Head to leave base of 20 years; Headquarters to move from Columbia to Boston, Phoenix; Late inventor was founder; Sporting goods


Head USA, a sporting goods company that has been based in Columbia for 20 years, said yesterday that it is relocating to Phoenix and Boston in December.

The company was founded in Timonium in 1950 by the late Howard Head, who is esteemed in the sports industry for developing lightweight skis and oversized tennis rackets.

Head USA has 30 employees, mainly in administrative, and senior and middle management positions, in Columbia. Fourteen will lose their jobs, said Dave Haggerty, the company's president.

Sixteen will be offered jobs at the company's warehouse facility in Jessup, or at its sites in Phoenix or Boston, he said.

The Jessup facility, which employs 18, will continue serving the racket sports division, but warehouse operations for the winter sports division will be transferred to Boston in the spring.

Head has changed hands nearly a half-dozen times after Howard Head sold the business to AMF Inc. in 1970. It eventually became Head Tyrolia Mares, when investor Johan Eliasch bought it in 1995 from the Austrian government, which had acquired Head in 1993.

Eliasch still owns the company. Brands include Penn tennis balls, which are No. 1 worldwide; Head tennis rackets, No. 2 worldwide; and Head skis, No. 3 worldwide.

In Phoenix, Head's racket sports division will share space with Penn Racket Sports, which Head acquired in May. Penn's manufacturing facility, which was not included in the purchase, shares the site, Haggerty said. The entire complex employs 400.

The transfer of Head's winter sports division to Boston is being done to be closer to major ski resorts, he said.

While company headquarters has been in Columbia for two decades, its racket and winter sports divisions were based in Boulder, Colo., until six years ago.

The consolidation in Phoenix "makes all the sense in the world," Haggerty said. Head and Penn Racket Sports will share customer and credit services and support staff.

Howard Head, who founded the company as the Head Ski Co. Inc., died in 1991 at the age of 76. His wife, the former Martha "Marty" Becker Fritzlen, now lives in Columbia and Vail, Colo.

While at Head, he redesigned the downhill ski, making it about 25 percent shorter and using lighter materials than wood. Now, Head's innovation is the standard in the sport.

In 1970, Head sold his namesake company, and ended up owning most of Prince Sports in Princeton, N.J. While there, he invented the oversized tennis racket, which some purists of the sport compared to a snowshoe or spaghetti strainer when it first hit the market. Head sold that company to Cheesebrough-Ponds Inc. in 1982. His changes to the racket and skis "are his claim to fame," Haggerty said.

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