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Bag Chatter: An Interview with Bluegrass Fairway

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Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email mailbag@golfwrx.com for consideration. Our first interview is with Matt Reynolds, the man behind Bluegrass Fairway. 

Give us the quick elevator pitch. In your own words, what is Bluegrass Fairway?

We are a golf accessories company, but we are a little bit different from what you might find in national chain stores. We use super high-quality, made-in-the-USA materials, and we make everything by hand right here in Kentucky. We don’t mass produce, and we’ve developed a bit of a cult following in only our second year. We started the business in October 2015 and are definitely still growing.

What do you think differentiates your products from others in the marketplace? Why do you think people would buy from Bluegrass Fairway?

We like to use “vintage” or “retro” styled materials. The vast majority of our leather comes from Horween in Chicago or Tennessee Tannery, and we hand pick every hide. We want to provide a quality item that will break in well and wear nicely over time. It’s timeless. It’s something you can hand down to your kids. I’m super passionate about the game. I love the traditions. I love the architecture. We want to provide a classy product that reflects what we appreciate about the game of golf. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll see something in neon orange from us. Sorry in advance!

Would you say you have a “flagship product,” so to speak? If so, what is it?

Leather scorecard holders and yardage book covers are our bread and butter for sure. I’ve been very pleased at how all of our products are selling, though, to be honest. It’s so fun to design something and have people respond positively to it. I really get a huge kick out of it.

Bluegrass Fairway Yardage Book Cover at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Bluegrass Fairway Yardage Book Cover at Harbour Town Golf Links.

How long ago did you start playing golf? When and how did golf first grab your attention?

I took up the game when I was about 15. I was a sophomore in high school. I had just transferred to a new school and my new friends all played golf, so I started taking up the game. My first job was at Wildwood Country Club here in Louisville, so I spent a lot of time at that course. I also worked my butt off in college and finally got pretty good in my mid-20s. A couple years later, I finished top-5 in the Kentucky Open and ended up becoming a scratch golfer. I think what got me hooked on the game was that I was really competitive and I couldn’t understand how this game was so hard, so just the challenge of the game humbled me. The competitive nature that I have pushed me to never stop grinding. It was something I felt like I had to conquer.

What prompted you to start this company? Were you already a leather craftsman? How did that come about?

I had a cheap, old yardage book cover that fell apart, and I took it to a shoe cobbler to fix it. He said to me, “You know, we could easily make you a better one.” He and I collaborated on a design, and he made me another one from scratch. He then made me a couple more, because my friends all wanted one after they saw the one I had. Then one of my friends suggested I sell a couple on Etsy. So I developed a brand name and a logo and made an Etsy store. I didn’t sell any the first month, and I thought, “Gosh, this was a dumb idea.” I was about to take it down and then I sold a bunch during the next two months (November and December of 2015). It eventually grew to a point where I started to outpace my cobbler friend. At that point, I met another friend named Will Jacoby (of Steurer and Jacoby) who happened to be local to me, and also already had a lot of the equipment and seamstresses I needed. So, the bottom line is that I got a little bit lucky for sure, but now Will and I have an agreement where we partner together and help each other out. Really, it had a bit of a fluke beginning and just grew organically from there. I realize that I’m lucky and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

Was there a big defining moment or big break for your company? What got you where you are today?

We’ve had some really cool customers that have totally shocked me. The very first big sale I was about three months in when I was contacted by the Orlando Magic. They bought several scorecard holders for a golf event. That was a moment where we thought, “Maybe we’ve actually got something here?” Since then, I’ve had several awesome customers show up. Most recently, the USGA just purchased yardage book holders for the Mid-Am and they sold out in the very first day. Curtis Strange is a customer of mine as well. I’m fortunate to say I could rattle off a few other really fun names. It’s been a blast so far.

Bluegrass Fairway "The Crenshaw" Wallet and Scorecard Holder

Bluegrass Fairway “The Crenshaw” Wallet and Scorecard Holder.

If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing? Is there anything else you have a passion for or are trained for?

I work at my family’s insurance agency and have since I was 22 years old, so the Bluegrass Fairway thing is kind of a side project for me. And I love it. I’ve always wanted to figure out a way to make golf my livelihood, and it’s just now starting to take shape. I used to REALLY geek out over the tour gear posted on GolfWRX. You know, back in 2005-2006, WRX was posting all the special wedge grinds and drivers out on tour that normal people couldn’t get, and I used to go crazy over that stuff. I would totally gobble it all up. Golf has been such a passion for me, and it’s so fun to play a small part in the industry.

What would be your ideal foursome? Who would you like to play with? No limits. Could be dead or alive, famous or not famous.

