A total of 39 companies exhibited their products at last week’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando who are based in the Pacific Northwest – British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. We met with seven to see how successful their week was, and what plans they have for the coming year.
by Tony Dear
Dolly Mama (Gig Harbor, Wash.)
Former Nordstrom employee, and Seattle native, Michelle Phillips founded Dolly Mama Designs Inc. in 2004 when, she says, neither golf shops nor the Internet offered much in the way of women’s golf clothing.
“At that time, it was impossible to find anything feminine to wear on the golf course,” she says. A background in retail management and a devotion to fashion design was the perfect foundation for her new business which she began after moving to Newport Beach, Calif. in July 1999.
Phillips, who moved back to Washington in August 2008, says she chose the name Dolly Mama because it was “catchy, cute and a fun play on words.” Indeed, it goes perfectly with the brand – sometimes elegant, sometimes casual, sometime playful, but always distinctive. As well as selling online, Phillips has a boutique store in Gig Harbor where she offers her own brand of apparel, accessories, and gifts. She returned to exhibit at the show this year for the first time since the economy tanked in 2008.
Arm-Lock (Aberdeen, Wash.)
Ronnie Espedal, 48, and Ed Klein, 60, are old friends. Klein, now a stockbroker but once an assistant professional at Ocean Shores (Wash.) GC, has known Espedal, the PGA professional at Highland Golf Course in Cosmopolis, for 30 years. They have played together in the local pro-am at Grays Harbor Country Club for 25 of them.
Both were anchorers – Espedal favored a belly putter while Klein used a long version from 1982 all the way up until December 31 last year when his long-time ally was finally banned. “In early 2014, we saw the ban coming, and tried to figure out what we could do about it,” says Klein. “We invented the Arm-Lock Converter Grip that can convert any putter to an arm-lock putter, the putting style popularized by Matt Kuchar.”
The Arm-Lock line now extends to two models of converter grips, two counterbalance grips, two colors of LITE grips and two colors of MINI grips, with more models currently in development. “We say we are the only ‘full line’ of putter grips because we are the only company that has an arm-lock grip,” says Klein.
Arm-Lock first exhibited at last year’s show where it was chosen as the sixth best new product out of 200 contenders. It only started shipping in June, however, so this year’s show was an important follow-up. “Fueled by 2015’s successful launch, and with the extended line, this year’s show was a great success,” says Klein. “We are now being noticed by a lot of club professionals, teaching professionals, retailers and putter manufacturers. We created countless sales opportunities, and opened many doors that hadn’t been available before.”
GolfPadGPS (Kirkland, Wash.)
In 2000, Konstantin Roslyakov graduated from Novosibirsk State University in Siberia with a Master’s degree in Applied Math and Computer Science. Soon after he moved to the U.S. to work first for Microsoft, then Google. Colleagues convinced him to try golf about 10 years ago and, like so many of us, he was hooked immediately.
Being a heavily left-brained golfer engineer, Roslyakov needed stats, data, and products to help him analyze his game, but he was frustrated at the lack of anything appropriate. “I could not find a perfect mobile app for golf,” he says. “Because of my background and education, I figured I could give it a try. So I teamed up with a couple of college friends and started Golf Pad.”
The first version came out in 2011 – a simple scoring app that Roslyakov continued adding various features to while keeping it intuitive and easy to use.
“Being able to track the distance of every shot was an extremely popular feature,” says Roslyakov. “But it was very distracting to track shots on a phone while playing golf. So we came up with the idea of GOLF TAGS – a set of 15 radio-enabled tags that go into the back of each club. The tags make tracking shots and clubs fully automatic simply by tapping the Android phone in the pocket.”
The product was incredibly well received, raising more than three times the funding goal on Kickstarter. This year, the company is expanding the concept to iPhone with Golf Pad LINK tracking system.
“Our goal has always been about making a product that is useful to real golfers,” says Roslyakov. “This approach seems to work as we have more than a million downloads now and a category-topping 4.6 stars rating.”
