It’s been 20 years since the start of something that is easy to overlook, but shouldn’t be. Golf is about passion and a person had a vision for better. Not just for the game and performance, but also for the environment. Since that time, this vision evolved to become, well, Evolve Golf.
The story is straight out of a fairy tale, well maybe not the kind you are thinking of, but every golfer has been there and thought “If only I could do this”. Twenty years ago that person was Benjamin Maloy. Some call him Ben, others BJ, I just call him the most passionate person I have met in golf. Whether that be about his Evolve Golf mission or something as simple as a local brewery, Ben has passion that exudes in everything he does.
Evolve Golf has evolved (pun intended) throughout the years, but the passion remains the same. What started with tees, became a small foundry and the creation of bespoke items you won’t find made with this kind of care anywhere else. Before going on, we must go back those 20 years to where it first started.
When asked to sum up how it all began, Ben Maloy shared this:
“In 2001 I hit a poor tee shot on a par 3, blamed the golf tee, and without realizing it set of a mission to make a biodegradable golf tee. My day job at the time was focused on helping a startup raise capital. I attended a VC pitch day and one of the startup pitched that their technology could essentially ferment switch grass into a biodegradable resin. I still didn’t realize that I was about to break out and start my own company. A few months later I was changing the spikes on my golf shoes when the idea hit me. I looked at the spike, grabbed a golf ball, and wondered what would happen if you designed a golf tee with a curved post that spanned the width of a golf ball’s dimple? Could you reduce the friction between the golf ball and the golf tee? What if you could also make the golf tee from a biodegradable resin? There were a lot of challenges along the way, but a year later I secured letters of conformity from the R&A and USGA and I was off pitching a golf tee that was longer, straighter, and biodegradable.”
At the time there wasn’t much in the way of technology in the golf tee. Was it a better mousetrap or was it one of those things that was being different for the sake of being different? Time would tell and with that meant testing. This is where the story takes an interesting turn, not from their history mind you, but in the actual product, which has evolved (see what I did there) over the years. There are a number of the best players in the world that use the Epoch tees, including the most famous ever. They are not sponsored, and/or talked about by Evolve.
The honesty in approach from Evolve is unique to the market place in some ways. While testing showed better performance with the use of Epoch Tees, they have not made any outlandish or even completely honest claims. One night over some tacos and a cold beverage, I asked Ben why that was, and the answer was genuine, and one I could appreciate. While the testing and performance was better using the Epoch tees, it was an area they didn’t feel comfortable promoting because of the speed that the best players in the world have and there are diminishing returns as it gets to amateurs. Still better, but not outlandish.
While the Epoch tees might have been the center, and still top seller, of the Evolve universe, the brand has moved into a number of other items, and continues to grow. Ben offered this insight.
“Like the game of golf, it really all started on the tee for us. Evolve Golf’s first product was a biodegradable golf tee. Along the way, customers started sending us purchase orders for ball markers and divot tools with their Epoch golf tee orders, but we couldn’t fill the purchase orders because we didn’t make ball markers and repair tools. We quickly expanded our offering to include ball markers and repair tools to respond to the demand. The relationships with our customers have led us in all sorts of interesting directions over the years and continue to do so, frankly we love the what if conversations! The biggest what if conversations have stemmed from the custom tee gift side of our business. Each year we are challenged to come up with unique tournament tee gift ideas.”
With that the EC2 Foundry was born. That is what they call their office, which on the outside is a humble building with some great signage on the windows up front. The humble side ends as you walk in the front door. Pounding, hammering, grinding and more is taking place every day of the year. Each of these metal items mentioned above is hand done, many by Ben himself, right in the office.
On our last visit there, as we walk in the front door unannounced, we see Ben holding a torch that he is using to add a unique finish onto a ball marker. He glances up with this smile on his face and yells “Wait till you see this one”, in his mild New England accident as he proceeds to finish up the piece before bringing it over and showing it off like a child after getting his new toy for the holidays. The passion we spoke about, exuding with each glance at the marker. There is a level of charisma that comes through the words that make you stare intently, despite having seen thousands of ball markers over the years.
Every metal piece they make at EC2 is hand hammered and created right in this space. Why not use a manufacturing plant locally or even go overseas for the creations? Maloy expands on that.
“We were asked to design a custom metal ball marker and out of all the options we discussed it was obvious right out of the gate that we wanted to make hand forged pieces vs. high speed stamped parts. There was an appeal to making something unique by hand. EC2 Foundry started in 2014 with an idea, an anvil, a hammer, and some metal. We were quickly humbled by the experience of making metal accessories one piece at a time, it was hard and frustrating work. This is a maker’s space where we can be creative and so the hard work is worth the frustrations we experience along the way. No two pieces are ever truly identical and that’s really the point. However, technology is still at play here. We have been known to break out the 3D printer to build negatives for casting bronze, which reminds me, we need to get back to that soon!”
