In August 2014, Akbar Chisti drove from Portland, Ore., to the PGA Show in Las Vegas to meet with the USGA’s head buyer, Mary Lopuszynski. Chisti went to discuss what “unique and compelling” piece Seamus Golf might create for the U.S. Open merchandise tent. It was a special moment for the company Chisti had founded in 2011, which was fast earning a reputation for crafting a range of distinctive headcovers, ball-markers, caps, pouches, and bag tags.
“I showed Mary and her team what it would look like for us to set up an anvil in the middle of the tent and personalize items,” says Chisti. Lopuszynski was impressed and Seamus Golf made a successful debut at Chambers Bay the following year. Then Chisti met with the USGA again in August 2015 to talk over plans for the Open at Oakmont in 2016.
“I racked my brains about what we could do,” says Chisti, 35, who’d studied accounting at Portland State University. Eventually, he had a light-bulb moment: “I looked at the Church Pew Bunker and thought the shape of it would make an interesting bottle opener.”
The USGA people agreed, but there was a problem: “The opener would be forged from mild steel, so it was going to be expensive.” On the first day, sales of the $95 opener were slow. “But then a couple of highly visible media people bought one and wrote about it. Then Matt Kuchar got one, and all of a sudden the floodgates opened. We sold 150 in about 10 hours.”
A few days after the tournament, the USGA museum asked if they could put one of the openers on display. Chisti admits to getting a little emotional about what he says is his favorite piece. “It looks like it was made in a cave,” he says. “We heated the steel to 2,000 degrees then shaped it on the anvil.”
That happens with virtually everything Seamus Golf makes. Named for Seamus MacDuff—Shivas Irons’s teacher in Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom (as well as Chisti’s Irish terrier)—the company started with two employees, Chisti and his wife Megan. There are now 18 full-time employees in a 6,000-square-foot unit making 2,400 style, color, and size combinations of the company’s core products.
Chisti, whose parents emigrated from Lahore, Pakistan, in 1967, has loved golf since he played a nine-hole course in Hillsboro. His mom insisted he attend Sunday School at the local mosque, but he learned more about golf than religion. “Often, my dad would pick me up after mom dropped me off, and we’d get in a quick nine,” he remembers. “Then he’d take me back to finish the school day before mom picked me up.”
In 2001, Chisti went in with his father on a one-bedroom house a mile from the recently opened Bandon Dunes resort. Chisti worked there every summer through 2005. “There would be up to six dudes living in the house at any time,” he says. “We caddied, worked in the pro shop, moved furniture, whatever was needed.”
After college, Chisti spent three years at KPMG, but “I always dreamed of owning my own business.”
One of Seamus Golf’s earliest accounts was Highlands Golf Club in Gearhart, 90 minutes west of Portland. Matt Brown, a PGA pro and now the mayor of the 1,500-strong coastal town, submitted a large order for headcovers that made Chisti a little uncomfortable. “I tried to talk him out of it,” says Chisti. “I was concerned they wouldn’t sell. But Matt insisted. When we got the headcovers done, my wife and I drove out to Gearhart to deliver them personally.”
“I ordered 24 headcovers, which probably pales against some Seamus orders today,” Brown says. “I know Akbar was anxious about them selling, but he needn’t have worried. We moved them pretty fast, and today we stock the full line. Folks really like the uniqueness and quality of his products.”
In the last six years, that has become a familiar refrain.