In an era of big box stores, Floyd Glenn dispenses wisdom along with custom-made golf clubs at his little shop, The Dogleg, near San Francisco’s Ocean Avenue. (Photo by Dan Rosenheim)

A dogleg, as anyone at all familiar with golf knows, is a fairway with a bend in either direction. Thus, the first hole at Presidio Golf Course is a 362-yard dogleg right, or the fifth hole at Harding Park is a 540-yard dogleg left.

So you might say to someone traveling east on San Francisco’s Ocean Avenue, that it’s a dogleg left at Aptos Avenue, then straight on to Ashton, where five doors from the corner the shop named The Dogleg sits in the middle of a small group of stores — flanked by Gary Cimino’s two-chair barber shop on the north side and a hot-yoga studio on the south.

Arriving at the Dogleg, you may be struck by a sign in the window that reads: 

“We do not dispense magic. However, we may be able to help your game.”

And, yet, despite that disclaimer and without too much exaggeration, there is magic on tap at the diminutive Ingleside District business.

  • In the era of giant box stores, it’s the magic of survival for a small craft shop. 
  • In the day of mass production, it’s the magic of golf equipment that is custom fitted, produced and repaired by hand. 
  • And finally, it’s the magic of 86-year-old Floyd Glenn, a man once prohibited from playing golf because of the color of his skin who went on to become a first-rate amateur player and a master craftsman.

‘Black people weren’t allowed to play’

“When I was a caddy over at Presidio Golf Course, black people weren’t allowed to play,” Glenn recalls, bending a lanky frame over a glass counter in his store late one afternoon, while an Aretha Franklin track plays in the background. “But on Mondays, when the course was closed, caddies could play, and I did. I was my own teacher, and from the very first, I never had a problem hitting the ball.”

Glenn’s cluttered shop in 21st-century San Francisco’s Ingleside is a long way from Terrell, Texas, the rural town just outside of Dallas which he was born in 1932 and spent the first 13 years of his life.

In 1945, Glenn’s family joined the great migration of African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow South and came to Berkeley, where his father was a minister.

Asked how it felt to be uprooted and moved to a totally different community 1,700 miles away, Glenn doesn’t miss a beat: 

“If you’re on a plantation, any place away from that is a good place.”

And Berkeley did, in fact, end up a good place for the reverend and Mrs. Glenn and their 13 children (“In those days, not that large a family,” Floyd Glenn says).

But if Glenn found little to miss about rural Texas, he nonetheless came away from that state with a good education — acquired in a one-room schoolhouse for black children only. 

“We had one lady teacher for the first eight grades, and she taught us all the same things,” he says. 

Glenn was a fast learner, and he profited when most of his classmates left school to work the fields during the school year’s bookend months of September and May. 

“For some reason, my father kept us in school,” he recalls, “and during that time, there were only Glenns in class. We learned a lot.”

Glenn learned so much, in fact, that he was working at a level several grades beyond his age.

“When I got to Berkeley I told the school I was a senior, and they said, ‘No way you are 13 and a senior.’ So they tested me, and I tested out of high school. My only weak subject was English, because I spoke Texan.”

Off to college, then the Air Force

After officially graduating from high school at 16, Glenn took a circuitous path, first attending City College and San Francisco State, then enlisting in the Air Force, where he attended the Language School at Fort Ord in Monterey, studying Russian, Chinese and Korean.

He spent, he will tell you, three years, nine months and two days in the service, including 16 months in Korea translating intercepted North Korean communications during the war.

Returning to San Francisco, Glenn finished his education at SF State with a degree in history, got a job at Park and Rec and, while there, picked up a teaching credential. There were few African American teachers in the city’s public schools, and even fewer who were tenured. A counselor told him they weren’t hiring black people to teach in Bay Area schools and refused to sign Glenn’s application to be a student teacher.

But Glenn’s legendary basketball coach at SF State, Dan Farmer, felt otherwise — thinking so highly of his former player’s teaching potential that he went to bat for him with San Francisco public school administrators. 

“Farmer was the worst coach I ever met and the best person,” Glenn says with a smile.