It sounds chaotic, but while the mind of a lunatic (meant in the most endearing way) is full of creative ideas, it is anything but. There are stations throughout the space that are making Epoch Tees, hammering, stamping or pressing metal and even spots for experimentation. Last time we were there, we were shown some prototypes of working with resin and colors to create some incredible pieces that we hope come to fruition.
As you walk from station to station, you hear the gentle sounds of Epoch Tees being customized. It never stops, the buzzing or whirring that is taking place is a constant because the demand is so high. Is it still their most popular product? Ben Maloy added this.
“Epoch tees are Evolve Golf’s bestselling product line. Golfers appreciate the convenience of playing a round of golf with just one tee in their pocket and golf facilities enjoy not having tee litter on the teeing grounds. The Epoch has been Evolve Golf’s launch pad for exploring biodegradable and recycled materials through the years. I think our commitment to making golf tees that are better for the golf course, the player, and the planet resonates with golfers. Players also like that the performance of the Epoch was vetted on tour before hitting the market. We never overstate the Epoch tees performance attributes. A couple yards longer and a couple yards straighter was always the Epoch’s claim to fame, nothing more. We never promised to fix a player’s swing or claimed that our tee was 10 yards longer. The Epoch has always been about the pursuit of a better golf tee.”
We have tees being made, metal being pressed and all of the sudden, socks are being discussed? What? Why socks and how in the world did Evolve Golf, born from an environment and performance golf tee, get involved in creating them? Maloy expanded on this passion project.
“Motionwool was an idea built from the ground up. I was training for a half marathon. The training ran into the cold and rainy winter season on the NC coast. I was not a fan of cold wet feet. A friend of mine suggested trying wool socks. I had a pair of wool golf socks in the drawer, so I gave them a shot. After a couple of long runs the heal and ball of the sock wore out. I figured there had to be a better wool sock out there. I tried a bunch of wool sock brands and was underwhelmed. I started thinking about how you could make a better sock. A little selfish prototyping ensued. We worked hard at making the most comfortable and durable performance golf sock. At the same time customization was becoming a big part of Evolve Golf’s business. The Evolve Creation Center, EC2 was founded with a focus on making custom tee gifts. We included a small batch of prototype performance wool socks for a tee gift we provided at a Carolinas PGA section tournament. The PGA professionals raved about the socks and those socks became the foundation for Motionwool.”
We spoke about it earlier. Passion. What started with tees, became hand created metal tools and objects and then it led to what they believe is a better sock (we agree). At every turn in the Evolve golf world, passion exudes. There is always the path of least resistance when it comes to creation and execution. Benjamin Maloy doesn’t seem to believe in that phrase.
We have painted an image of creativity and fun, but it isn’t all perfect. Challenges erupted when the pandemic first hit. Like many in the golf industry, the sheer amount of unknown plagued the industry and nobody was exempt, be it the large equipment companies or the small businesses like Evolve.
Behind the man with the creative plan, is Coarine Maloy, and without her, Evolve is not where it is, and perhaps not even around. While Ben is constantly on the move and putting together new ideas, Coarine is in charge of making sure the chaos can not only work, but exist. Evolve thrives because of an entire group that makes it happen collectively and the organization of that group, in many ways comes from her.
Despite the early challenges that existed, Evolve not only survived but flourished. Being different. Being better. Evolving. The company is doing well and continues to put out incredible items that offer a memory. Be it of the first time you get handed the bespoke item to mark your ball or when you fix your pitch mark and grab one of their one-of-a-kind tools.
On the surface, it appears as though new items are added on a whim. In some ways they are as they mentioned with the “what if” conversations. In other ways, it is the organized chaos that Coraine keeps in line that continues to push them into new paths. What does the future hold? Normally the answer to this question is talking about a next release or similar. Asking Ben Maloy that question makes you want to pull your hair out with anticipation.
“This is a great question that I am hesitant to answer. We are inching closer to a nearly two decades long pursuit and I’m hopeful that we will have something big to share with everyone in 2022! I can share that Evolve Golf will continue to focus on products that are better for the game, better for the player, and better for planet.”
Evolve is onto something that isn’t needed to play the game of golf, but wanted to be different. To offer something that in many ways is a throwback of sorts to the way creation came about in years gone by, yet doing so with a modern twist that is anything but mundane.