‘Founder of MTHS football’ driven to change golf industry

Tom Batters
Jack Hoffman saws off the end of a golf club shaft in his workshop in Germantown Hills. Hoffman is one of the few Class A rated golf club designers in the country.

Way back in 1946, when Jack Hoffman was a junior at Metamora High School, there was no such thing as Redbird football.

It may sound hard to believe now, but the gridiron-rich school did not have a football program, so Hoffman played “sandlot football” on teams in Peoria with some of his friends at Spalding Academy.

That wasn’t good enough for Hoffman, a three-sport athlete at Metamora who thought the Redbirds should have a team of their own.

So, he went into the office of new superintendent Sherwood Dees and asked if he would start a football program.

Hoffman, expecting to be shown to the door, was somewhat surprised to hear that Dees would do it.

Dees started and coached the team, and the Redbirds played their first home game against Spalding on Sept. 27, 1946.

“I looked at all the athletes we had in school, and I started drawing up a roster,” Hoffman said.

“I said, ‘This guy is fast, he could be a receiver, or, this guy is big, he should be a lineman.’ We had some good players come out that first year.”

Hoffman, 80, who lives in Germantown Hills, still has the program from that inaugural home game.

“There aren’t too many of these left,” he said, holding up the fragile, faded piece of paper.

“Look at the ticket price. It only cost 50 cents to get into a game back then.”

Hoffman played quarterback for that first Redbirds team, and he personally designed the play that resulted in the first touchdown in school history.

He went on to play three sports at Eureka College before becoming a successful businessman (co-owner of United Ready Mix in Peoria for many years).

Hoffman’s contributions to Metamora High School did not end there, however.

In 1977, his company built the $1 million football stadium and all-weather six-lane track.

In 1990, he came up with the idea for the “clover leaf” design of the baseball/softball field complex on campus.

He presented a rough sketch to former athletic director and current principal Randy Toepke, who recommended Hoffman’s design when construction began in 2002.

“I’m proud of those fields, but I don’t go around saying it was my idea,” Hoffman said.

On his 80th birthday last year, Hoffman received a letter from Toepke, who commended him on his years of service to the school.

“That meant a lot to me,” Hoffman said, holding the letter.

“Randy didn’t have to do that, but it made me feel good when I read his words.”

The right club...

Hoffman is retired, but that doesn’t mean he is done working.

He spends much of his time making custom golf clubs in the cozy workshop in his garage.

Back in the early ‘90s, when his daughter, Heather, was a standout golfer at MTHS, Hoffman grew frustrated over the lack of properly-fitted clubs on the market.

He was convinced that Heather could improve her game if she had better clubs, but he could not find them in stores or catalogs.

He took some classes and became one of the few Class A rated golf club designers in the country (there are only about 300 nationwide).

“Most golfers, even the really good ones, don’t know they are playing with faulty clubs,” he said, adamantly. “The problem is that the big companies want to keep selling you the wrong clubs, so you will get tired of them and go out and buy new ones ... Well, I decided to start making them myself.”

Heather placed in the top 10 at State all four years at Metamora and she went on to have a successful golfing career at Northwestern University.

The main problem, Hoffman said, is that golf club manufacturers sell drivers that start at about 46 inches in length, but many golfers need to have a driver that is about 42 inches long instead.

But, you can’t buy 42-inch drivers.

Other clubs may have the wrong “loft” or lie angle,” which can make a big difference, even to a skilled golfer.

“It’s a big scam, as far as I’m concerned. I wish somebody would expose the golf club industry,” he said. “They keep selling these clubs, and people keep buying them, but they are not the right ones.”

In some ways, Hoffman’s workshop resembles a mad scientists’ laboratory.

There are intricate machines, carefully-drawn charts and graphs, piles and piles of loose club shafts, and an old-fashioned flame throwing torch.

He uses this equipment to measure a golfer’s swing and design a club that fits. The “swing speed radar indicator” measures the speed. The “fit frequency meter” measures the stiffness of the club. Little “impact stickers” mark the exact spot where the golfer makes contact with the ball.

All this information, plus many other factors, go into Hoffman’s plan for the perfect golf club.

Each one is different and he won’t rest until it is just right.

He once worked until 2 a.m., got a couple hours rest, and got back up at 4 a.m. to finish a set of clubs for somebody who needed them for a tournament that day.

“I enjoy it. I don’t make much money, but I’m not out to get rich,” he said.

“If I can help somebody enjoy their golf game a little more, then that makes me happy.”