And, after a few false starts, Glenn was hired and began a long career in the public schools, where he taught Civics, U.S. history, Geography and “just about everything but Home Ec.” Along the way, he spent time at Ben Franklin, Herbert Hoover, Polytechnic High and finally McAteer, where in addition to teaching, he coached the basketball team to a city title. 

There also was a hiatus early in his teaching career when Glenn got a State Department grant to go to Ghana and write about Americans living abroad.

Scratch golfer perfects clubmaking craft

Back in the United States, along with teaching and coaching, Glenn polished his golf game and became a scratch golfer. He began collecting classic golf clubs and developed close friendships, first with an old Irish clubmaker living in Alameda and then with Carl Paul, a founder of Golfsmith golf shops. Paul was from the same part of Texas as Glenn and, like Glenn, had been an interpreter in the military. Working with Paul, Glenn perfected the craft of clubmaking, and when he retired from teaching for good in 1990, Glenn opened his own custom club shop two doors from its current location on Ashton Avenue.

“I never wanted to be good, I wanted to be very good,” Glenn says. “I found out who was best and picked their brains until I was ready to go on my own.”

At The Dogleg, Glenn gained a loyal following in the city’s golf community. He did it all — making clubs from scratch, changing shafts, re-gripping clubs. And he coupled his skill as a craftsman with a beguiling personality — shrewd, strikingly well-read, amusing. His language is salty, but it belies good humor and a gentle spirit.

“Floyd is a first-rate craftsman,” says Ron O’Connor, a Lincoln High grad, real estate appraiser and Olympic Club member who has been a longtime Dogleg customer. “But more than that he is a gentleman who knows golf.”

“The trick,” says Glenn, “is to do what the big companies don’t want to do: the things that are labor intensive.”

In the early days, the Dogleg was one of several custom golf shops in the Bay Area. These were the places golfers went for the right fit, where people like Floyd could measure their ability, size, flexibility and the parameters of their swing.

“How do you expect to walk into a store and buy a set of clubs that’s going to fit you?” Glenn asks. “It’s like a suit. Very seldom do you buy a suit that doesn’t need alterations.”

But time, technology and the economy’s tendency to monopoly combined to take a toll on the independent craftsmen. With computer-assisted design and manufacturing, it became possible for big companies to provide almost the same level of customization as the small specialists. Today, a major club manufacturer has digital equipment to take your measurements, analyze your swing and generate clubs tailored just for you.

“Now everyone can make excellent clubs, mostly computer generated,” Glenn says. “And golf is like many other areas where the big companies don’t stay in business being nice to people.” 

Yet, Glenn’s custom shop still holds appeal for golfers who want a craftsman’s special care. 

Having recently retired as president of a glass company in the Sunset District, Wayne Charkins stopped by on a recent morning to ask about having his clubs re-gripped.

“I went to the big golf store in San Bruno, and they wanted to sell me a new set for $1,800,” said Charkins, a Half Moon Bay resident who plays regularly at San Francisco’s Harding Park. “That’s more than I wanted to spend so I looked around and found this shop. Here, I can have new soft grips put on my clubs for $7 apiece.”

Dedicated to his craft

Labor intensive means small jobs like re-gripping clubs, but it also means changing shafts and making some sets from scratch. In the month and a half before Christmas this year, Glenn produced three complete sets of custom clubs.

“The trick,” says Glenn, “is to do what the big companies don’t want to do: the things that are labor intensive.”

And along with paying customers, visitors frequently stop by the shop simply to share a cup of coffee and chat with Glenn. Pro golfer Ken Venturi’s son is among those who drop in from time to time.

The shop itself offers ample testimony to Glenn’s accomplishments. Along with all the grips, shafts, heads and clubs, there are photos of him with famous golfers and trophies galore, including the Clubmaker of the Year Award from the Golf Clubmakers Association.

Today at 86, having raised 10 children and with no compelling financial need to work, Glenn still comes to the shop every weekday. And while a bandaged foot currently has him on the DL, he remains a regular golfer, typically at Harding Park or Oakland’s Metropolitan Golf Links. He no longer shoots in the low 70s, but he remains serious about the game and turns in scores less than his age.

“Mediocre doesn’t work,” he says. “You should always want to do better. I don’t shoot 105 and be happy about it.”