In the summer of 1961 Karsten Solheim met with Ted Wooley, the owner of Golfcraft, in Escondido, Californiia, and acquired enough forged clubheads to make 100 sets of irons that would be the first Ping irons every made. Once back in Arizona, Karsten broke with convention and milled two cavities out of the back of each iron head and shafted them with his newly designed Ballnamic shafts. Breaking again with convention, Karsten purposely bent these shafts at a slight angle—two ways—at the base of the grip. The grip end of the shaft was angled so the grip would lean back toward the golfer when addressing the ball and also tilt slightly away from the target. The net effect was to line up the centerline of the grip with the center of the golf ball at impact. In addition, Karsten figured out that bent shafts also reduced the torque of a golf club. in 1964, Karsten filed for a US patent for his shaft design, which was granted on Jan 20, 1967.
These first irons—the "Ping 69" model—proved to be a gigantic watershed moment in golf history. In making these first irons, Karsten ignored all the various existing muscle back, flat back, two-level back, step back, angled back, etc. iron designs. He did not create a variation on any of those themes. Instead, Karsten introduced a cavity back, perimeter-weighted iron that was nowhere to be found in the market. As he continued to develop his novel design, it would soon race to the front and revolutionize the world of golf equipment.
With 100 sets made, he returned to Wooley and acquired enough clubheads to make 100 additional sets. These sets, when compared to his first 100 sets, used the same perimeter-weighted design but had cosmetic differences. The soles of the second group were stamped "Ping Ballnamic 69," the cavities were mostly paint-filled with only a few sets using a decal in the upper cavity like on the first sets, the faces had two vertical side scoring lines on each side, and the chrome was brighter and richer in appearance. In short, the second 100 sets looked much better cosmetically.
Offered here is a spectauclar, unused 2-9, PW, SW set of Ping Ballnamic 69 irons from the second 100 sets. These irons have their original Ping Ballnamic bent shafts, True-Temper Dynamic shaft bands, and original grips. In fact, everything in this set from the chrome to the paint is original and in pristine condition. The 2-iron measures 39 1/4" in length.
Karsten believed so much in his Ballnamic shafts with the two-way bend that he began to use them in the putters he made in 1961 and thereafter. In 1967, however, as Ping was really starting to take off, the USGA ruled his bent shafts were non-conforming. Many golfers including Jack Nicklaus, who had recently won 4 professional tournaments using a Ping Cushin putter with the Ballnamic bent shaft, had to leave it behind and find something else. That decision by the USGA did not set well with Karsten, especially in light of the fact that the USGA allowed Wood Wand putters, made with a separate wood grip attached at an angle to the top of a short wood shaft, to remain conforming because their shafts were not bent... To read more about this head-scratching moment in history, see And The Putter Went Ping, pages 97-104.
Note that the shaft of the sand wedge in this set is straight, not bent. That would appear to be for a reason, probably because golfers often needed to open up the face of a sand wedge. A shaft bent at the grip would not work so well, because the grip would no longer line up with the ball if the face was laid open. Also note how the tops of the hosels in this set have a bit of variation in height. This is because Karsten's son Allen, who milled out the bulk of the cavities, would weigh each head and sometimes trim the top of the hosel to bring the heads to weight in an effort to match up the swingweights of the clubs in each set. It was after the cavities were milled and the hosels shortened that the heads were marked with the decorative hosel ring and then chromed.
When one stops to think that this set offered here was not only part of ground zero for the hundreds of millions of perimeter weighted irons that have been produced since—and that this set is unused—their importance and place in the history of the game can not be overstated.
For more on the Amazing story of Karsten and his production of the earliest forged perimeter-weighted cavity-back irons and bent shafts, see chapter three "The Bent is Meant!" in And The Putter Went Ping.