Not surprisingly, the Golf Pad LINK tracking system was well received in Orlando, and Roslyakov is pleased with where his product and the game itself are going. “It seems like the industry is moving towards embedding more technology into the game in a useful, non-obtrusive way,” he says. “That will make it easier for golfers to improve quicker. It’s very exciting to be in the middle of this change.”
MacKenzie Golf Bag Company (Beaverton, Ore.)
After years of accepting invitations to hang out and exhibit some product on the edge of friends’ booths, Todd Rohrer decided 2016 was the year his MacKenzie Golf Bag Company finally needed its own space, and he couldn’t have been happier with the results.
“It was a terrific show for us,” he says. “There’s nothing like having your hands on a leather MacKenzie Walker, and being able to have our leather headcovers, valuables pouches, shoe bags and wine accessories in people’s hands was really important. It also gave us an opportunity to put faces to voices that we have known for years. And sales were well beyond our most optimistic projections.”
Rohrer has owned the company since 2006 when he took over the ailing firm from Jim Stewart who had kept it on life support for a few years since gaining control from founder Peter Jacobsen. The then three-time PGA Tour winner (Jacobsen would finish his career with seven victories) had been in St. Andrews with his brother David with whom he shared a caddie – Rick MacKenzie – who carried both men’s clubs in two small, leather bags. “Peter loved the bags and, on his return to Portland, he set about designing a beautiful, uncomplicated leather golf bag as a way to carry some clubs and a bunch of balls,” says Rorher. “The MacKenzie Walker was born.”
Over the years, the original design has changed very little. The quality of the leather has been improved and waxed canvas has been added, but that’s about it, says Rohrer. “We still only make two models – the Original MacKenzie Walker and the slightly smaller Sunday MacKenzie Walker, and we’ve gotten a little creative too, creating striped and Argyle designs.”
This year promises to see significant growth for the MacKenzie Golf Bag Company which will expand its presence at green-grass sites, and also seek to sign licensing deals with college golf programs. Last year Rohrer took on a partner and made a few capital improvements, purchasing new equipment and raw material inventory. He also modified the production process in order to shorten delivery times without compromising the quality of the product.
“We’re now delivering custom-made MacKenzie Walkers in two to three weeks,” he says. “They’re still cut, sewn, and crafted by hand in our Portland-area workshop, and more beautiful than ever.”
Ikkos (Seattle, Wash.)
Ikkos (pronounced ee-kos) of Tarentum was the first recorded Olympic coach in ancient Greece. Known as the “Trainer of Champions,” he won the pentathlon at the 84th Olympiad in 444 B.C. before turning to coaching and helping two fellow Tarentines to victory in the same event.
Roughly 2,450 years after Ikkos began setting the coaching bar, Seattleite Sean Hutchison was coaching the 2008 U.S. Olympic swimming team and dreaming up a coaching method that attracted a great deal of attention at the PGA Show.
Hutchison says discovering his concept was something of a “Eureka” moment, but it came only after years of studying neuroscience, visualization, what audio does to the brain, what virtual reality does to the brain, and general motor learning adaptations. Looking out over Lake Washington one day he had the idea for what the Ikkos website defines as an “accelerated-learning Virtual Reality experience based on neuroscience research and which uses specially designed audiovisuals to activate the areas of the brain responsible for movement patterns.”
“It is like downloading movement onto your nervous system,” says Hutchison. “After that initial moment, evolving the concept into a scalable learning platform based on the smartphone took about three and a half years.”
At first, the system was more reliant on hardware, but with the evolution of Virtual Reality and smartphone technology, the hardware has been reduced to the Ikkos Black Box into which the user slides his smartphone and watches a video of a swing he is trying to emulate. The CopyMe Golf app that Hutchison developed using Ikkos principles is free, and comes loaded with ten “audiovisuals” which the user copies in slow-motion. After several repetitions, the user then puts on a pair of blacked-out goggles and repeats the motion, quickly developing muscle memory and sub-consciously ingraining the correct sequence of movements.
Sounds interesting, right? Hutchison spoke at the Top 100 Golf Teachers Summit before the start of the PGA Show and then spent the rest of the week discussing the product with athletes, tour pro coaches and other acclaimed teachers who stopped by the booth to find out more.
