By Jeff Nations
Don Blankenship has been saving golfers serious time -- and a fair bit of money, too -- for more than 20 years now.
Blankenship, easily recognized by area sports fans as a basketball official at both the high school and collegiate levels, has long maintained a sideline hobby-turned-business, Precision Golf Clubs and Repairs, offering area golfers everything from a simple grip fitting to a completely custom-built set of clubs.
"I've been building component clubs since 1989 or 1990," said Blankenship, of Edinburg. "I did it for myself, and then all of a sudden a lot of people around me realized I was doing this work."
The work can be a real time saver for golfers looking to repair a damaged driver, putter, wedge or iron -- while returning a club to the manufacturer can take weeks, Blankenship can often get the work done within a day or two.
That can come in handy for golfers suddenly finding themselves without their favorite club heading into a tournament or a dream trip to their favorite course. Blankenship said his work repairing and building clubs lasts around six months of the year, just about right for the seasonal play in Virginia.
"Shafts can break on clubs if they get fatigued," Blankenship said. "When it's really dry out, I've noticed a lot of clubs breaking."
The repair work is just part of it, though. Blankenship can fit an individual golfer with a set of customized clubs. Blankenship can assemble a club from the basic components -- club head, shaft and grip -- and tailor it to his individual client. Part of that is by taking simple measurements to determine the optimal shaft and grip, of course, but Blankenship also strives to match golfers' new clubs with their ability and playing style.
"I meet with golfers all the time," Blankenship said. "I watch them play to see what their tendencies are, whether they hit the ball high or low, and make a decision to build based on what I see and what they're looking for.
"... There's a certain amount of golfers who want that name brand, but there's also a certain amount who want a custom set of clubs built specifically for them."
There are a few places golfers can go for repairs, mainly pro shops at local golf courses, but Blankenship is one of just a handful in the area that can offer custom-built golf clubs. Often, custom clubs are a more economical choice than name-brand sets.
Still, Blankenship said business hasn't been quite as steady the last few years.
"The economy kind of took a toll on a small businessman like myself, when that discretionary income hasn't been there as much," Blankenship said. "I've cut down on advertising. It's word of mouth. It's like a lot of businesses -- when you do something and [the client] is satisfied with their equipment, they'll tell a friend and if they have a problem, they'll turn to you."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>