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Opinion & Analysis

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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Opinion & Analysis

Skateboarding legend Steve Caballero on why golf is cool (Bonus: must-watch golf trick)

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GolfWRX recently spent time in Los Angeles, California where we investigated skate culture, and why so many skateboarders are starting to play golf. There is much, much more content that we will release in the coming weeks from this journey, but we thought this was an interesting place to start.

Spear-headed by Bert Lamar of Iliac Golf, who grew up skateboarding and snowboarding (ever heard of Lamar Snowboards? that’s him), we spoke with skateboarding legends Steve Caballero and Tony Hawk about the golf-skateboarding relationship.

Steve spoke with Bert about his recent introduction into the world of golf, what’s drawing him in, and how skateboarding is similar to golf. Enjoy a transcription of that conversation below (edited for brevity), and check out our trick golf shot with him at the bottom of the story!

Fun fact: Steve Cab is the inspiration behind the Vans Half Cab shoe (“half-Cab” was a trick that he invented, and he also advised Vans to make a mid-height shoe that was given the same name).

Skating, music, art and… golf?

I’m traveling a lot around the world. Skating, I do a lot of artwork these days. So I’ve been traveling to Japan, and I’m going to France in two weeks, to ride motorcycles, skate, do art, play some music… I’m kind of all over the board when it comes to being creative, and just kind of expanding my capabilities and possibilities of things, and now golf has become a new challenge for me. My oldest brother used to play golf with my dad, and that’s something that they shared together, and my brother’s been trying to get me to play golf for probably around 10 years. And I’ve just always said “no, no, no, I’m too busy”… I ride dirt bikes, I mountain bike, I skate for a living. [I started playing golf] to please my brother. I was like, “you know what, ok”…. We went out and hit some balls, [at] the range, and I definitely got a feel for what it takes to hit the ball and try to focus on what you’re doing and it really, really struck me; it is very challenging, and it kind of reminds me of skating in little ways.

How is skateboarding similar to golf?

Just technique, body position, repetition. I know golf is a very difficult sport, and I just knew if I indulge myself into it… I like challenges so anything that I get into I’m gonna focus on and that’s all I’m gonna do; I’m gonna eat, breathe and sleep golf… I know that golf is a little bit more safer than skateboarding in terms of bodily injury and getting hurt; breaking a wrist or your leg or concussion.

What makes golf cool?

I think what makes golf cool is the fact that you need to put work in and just to be good at it. You have to put a lot of time and focus into it. And I think what it is, you have to have that personality of wanting to challenge yourself at something. It’s something you can do on your own, something you can do with a group. That’s kinda why it reminds me of skating because it’s kind of the same thing, like, one day I’ll be able to do an “air” three-feet out, the next day, I can’t even grab my board…

Are you a natural at golf?

It’s a thing where I get into arguments with my older brother; I don’t believe in natural talent, everything is learned.

So, how about that trick shot, huh?

Our own editor Andrew Tursky and legend Steve Caballero collaborated on a golf trick shot during the interview session. Actually, this only took a couple tries. It turns out Steve is a good putter when using the wheel of his skateboard.

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Podcasts

Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

Listen to the full podcast below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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19th Hole

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