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karsten solheim
bergen, fløien, floeien

KARSTEN SOLHEIM (1911 - 2000)

Karsten 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 Phoenix.

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 winnings.

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.

After 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.
  When 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.

By 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.

Despite 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.

Solheim is 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.

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