Akbar and Megan Chisti: Tartan head covers and more for the artisan links golfer
Word of mouth. It’s the polar opposite of force-fed, the tactic of choice of companies that have big marketing budgets and aren’t afraid to spend them—much in the same way serendipity is the flipside to predetermined, or how handcrafted is matter to mass-produced’s antimatter.
It’s the first half of those pairs of opposites that led me to Seamus Golf. And it all started with a head cover.
But not just any head cover.
“You need to check this out,” said Ru MacDonald, giving me a wave with his prized possession as we crossed paths on the vast PGA Merchandise Show floor. “It’s made from real Scottish tartan. They have hundreds of patterns.”
Ru is the host of the Scottish Golf Podcast. As I see it, that qualifies him as a wee bit of an expert on such matters. So, as instructed, I moved past the golf industry’s blaring behemoths, like Callaway and Cobra-Puma, in search of Seamus Golf’s small and unassuming booth.
That’s where I found the aforementioned tartan head covers, lovingly fashioned from patterns linked to Scottish clans as well as Irish counties. However, Seamus Golf is no one-hit wonder. Upon further inspection, I also discovered hand-forged putters, tartan pouches for tees and other golf what-nots, tweed flat caps and metal ball markers shaped by a blacksmith’s hammer. Like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike.
A Links Golf Sensibility
Clearly, there was a theme here, and one that resonated with my love of the game, especially as its played on the world’s true links golf courses. So it occurred to me: Find the person, or people, behind this company, and there’s a pretty good chance I’d find a kindred spirit.
Akbar Chisti, who co-founded Seamus Golf with his wife Megan in 2011, did not disappoint.
“We enjoy working with local artisans to create unique items for the walking golfer who appreciates links golf,” says Akbar two weeks later from his studio in Beaverton, Ore. “We really value that type of golfer. They seem to appreciate our approach. Everything we sell is made by hand.”
Akbar doesn’t just “get” the links golfer. He is one. While pursuing a degree in accounting at Portland State, he landed a job in the pro shop at Bandon Dunes, arguably the only authentic linksland on the American side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“That’s when I fell in love with this type of golf,” he says. “It’s not just the links or the walking. It’s the whole package. It’s what you do and what you experience when you’re out there. You’re keeping score, but not really. You’re having fun. You’re really remembering the experience. You don't need the latest equipment. You’re expressing yourself and your game.”
Also during this time, Akbar’s father Amin—who, in a reversal on the normal progression, took up the game because his son played it—made a pilgrimage to Scotland. To thank his son for inspiring him, Amin gave Akbar a tartan head cover from Royal Troon—even though, as Akbar jokes, the Pakastani-American “might only be 1/32nd Scottish.”
The Accidental Entrepreneurs
So the seeds for Seamus Golf were planted, but they didn’t begin to germinate for another 5-6 years. Instead, Akbar chose to till the seemingly more fertile ground of number crunching, landing a job with one of the big four accounting firms and, later, signed on with a real estate developer.
Then something unexpected happened: Akbar’s Royal Troon head cover started to show some wear and tear. Megan stepped in and tried to repair it and, along the way, stumbled upon the means to replicate it. Then a friend who was also a buyer at Bandon Dunes caught wind of their find and inquired about placing an order.
Before they knew it, a company was born.
“Megan wanted to pursue this as a business,” says Akbar. “And, to be honest, I did, too. It didn’t take much for me to leave the CPA world behind. I learned a lot as an accountant that really helped us start our own business. But, really, this is my passion.”
The choice of company name underlines this point. For Akbar, Seamus refers to Seamus MacDuff, mentor of Shivas Irons, the mysterious Scottish golf pro at the heart of Michael Murphy’s seminal book, Golf in the Kingdom. For Megan, the tie is even more personal.
“Her family has an Irish Terrier that they named Seamus,” says Akbar. “He just has this presence about him. Mischievous, but also regal. Fun but classy.”
Sounds like the mission statement for Seamus Golf. As with the company’s product development, its approach to marketing and distribution is offbeat and under the radar. Bandon, of course, carriers their wares, as do several other top-drawer golf destinations in the U.S. and Japan. And you can peruse and purchase the line directly via their website.
Meanwhile, Akbar says tour pros like Matt Kuchar, Ryan Moore, Allison Walshe and Ryann O’Toole have voluntarily started to flash the Seamus Golf look. Akbar appreciates the increased awareness. But he has little desire to grow the company significantly beyond its artisanal DNA.
“We’ve had discussions with some of the big box retailers,” he says. “But to make that work, we’d have to figure out how to increase the volume and lower the cost. We wouldn’t be able to use premium Scottish wool. We’d have to cut out some steps in the process. It wouldn’t be the same. It wouldn’t be us. We’re proud of the way we do things. As long as we stay true to that, we’ll let the business grow to whatever size it’s meant to be.
“We love working in our studio, just fiddling with different designs.,” he adds. “A year ago, we weren’t selling ball makers. Now they’re everywhere. It’s hard to say where we’ll be a year from now.”
Word of mouth rather than force-fed. Serendipity rather than predetermined. Handcrafted rather than mass-produced. Pure links golf rather than the uninspired man-made variety.
Yep, kindred spirits!