February 5, 2021
John Phillips took an episode from his youth as a baseball player and found a way to help junior golfers learn the game.
The Virginia Beach, VA resident is now busy selling his Fingerprints Junior golf grips and Fingerprints Junior pitching wedges.
“Back when I played baseball, I had a special ball that had color-coded paint marks on it to show you where to grip it for certain pitches, such as a two-finger fastball,” Phillips said in a recent PGA Show interview. “I got to thinking about that for junior golfers, and began experimenting with my wife’s fingernail polish,” he said.
He took his model grips to golfing friends from his undergraduate days at Old Dominion University. These women just happened to be running golf schools and clinics in the Virginia Beach area. “It was a good test market. The grips are an improvement on those bulky training grips, and they are also legal for play and those trainers aren’t,” he said. With this positive feedback, Phillips started looking for a company that could re-create his fingerprint grips.
The folks at TourMark, a custom grip maker I wrote about in this column in Sept. 2017, stepped up to the challenge. Phillips said, “They use a rubber core with a poly wrap on the outside, like Winn Grips.” The finger placement guides are printed on the wrap which fits over the core.
This product is one of those things that make you wonder how it took this long for it to appear.
Phillips expanded his product line in July 2020 with his junior pitching wedges, in three height-based sizes and of course using the Fingerprint grips. “It’s a great first club you can use in the back yard, on the range, or out on the course with mom or dad,” he said. “I added the left-hand version in December. I have sold a ton of those little clubs on Amazon.com.”
Phillips hopes to broaden the reach of his new clubs and grips by attempting to make inroads at places that support junior golfers, such as Top Golf, and with organizations such as The First Tee chapters.
Cape Region buyers can buy the wedges or the grips at the company’s website, fingerprintsgolf.com, or at Amazon. The grips retail for $8.95 each and the pitching wedges sell for $39.95.
Elevating the basic polo
Harlestons is a good example of how a small business can leverage its owners’ expertise to create a niche opportunity and succeed.
In my experience covering the golf business, this kind of thing happens a few times each year, often in the sectors that make it possible to start small and grow, such as apparel.
Weston Mallon is a Kutztown University and University of Texas-Austin grad who spent several years in the global supply chain business, with an emphasis on sourcing. As he observed mainstream companies use that knowledge for their enterprises, he became inspired to use his own background and contacts to create a new company with a lifestyle brand appeal.
“I was able to use the same [Asian] factories as other companies such as Peter Millar,” Mallon said, emphasizing the benefits of quality control and fit he was trying to obtain.
Now living near Charleston, SC, Mallon sought to have his products present a “classy look that would elevate the basic polo,” while also paying homage to the South Carolina city. “The name Harlestons comes from the first golf course in America, Harleston Green, founded inside current Charleston city limits in 1786. Our shirts and pullovers use other local names, such as the Hunley pullover or the Rutledge polo,” he said.
“We deliberately put our [cormorant] logo on the back of the shirt, to make it easy to wear the polos on and off the course. If you want you can hide the logo with your blazer,” Mallon said.
He was especially pleased with how the special collar lining for the polos maintains the sharp look after repeated washings. “It stays in shape and there’s no bacon look,” Mallon said.
The polos are a mix of 92% polyester with 8% spandex, designed to promote a four-way stretch. Mallon said the shirts look great whether tucked in or untucked, which to this old guy means the polos will appeal across a potential generational divide.
The light pullovers use a quarter-zip closure, and are a moisture-wicking mix of polyester, nylon, and spandex. A bandless waist promotes mobility and should prevent bunching.
Harlestons opened online at Harlestons.com in April 2020, in the teeth of the pandemic. Mallon said they made their business commitments well before the virus hit the United States, He and the other owners decided to press ahead regardless. “It was definitely a challenge in COVID times,” he said.
Local Charleston TV and blogging coverage helped, and the products are now reaching green grass pro shops with increasing success. “We’re in places like the Country Club of Charleston and also in high-end men’s stores,” Mallon said.
The polos retail for $82-88, while the pullovers sell for $119. The hats feature an enlarged version of the cormorant logo and look great, in my humble opinion.