Golf Buzz

October 21, 2014 - 8:00am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Back 9 USA
Back 9 USA
Head covers, socks, hats and sweatshirts are just some of Back 9 USA's offerings.

Believe it or not, there was a time when golf wasn't considered cool.

An old man's game, some may have argued.

These days, however, it couldn't be further from that. Sure, there are personalities to thank for golf's coolness factor -- guys like Tiger Woods, who brought the game to the masses; Rickie Fowler, who has a cult following; Rory McIlroy, the world's No. 1 player and a four-time major champion at the age of just 25; and, of course, Fred Couples -- the King of Cool -- who came before all the aforementioned.

Apparel and accessory companies have also come a long way toward creating that "cool" golf vibe, extending their respective offerings to stuff you can wear off the course, while paying homage to the game you love, essentially making it so your love of golf is an entire lifestyle -- not just restricted to the fairways (OK, the rough, woods and bunkers for many of us).

RELATED: Custom accessories from Appalachian Leather Works | MannKrafted Milled Putters

One such company in this very space is Back 9 USA. Co-founded by Andy Hydorn, Back 9 USA's Chief Brand Officer, the company that started just outside Boston in 1996 now calls Houston home.

Back 9 USA got itself on the map -- initially -- with its headwear and its logo, which is brilliant in its meaning and simplicity. It's a backwards No. 9, indicative of playing the "back nine" on the golf course.

Over the years, Back 9 USA has expanded into so much more than that neat little company from Boston that makes the cool hats. The brand has morphed into an entire golf lifestyle brand.

It's not just lids for Back 9 USA anymore. Though you can still find those too, Back 9 USA also offers polos, fun t-shirts with witty golf-related phrases, sports socks, golf towels, custom headcovers and more.

Back 9 USA is Hydorn's dream coming to fruition -- he's cracked the code on creating his very own golf lifestyle and bringing it to the masses.

We sat down with Hydorn recently to learn more about his brand.

PGA.com: Back 9 USA started out as a golf headwear company. Over the last several years, you've transformed into so much more. It's not just hats anymore -- it's an entire golf lifestyle. Can you tell us about the transition?

Hydorn: Well, when we first got into the business, we had a great resource at Twins Enterprise in Boston (now 47 Brand). They were and still are, in my opinion, the best casual headwear makers in the country. They taught us a lot about the headwear business by observation alone and because of this relationship, we decided it was a natural that hats would be a great way to promote our new brand.

As time went by, the reaction to our logo and brand was consistently positive and it always begged an inquiry. That’s when we started to see that the correct way to build this company would be around the brand and not around a particular product category. We agreed then and there that if we could make a great product that we could design internally and brand it appropriately, the product category didn’t matter. We also realized that golfers have lives before the first tee and after the 18th green and making products for the lifestyle of the people who play golf as opposed to just “on the course” stuff just made more sense to us. Golfers are people too!

PGA.com: Tell us about your plethora of new offerings.

Hydorn: We like to look at what is going on in the rest of the retail world and not just in golf. It’s pretty easy to see what ‘s relevant if you remove your eyes from the golf course.

T-shirts and socks are great examples of that. The T-shirt has transformed greatly over the last several years into a more fashionable item. The fit is better and the fabrics are better. The tee has transcended into a whole new category. Socks are another great example of product evolution.

If you take a look around, the crew sock has made a huge comeback. Like any other comeback, it has its new wrinkles of color and style. We certainly saw this a year ago and wanted to be out front on a new golf crew sock as well as some colored ankle socks we saw lacking in the market. We’ll continue to look for opportunities this way. Things like golf bags, luggage, and an expanded line of apparel are always being closely looked at.

PGA.com: Let's talk a little about the logo. People love it. It seems like such a simple idea, but you're the only one who thought enough to create it! What made you think of the backwards nine?

Hydorn: Sometimes the most impactful things are right in front of your face the whole time. Iconic logos are tough to come by; we get that. We were lucky enough to take a really golf-centric term and pair it with the very simple process of turning a regular 9 into a backwards 9. The greatest thing about the mark is that it’s ours. It’s not a 9 or another number or a letter even. It’s a mark that was not known before it popped onto a notepad on my nightstand. It’s literal too, which makes it kind of cool. Truth be told, we had some pretty terrible ones on that same notepad but this one was different from the rest. The logo brings questions almost every time we’re in public. That’s a cool thing.