“The Show exceeded every expectation we had,” says Hutchison. “Speaking at the teachers’ summit opened the door for the ‘who’s who’ in golf to come by and talk about IKKOS. Just about everyone you’ve seen on TV visited us, ready to find out about this IKKOS magic. It was a great week.”
This year, Hutchison will continue his research into wearable tech as he develops a machine-washable shirt with motion-capture sensors.
Chute Trainer (Pocatello, Idaho)
For the Chute Trainer to come to market, it needed the energy and expertise of Rory Erchul behind it. In development for several years, a prototype of the Chute Trainer had been made, but the product was not available to the public until Erchul came on board and got things moving.
A former vice president at two communications companies, Erchul and his wife Jennifer, a business owner, decided to leave the corporate world in 2012 and, indeed, their home in Omaha, Neb., and move back to Pocatello where they had lived between 2001 and 2006. There, they could spend more time together with their three children, and work for themselves (the Erchuls own three businesses besides Chute Trainer – a digital marketing firm, a t-shirt and apparel company, and a website – mylocalpocatello.com – promoting their hometown).
“I took on the Chute Trainer project in September of 2014,” says Rory. “I found manufacturing, sources for the materials, and created the website. We launched the product in November.”
The Chute Trainer is an ingenious device – a small parachute that attaches to the shaft just above the hosel. When the golfer swings the club, air fills the bag creating resistance and, consequently, downswing lag. After just six swings with the Chute Trainer, Erchul claims the golfer’s swing speed can increase by as much as 10 mph. It also helps promote the proper downswing sequence, allowing the hips to rotate open and clear and your weight to move to the front foot, as the clubhead lags behind.
“It’s a very simple design and concept,” says Erchul. “Many thought it was a bit gimmicky at first. But Olympic sprinters and NFL players use parachutes to train, and we just applied the same principles to the golf swing.”
Six months after the product was finally launched, Erchul signed a deal with 2014 National PGA Teacher of the Year (and Director of Instruction at Indian Canyon GC in Spokane) Kathy Gildersleeve-Jensen to endorse the Chute Trainer. It’s a relationship Erchul says has been very beneficial. “Kathy’s position and passion for the game brings a lot of legitimacy and believability to our product,” he says.
Gildersleeve-Jensen was in Orlando representing the Chute Trainer at Demo Day ahead of the PGA Show, where she says the response was extremely encouraging. “It was a great success,” she says. “We made a lot of great connections with pros who discovered the Chute Trainer is a great training tool that can be used by all golfers regardless of their gender, age or skill level.”
2UNDR (Vancouver, B.C.)
Jack Curry has had 2,300 emails to sift through since returning from Orlando. Some will no doubt be from Nigerian bankers offering millions of dollars in return for a simple social security number, while others will be courtesy of presidential candidates eager for his vote. Most, however, will have come as a result of a tremendously busy week at the PGA Show.
Curry, the national sales manager for 2UNDR male underwear (nowadays referred to as “Performance Briefs”) works out of his Myrtle Beach, S.C. home, but the company that designs the product is headquartered in Vancouver, B.C. (and the product is distributed out of Ferndale, Wash.).
2UNDR briefs first hit stores in Canada in the spring of 2013, and quickly built a reputation for exceptional quality. They are designed around what the company calls the “Joey Pouch,” an area of the garment that covers the gentleman’s unmentionables and which is made from premium fabrics that protect, remain dry, and provide exceptional comfort.
A little over a year after launching in Canada, 2UNDR briefs came to the U.S. and are now available in dozens of pro shops and other retailers. There are four models – Day Shift, Swing Shift, Gear Shift, and Power Shift; three lengths – Trunk, Boxer Brief, and Long Leg; and over 20 colors/prints.
“It was a truly great week,” says Curry. “We had a lot of interest and the booth was constantly busy.”
Curry returned from Orlando exhausted but satisfied, and ready to do it all again a few days later at the Chicago Collective menswear show where he would encounter very different buyers from a different industry.
Tony Dear is an award-winning golf writer who has authored several books on golf, including the recent “The Story of Golf in Fifty Holes.” He manages his own website, www.bellinghamgolfer.com .