McFARLAND, Wis. -- Rob O'Loughlin has a passion for sales, and for saving the game of golf he loves to play. He's happiest when he's doing both at the same time.
The high-energy entrepreneur has a new bounce to his step these days because his McFarland company, Golf Solutions LLC, is focused on either selling or preparing to sell a device that fits into a hole to double the size of a putt's target; an affordable, talking GPS yardage-distance finder called the Voice Caddie; and a new launch monitor called the Swing Caddie that measures swing and ball speed.
"We want to find things that are good for golf and fun for golfers, and I think we've found them," said O'Loughlin, who is an expert on the subject.
In 1994, O'Loughlin bought a failing company that made plastic golf cleats called Softspikes. The company became one of the greatest golf business success stories of the 20th century, sparking a worldwide revolution that led to the near-extinction of metal spikes.
In 1999, the Texas native changed, and quickened, the way golfers determined what club to use for any given shot when he created a laser-guided yardage measuring device called LaserLink.
Against the rules at the time, O'Loughlin successfully lobbied the PGA of America to make the device legal, and sales took off.
The 64-year-old O'Loughlin, who also was president of Nedrebos Formal Wear from 1978 until 1999, is bullish on his new products because he says they offer something for golfers of all skill levels.
He also thinks they lower the number of the Golf Misery Index, a measure he created to help explain why golfers are leaving the game in record numbers.
"The GMI is currently 20 -- that's 20 bad things that happen for every one good thing during a round of golf," he said. "If we can reduce that number to 10, I think we'll double the number of golfers in the game today."
The National Golf Foundation says roughly 2.2 million Americans 6 or older played golf for the first time in 2015, which was the highest number in 13 years, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
But overall participation for the year still dropped 600,000 to 24.1 million, which was just short of 6 million players less than its high-water mark of 30 million in 2005, the report said.
That led Tiger Woods to say that the game of golf had become stagnant and lacked sustainability.
"How do you keep them interested in it?" Woods told the Wall Street Journal. "How do you keep it fun?"
Though it is not yet in production, O'Loughlin's as yet unnamed hole device aims to make it easier for beginners.
"Putting is the hardest part for kids to learn," he said. "This will keep their interest in it, keep them from running away."
While that device was O'Loughlin's creation, he's the U.S. distributor and marketer for the Voice Caddie and Swing Caddie, which are made in South Korea by Total Golf IT Co.
The heart-shaped Voice Caddie is just a bit bigger than a 50-cent piece and clips on a belt, hat or visor. It has 35,000 courses in its GPS database and speaks yardages from any spot on any hole to the front, center or back of the green.
It's a less expensive version of the distance-finder watches made by Bushnell, Garmin and others that are popular with low-handicap golfers, and Voice Caddie includes fitness data like steps taken and calories burned.
"They are affordable alternatives for people who don't need exact measurements to decide which club to hit. That's most people," O'Loughlin said.
Voice Caddie models range from $80 to $170.
Total Golf IT Co. also manufactures the Swing Caddie, a practice aid smaller than most mobile phones that uses Doppler radar to offer information such as swing speed, ball speed and shot distance -- key data for lower-handicap golfers.
O'Loughlin said the device, which has a suggested price of $350, accurately offers some of the same information generated by $20,000 machines used by teaching pros to measure golfers for new equipment.
"It can be an invaluable piece of equipment because it will tell you if you are maximizing the distance of your driver or have the right loft in your irons. It tells you what you need to correct," said Blackhawk Country Club pro Derek Schnarr.
Schnarr says he loves what O'Loughlin is trying to do.
"He keeps people buying things in golf, which is hard to do these days," Schnarr said. "He's brilliant. He knows what's needed and he knows what sells."
Wisconsin State Golf Association executive director Rob Jansen isn't sure a bigger hole is the solution to golf's problems but he's not counting out O'Loughlin as somebody who could figure out how to cure what's ailing the game of golf.
"I'm always talking about the game with him, and he's certainly right more than he's wrong," Jansen said. "I'll listen to anything he has to say."
O'Loughlin says golf has to focus on making golf fun and fast and for families and fitness. "If we can address those four Fs, the game will come out of its slump, and we'll be doing pretty good."
This article was written by Rob Schultz from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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