More than 1,000 golf companies attend the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando to show off their latest products, from equipment, apparel, technology, training aids, accessories and much more.
The biggest companies in the game typically have a major presence, with sizable and attention-grabbing display spaces.
There are also hundreds of smaller and upcoming businesses and brands looking to connect with industry professionals. Invariably, many products are driven by the passion of the personalities behind them. As golf is one of the nation’s most prolific participation sports, it elicits a passion both among its consumers and those satisfying a perceived need within the game.
Here are the stories of several of those entrepreneurs:
Russ Malina was a start-up engineer involved in the opening of seven nuclear power plants. He’s also opened oil refineries, steel mills and paper-pulp operations. His work has taken him all over the world, but Malina insists he’d only take a project if there was a golf course nearby. The exception was Riyadh, where he was needed in Saudi Arabia because of a problem with an oil refinery. While there was no golf course, his assistant found a piece of green carpet and a 6-iron, and the two went out to the desert and created their own “golf course.”
“We had such fun,” the energetic Malina, 74, said at the PGA Show, where he was showing off his creation called the “Flogcap,” a lightweight, stretchable and waterproof cover that protects your golf bag in wet weather.
Malina was a vice president for Zurn Industries and later created a steel company. When a group in Ohio that was buying 400,000 pounds of steel per month from Malina wanted to buy him out, he opted to sell the company in 1991.
“So, I retired for six weeks – two weeks of golf, two weeks of fishing, two weeks of going crazy — and my wife kicked me out of the house,” Malina said with a laugh. “She said you need to go do something. I went to Jamaica and built a $10 million day-water treatment plant, while playing golf with Kubota engineers.”
Indeed, spend a little time with Malina and you’ll find he’s not one to stay idle. After continuing to travel the world for new projects (and golf), he returned to the U.S. to work for his brother-in-law at the Miami Beef Company. He’s now a VP for the business, having helped boost its production from 8,000 pounds a day to 100,000 pounds.
Like many golfers, Malina experienced his share of wet conditions, especially while playing in Scotland and Ireland.
Inspiration struck one day when he unpacked some machinery from Europe that arrived in a shipping container filled with air pillows. He took one of those air pillows, cut it apart, put a hood on it, and attached it to his golf bag with bungee cords. While it worked fairly well, Malina realized it wasn’t a viable permanent solution. So, he contacted a Florida neighbor in the textile business who brought in pattern makers and good fabrics, and the two developed the Flogcap.
“I’ve actually been using it for a couple years,” Malina said. “It got to the point that people said I have to sell it because people need it.”
Patrick Farris grew up riding motocross bikes and even turned professional for a while. When injuries, concussions and costs started piling up, he decided to step away from the sport for a while.
A resident of Gibsonia in western Pennsylvania, the 31-year-old Farris had never played golf until about 3 ½ years ago. The pivotal moment? He went to the 2016 U.S. Open at nearby Oakmont Country Club with his dad on Father’s Day and said he saw a different side of what he thought golf really was.
“I went and played the next day and was hooked,” Farris said. “I said, `Alright, I’m going to play this for the rest of my life, I might as well start a business and get more involved in it.’”
In a small booth on the far side of the PGA Show floor, Farris displayed uniquely-styled golf gloves and apparel from his company, Euforeia. Using inspiration and materials from his motocross jerseys, Farris created three new styles of “innovative, edgy and avant-garde” gloves that use premium cooling performance materials, soft Italian lambskin leather, direct injection molding, and an unconventional closure system.
“I didn’t really feel like there was any brand that really resonated with my background. I thought we could do something here,” said Farris, noting that he was also inspired when he learned that many of his friends involved in other action sports – surfers, snowboarders and fellow motocross riders – had also gotten into golf.
“I remember saying, ‘You guys play golf now? That’s so crazy,’” Farris said. “I realized everyone I knew was hitting that time in their life where they’re not as good as they used to be in their sport, and golf is the challenge that continues throughout the rest of your life.”
Brad Payne was introduced to golf at an early age by his father, who carried a +1 handicap almost until the time he passed away in 2011.
“He shot under par two months before he died of cancer,” said Payne, the CEO and founder of Walker Trolleys. “He was always my golfing hero. I played in high school, but I wasn’t nearly up to his level.”
Like many junior golfers, Brad stopped playing the game after high school to focus on college and the start of his career. He got back into golf while in graduate school at Northwestern University, playing regularly around Chicago with classmates while pursuing his MBA.
Now 39, Brad has experience across a range of industries, working in finance, consulting and strategy, and, most recently, a four-year stint at Apple, where he led business development and digital strategy for Apple News. When he relocated from downtown Atlanta to San Francisco to work for Apple, golf was an important outlet in a town where he didn’t have any social ties.
“You’re moving to a place where you don’t know anyone, so the easiest thing to do was join a country club and make friends that way,” he said. “I joined the Presidio and played a ton of golf, met some absolutely wonderful people and one of the highlights of San Francisco in general is that walking golf is such a big part of the city’s courses.”
While walking the hills of San Francisco, he used “every push cart under the sun,” but it wasn’t until he took a trip to Scotland two summers ago that he first got the idea for the high-end Walker Trolleys, which feature a polished aluminum frame, leather handle, whitewall tires, and a waxed canvas storage accessory that can be personalized with a unique designs.
“I’m playing at the ‘Home of Golf’ in St Andrews, Royal Dornoch and Prestwick and using a push cart that’s bright yellow and black and made of plastic,” he said. “I thought this doesn’t fit with what a push cart should be. There should really be something that’s more classic in design.”
Brad teamed with his brother-in-law, Bryce Gibson, who’s designed strollers and similar products for more than 10 years. They raised funding through a successful Kickstarter campaign and used Gibson’s manufacturing connections to partner with one of the world’s leading producers of high-end baby strollers and juvenile products.
“They have never been in the golf industry before,” said Payne, “but they know how to create something with wheels, that folds, as well as anybody in the world. We really tried to create something different.”
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