PGA.com: What's it like to see people wearing your gear?

Hydorn: It’s surreal. Knowing that you’ve created something from nothing and seeing it on complete strangers is a feeling that every entrepreneur should experience.

PGA.com: What was it that made you realize there was a need/want for golf lifestyle gear for people to take off the course?

Hydorn: For example, we saw the T-shirt category become a real component of people’s wardrobes, especially people in our target demographic group. As I said before, golfers are people too and we think they would prefer to wear a T-shirt that could tie them to golf as opposed to a guy in Iowa buying a tee from a surf brand.

Until recently though, the only cool T-shirts you could get were mostly from surf or skate brands. Well, not everyone desires or identifies with that culture. We have our own culture.

PGA.com: It seems as though custom golf head covers are sprouting up everywhere these last few years. What separates Back 9's from the others?

Hydorn: We are a design company. We saw a nice opening in the head cover market a few years ago. We felt like people were starting to tire of the manufacturers “give away” covers and wanted to dress their bag up a little more. We saw the emergence of the boutique head cover companies that were out there making really nice product, but manufacturing them one by one and bringing them to market for $50-$60.

First, we made a design upgrade by adding a stretch fabric panel on each side of the cover which made the footprint in the bag a little smaller and allowed us to embroider a completed head cover.

Second, we sourced a great fabric and manufacturing relationship that allowed us to bring the head covers to market for around $30. We also established some domestic production and partnered with the Woolrich Woolen Mill to make some really unique “Made-in-USA” wool slip on covers to go along with our engineered leather slip on covers. We feel like the price and value of our covers is really an advantage for us.

PGA.com: You've been involved in golf for many, many years -- both as a competitive amateur player and in the business. Can you ever remember it having as much of a "coolness" vibe as it has now?

Hydorn: No I can’t really. There are some really cool new brands out there now who are doing some great things and the iconic golf brands still are like royalty in the golf community. Golf is a younger game and I think the new stars are attracting a great new crop of aspiring players. Tiger, Rory, Rickie, and more have certainly done a lot to help our game in that respect. The brands are making cooler products now too; not just for the kids but for the adults also.

PGA.com: What's your favorite Back 9 item?

Hydorn: My favorite is whichever product I am working on now!

PGA.com: One of your more unique offerings is what's available to your customers in "The Lounge" on your website. Can you tell our readers about it?

Hydorn: Ah… “The Lounge.” It’s something I’m very proud of. We saw other industries doing some cool things in regards to personal customization and we thought that head covers would be the perfect product for us to offer this feature.

Today’s consumer is definitely more into personal design and we wanted to make this available to our customers on their head covers. We have a full menu of icons to pick from like the shamrock and skull and bones designs. The customer can then add a monogram or personal message to finish the design.

We also use the Lounge for our collegiate licenses. Some schools have a multitude of logos and we decided to let our customer tell us how they wanted to show their school pride instead of us guessing what they wanted. There are a ton of options and the Lounge just allows our customer to have more things to choose from.

PGA.com: Back 9 provided headcovers for the U.S. and European Solheim Cup teams in the 2011 matches. That had to be a neat experience for you.

Hydorn: That is that “surreal” feeling again. A few years back we had done some head covers for Callaway and Beth Daniel got her hands on one. She was the incoming captain for the 2009 Solheim Cup and we’ve been doing them ever since. It’s truly a sense of satisfaction when you see your head cover being ripped off a driver by Michelle Wie in an international competition.

PGA.com: The golf industry can be tough for small companies. How have you been able to not only stick around so long, but also expand your brand?

Hydorn: That hasn’t been easy by any stretch. I wish we had more resources but I’m sure everyone wishes for the same. We understand the importance of building the awareness of our brand and everything we do is focused on just that. We’re still so small and still relatively unknown to the masses but we do take pride in knowing that the "golf moles" know who we are and like what we do.

