The ball market is unique in that it is the ultimate consumable in the game of golf. Each year while the large brands continue to innovate, there are a myriad of direct to consumer products that hit the space and many times are a logo ball with some flashy marketing. That isn’t Seed Golf. To understand this company that is like new to many readers, it is important to start at the top and that is with the founder, Dean Klatt. Where did the brand come from, and probably just as important, where did he come from? Dean expands.
“That’s a long story.
I worked with Cleveland/Srixon back in Australia for about 20 years, and my business was acquired as part of the deal when Srixon purchased Cleveland.
I moved to Ireland not long after that (my wife is Irish) and started working with a couple of ‘mid tier’ brands in the UK & Ireland. One of those brands was Kikkor Golf… one of the first ‘casual’ shoe brands for golf. James Lepp was the founder, and as a younger guy, was a big believer that a DTC/internet strategy would be a key part of Kikkor’s success. I was from a B2B background, and wasn’t convinced we could sell golf shoes online at the time (size issues, returns etc). Turns out James was right… we sold more pairs of Kikkors online than wholesale.
I then started working with OGIO, and part of my role was to set up their UK/EU web operation. Again, the same thing happened. Online sales for OGIO were very strong, yet at retail we would struggle to get floor space. We’d be getting knock-backs or negative feedback, and it was very hard to break the strangle-hold of the major brands at retail.
At that time (pre covid) a lot of the industry data coming across my desk was showing that the number of rounds played was actually starting to increase for the first time in quite awhile. If you dug a little deeper, you could see that was because there were more younger people coming into the game (juniors, millennials) and more women.
I felt there was an opportunity to target golfers who were looking for brands more aligned with their personal tastes/views, and also target the emerging market with a modern golf brand, sold direct via the internet.
My experience with Kikkor & OGIO led me to believe that golfers were very open to new brands and were actively looking for new products outside of the ‘big 5’. So when combining those two ‘trends’, I felt there was a market need for an authentic, modern, digital-native golf brand.
That brand was Seed Golf
(Seed is slang for golf ball on the pro tours back in Australia and Asia… a good mate of mine used to caddy professional, and would always ask me when we played together ‘what Seed you using today?’ It always stuck with me, and I thought it was the perfect brand name for this new venture)
The other industry info that wasn’t widely known at the time was that golf ball design & performance had plateaued for the regular golfer. While new ball designs were being developed and released, they were targeted at improving very specific performance characteristics (generally, for faster swinging tour pros). Golf ball performance is heavily regulated by the USGA and R&A, so we hadn’t seen a big jump in performance for the regular golfer since around 2000 (think Pro V1 introduction).
Much in the same way the Ping Anser shape become ubiquitous in putter design, the original patents for that type of ball design were due to expire and therefore come into ‘public domain’, meaning the basis of any (and all) modern three piece ‘tour’ grade balls was about to be widely available.
This, effectively, created a leveling [of the] playing field. There’s a performance line that, if you can reach it, means you can produce a ball that performs as well as the market leading brands.
Our interest is in designing for regular golfers, not tour pros, so that’s where we focused our efforts.”
We mentioned this earlier, but must go into a bit more detail. The direct to consumer golf ball market is constantly evolving, but often times, not in the way you would expect. Every few years, someone has a few drinks with their friends and says “Why are we paying $50 for a dozen of balls, when I can order something like it for $15 overseas and we can sell them for less than the pro shop”. This is reality. I have been there during these conversations and a few months later, they are picking out packaging and creating Facebook and Instagram ads telling you the same message, but using catchy phrases like “Stop paying for their marketing”, etc.
Back in 2015, nearly a dozen of direct to consumer golf ball companies found themselves in the golf ball Legal-Go-Round over intellectual property infringement. Most have gone away from that battle, however, here we are in 2022 and some new ones such as Sugar and Piper appear on the scene and most have virtually no technical knowledge of the golf ball at its core (pun intended). They buy a blank product, sometimes one that is a decent golf ball, have it manufactured, labeled and voila, a new brand is here. This isn’t what Seed Golf is doing. In fact, it is the opposite. What made them go the thorough testing route vs the cheaper way of slapping a logo on something? Dean Klatt explains.
“Coming up with the idea was easy. The difficult part is coming up with a ball that plays as well as market leading ball(s). Having worked a little in product design with Cleveland and OGIO, there was never any doubt we would develop our own products. It was just something I’d always done, though as Seed was the first time I’d developed a golf ball, it was a long process.
In the end, we were very lucky.
Early on in Seeds development, a government trade body here in Ireland called Enterprise Ireland got involved and suggested we base ourselves at the Institute of Technology in Carlow. There’s a rapid prototyping design lab here on campus (DESIGNCore), that could CAD design a ball for us, then 3D print a sample. The Department of Aerospace Engineering (ENGCore) is located in the building next to us, and has a wind tunnel on site. So we could design a ball, 3D print a sample and then test the aerodynamics all on site. For a small company like Seed, it was amazing to access all those resources, and really helped give the brand credibility early on.
We also worked closely with our manufacturing partners in Taiwan, who helped with some of the chemical and mechanical engineering elements, and with DuPont who provide most of the raw materials.
Once we started to get to prototype phase, we tested with real world golfers… just regular golfers, mainly here in Ireland, who’d test the ball and give us feedback. We ended up running just over 800 tests before launch.
Once we started getting down to final prototypes, we then tested on a swing robot in the US comparing performance to the market leading balls. We’re fortunate to have a good working relationship with the guys from Tour Edge, and they’d run tests for us on their robot whenever we needed it.
