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 email@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
Jason Day’s performance coach, Jason Goldsmith, joins the 19th hole
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Ari’s Course Reviews: Oakmont Country Club
Editor’s Note: Ari Techner is a well-traveled, golf-course connoisseur who’s setting out to review the best golf courses in the world. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are his own.
Oakmont Country Club. The name alone strikes fear into the heart of any mortal golfer. Oakmont has a reputation for difficulty unmatched in the golf world; it’s fear forged in the public’s eye while watching best players in the world struggle during the U.S. Open every 10-plus years or so. There is a notion that Oakmont could hold a U.S. Open just about any day of the year. This is not a course that needs to be tweaked from its daily setup to test the best in the world.
All that said, a close look at the course reveals that there is so much more to Oakmont than just difficulty. Since around 1950, MANY courses have been built with the dilebrate intention of holding a U.S. Open. Most, if not all, of these courses are filled with water hazards, extremely long holes and very little variety. Oakmont is the exact opposite of that, and this is what is at the core of its greatness.
Oakmont Country Club first opened in 1903 and was designed by Henry Fownes, who built it because he felt the other courses around Pittsburgh were not difficult enough. The course was constantly tweaked in the early years by Fownes and his son William. Both Fownes were accomplished players with William winning the U.S. Amateur in 1910 and serving as the playing captain of the first U.S. Walker Cup team in 1922.
Trees, or no trees?
The course was extremely influential in the development of early golf courses in America. It was equally influential in future years by setting trends that have changed the way many other courses have evolved. When Oakmont opened, it was built in an open field and had no trees on the course, adding to the links-like flavor that Fownes wanted from his visits overseas. In the 1950s (after all the Fownes had left the club) Oakmont added thousands of non-native trees to line the corridors of the holes, a look that was a heavy trend of the time. This work was mostly done by Robert Trent Jones, who also modified the bunkers to fit more of his style of the time.
The course continued to evolve over the years with the bunkers being restored by Tom Fazio… but the trees remained. In preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open, Oakmont cut down thousands of trees, returning the course to its open, windswept origins. This was very controversial among the members, and much of the work was done in the middle of the night in the off-season so as not to cause a big stir. After 2008, thousands more trees have been cut down, opening all of the amazing long views across the property. You can see almost every hole on the property from just about every spot on the course. Oakmont was the first course to embrace this massive tree removal and it has turned into a trend with hundreds of classic courses removing their non-native trees and going back to their more open original layouts.
Oakmont is the only course that Fownes designed and I believe that contributes greatly to its uniqueness. Fownes’ version of difficulty did not include artificial water hazards, out of bounds or excessive bunkering fronting greens, and it did not rely simply on longer-than-average holes to challenge the golfer. Instead, it has an amazingly varied mix of holes that challenge the golfer in a variety of ways both mentally and physically. Overall, the course requires you to be a straight driver of the ball, a good iron player and to have a deft short game and putting touch. You also need to be able to think your way around the course while you execute the shots you choose at a high level.
A good variety
Oakmont has its share of length with long par 4s, such as hole Nos. 1, 10, 15 and 18, the monster par-5 12th and long par 3s such as Nos. 8 and 16. What sets the course apart to me, however, are the short holes and the holes that require strategic decision-making off the tee. These include short par 4s such Nos. 2, 11 and 17 and mid-length par 4s including Nos. 5 and 14. These holes can be just as difficult as the long ones, and they require a completely different skill set. The short par-3 13th and short par-5 9th (plays as a par 4 for the U.S. Open) round out what is an amazing set of shorter holes.
The course uses the natural movement of the site very well and has a tight, extremely walkable routing despite being bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the bottom of the hill in the middle of the property. I particularly love the fallaway greens at 1, 10, 12, and to a lesser degree 3 and 15 where the front of the green is higher than the back. This is a unique look that you do not see in the USA very often. Without the little backboard that a back-to-front sloping green provides, you must hit the ball solid or execute a well played run-up shot to hold the green. The short par 4s temp the long hitter just enough to make them think about hitting driver, but wayward shots are punished enough to make most think twice. The 17th, at a little under 300 yards, could be the hardest hole on the course, and yet it is definitely drivable for the right player who hits a great drive. The small and extremely narrow green requires a short shot be hit the perfect distance if you decide to lay up to the right down the fairway. Hit it even a little short and you end up in the aptly named “Big Mouth” bunker which is extremely deep. Hit it a hair long or with not enough spin to hold the green and you end up rolling over the green into one of a few smaller bunkers. Carry the bunkers on the left side off the tee into the sliver of fairway up by the green and you have a short, open shot from a much better angle into the fatter part of the green. Such risk/reward and great use of angles is paramount to Oakmont’s genius.
Green complexes are…complex
Oakmont also sports one of the best sets of greens anywhere in the world. They are all heavily contoured and very challenging, yet playable. You can certainly make putts out there if you are putting well, but get on the wrong side of the hole and you are left with an extremely difficult, but rarely impossible 2 putt. They are also very unique due to Fownes only designing one course, as they do not look like any other classic course; they have a feel all their own. They are mostly open in front, coming from the correct angle, and they have many squarish edges. They also cut the tight fringe far back into the fairway, which aids in run-up shots; it also gives a great look where the green and the fairway blend together seamlessly.
The bunkering is also very unique and very special… and they are true hazards. Find yourself in a fairway bunker off the tee, and you are likely wedging out without much of any chance of reaching the greens. The green-side bunkers are fearsome, very deep and difficult. The construction of the bunkers is unique too — most of them have very steep and tall faces that were built up in the line of play. Oakmont is also home to one of the most famous bunkers in golf; the “Church Pews” bunkers — a large, long rectangular bunker between the fairways of holes 3 and 4 with strips of grass in the middle like the pews in a church. There is also a smaller “Church Pews” bunker left of the fairway off the tee on hole 15. Hit it into one of these two bunkers and good luck finding a descent lie.
Ari’s last word
All-in-all, along with being one of the hardest courses in the world, Oakmont is also one of the best courses in the world. It is hard enough to challenge even the best players in the world day-in and day-out, but it can easily be played by a 15-handicap without losing a ball. It is extremely unique and varied and requires you to use every club in your bag along with your brain to be successful. Add that to a club that has as much history as any other in the county, and Oakmont is one of golf’s incredibly special places.
Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure
My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers too many… and that’s not all.
Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.
Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.
I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.
First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.
Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.
Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”
Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!
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