Irish company Seed Golf playing in lucrative golf ball market
Balls account for one third of the estimated €3 billion annual global golf equipment market
Open Championship winner Ireland’s Shane Lowry plays with a Srixon Z-Star XV. The big players in the game are Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade, Srixon and Callaway. Photograph: Inpho
Jordan Spieth: plays with a Titleist Pro V1x. Titleist. According to recent Golf Datatech market share figures, leads the way, its brand market share enjoying a record-breaking first half of 2019 on sales in Britain and Ireland.
If you think about it, the one constant in playing a round of golf is the ball. You might use a driver a dozen or so times, different irons at different points of a round and a putter whenever you get to the green; but the good, old golf ball – or a number of them depending on your waywardness – is with you from start to finish, always in use.
As such, golf balls are big business. It’s why companies like Titleist, the market leader, pay players a lot of money to play their golf balls. It’s why Bridgestone shell out the big shillings to have Tiger Woods use their brand, or why TaylorMade have Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler among their brand ambassadors. It’s why terminology like this – from Fowler – can be used in marketing the product: “I’m getting more speed with my driver, more distance with my irons and more spin around the greens. What more do you want?”
Anyway, the sales of golf balls in the multi-billion golf equipment industry represents a sizeable part of the overall financial pie with Titleist, according to recent Golf Datatech market share figures, leading the way: its brand market share enjoyed a record-breaking first half of 2019 on sales in Britain and Ireland, driven by performance within the premium sector (Pro V1, Pro V1x and AVX) and has sent its value share of the golf ball market to its highest level in a decade at over 50 per cent.
The big players in the game are Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade, Srixon and Callaway . . . . and, with golf balls accounting for one-third of the estimated €3 billion annual global golf equipment market, it is fair to say things have progressed a long way since the days of the leather and feather balls of yesteryear.
Golf balls are heavily regulated, required to meet the stringent conditions laid down by the Royal and Ancient (R&A) and also the United States Golf Association (USGA) who govern the rules of the sport. The evolution of the ball has moved from leather to rubber to the current components of space age plastics, silicone and advanced rubber in two-piece and the multi-layered three-piece, four-piece and more recently the emergence of a five-piece ball.
Into this market has emerged an Irish company – Seed Golf – based on the campus of the Carlow Institute of Technology, adding their brand to the almost 1.2 billion golf balls manufactured (mainly in Asia, with countries like China, Taiwan and Thailand among the production leaders) globally each year.
The germ of an idea first came to Dean Klatt when playing a round of golf with a wealthy friend at Princes Golf Club in England a number of years ago. Klatt, an Australian with a professional background in distribution and brand management, tells the anecdotal story of how his wealthy friend snuck into the pro shop midway through his round and bought a dozen Top Flite balls, a brand known for its durability and its cheapness.
“This guy can afford to pay for 10 dozen Pro V1s and it wouldn’t worry him,” recalled Klatt, “so I asked him ‘Why?’ And he replied, ‘losing expensive golf balls isn’t fun’.”
The seed was planted in Klatt’s head and, seeing the potential for a different approach in the market, away from the traditional retail-led approach, he started thinking about developing a golf ball and selling the products on-line.
First, though, the actual ball had to be designed. And that’s how the Australian living in Ireland found his way to Carlow after being directed on his way after approach Enterprise Ireland with his plan. “There’s a wind tunnel, a Department of Aerospace and a product development lab with 3D printers and such, which is how we ended up down here and never left . . . you need highly qualified chemical engineers, aeronautic specialists (to design a golf ball) and that’s not me. We used experts in the area and put it together from there,” explained Klatt.
The start-up hit the ground with its first ball– the SD-01 – in July 2017, targeting amateur players, and two years on Seed Golf has a range of four golf balls and a tie-up with the development EuroPro Tour where it is the official ball.
Although Seed Golf has opted not to go down the route of the big-time ball manufacturers of paying players to endorse their products, that association with the EuroPro Tour gives them an “in” with tour players. It came about in a roundabout way, when the former Tour player John Morgan - who nowadays has moved into broadcasting – came across the company’s prototype ball during its testing phase and suggested to the EuroPro Tour people that it might be a good fit as an official ball.
“They liked the idea we were a start-up brand, new to the market, and their players are almost like start-offs themselves. They thought it was good match,” said Klatt.
After that soft launch in July 2017, Seed Golf’s growth was based on a strong social media campaign based mainly on instagram and YouTube and, clearly, the strategy has worked: just last month, a shipment to South Korea meant it became the 31st country in the company’s ever-growing reach with all sales conducted solely online with a price structure that ranges from €10 a dozen for the SD-15 to €25 a dozen for the SD-05, the Pro Soft which comes in at less than half the price typically paid for the top-end Titleist ProV1.
“We’re not dealing directly with retailers, not sponsoring players,” said Klatt of what he terms the “lean, mean” direct to the consumer business model that is working for them. “If the product was any good, we felt we could compete . . . . and that’s been the way.”
Titleist remain very much the market leaders in the golf ball market but Seed Golf have got their brand out there through word of mouth and the use of influencers on social media and plan on being around for a long time yet.
What would be the dream? “We have this little joke in the office, knowing we have achieved a really big goal would be having someone like Rickie Fowler playing with an orange Seed ball to win the Masters,” said Klatt, fully aware his business model doesn’t extend to paying out huge endorsement money to anyone of that ilk.
Why are there dimples on a golf ball?
The number of dimples of a golf ball varies, depending on the manufacturer but any number between 300 and 500 can be found. For example, the 2017/18 model of the Titliest Pro V1 had 352 dimples on it, while the same manufacturer’s Pro V1x had 328 dimples. There is science behind the use of dimples: a flat or irregular object moves through the air in an inconsistent, fluctuating manner because of how the air flows over it. Golf balls without dimples would move unpredictably through the air. When dimples are added, it creates a layer of air over a larger portion of the ball, which results in a smoother ball flight.
Who plays what ball…..
Tiger Woods - Bridgestone Tour B XS
Rory McIlroy - TaylorMade TP5
Shane Lowry - Srixon Z-Star XV
Justin Thomas - Titleist Pro V1
Jordan Spieth - Titleist Pro V1x
Phil Mickelson - Callaway Chrome Soft X Triple Track
Brooks Koepka - the world number one doesn’t have a contract to play any particular ball, but has used Titliest Pro V1x through most of his career.