Fiberbuilt Golf and the Covid boom
February 9, 2024
Demo Day at the PGA Show in Orlando, FL is not simply a place where club pros on a mid-winter break whale away at the latest golf clubs. Companies serving course superintendents and club operators also surround the driving range at Orange County National Golf Center, with materials and services aimed at those critical parts of the golf industry.
I met Scott Nichol, Fiberbuilt’s Director of Golf, at the company’s Demo Day spot. The area included several of its artificial turf mats. Some are installed at tee locations while others are found at driving ranges or learning centers. Over 5,000 courses, teaching studios, and ranges use the Pinehurst, NC company’s products.
Nichol said Fiberbuilt first opened in Calgary, Alberta in the mid-1990s and later moved to Pinehurst. When I pointed out that Golf Pride recently moved to Pinehurst and was also a rubber-based company, Nichol laughed and said that was a total coincidence.
All Fiberbuilt mats are built in-house. Nichol said they developed the rubber base to provide a stable platform for the artificial turf as well as shock absorption. He said the mats are “tee-in” designs, meaning that they will accept a regular tee inserted into the turf.
The rubber bottoms under the turf feature slightly raised dimples to promote better drainage. The edging surrounding the turf is there to keep the product in place and reduce wear and tear.
The normal mat turf is set at one inch in height. The company also developed a tighter mat of only ½ inch in height, like fairways and the first cut of rough. They used a high-speed camera system shooting 100,000 frames per second to develop the shorter turf height models, Nichol said.
There are at least two interesting environmental angles to these products. A range that uses turf mats in combination with regular turf saves thousands of dollars and hours in minimizing the cost in staffing and other inputs in turf management. And as Nichol said, “The better your mats the more likely your golfers will stay on them.”
Nichol also explained the sourcing for the required rubber in Thailand. The company obtains cast-off strips of processed rubber from the production of tires or elastic bands. Using these sources reduces the factories’ cleanup costs and gives Fiberbuilt access to what Nichol called “off-gassed” rubber.
In its raw state rubber emits vast quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). By the time Fiberbuilt finishes with its manufacturing process almost no rubber odors come from the new mats.
Nichol said the Covid epidemic was great for his business. The ongoing boom in golf participation led to increased purchases of Fiberbuilt products. “That was the biggest change we saw,” he said. “People got into the sport and are staying in it.”
Individual mats are typically sold for between $400 and $1,200, depending on size and features. Commercial sales as well as those made to other institutions such as schools are sold on a per square foot basis.
Under Armour shoes
Demo Day at the 2024 PGA Show included about the same number of exhibitors as last year, but for some reason they felt a bit more spread out.
It also seemed like Under Armour was the only exhibitor showing off new golf shoes at the range.
Several club pros and others took turns trying on samples of the new footwear, then hitting shots to gauge their reaction.
I met Jake Haley, a senior product line manager for Under Armour’s footwear division. The Eastern Shore native recently passed his 10th anniversary with the Maryland company.
Haley said Under Armour began selling shoes in the early 2000s with its cleated football boots.
That soon led to additional offerings for training shoes. “We went from there to sports-specific shoes very fast after that,” he said.
The UA golf line appeared first in 2016, led by PGA Tour star Jordan Spieth, who has also made its apparel offerings extremely popular.
Haley showed off the new Drive Pro Series, introduced for the first time at Demo Day.
He explained how the shoes use a “lockdown lacing system” that he said supported the foot throughout the swing.
A Swing Support strap reinforces the upper part of the foot.
In addition, the spiked version uses the new S3 spikes.
The plastic wings that sink into the turf are in different lengths, providing additional traction help where it would best help.
Both the spiked and spikeless models (Drive Pro SL) come with a waterproof warranty.
The Drive Pro are sold for $170 SRP and the Drive Pro SL sell for $160 SRP.
We also looked at the new UA Phantom Series shoes.
It looks far more like a classic sneaker than the tour-oriented Drive Pros.
Haley said the spikeless shoe works well for casual wear as well as on the course.
Phantoms sell for $140 SRP.
The women’s version is available for the same price.
Both models come with the same waterproof warranty.
Delmarva Scramble set for April 29
The First Tee-Delaware’s popular Delmarva Scramble at Rehoboth Beach Country Club is set for April 29.
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