand up to countless whacks after a fat 6-iron shot.

George Jones was a cab driver and golf enthusiast in Portland, Oregon, in the early 1970s who, in his spare time, cobbled together utilitarian golf bags and sold them from the trunk of his cab. The bags were popular enough that he founded the Jones Golf Bag Co., the enterprise finding a niche as a manufacturer of inexpensive carry bags that most schools could afford to buy in bulk and outfit their entire squad. Jones sold the company in 1990, and over two decades the line lost its appeal as golf exploded and consumer demand migrated to shinier bells and louder whistles.

“After 20 years, there was nothing left but the name and a lot of memories,” says Matt Lemman, who grew up playing a Jones bag. “The bag was missed. There was nothing that substituted for it.”

Lemman’s father bought what was left of Jones’ entrepreneurial efforts in 2011 and turned the operation over to sons Matt and Tim and a third partner, Chris Carnahan. They began manufacturing the original Jones bag with updated materials and since have added to the line with stand bags, cart bags, luggage and accessories. Lemman says the company broke even in 2015 and was comfortably in the black in 2016.

“It’s been fun to bring the bag back to life,” says Matt, 30 years old. “It’s no picnic to start a business, but we’re lucky to have a brand that resonates with a lot of people.”

“People like to be reminded of a time when life was simpler,” adds Tim, 28.

Indeed, the Jones Original and Players Series models I carried in 2016 are the archetypes of minimalism and function. Over six months I tried both the Original model in kelly green and more recently a navy version in the Players Series. Both feature the ubiquitous Jones braided handle and plastic base and come in at around three pounds each. Both have three compartments — two long, narrow ones on the strap side of the bag, and a larger one on the opposite side. The bags are reasonably priced, with the Original model at $140 and the Players at $160.

I’ve settled on the Players Series for several reasons. The spine makes it easier to sling on a motor cart if I find myself in the position of having to ride. There’s a slot for a water bottle — essential for the hot Southern summers. And I thought the wide white strap on the Original model a bit unsightly to my eye; the strap on the Players is narrower, and the neat touch of having some tacky material on the underside helps keep the bag from slipping on my shoulder. And like all Jones bags, you can find the name only on the bottom and on an understated metal plate positioned on the spine; carrying a bag with the manufacturer’s name taking up 50 percent of the face just seems, well, crass.

“It’s everything you need, and nothing you don’t,” Lemman says. “There’s a niche for people who want a simpler way of doing things.”

And over time, I’ve gotten a better grasp on what I don’t need. I’ve cut my set down to 12 clubs, taking a couple pounds off the carry weight. I’d rather master the 56-degree wedge than try to dial in several lofts, and if I’m playing a course under 6,400 yards as I should, my 18-degree fairway wood is all I need for second shots on par-5s and perhaps an approach on a long par-4. Anthony Cordes, the sharp young club-fitting expert at Pinehurst, suggested in fitting me for a new set of Titleist irons last spring that I create a hybrid set by using my preferred blades, the forged and more classic-looking AP2s, for my wedge through 6-iron and then go to the more forgiving AP1 for the 5- and 4-iron. I’ve never hit so many good 4-irons as I have the last year.

The bag, clubs, several extra balls and spray bottles of sunscreen and insect repellant measure 17 pounds — a comfortable weight to lug around the course, particularly by alternating shoulders. The set-up is functional and the bag, accented with one leather and one knit head cover from Stitch, distinguishes itself amid the rubble of the bag drop.

The decade of the ’70s was not renowned for its design acumen — industrial, clothing or otherwise. Thankfully, though, there is the Jones Golf Bag to take a much-welcomed second lap.  PS

Chapel Hill-based writer Lee Pace promises to live by the Jones Golf mantra in 2017 — “Enjoy the walk.”

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