Everybody knows that Ireland is home to some of the best golf courses in the world. Combined with the beauty of this island and the welcome visitors receive we are the golf destination of choice for hundreds of thousands of people.
Everybody knows we are producing world-class golfers. There’s no need to even mention names – you know who I mean.
What is less well known is the number of Irish businesses involved in the game who are making great strides both at home and abroad.
Established by John Aherne in 2009, GolfGraffix combined his passion for golf with a genius for IT. The company started by creating 3D graphics and interactive models for golf courses and TV sports broadcasters. Carton House was the first golf club to adopt the technologywhich allows visitors and members to upload a dedicated club App onto their phones so they can see specific and detailed graphics of each hole. The company grew quickly and John had to leave his ‘bedroom’ office and move into more formal premises. The local county enterprise board proved an enormous help and on the back of their support he was able to form a five year partnership agreement worth $1.2m with an American golf company. GolfGraffix took little time establishing an international reach.
This best in class 3D graphics and GPS mapping software has been used on Sky Sports and The Golf Channel. The company has produced 3D graphics for Jack Nicklaus Design, Greg Norman, and Arnold Palmer, among others, and its GPS-enabled graphics have been installed in golf carts worldwide and have been used by over 250,000 golfers.
In the early part of 2018, the global presence of the company was maintained with 30 new courses signed in the US, and the launch of ClubNet expected to revolutionise the way golf clubs around the world interact with their members and visitors. ClubNet is the world’s first truly integrated marketing and management app for golf clubs, and it will help clubs connect with the younger golfing generation.
“Our aim for 2018 and beyond is to become the go-to platform for any golf club looking to streamline its management, marketing and communication efforts into one integrated package,” says John Aherne, CEO. “The use of cloud and smartphone technology, golf course digital imagery and visualisation techniques to manage and market courses to potential members and visitors, via the web and smartphone applications, is in its infancy but growing rapidly. ClubNet is at the forefront of this.”
ClubsToHire was set up in 2010, at a very difficult time for golf. The desire to travel abroad for golf, however, is irresistible for many and ClubsToHirewas established to tackle the cost and hassle of bringing your golf clubs with you.The service offers golfers affordability and simple collection and return… as well as the chance to play with the latest models of club from Callaway, TaylorMade, Mizuno and Wilson Staff. Three hundred sets of the new TaylorMade M4 have just been added.
Founded by Tony Judge and Gerry McKernan, the company grew steadily from the start, delivering growth in each of the past seven years. They rented out 75,000 sets in 2017, and the trend is expected to continue with rentals budgeted to reach 80,000 in 2018. Not surprisingly, the Irish market is hugely important and while the international reach has expanded, Irish golfers still account for some 15 per cent of business.
Today there are 26 locations worldwide where golfers can rent/collect clubs: Dublin is the nearest; Sydney is the farthest.There is strong growth from Germany and Austria at the moment.
“We plan to open four to six new locations in 2018,” says Tony Judge, “and three new European locations are currently being researched. Our goal is to remain the number one supplier of high end golf clubs across the globe. We want to achieve this in a way that is easy for the client and to provide them with a first class service from time of booking to collection of their sets.”
CarveOn was started by Gary and Alan McCormack,in 2011. With the recession biting hard it was a brave move but quality and a passion to make your business succeed are vital ingredients in CarveOn’s evolution. The company makes specialised leather goods which are finished by hand and then engraved to meet the customer’s requirements. This can be a name, a business logo or your golf club crest. Such highly personalised items can easily be used as prizes. Golf was an early focus for the company but CarveOn also produces notebooks, diaries, wallets, phone cases and a variety of bags… all personalised, all made from premium Italian leather imported from a dedicated supplier in Tuscany, and all sent worldwide.Customers from over 50 countries order through the CarveOn.com website.
Based in Co. Kildare, CarveOn employs nine people. On the golf front, golfers can choose from scorecard holders, yardage book covers and golf bag tags.
The company continues to grow and it won ‘Best Export Business’ at the National Enterprise Awards 2016.
McGuirks needs little introduction with its 11 stores around the country and its instantly recognisable name. Few of us have not purchased something at a McGuirks store over the years and, with roughly 180 people employed, the business is continuing to grow and stretch its reach across Ireland… and into the UK.
“Our goal is to expand online business significantly over the next 24 months,” says Philip Ring, McGuirks Corporate Account Manager. Online sales in the first quarter of 2018 are up 50 per cent on the same period last year, so the company is moving steadily in the right direction.
When I visited ForeGolf last year it took an hour for me to be fitted (from Driver to wedge) in what was an exciting and educational process. Derek Murray was able to identify what club head, what shaft, what weights would benefit me most. He assembled clubs right there in front of me and my consistency improved immeasurably, as did distance, spin and those other things that soar over an amateur golfer’s head. Being properly custom fitted here means you get clubs designed specifically around you.