I’d have to say Tiger Woods first. I just idolized him growing up and would be so honored to play with him. That one’s a no-brainer. Second would be my grandpa. I never got to play golf with him, but my dad always tells me he was a great golfer, so that would be really awesome for me. Last, I’d probably have to say Donald Ross. He is my favorite architect by far. I would love to pick his brain on architecture and what makes a great golf course.

What’s your best golf story? Either the funniest or most unbelievable thing that you witnessed on a golf course. Yes, the 19th hole counts.

Hands down it would be the day I was the standard bearer during the PGA Championship in 2000 at Valhalla. I was in college, but I was just barely young enough to qualify as a standard bearer (the guy who carries the sign for the players in the group that shows their names and scores). We had one guy no-show on Sunday, so they asked me to double loop. I was like, “Are you kidding me? OF COURSE!” I was like a kid in a candy store. So, the guy says he’s going to do something nice for me (like I was doing him a favor and he needed to reward me or something) and he gives me the final pairing on Sunday. So I was the standard bearer for Tiger Woods and Bob May on Sunday at Valhalla. Technically, I walked with them the entire way, but I was absolutely floating on air. I still remember the sound their drivers made when they made contact that day. It was absolutely incredible and unlike anything I’d ever seen. To top it all off, Tiger gave me his ball after he made the five footer on the 18th hole and said, “Here man, thanks for walking with us today.” Of course I still have it. It was truly a day I will never forget.

What tour pro (past or present) has your favorite golf swing?

I really like a golfer who shapes the ball, so I would have to go with Phil Mickelson. He doesn’t just go, “I always hit a draw, so I’m just gonna hit a draw all day.” He seems to hit the shot that needs to be hit depending on the situation. Personally, that’s the kind of player I gravitate to.

Bluegrass Fairway Handcrafted Headcovers.

Bluegrass Fairway Handcrafted Headcovers.

What’s the most underrated golf course you’ve ever played? What’s your favorite course that isn’t Pebble Beach or the Old Course?

My all-time personal favorite is Pinehurst No. 2 (like I said, I’m a Donald Ross fan). I’ve played it six times. Each time, I’ve really tried to take it in. I didn’t get to play it before Crenshaw redesigned it, but I still love it so much. I say that to follow up with the fact that there’s a few courses in that area that are just unreal. I would say Mid Pines (right down the street from Pinehurst) is my favorite “underrated” course I’ve ever played. It’s a Donald Ross masterpiece for sure.

What are your thoughts on the state of the game? A lot is said about how the game is struggling and we need to grow it. What do you think?

We all hear it a lot. It’s discouraging to me because this is my sport, so it’s not fun to hear. That being said, I feel like we’re kind of getting used to how things are in the post-Tiger world. It seems like the club companies are recognizing that it’s not wise to bring out five drivers in one year anymore. Personally, I think courses kept closing because it just got to the point that there were just too many. It seemed like there was one on every corner. I do feel like a lot of that has stabilized now, and golf is starting to claw its way back. Personally, I feel like the game is really strong. There’s a young breed coming (Spieth and company) that’s really going to move this game forward in my opinion. Tiger set the bar at a place that he’s always going to be in the conversation (rightfully so), but this young group is going to make their own waves for sure. I honestly think the game is in much better shape than most people will acknowledge.

Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Are there any product releases forthcoming? How do people find you and get in touch?

We are working on a new golf bag, so that’s exciting. We’ve put one together and it’s currently in testing. We will probably do a small release and see how the feedback is and take it from there. Expect a carry bag with an old school kind of look, because that’s kind of what we do. It will use all the same leather and waxed canvas that we use on all our other materials. As far as social media goes, we are definitely most active on our instagram account @bluegrassfairway and as always check out our website www.bluegrassfairway.com.

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Peter Schmitt does not profess to be a PGA professional or to be certified at...well...anything much in golf. Just another lifelong golfer with a passion for the game trying to get better every day, the definition of which changes relatively frequently. Peter is a former Marine and a full-time mechanical engineer (outside of the golf industry). He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two young kids.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. M. Vegas

    Oct 15, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    IMO they should donate to the Church of Satan

  2. BIG STU

    Oct 15, 2017 at 5:08 am

    I really like what I see here and I am going to keep up with this company. Besides the owner Matt is a big Donald Ross fan whats not to like? Makes him A ok in my book. If the bags he is going to be making look like the ones in the article I will by one along with the covers. One of my many vintage Macgregor sets would look good in those bags

  3. OB

    Oct 13, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Vintage regression?!!

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Podcasts

Mondays Off (Ep. 3): “Where does Tiger’s 2018 Tour Champ win rank among his 80 career wins?”

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Was Tiger Woods’ win at the 2018 Tour Championship one of the best victories of his career? Did this win complete the greatest comeback in sports history? Is Tiger definitely going to win another major? Can he still catch Jack Nicklaus? Club pro Steve Westphal and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky cover everything Tiger Woods and more on this episode of the newly named “Mondays Off” podcast.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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