For years, Floyd Glenn and his son, Donald Robinson, would tee off every Tuesday and Thursday morning — alternating between Petaluma Golf & Country Club and Paradise Valley Golf Course. During that time, Robinson would get frustrated because no matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t beat Glenn.
“He’s never shot over a 75 for four years,” Robinson said. “I mean, he was like a machine, and he would just beat me and I would get just so pissed off and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to get you one day.’ ”
For Glenn, consistently shooting under 75 and routinely beating his son at an age where he should be slowing down isn’t what he’s most proud of. For the 90-year-old, it’s starting his day walking and playing on the same greens he wasn’t allowed to decades earlier, then, three hours later, opening The Dogleg, a custom golf club shop that he co-owns with his son in San Francisco’s Ingleside district.
Glenn’s love and passion for golf is so strong that the obstacles of segregation didn’t keep him away as a player and modern technology isn’t slowing him down as a golf club customizer and craftsman.
As a teen, Glenn and his family moved from rural Terrell, Texas, to Berkeley, California, joining more than 5 million Black families in the second Great Migration from the Jim Crow South to the Northeast, Midwest, and the West Coast. He was a multisport athlete in high school and college and while being able to play multiple sports is a great talent to have, it doesn’t fully translate to golf. All of the attributes viable in other sports don’t help much on the course.
That is what drew Glenn to the game.
“I was a basketball player, I played college football, and ran track,” Glenn said. “The part of golf that interested me was that it didn’t take any particular set of gifts to play it. Being big and strong didn’t help you. Size, strength, speed, none of that is relevant in golf. It’s more mechanical and timing than anything else. That interested me.”
While the concept of being able to survive the distance from the tee to a hole on the course is intriguing, it was Glenn’s own ultracompetitive nature that took his fascination with golf over the top. The desire to win became personal to him.
“The other thing [that drove me] was when I started as a caddy, every caddy on the yard could beat me,” Glenn said. “I couldn’t handle that very well. So, I set out to beat them.”
Segregation laws in the 1940s through the 1960s prohibited Glenn and other Black people from playing on golf courses throughout the country. However, Glenn took advantage of a big caveat.
“Golf was designed for the rich and the privileged,” he said. “It was never conceived for people like myself or 95% of people that play golf that would overplay. But the trick was if you play this game and you’re rich and famous, you needed a complementary group to service them.”
Glenn became a caddy and began to study and soak up the game. Plus, the economics of it made sense.
“I could make more money caddying two days a week at a golf course than my oldest brother cold make five days week working at a hospital,” he recalled. “I go out and take two bags, carry them for 18 holes at $5 a bag, that’s $10. I can do that twice a day. That’s $20. He couldn’t make $100 in a week. I made more money than him working on the weekend than he could at the hospital.”
Being a caddy allowed Glenn to pick up the game not only by observation but also by getting on the links on his days off.
“[For] every private club in the world that I know of, there’s one day they prepare the course and clean the course and that’s Monday,” Glenn said. “On Mondays, all workers at the club, the caddies, etc., could play for free all day long.”
Eventually, Glenn taught himself the game and ended up beating the caddies who would beat him as a newcomer. Then, his game took off to another level.
After spending three years in the Air Force as a Korean translator, Glenn graduated from San Francisco State with a degree in history and became a teacher. All the while, he kept playing and became a scratch golfer, a player whose handicap is zero or lower on all courses.
Glenn understood the nuances of the game and also dedicated himself to becoming the best golfer that he could be. For him, it was waking up every morning at 5 a.m. to practice before going to school and work.
“If you are reasonably physically able and fairly mentally bright, scratch can be or should be attained by anyone,” he said. “That’s the way the game is designed. You need more of a mindset to play it. If you dedicate yourself to the game and could understand it a bit, you could be a scratch golfer.”
While golfing locally, Glenn began collecting classic golf clubs and eventually ended up repairing and regripping clubs. He developed connections with like-minded people such as Carl Paul, the founder of Golfsmith golf shops. Like Glenn, Paul was a Texan and an interpreter in the military. Also like Glenn, Paul was a golf historian. The two connected and Paul began to show and teach Glenn about club making.
Glenn believes that it’s the connection more so than skill that got him in the room initially.
“Everybody talks about, ‘You’re the best. You’re this. You’re that,’ but it has little to do with that. You are [chosen] by somebody for a variety of reasons,” he said.
Besides having the connections, Glenn also had the ability to create something rare to appeal to this particular demographic.
“Initially, if you appeal to a certain clientele, which is rich and privileged, they always want something that nobody else has,” he said. “If you wanted something exclusive, you had to go to a club maker that specialized in making custom clubs.”
After Glenn retired from teaching, he opened The Dogleg with Robinson in 1996. It was moved to three spots within a block before the current location on Ashton Avenue in the Ingleside district. Besides general repairs such as changing shafts and regripping clubs, at The Dogleg, golfers would stop and get the right fit, measuring size, flexibility and the parameters of their swings.
Through the years, major golf companies emulated the model by developing customization tools, but there’s one thing a machine couldn’t emulate. For nearly 30 years, The Dogleg has had a loyal following in the Bay Area golf community not only because of the experience of having golf clubs made by hand, but providing more personable service.
“You can make money as a clubmaker. But here’s the caveat, you have to do what the large manufacturers and warehouses do not want to do,” Glenn said. “It’s labor-intensive and you can survive.”
Robinson thinks that the love of the game is key to their longevity.
“My dad wouldn’t tell you, but he stayed in business not because of a profit, but he did it because he loved to do it,” Robinson said. “For me and him, we are a lot alike and it’s figuring out what the customer needs and how to improve their game.”