Bonsall author's biography of Ely Callaway in publication
Last updated 3/29/2007 at Noon
Rich Overturf was living in Wildomar when Ely Callaway passed away. Overturf didn’t finish the work on his biography of Callaway until after he moved to Bonsall, but “Thanks, Ely!” has now been published and was released for public availability in mid-December.
The 274-page book published by Trafford Publishing focuses on the philosophy of Callaway as well as Callaway’s careers in the textile, wine, and golf industries. “He’s such a fantastic example of CEOs and how to treat his people and how to leave a legacy in the community,” said Overturf.
Callaway passed away in July 2001 at the age of 82. “I thought someone would write a book right away,” Overturf said.
That didn’t occur, although Overturf collected magazine articles about Callaway after his passing. “I’ve been keeping a record on them for all of these years,” he said.
“I finally said to myself, ‘I can’t wait any longer,’” said the 74-year-old Overturf. “‘I may die before anybody does write anything about him.’”
Overturf was familiar with golf but was not a writer until the publication of “Thanks, Ely!” “When I finished the first draft I thought I’d give it over to some folks who knew it well, see what they thought,” he said.
He obtained an editor and was told to re-write the book. “I did, and then she wasn’t satisfied and neither was I,” he said.
Overturf sought to enhance the book by taking a trip to Georgia, where Callaway was born. He had originally planned to conduct research at Emory University (which was also the college from which Callaway graduated) but also made a trip to Callaway’s birth town of LaGrange. “All of the Callaways were meticulous record-keepers,” Overturf said.
The Troup County archives are housed in a building which was once a bank of which Callaway’s father was president. “I found so much stuff there that I just couldn’t believe it,” Overturf said.
Overturf feels that he should have spent more time in Georgia, but due to health issues he returned home. The information from the Callaway family history provided valuable direction to the biographer. “It gave me the basis for everything that happened to him afterwards,” Overturf said. “He was formed by all of that.”
The most notable aspect of that background was the way Callaway treated other people. “His friends were very important to him, and the people who worked for him were awfully important to him,” Overturf said.
Overturf believes that Callaway should be a model for businessmen. “Here was a man who didn’t trick, and he set a terrific example, so that was primarily the motivation,” Overturf said. “I think he was a great example, and for all of the people I interviewed they all felt even more strongly about him than I did.”
Callaway’s friends provided stories, and Overturf’s focus was on how the business legend interacted with people. “He was magnificent in that regard,” Overturf said of Callaway.
Callaway’s ability to work with other people often gave him respect even when he disagreed with partners. His co-workers hated the “Big Bertha” name Callaway assigned to what is possibly his most famous golf club. “He was a great wordsman, and it was borne out by so many things,” Overturf said.
Callaway’s products became successful not just for his words but also because of his process. “They became successful because he always prepared the way,” Overturf said.
Overturf met Callaway once, at the former Callaway headquarters in Carlsbad. Overturf’s wife is a translator, and Overturf was delivering a document to the company in 1992. Overturf spoke with Callaway for about 15 minutes. “I wish I would have had a chance to know him well,” Overturf said.
Overturf also saw the “THX ELY” personalized license plate of production chief John Duffy, who was responsible for keeping up with demand when the Big Bertha club was being marketed. “It just made a deep impression on me,” Overturf said of the license plate.
Although Overturf had limited personal interaction with Callaway, the research made the writer even more familiar with the businessman. “Through all the records I got to know the man well,” Overturf said.
To Overturf it was a story which needed to be written. “It was a stubborn streak. I said I just have to do it. And so I wrote whatever I did,” he said. “I just had to do what I had to do.”
Overturf chose the print-on-demand option. “Why I did that was I wanted to get out sooner rather than later,” he said. “I didn’t want to chase a publisher about this man.”
Overturf currently lives about 300 yards from the second hole of the San Luis Rey Downs golf course, although a shoulder condition limits him to playing nine holes. As a youngster he played at the San Gabriel Country Club when invited and also played at the Altadena and Brookside Park courses in the San Gabriel Valley. Overturf is the opposite of Phil Mickelson; he writes left-handed but golfs right-handed. He attributes that to the fact that most of the doglegs on the courses of his youth were to the left and that he couldn’t hit a controlled fade. “The game became easier and a lot less frustrating,” he said of becoming a right-handed golfer.
Overturf also became a right-handed putter. “That may be one of the reasons why I can’t putt well,” he said.
Overturf graduated from Alhambra High School in 1950. In 1953 he joined the United States Marine Corps and was assigned to flight training. He spent five years on active duty as a pilot and five additional years in the reserves. He then worked for the Foreign Service before retiring in 1988. Overturf lived in Fallbrook for 11 years before spending two years in Wildomar, and he moved to Bonsall in 2003.
Overturf currently works as an import/export consultant. Although he did not intend to have a writing career, he now desires to write down his experiences as a Marine pilot.
He also hopes to get “Thanks, Ely!” marketed in Japan, where two cities have Callaway Golf stores. “I know that the reputation of Ely Callaway is, if anything, even higher in Japan than it is here,” Overturf said.