That’s the assurance we need to keep our eyes focused on the right things. We also believe that the struggles in the golf industry are real but a bit overstated. We don’t feel as if people “like” golf any less than before but just find it harder to play as much as before. Golf has become more accessible to more people and definitely has that cooler vibe you alluded to, so the desire for the game continues to grow. The lifestyle is vibrant.

To learn more about all Back 9 USA has to offer, you can visit www.back9usa.com. You can also find Back 9 USA on Facebook and on Twitter, @back9usa.

As a special to PGA.com readers, Back 9 USA is offering 10 percent off any purchase through the end of October. Just use coupon code “PGA10” at checkout. 

Tiger Woods
Getty Images
Tiger Woods began taking full swings last week after spending two months working on regaining his strength.
Tiger Woods has taken perhaps the most important step in his long journey to get back into top tournament form.
 
Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, told Steve diMeglio of USA Today that the former world No. 1 started taking full swings on the range last week.
 
"The doctors said he could hit golf balls again, and he's listening to his doctors and to his body," Steinberg told the newspaper on Monday. "He will keep listening to his doctors and body. … He's feeling pretty good."
 
If he can return to action – and be healthy – it'll be a huge achievement in an otherwise forgettable year. Woods began 2014 atop the world rankings, but a back injury nagged at him through the early part of the season. He underwent back surgery in late March, which forced him to miss both the Masters and U.S. Open.
 
 
Woods returned in midsummer, but missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National, tied for 69th at the British Open, withdrew during the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and missed the cut in the PGA Championship. He also failed to qualify for the FedExCup playoffs, and then took himself out of consideration for the Ryder Cup.
 
He's kept himself quite busy since last playing at the PGA Championship, primarily by devoting himself to getting back into shape and slowly working toward a return to making full swings on the range.
 
He's also fired swing coach Sean Foley, and not yet named a replacement; gotten into the restaurant business in south Florida; traveled to Houston to inspect the course he's designing at Bluejack National; hung out at an Oakland Raiders game; and visited Stanford, where one Cardinal golf team member was so inspired by meeting Woods that he went out and shot a 59.
 
Woods is still hoping to return to action at the Hero World Challenge – the limited-field event he hosts at the end of each season to benefit his Tiger Woods Foundation – which is set for Dec. 4-7 at Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Orlando. 
 
Jack Nicklaus at the Bear Trap at PGA National
Jack Nicklaus via Instagram
Jack Nicklaus has made the "Bear Trap" at PGA National even more daunting with his renovation of the hole leading into it.
The Honda Classic took a big step up in stature when it moved to PGA National a few years ago, primarily because of the quality of the Champions Course. And a big reason for the Champ's reputation is "the Bear Trap" – the three-hole stretch encompassing Nos. 15-17.
 
The Bear Trap gets its name from its creator – Jack Nicklaus, who ratcheted up raised the course's competitiveness during a makeover back in 1990, especially its closing stretch. And now the Golden Bear has turned up the difficulty factor yet again on the course that is statistically the toughest non-major layout on the PGA Tour.
 
This time, he focused on the 465-yard par-4 14th hole, which leads into the Bear Trap – and now might be scary enough to become the fourth member inducted into the vaunted collection of back-nine terrors.
 
 
Specifically, Nicklaus moved the green 17 yards to the right, which brings the greenside lake much more into play. Bunkers also were added in front of and behind the green, the tee was moved back 10 yards, and an additional 20,000 square feet of spectator mounding was added to improve the sightlines during the Honda Classic.
 
"It seemed a shame not to have the water nearer to the green," said Nicklaus, who attended a "grand reopening" ceremony at the big bear stature between the 14th green and 15th tee on Friday. "It produces a little more freedom and it produces a very strong par 4 going into the Bear Trap. I honestly believe it will be more exciting."
 
In addition, Nicklaus expanded four greens – on Nos. 1, 9, 15 and 17 – back to their original size, and the tees, fairways and areas surrounding the greens were converted to Celebration Bermuda grass. The regrassing means the course won't have to be overseeded anymore, and should play firmer and faster.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Courtesy of Titleist Scotty Cameron
All three new Scotty Cameron Futura putters from Titleist are designed to be extremely stable through the putting stroke.
If you say "trick or treat" to puttermaker Scotty Cameron on Halloween this year, he'll most assuredly reply, "treat."
 
