At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is decimating the economy, the inventors of a new golf ball retrieval contraption are raking in business.
They created the perfect product for the coronavirus era largely by accident.
Last year, avid golfers Roger Hood and Dave Taylor noticed some unintended side effects from a 2019 USGA rule change that eliminated the penalty for a putt hitting the flagstick. The pace of play did increase with it no longer mandatory for players to remove the flagstick, but Hood and Taylor believed the drawbacks outweighed the benefits.
Some golfers accidentally damaged the lip of the hole when they retrieved the ball or replaced the flagstick. Elderly and handicapped golfers also struggled to bend down far enough to fish the ball out of the hole.
Hoping to make a few bucks solving this problem, Hood and Taylor came up with an idea for a device that attaches easily to a flagstick, comes with a hook and features a layer that sits at the bottom of the cup. When a golfer places the head of a putter under the hook and lifts, the cup layer comes up too, propelling the ball out of the hole without anyone having to fish for it.
Hood and Taylor began formulating their idea last year, but not until early April was the Golf Ball E-Z Lyft ready to go to market. By that time, the coronavirus pandemic had swept the world and dramatically increased the need for a product like theirs.
“All the stars just lined up for us,” said Adam Stuck, a golf instructor who handles marketing and sales for Hood and Taylor. “About 24 hours after we launched, we realized how good our timing was. It was kind of the perfect storm with COVID-19.”
The Golf Ball E-Z Lyft is sold in packs of 3, 9 and 18, with an 18-pack costing $495. In the past six weeks alone, the product has been added to more than 1,000 U.S. golf courses, according to Stuck. There’s also interest from Europe.
For country clubs and public courses, the product’s appeal is twofold. It reduces damage to the holes of the golf course and makes customers feel safer not having to touch commonly handled items like the inside of the cup or the flagstick.
Golf courses that have yet to install the Golf Ball E-Z Lyft or one of its competitors have gotten creative in how they’ve addressed that problem.
Some have stuffed sawed-off pool noodles into each hole to make the ball easier to retrieve and to eliminate the need to handle the flagstick.
Foam plugs in cup keeps ball up top. Please leave flagstick in and do not touch flagstick. All bunker rakes and ball washers are being removed as well. pic.twitter.com/6GUZDbH7Mr— Bethpage Golf (@BethpageGolf) March 20, 2020
Others have simply turned their cups upside down or raised them an inch above the putting surface.
In an effort to keep our customers safe but also provide a recreational outlet we have raised all the cups 1” above the surface @RichterParkGC Putt till you hit the cup and then pick up ball and move on, no need to touch the flagstick. @MayorMark pic.twitter.com/L7xGNhaUhi— Robert Dorsch (@RichterSupt) March 17, 2020
The way Stuck sees it, “that’s not playing real golf.”
“When the ball hit the noodle, it was either jumping over the hole or bouncing off,” Stuck said. “And when they had the cups upside down, it was the same thing. Was that in the hole or not?”
Innovations like the no-touch golf ball retrieval device may seem inconsequential, but they’ll be part of the new normal as America gradually reopens. Recreational athletes across the country are hunting for ways to enjoy their favorite sports while minimizing the risk of transmitting or catching the coronavirus.
Health experts say that golf is one of the safest sports Americans can play because it’s outdoors and lends itself easily to social distancing. Even so, golf clubs are taking extra precautions, from allowing only one person per golf cart to removing bunker rakes and other commonly handled items.
Stuck said that he has approached the USGA about using his product and is awaiting response. Each day, more and more calls pile up from people interested in a product that is ideally suited for an epidemic even if it wasn’t created for that purpose.
“It has taken off like you wouldn’t believe,” Stuck said. “It’s helped people enjoy the game of golf during the COVID-19 pandemic and it has also enhanced the experience for golfers with the cup staying in good shape and not getting torn up.”
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