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Golf Pride Embraces Growth, Rebirth In Legacy Company’s 8th Decade

There’s been a lot made about the ongoing evolution within the traditional game of golf, and how these changes have better positioned the sport’s future.

It almost seems strange to include golf grips in that discussion, but in some ways a legacy brand like Golf Pride – which transformed the category with its slip-on leather grip back in 1949 — is a microcosm of what’s happening within the golf industry. Generations of golfers have grown up playing the brand’s grips. That’s part of the reason 80% of professional golfers have modern Golf Pride grips on their clubs, despite the fact the company doesn’t have a single tour player under contract.

Since Jamie Ledford took over as Golf Pride’s President in 2012, the company has continually sought to pursue that original inspiration about shaping the future of the category. It’s Ledford who has spearheaded efforts in recent years like the Golf Pride’s Global Innovation Center, its new Retail Lab, new grip technology, and an on-site research and development facility. He’s guided Golf Pride’s new direction, away from old school component manufacturing and toward a more modern, high-tech identity.

“We have just gone so deep on what grips can do for golfers and we’ve tried not to rest on our past success,” said Ledford, who joined Golf Pride a decade ago after successful executive stints at big brands like Callaway and StarbucksSBUX -1.9%. “We love our history. But if we rest on that, we’re going to go the way of a lot of other golf brands. So, we’ve been really doubling down on the idea that grips aren’t just rubber handles for clubs, they’re actually performance equipment. We’ve taken it as an internal challenge to show and prove how that’s true, and use that as the basis to transform the category.

“This is a really exciting time at Golf Pride,” adds Ledford. “And in a strange way, for a really old legacy brand, we have a real rebirth going on.”

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Over 80% of professional golfers on the PGA Tour use grips from Golf Pride, who doesn’t have … [+]GOLF PRIDE

When it comes to grips – the only part of the club a golfer touches on every swing – there are essential performance elements through the swing and in different conditions. Then there’s the aspect of fit, not unlike shoes. This doesn’t necessarily pertain to hand size, but the feel for golfers. And more and more, there’s a style component for golfers when it comes to grips.

“We’re trying to work on all those fronts while making the category simpler and easier for golfers,” Ledford says. “That’s what has helped us grow over time. I really find a renewed sense of purpose at Golf Pride in that way.”

Lunsford estimates 5-to-6 million golfers a year use Golf Pride grips.

And now the company is engaging some of them in different, deeper ways. The new Retail Lab at Golf Pride’s state-of-the-art Global Innovation Center in Pinehurst is a prime example, offering an on-site retail experience for consumers and visitors. Golfers visiting the facility, which is located right next to Pinehurst’s No. 8 course, not only can get tour-like grip selection and installation with a Golf Pride’s lead tour technician, but they have access to exclusive products and merchandise.

To describe the experience, Ledford likes to use the metaphor of that college class you might not have had much interest in until meeting a certain professor whose passion for the topic pulls you in.

“That’s the way we feel about our grip category even if a lot of people don’t see it,” Ledford says. “The installation typically sits in the back of the green grass shop and grips aren’t the easiest thing to buy and install. This (research lab) was essentially an experiment for us to say, ‘What’s the best experience that we could create?’ We love grips and we love all the nuance about this category. The only question was how this would come to life?

“It’s been fantastic, just bringing it to the front of the building and making that the focus of the purchase experience and treating them like a pro. The feedback from golfers has been terrific. There’s always somebody in there engaging with our team, asking questions about our grips or getting new grips installed. It’s getting us that much closer to the golf consumer.”

Golf Pride’s new headquarters in Pinehurst is focused on experience and innovation.GOLF PRIDE

The Pinehurst facility is far from just being the head office for Golf Pride. It’s also helped the company be nimbler when it comes to product development.

Not far from the consumer experience is the design studio, where new grip concepts are whipped up. And a few steps away from that is the company’s rapid prototyping lab. It’s yet another example of the brand’s evolution – and better positioning for its future.

“When I started at Golf Pride, if we had an idea, it probably took 4-to-6 months to actually work through – create a design, tool it up, produce it, test it. We’ve reduced that substantially,” said Ledford. “Our future hope is that we can have an idea, prototype, test, validate cycle that’s one week long.

“We’re getting closer and closer to that. There’s no reason we can’t have an idea on Monday, turn it into a visualization (digital product design) on Tuesday, prototype it on Wednesday, test it with golfers on Thursday, and then sit around the table and say what did we learn about this idea?” he added. “That’s what I’m excited about. We’ve brought all these capabilities together in this 33,000-square-foot facility. It’s really an exciting mashup of capabilities that I think is going to help us sustain a level of innovation that’s going to continue making Golf Pride No. 1 going forward.”

Source : Forbes