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Out of the Woods: Callaway Golf

Ely Callaway took golf into the space age. now he plans to keep it on track for the next century
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Vince McMahon, Nov/Dec 99

(continued from page 2)

For a special Life magazine article on Viracle, Callaway arranged a photo shoot with models at the Wee Burn Country Club in Darien. He invited the Life staffers to a lunch, but before it began he took them outside to see the models in their Viracle suits. Using one of the club's irrigation hoses, he drenched the models, then asked everyone back into the clubhouse for lunch. After lunch he paraded the dried-out models before the rather astonished magazine staffers. "It was demonstrably superior," says Callaway of the fabric, which is still widely used today.  

Callaway stayed in New York while moving, in 1954, to textile giant Burlington Industries, where he would serve as president from 1968 to 1973. There he developed the idea that textiles, previously thought of as commodities, could be brand fabrics, and Burlington became a sought-after household name across America. He was also quickly developing a taste for good food, good wine and good cigars. Cubans were legal and Callaway loved them. "I started smoking cigars when I was 30, about the time I started paying attention to serious food," he says. "At Burlington I used to smoke six to eight a day in the office. Long before Castro I was hooked on Havana cigars. Ramon Allones, that was a great old brand. I couldn't afford them but I smoked them anyway. Partagas and Ramon Allones. Today, Cohiba, a little contraband."  

While at Burlington, Callaway's developing sense of taste for wine led him to plant the root stock, so to speak, of a different career, one that accelerated a little more quickly than he had planned. When he was denied the chairmanship of Burlington in 1973, at age 54, Callaway resigned to devote his time to the tiny company he founded in 1969, the first one to bear his name. Callaway had established Callaway Vineyards in Temecula, California, not far from where his golf company is today, in Carlsbad. The move was bold and brazen, though carefully calculated.

Acting on research by scientists at the University of California at Davis, Callaway planted a 140-acre vineyard in an area where no one had made wine before. Callaway beat the Southern California heat by plowing in the Rainbow Gap, where cooling Pacific winds counter the coastal desert heat. He hired a German winemaker away from the Napa Valley and set about producing wines that were demonstrably superior and pleasingly different.

And he bucked the wisdom of patrician winemakers to the north, who deemed Southern California only good for freeways, amusement parks and orange growing. "We had a policy that we were not trying to duplicate European wines," says Callaway. "We have our own soil, our own climate. We won't pretend to make wine like the Europeans do. We sold the difference, not the sameness."  

Callaway still knew the value of a great story in helping to promote a venture. In 1976, England's Queen Elizabeth II was coming to New York for America's Bicentennial celebration and would be the guest of honor at a gala luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria. Grayson Kirk, the president of Columbia University and a wine expert, was on a committee that was selecting a wine for the luncheon.

Kirk also happened to be a member of New York's University Club, as was Callaway. The story, according to Callaway, goes like this: When Kirk tasted Callaway's 1974 White Riesling for the first time, he called Callaway at the vineyard. "We've picked your White Riesling to go on the University Club wine list," Callaway recalls Kirk as saying. "How many cases do you have?"  

After a quick consultation in the vineyard's tiny office, Callaway replied, "About 60."  

"Hold them if you can," said Kirk, "so that I can recommend that the wine be served at a special luncheon for the Bicentennial at the Waldorf." 

Three weeks later Kirk called back to tell Callaway that he had convinced the selection committee, which included members of the Pilgrims Society and the English Speaking Union, that this daring Southern California white wine should be served to the queen. It stunned the wine world that the queen should be served anything but French grand cru.  

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