The story of Vertical Groove Golf
It’s extremely rare that a driver not made by one of golf’s major manufacturers makes its way into the bag of a touring professional. That’s what makes Vertical Groove Golf so interesting. Well, that and the fact that the grooves on the face of the club are not where you’d expect them to be.
If you asked Rubin Hanan, the company’s co-founder, he’ll tell you the grooves are right where they need to be. We recently caught up with Rubin to discuss the technology and how players on the PGA Tour Champions, such as John Daly and Rocco Mediate, are seeing such immediate success teaming with a company that’s only a year old.
How did you discover the technology?
My partner and I came across the technology three years ago randomly. We were actually at a surf trade-show. We walked into this booth and a driver was sitting in the back. I raised an eyebrow seeing a driver with vertical grooves for the first time. We inquired about it and learned that the gentleman who invented the technology was the late Tony Antonious. He owned over 400 golf patents, including the Velcro on the golf glove, and he defended all of his patents against the majors.
The last patent he was issued was this vertical groove technology – not just on drivers but all clubs. As an entrepreneur, it’s always smart to be a disrupter to any industry. So that was our “aha” moment.
Even though we knew it would be tough to wrestle it away, we negotiated with Tony’s estate and were able to acquire the rights to Vertical Groove Technology. We wanted to test the product immediately. We took it out to San Diego Golf Laboratories, which is the No. 1 third party testing facility in golf. We put it up against all the current models from the major OEMs, and we beat them all in dispersion rates off the robot. At that point we knew we had something, but we weren’t sure where to go with it.
Do we manufacture it or do we license it? Our first thought was to license the technology because it works. What we quickly found out from all of the major manufacturers, is that they don’t accept outside technologies. I had a contact at one of the majors, who told me even though they couldn’t accept it they would put it through their testing facilities. Then 45 days later I got an email essentially saying: “Everything you say checks out, unfortunately we don’t accept outside technologies. We wish you the best.”
We were at a crossroads again. I have a lot of overseas sourcing experience, so we thought let’s do this thing ourselves. We raised the capital and we launched in January of 2017 with John Daly’s announcement – the rest is history.
What are the defining features?
It’s pretty simple. We don’t have all the bells and whistles that our competitors have because it’s a fixed head. It’s 450cc, which is a little smaller and more compact than most modern drivers. It’s a two-piece titanium seamless weld, with vertical grooves on the face and our patented crown tech on top, which is for airflow. It all works together to give us our tighter dispersion rates.
Talk about the driver’s performance on the PGA Tour Champions this year?
We brought John Daly in last January (2017) then followed with Rocco Mediate, they happen to be leading in driving distance and accuracy, respectively, on the PGA Tour Champions right now. They believe in the club. The thing about the PGA Tour Champions, these guys have already done it. They know the industry game and they’re at the stage where they choose a club because it works. We have a dozen other guys out there using our driver who we don’t pay. They are using it because it performs.
Our first full year on tour was phenomenal. We finished last season No. 1 in distance and No. 2 in accuracy on the PGA Tour Champions. John Daly won the Insperity Invitational, that week Kenny Perry was second with our driver and Rocco Mediate was first in accuracy. The following month Perry comes back and wins the Senior U.S. Open.
We were also just voted 2017 Product of the Year by Golf Aficionado and we’re a finalist for the ING Product Ingenuity of the Year award at the PGA Show.
We have a product with real technology and performance that works, and it’s not just for the pros. It’s really for the amateur that basically wants to hit the ball straighter and farther. Everyone uses those marketing terms, but ours proves out. I tell everyone to put it on the launch monitor and let the numbers speak for themselves.
How did you get hooked up with Rocco Mediate?
When we first met Rocco, he was playing another brand and couldn’t get his spin rate below 3,000 rpms with his driver. He was a little frustrated by that. So we met him on the range and he said he’d try it, but he’d know after one swing whether it would work for him or if it was something gimmicky. Four hours later he loved the product. His accuracy has increased 20 percent and he’s added close to 15 yards in distance. His swing hasn’t changed, that’s strictly the driver. We’ve seen that across the board, not just with the professionals.
With your success on the PGA Tour Champions, are you at all concerned that you’ll get pigeon holed as a club for senior golfers?
Historically, there’ve been a handful of very successful golf equipment companies that started on the PGA Tour Champions. And for us, it’s been a very strategic move. More than 60 percent of the industry’s purchasing power comes from the 50-and-over demographic – a group that resonates with the PGA Tour Champions.
Talk a little about your sales strategy; you’re focusing on direct to consumer.
We’re definitely a B2C company, there’s a lot of potential in that market. We could have gone the brick-and-mortar route, but there’s a lot of volatility there right now. We also wanted to protect our pricing and margins, and really make sure that clubfitting was a big part of the equation. That’s why we went to Club Champion and started a relationship with them.
We assemble everything here in the United States. We have a plant in Jupiter, Florida where we custom build every club that’s ordered from us. We brought in four industry experts, including one of the top fitters in the country who builds our clubs and heads our operations. We have a longtime industry sales rep on our staff, as well as a former club professional. Our core group knows this game and industry very well.They really believe in what we’re trying to do.
How important is your relationship with PGA Professionals and green-grass facilities?
It’s everything, it really is. The industry is shifting heavily towards custom fitting. That’s why Club Champion, Cool Clubs and other companies have gone into that market. People are looking for an edge, and with modern technology there are so many variations and measurables that you can take into account. PGA Professionals and expert clubfitters are the key to unlocking all of that data for the consumer.
We’ve tested our product, we know that it measures out and can beat the big boys. So it’s vital for us to have relationships with PGA Professionals who can help their customers understand and see the performance benefits of our driver.
With fitting being so important, are there any plans to add adjustability to your drivers?
We’re going to stick with the fixed head; we’re not going in the adjustability business – at least not anytime soon. We’ve learned that most people after they adjust it once, never change it again. It’s been a marketing tool for so many years, and it’s been adopted as the norm. We’re kind of bucking that norm a little bit.
At the PGA Show, we will debut our 3- and 5-woods, which have already been tour tested. We have a very special technology that works, and we know it works. Our biggest challenges are brand awareness and getting the product into golfers hands so they can feel and see the performance for themselves. Even with that said, we feel really good about where we stand and where we’re headed. We’re going to stay in our lane.
We’re not trying to be like everyone else. Our goals are to continue bringing high-quality products to market and evolving to meet golfers’ demands.