Once we were happy with the overall performance, we launched. That was back in 2017, and we haven’t looked back. We now have customers in 42 countries, our first design (SD-01) was selected to be the ‘Official Ball of the PGA EuroPro Tour’ and we’ve opened operations/warehouse in the UK and the USA this year.”
Despite being so different from the previously discussed white label products, Seed Golf does have one area that is similar. They are not proclaiming “better than what is on tour”, but are talking about price. Their goal was a simple one, in theory, but not so simple in execution. To create a ball that works for golfers that would cost less, without any sacrifice in performance. They test. Constantly. In fact during our last video conversation, Dean had a testing facility directly behind him while he answered my million questions on product. Sometimes I just can’t help myself, I am a golf nerd at heart and love talking about technology. We asked Dean what makes their products different and who are they for?
“The main thing here is they’re not really different… our mantra is ‘same performance, half the price’ and that’s what we try and offer.
We looked at the three leading ball designs, and tried to develop a Seed that would play just as well for regular golfers/regular swing speeds. I think a lot of golf brands get a little lost in all the ‘tech’ talk for the sake of a marketing angle, and forget that at the end of the day, the balls need to perform for the average golfer. And that’s really what we are trying to do with Seed. Our main aim is to make balls for the 98.5% people who aren’t PGA Tour pros.
Ideas like ‘The Jack’ come from our own experience, and what we thought would help golfers like us with certain areas of our games. We were flattered when Taylor Made picked up on the idea and offered something similar with their Stripe model this year.”
Seed Golf has been successful overseas. In a number of different areas both in sales and their subscription model. In the US market, the subscription golf ball segment has always kicked off with a bang and fizzled out. This is something we constantly discuss here and wonder why? Is it because people play less than they think they do? Is it because we are worse golfers than we think we are, meaning you don’t want to have a plethora of something you don’t think you will need, and then always end up buying from the pro shop due to being bare? On paper and in theory, the golf ball subscription makes all of the sense in the world for any avid golfer. Can Seed be the one that changes that and makes it more accepted? Dean expands.
“Subscription is an interesting one. We also sell Seed without a subscription, but the golf ball is the perfect product for the service… we all use them, we all lose them so, if you find a ball you like, why not sign up for a regular delivery? We took the view very early on, that if we were to offer subscription, then there should be some benefit to the customer for signing up. For us, the subscription program is all about the customer. It’s all managed on our site, and the customer has complete control of the service. They can change or pause or cancel whenever they want. There’s no commitment or contract to continue, there’s no exit fees to cancel, so we just tried to make it as easy as possible to use. We also make sure that subscribers get our ‘lowest price always, from your first dozen’ which basically means you always get the best price, even if you only buy a dozen at a time. It’s more convenient, and you can swap and change if you want to try a different model, or switch to yellow in winter etc. Ideally, we’d like to expand the service and make it more user friendly. We’re working on adding a vending machine delivery component, whereby you have the option of picking the balls up from a vending machine rather than home delivery (a lot of our customers travel to Spain & Portugal in the winter, and it’d be easier to pick them up when you get there than carry them out with you on the plane) or have an option of having them delivered right to your locker at your home club.
Without offering some sort of benefit or improvement (either value or service) then there’s no real reason to sign up… I’m not sure the majors really understand that aspect of Subscription.”
Seed as a company has not stopped with golf balls. The expansion into accessories is underway and they have started with golf bags and tees. Based on Dean’s experience that seems like a fairly natural fit. In Europe, they also have gloves and umbrellas, and our hope is those make their way here as well. What made them expand to other items? Dean Klatt explains.
“Just from our experiences here in Europe. Seed has developed a very loyal following of users, who expressed interest in buying other products from Seed. With my past design experience with OGIO, golf bags was an obvious one (and it was a lot easier to develop than the balls) and the gloves & umbrella come from our need to have products that help us play here in Ireland. The weather here can be patchy at best, so we often find ourselves playing in the wind and the rain. We needed a glove that could handle that, and still feel like a proper, tour quality glove in the dry. Same with the umbrella. It needs to keep the rain off during a ‘soft’ day and not blow out in an Atlantic squall. That’s where the ‘Full Irish’ idea comes from… products that are designed to handle the full range of Irish weather conditions (rain/sleet/snow/wind/sun). We’re working on an outerwear line now also, as we feel we there’s an opportunity top do something similar for that category as what we’ve done with golf balls.”
Moving from the past and history to the present is one of the most fun parts of creating the Brand Story features. What does the future hold for the company? We asked Dean to share.
“Is this where I write ‘global domination’?
In all seriousness, our aim is to continue quietly doing what we’ve been doing, keep designing and developing interesting, high quality products that offer great performance and even better value for money. We’d like to replicate the success we’ve had here in Ireland in new markets like the US, Canada and Australia. Seed is the #1 DTC ball in the Irish market, and not far away from that in the UK also. The US is a different story though, and we’re still the ‘new kid on the block’ over there. Hopefully, over the next couple of years or so, we can find a similar audience for Seed globally. After that, who knows?”
During each of our Brand Story articles, we learn, we experience, we try. Seed Golf seems to be doing that very thing and putting an effort into it beyond what most would believe. Going beyond the normal fun messaging, with products that they believe in, and that they know golfers will believe in when given a chance.
For more information on any of the products we discussed here or to jump into giving them a try, check out their website at www.seedgolf.co.