Director, Metalwood Development
Titleist Golf Clubs
The path to engineering doesn’t often begin with a sport like golfing. But for Stephanie Luttrell, that’s exactly how she found her dream career.
“My father taught my brother and I the game of golf,” she said. “He also gave us very good advice as teens to find something you love and, if possible, make a career out of it. I had started playing golf as a teenager, so despite having developed my skill quickly and being able to play at the collegiate level, I did not believe it to be realistic to play the game professionally.”
However, she knew she wanted to be around the game of golf. Luttrell said she’d always enjoyed science and math, so she began to explore if there were careers in golf that would combine both of her passions.
“I’ve always enjoyed science and always excelled at it, and I approach golf scientifically as a player. I enjoy that with thoughtful care you can work your way through the game and really improve. I’ve always been a focused, problem solving type of person, so I think that’s what guided me towards engineering. When I discovered that engineers designed golf clubs, that directed my path to study mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan,” she said.
Luttrell graduated from college in 2002, with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Michigan, where she also competed as a member of the women’s golf team. Her first full-time engineering position was with Callaway Golf.
“I worked in Blue Sky research — conceptual technologies that weren’t tied to a product but were five to ten years down the road,” she said. “After two years, I was presented with an opportunity to join Cleveland Golf in a design and development engineering role for tour player specific products. I led that effort and worked directly with the players — and developed an expertise at being able to communicate the technical details to them at an understandable level, as well as fit them using Trackman.
“I covered the breadth of product categories from drivers to fairways, hybrids, irons, wedges and putters. My current role is with Titleist, and I’ve been a member of the R&D team for the past 11 years. As the Director of Metalwood Development, I lead the team responsible for the design and engineering for all of the global driver, fairway and hybrid products.”
Luttrell said that her company has a strong team of development engineers and designers. She works with each of them to support and direct their efforts on things such as setting specifications and design guidelines, testing their products and key competitive products to assess performance, researching new materials, developing new processes and methods of manufacturing to advance design capability, and determining how they can improve the overall product performance.
“I also work very closely with our vendors over in Asia as well as locally to execute and manage the projects, and I work as a liaison to our leadership and tour department,” she said. “I provide technical presentations for their knowledge base, so that they can adequately explain the product performance to our players and our leadership team. And I support our sales and marketing with the same type of information.”
She explained that every new product development presents significant challenges, as her company is always seeking to improve upon the prior generation of products.
“One of the biggest challenges in golf club engineering is that the equipment is regulated for performance — that makes our job challenging yet incredibly rewarding when we have success,” she said. “We push to incorporate new materials, constructions and manufacturing processes to reach performance thresholds that remain conforming to the rules of golf, but offer significant performance benefit to the player.”
Luttrell has occasionally faced questions from men, interestingly not because of engineering, but because golf is thought of as a man’s sport in some circles.
“I can speak most directly from my own experience as a woman in a predominantly male dominated industry, in a career/role that is generally fulfilled by men, designing products for a ‘gentleman’s game,’” she said. “Tour players and others outside of our company first wonder, ‘Does she know the game of golf?’ The moment I reply, ‘My handicap is a 0,’ that answers that question for them and paves the way.
“But my technical competency is equally important to my competency as a golfer, and in my opinion far outweighs that. I’ve never felt at a disadvantage at any organization I’ve been with, and I think that’s due to the passion I have for the game of golf and for the products that we create. It comes across when you speak — and it imparts enthusiasm and excitement throughout an organization. You can look at it as, ‘I’m the one of the only women in this field and people are watching or evaluating me more closely than my male peers,’ but I choose not to focus on that. Women have every opportunity to prove ourselves and go to places that are unexpected.”
“I believe that teachers and parents are the greatest advocates to encourage young women to understand and reach for their potential in scientific fields like engineering. The encouragement I received from my teachers and parents motivated me to participate in events like Science Olympiad as a youth and seek out the challenge of AP classes in science and math.”