Why? Because Oct. 31 is the launch date for the three latest additions to his Futura family of putters – the X5, X5R and X5 Dual Balance.
 
The new putters join 2013's original Futura X and Futura X Dual Balance to form the most stable line of putters that Cameron offers – Adam Scott won the 2013 Masters with a prototype of the original Futura putter.
 
The X5 model is angled in the back, while the X5R features a more rounded shape. The counterbalanced X5 Dual Balance combines the X5 head style with Cameron's Dual Balance technology to provide maximum stability for golfers who struggle to make a consistent stroke with a conventional length putter. 
 
 
The X5 Dual Balance contains a head weighing in at 400 grams (whereas the X5 and X5R both have standard 350-gram heads) as well as a 50-gram counterweight in the butt of the shaft. Dual Balance putters have a standard length of 38 inches with a 15-inch grip that allows the player to grip down below the counterweight for a more stable stroke.
 
All three models feature a multi-material design with a precision-milled 303 Stainless Steel body and high-grade 6061 aluminum soleplate. A lighter aluminum center section also extends down the wings, and the body features a soft Silver Mist finish contrasted by the anodized black aluminum sole plate and center.
 
By using aluminum, Cameron could hollow out the area under the soleplate and redistribute the weight to the wings to help provide extra stability. It also allowed for a thicker face and topline for better feel and sound. Heel-toe weights directly under the face also contribute to solid feel while increasing forgiveness.
 
 
All three putters come with a new single bend shaft with a higher bend point that Cameron says produces a true face-balanced configuration, and one shaft of offset. The X5 and X5R putters include 10-inch Matador Red Midsize grip that weighs in at 77 grams, while the Dual Balance model features a 15-inch Cameron Dual Balance grip.
 
"The Futura X5 mallet is for someone who likes the stability of a bigger head, the feel of a bigger grip, and likes to look down and see more lines for alignment purposes," said Cameron. "X5 is more of a mechanical shape where the X5R is a softer, rounder shape. 
 
"There’s no right or wrong. Same performance, same weight, same feel," he added. "It all depends on what you like to look at."
 
The X5 and X5R models carry a suggested retail price of $375, while the X5 Dual Balance has a $425 suggested retail price.
 
Here is a video from Titleist introducing the new putters:
 
 
October 20, 2014 - 10:40am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Rory McIlroy
YouTube/USA Today Sports Images
What do you think about this pumpkin carving? Is there any resemblance to Rory McIlroy?

Fall is here, which means it's pumpkin-carving season.

Who doesn't love a good jack-o'-lantern of a zombie, a monster, or a four-time major champion?

Wait, what?

That's right, someone decided to carve four-time major winner Rory McIlroy's face into a pumpkin. You can see the whole process in the video below:

 

If we're being honest, that pumpkin looks like McIlroy about as much as this tattoo looks like Ernie Els:

 

This pumpkin carver and that tattoo artist need to step up their game... like the corn-maze artist who rendered this awesome work of Bubba Watson:

 

Now that's how you do it.

h/t Golf News Net

Ben Martin
Ben Martin lines up a 46-foot left-to-right bender for the eagle that gives him his first PGA Tour victory.

You're trailing for the first time all day. You've reached the par-5 16th hole in two, but are still 46 feet away. And a win would give you your first PGA Tour victory.

No pressure, right? Well, if Ben Martin felt any lack of confidence Sunday with the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on the line, he didn't show it when he lined up to make the shot of the weekend:

 

 

Perfect speed, perfect line, perfect execution -- and an eagle to cap a perfectly great weekend of golf for the Clemson alumnus.

SHRINERS HOSPITALS OPEN: Martin tops Streelman for first career victory

Sure, he still had two holes to play, but with a one-stroke lead and Kevin Streelman already in the clubhouse, all Martin had to do from that point on was keep it in the fairway. And he did that and more, making birdie on the final hole for a two-stroke win.