ForeGolf was started by Derek in 1997, but the move to Killeen Castle in 2011 started a whole new chapter for this premium clubmaker. It’s a family business – apart form Derek’s fellow clubmaker, David Williams – and yet it has an international reach with some 20 per cent of business coming from overseas. ForeGolf is one of only four clubmakers in the world which is ‘licensed for component’ – meaning manufacturers send ForeGolf all the individual parts allowing Derek and David to create the optimum club for the client.
That’s an impressive pedigree and reputation to have and the company has won many awards over the years, including the G.C.A. (Golf Clubmakers Association)World Clubmaker of the Year, 2010.
“We are working hard on our corporate business,” says Derek, “and we will be expanding our customer experiential work that we do with UPS as a Global Sports Ambassador. We will also continue to improve our fitting experience and, as industry leaders, we will further develop our custom fitting business. Our YouTube channel www.youtube.com/foregolfie will be given greater significance, too.”
Yes, Ireland has its very own golf ball designer. Based in Co. Carlow, Seed Golf was set up in 2015 by Dean Klatt, and the company’s first ball was launched in July 2017. In 2018, they will release their fourth. Seed Golf is an interesting endeavour that has stepped outside the lines of normal golf practice. Who, for one, would think that the Titleists of the world could be challenged by small companies? Yet there are several ball-making start-ups which are doing just that, and the Seed Golf ball has been receiving impressive reviews. The company doesn’t advertise, balls are purchased online and their key audiences are millenials, juniors and lady golfers. This is a company doing its own thing and doing it well.
Seed Golf’s first product, the SD-01, has been selected to be the official ball of the PGA EuroPro Tour (the Tour will visit Tulfarris Hotel & Golf Resort in 2018/19/20)and it has been approved by the USGA and R&A.
The Irish story is proving a strength as Dean explains: “Irish golfers have weighed in behind us. It’s the David and Goliath story, and people really like that.”
“We export around the world and we have some retailer partners in Australia,” he continues. “We’re also about to sign one in Asia, but we want to build a strong foothold in Ireland and the UK. Our goal for 2018 is to get that bedded down. We also have the new four piece ball. Overall, we want to grow the business as much as we can and see what potential is there.”
Seed balls cost between €10 and €25 a dozen. For now they can only be bought online but retail channels are already expressing an interest in stocking them.
Druids Golf by LJ Golf was founded in Kilkenny by Scotsman Lewis Jones. His association with the golf industry since an early age has given him invaluable insights and Druids is now a leading European manufacturer and distributor of branded and licensed golf products. The company specialises in logo golf accessories and clothing, dealing directly with Pro shops, corporate clients and sports clubs. Druids has customers in France, Ireland and the UK.
Hole More Putts
It looks more Star Wars than golf but technology is changing the face of golf training aids. Hole More Putts is a perfect example. The company was founded by Kevin and Desmond Burke, and a lot of research was put into what the product should look like and what elements of the putting stroke it should measure. Dave Kearney, in particular, helped with that. By taking five putts, Hole More Putts measures five key elements (face angle, impact point, path, angle of attack, speed)and provides analysis via an App or through the website, and then gives personalised instruction through videos. The device is A4 size and 7mm thick withpatented infrared technology.
Hole More Putts was launched in the UK in 2016, with a global launch the following year. Sold almost exclusively online, the company has a global reach with the USA being the largest market.
The product was created and developed in Ireland, and it is assembled here, too. The company has five Irish employees.
A new innovation – PutterFit (putterfit.com) – was launched a few weeks ago and this helps golfers determine the best style of putter for their game. The company also launched a Coach version of Hole More Putts.
“Now that we’ve launched Hole More Putts and PutterFit, our goals are to ensure that anyone who has purchased these are well looked after and have everything they need,” Kevin says. “Our second goal is to work out what’s next for us.”
P2 Putter Grips
When an idea is borne from necessity – as happened with a new Scotty Cameron purchased by Enda McLoughlin in 2004 – great things can happen. Enda, a PGA Professional since 2000, has taken the long road to developing his P2 Putter Grips… but when Michelle Wie won only a few weeks ago, using one of his grips, the sense of accomplishment must have been huge. Not to mention the potential impact such coverage would have on the business.
The relaunch of the P2 Putter Grips business was in 2016, at the PGA show in Orlando, and today the business has two product ranges (Tour and Core), with updates and new designs yet to come. Where the P2 grip differs to others is that the shaft is positioned off-centre, so it runs up the back side of the grip. This elevates the wrists into a higher position at address which then reduces the amount of wrist movement a golfer can employ during the stroke.
