Golf is the game of a lifetime, with participants playing into their Golden Years and beyond. It’s also a game of imperfection, which is why even the best golfers are constantly seeking improvement, and as much mental as it is physical. As Bobby Jones famously said, “Golf is a game that is played on a 5-inch course – the distance between your ears.”
Given its demographic and all the challenges that golf presents, it’s no wonder that many CBD companies are aggressively pushing into what they see as a bountiful market. For a product that claims to help with relaxation, focus, mood, aches, pains and energy, golfers seem to be a perfect fit. Eight exhibitors are signed on to participate and market CBD products at the 2020 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, a step up from seven a year ago.
“Golfers may be seen by some as conservative, but they’re always eager to adopt something new,” said Jay Hartenbach, the CEO and co-founder of Irvine, California-based CBD company Medterra, which has partnerships with PGA TOUR players such as Charley Hoffman and Lucas Glover. “This mass and rapid adoption of CBD proves that.”
Talk to the CBD companies and they’ll tell you that interest in their products is strong among golfers. And anecdotally, you’ll certainly hear stories from golfers themselves about how CBD — or cannabidiol — helped them loosen up or calm down before or during a round, recover afterward, get rid of the yips, or simply get better mental clarity and focus throughout the day. But what are golf retailers seeing? Are pro shops embracing CBD and, if so, how are they deciding which companies to partner with? What about the golf-specific stores?
Eric Lohman, the General Manager of Monarch Beach Golf Links in Southern California, said he’s seen an “overwhelmingly positive” response after introducing CBD products as a new retail category. CBD is made from one of the many compounds found in the hemp plant and doesn’t have a psychoactive element, unlike THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is similarly extracted from a cannabis plant and produces marijuana’s high.
“I wasn’t that familiar with this product and am always skeptical of easy or quick fixes, but once I learned more about it and met the folks from Medterra my skepticism turned to intrigue,” said Lohman, who’s started using the products himself. “We run a dynamic and progressive retail and recreation golf resort, and after learning about CBD and its positive attributes I wanted to test it. I was amazed about how fast it sold and the interest from our guests.”
Medterra has been one of the most aggressive movers in the CBD space. Its products – tinctures, capsules and topicals – are in more than 300 golf facilities nationwide as well as major retailers such as PGA Tour Superstore and Worldwide Golf Shops, both of which are among the NGF’s top 100 companies in the golf industry. Medterra will be in attendance at the PGA Show, as will cbdMD, Boomer Golf, EndoSport, Muscle MX, Bestball, Virun Nutra Biopharmaceuticals and Aspen Green. There are also other companies, like Pure Swing CBD, Real Brands and Enveed, that have products from oils to gummies that are targeted at golfers.
— cbdMD (@cbdmd_usa) May 16, 2019
Jeff Levy, accessory buyer for Worldwide Golf’s six regional chains nationwide, said the company was approached by more than 35 vendors seeking to sell CBD products. Levy said Worldwide was close to not carrying them at all, but ultimately opted to align with Medterra and now sells CBD in more than one-third of their 82 retail stores.
“They understood our wants and needs. We did not feel that this was a multi-vendor play even though we sell different brands of clubs,” Levy said. “It’s still in a test phase, but there’s interest from managers, which means interest from customers. Sales have surprised us. They’re not overwhelming, but consistent and at the end of the day it will be a nice revenue boost for us.”
Whether it’s at a big box golf store or a smaller pro shop, the limited space that small CBD displays take up is also appealing to retailers. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a consumable product and customers will likely resupply like they do with golf balls.
“It’s basically counter space. We have ours on a window sill behind our counter,” says Robbie Baldwin, golf professional at Winchester Country Club, which is just over 20 miles east of Lexington, Kentucky.
Baldwin and his wife Laura, who is a physical therapist, developed BestBall CBD after Robbie struggled with a host of ailments and Laura sought to find a way to get her patients back doing the activities they love. The Baldwins grew 15 acres of hemp at a family farm in Central Kentucky and began selling CBD oils and creams last year at the Kentucky section spring meeting. Their products are now in approximately 25 pro shops in the southeast, including Florida and Alabama.
Baldwin says CBD has helped increase his pro shop’s income by about 20 percent.
“Our rounds have also increased by 20 to 25 percent because a lot of older members that were not able to play maybe once or twice a week are getting out three or four times a week,” Baldwin says. “It’s because this product is helping their inflammation and some kind of anxiety. It’s helped us a bunch. We basically only sell to pro shops because we want the focus to be on the PGA pros. It can benefit the pro’s bottom line and help more people get out to play.”
With her medical background, Laura Baldwin is able to answer questions from interested course operators about the benefits of CBD as well as address any concerns. For clubs that sign on with BestBall, the company offers a complimentary tent at events such as member-guest or pro-am tournaments, and allows members to try the product for free.
Because many operators and retailers are still trying to understand CBD – including how it’s made, its dosages, and its benefits and concerns — offering comprehensive information and properly educating retailers is essential, says Jacob Lippold, the head golf professional at Chambers Bay Golf Course outside Seattle. Medterra’s streamlined marketing, for example, including information and pamphlets, is why Chambers Bay opted to bring the company’s gel caps, tinctures and roll-ons into its pro shop.
“It’s easier to say yes to a company that puts information out there with their display piece and obviously they have a few guys on tour,” said Lippold. “With any new kind of products, we need to give them run and see how they do. As it starts to gain more exposure, it’s important for us to be able to offer it. It’s the kind of thing golfers might roll it into the purchase of a glove or a sleeve of balls.”
Bernie Friedrich, the senior vice president of golf and resort sales at Boyne Resorts in Michigan, said he was a CBD skeptic at first but came around as sales rose at three different golf facilities.
“I was blown away with the results and interest,” said Friedrich. “We have had to re-order the product three times, which is a lot for our season. Many people have reported great results and I think it will continue to grow as more people try CBD products.”
Other facilities report a slower adoption rate.
“People ask about it, but we don’t move a lot,” says Mike Wegener, who works in the pro shop at Snoqualmie Falls Golf Course. The public facility in Fall City, Washington, has a customer base that’s primarily 60-and-over, with a layout that’s just under 5,700 yards from the back tees, relatively-flat and walkable.
“There are people who look at the cost and shy away. It’s not cheap,” Wegener said. “For others, we try to make sure they understand there’s no THC in it. Some people with union or state jobs are afraid of that and don’t even want to try it. I know that’s one of the stigmas.”
Like any product in golf retail, consumers ultimately want to know if it will help them, whether it’s improving their performance from a mental or physical standpoint, or aiding their recovery.
“You’ll have some people who say, ‘I just don’t know if it works for me,’” added Wegener. “But at the same time there are some people who absolutely swear by it.”
(Top image courtesy of Medterra)
Erik is the Editorial Director for the NGF. Before joining the National Golf Foundation, he spent more than two decades with Bloomberg News, both as a writer and editor, with a focus on sports business and the golf industry. The New Jersey resident has also written about golf for outlets that include Forbes, LINKS and the Met Golfer.