The company is just starting to develop distribution in Ireland and it aims to have the product available in most major golf stores. Pro shops are also key as Pros appreciate the theory and benefits of the off-centre shaft design and can provide the golfer with the most relevant advice.
In terms of growth the P2 Grips now has a global distribution presence and 2018 sales are projected to deliver a four-fold increase on 2017.
In 2018, the plan is to secure additional European Tour player usage of the P2 grips, which will help to grow the brand worldwide.
“The key thing we want is to make golfers more aware of the link between the grip of the putter and the putter face. A lot of golfers view the grip as something that should merely be comfortable and fit in the hands nicely,” says Enda, “rather than something that is key to bringing about a better putting performance. P2 Grips are designed to control the hands and wrists better throughout the stroke.”
There are international brands for drivers, irons, wedges and putters, as well as trolleys and golf bags… but what if you’re looking for a mid priced product of high quality and one that’s from a business on this island? Just like Seed Golf, there is a company far closer to home than you might think. Step forward MD Golf, a business set up in 1999, and based in Northern Ireland. The goal of the company has always been to offer technically advanced products using high quality components at a price that golfers can afford. As the number one mid-priced brand in the UK, it’s clear the company is achieving those aims. MD Golf products are sold worldwide and while the different club elements are made elsewhere (Asia, most notably), clubs are designed and then assembled in this part of the world.
The Caddy Guy
The Caddy Guy sprang to life on St Patrick’s Day, 2016, when James Sheehy identified an entrepreneurial opportunity in Ireland.
“I love being creative and want to use this as a vehicle to show that Irish people like myself have the potential to achieve,” he says of his clothing line. “Of course we have the likes of Paul Costelloe and John Rocha, but I do like going against the grain. There were some items not available in Ireland, which I figured would work, and some that I felt would improve with modification, so I set out to design them and bring them to life.”
The style of the shirts, beanies, caps and jumpers are shaped in Ireland, in the ‘Kingdom’ itself, with the products made and embroidered overseas. What sets the company apart is the focus on natural materials. The Caddy Guy is the only Irish brand to use bamboo as it is the softest textile on the market, extremely durable, flexible and biologically beneficial. The shamrock is also part of the brand’s logo and may be just one of the reasons that several golf clubs – including Ceann Sibeal, Galway Bay and Killarney – are already stocking it.
“Thanks to the likes of Irish Golfer and other keen supporters we are now at a stage where people come up to me knowing the brand itself!” says James. “We reached the final of the IBYE (Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur) which was fantastic as, thanks to the mentorship of great people, it gave us real validation in what and how we are doing things.”
It’s a company with its heart and soul in Ireland, but with a reach that is increasingly global.
Dave McGeady was 31 when he set up Wyldsson, in 2012. Hesaw an opportunity to produce genuinely tasty healthy food products and took the direct approach by selling online. The company launched its snack tube of nuts, seeds and dried fruits in late 2013, concentrating on the golf market. The likes of Paul Dunne, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, and Graeme McDowell are just some of the golfers who have tweeted about Wyldsson.
Today, Wyldsson employs six people and sells over 50 products, all made in a dedicated food production facility in Tallaght. A plant-based protein powder was launched recently following 15 months of R&D. It took over 1,000 prototype mixes of tasting and rating, using 100 different ingredients from different suppliers to reach a final formula.The company’s achievement in developing this product was recently recognised as Wyldsson was one of 15 finalists (from an initial 1000 food technology start-ups) in the European FoodNexus Challenge.
Due to demand, Wyldsson will be launching in the US, in late 2018, with the company’s best selling products available through Amazon.
Irish Biltong was established in 2015, in Naas, by Noreen and John Doyle. They developed a high protein and healthy snack food primarily for the sports nutrition market, and they produced it with top quality local beef… including their own. In order to make biltong that truly reflected the product produced for so long in South Africa, they imported specialised cabinets for the drying process. By September 2015, the first two products were available and, by 2016, several golf Pros were using the Plain and Mild Chilli varieties.
Irish Biltong also appeared on Dragon’s Den in April 2017, where they received two offers of €100,000. They turned down both offers and subsequently secured private investment to upscale their premises.
Their new Droeworsvariety was introduced in late 2017.
“We are now supplying over 600 stores nationwide, in addition to a number of butcher chains, pubs and golf clubs,” says Noreen. “At the end of 2017 we trialled with export to one city in Germany, and export is one of our main projects for this year. Working with Bord Bia on our export strategy we will be running other pilot schemes across Europe and expanding our existing sales market in Germany.”
The company has won several awards over the past 12 months including the overall Food All Stars category at the All Ireland Business Summit, in April, 2018.
This feature first appeared in issue 2018-5 of Irish Golfer Magazine. To view the edition click the cover below