by DAVID DROSCHAK, Sports Illustrated

Grip manufacturer celebrates the process, seeks to educate with new headquarters in Pinehurst, North Carolina

PINEHURST, N.C. — The gleaming walnut bar at the center of Golf Pride’s new Retail Lab looks more like it belongs in one of Pinehurst’s thriving craft breweries than in the hub of a club regripping center.

But it’s that welcoming feeling that executives of the world leader in golf grips was after as it encourages the golfing public to visit its headquarters to touch, feel and witness firsthand the regripping process.

Less than a pitching wedge from the first tee of Pinehurst Resort’s No. 8 Course, Golf Pride’s world headquarters will now be open for the general public to walk in, pick the brain of tour technician Andy Bare and pick out a new set of grips, including the new CPX grips. Golfers can then belly up to the bar and watch Bare use state-of-the-art laser equipment to line up and install your grips in about an hour.

“It might look like a grip store but we’re calling it a Retail Lab because it really is an investment in our learning about how to help get golfers into the right grip and install it in an easy and convenient way,” says Golf Pride president Jamie Ledford. “Golf Pride for most of its history has been focused on making the grips, not actually trying to figure out all the downstream stuff like selling them and installing them, so this is an commitment on our part to do more learning in this area.

“We expect to share this learning with all of our customers out there because a lot of them don’t have the time to really go deep on all the little details you need in this category to make it easier for golfers to figure out so it’s not so overwhelming, and how to install them so it’s a lot more convenient.”

One of the main deterrents to getting clubs regripped on a regular basis is turnaround time. How many times have you gone to your local golf store and been told: “I’ll have your clubs ready in about a week?”

The Golf Pride Retail Lab drastically cuts into that negative experience, and in turn encourages golfers in the Pinehurst and surrounding area to seek a more regular yearly routine to regripping.

“We wanted to bring regripping out front and make it a feature piece,” Ledford says of the company’s headquarters. “People haven’t seen grips installed so they don’t even know what the process looks like. We wanted to kind of celebrate the process of finding the right grip and getting it installed, so that’s what this place is about. We expect to learn a ton about how to evolve the category to make it easier to find the right grip for you and we expect to find better and smarter ways to get the grips installed properly and faster for you.”

Katie Hoadley is the Retail Lab’s consumer experience manager. Ledford laughs about giving marching orders to Hoadley over the last year.

“I jokingly told her it was a small challenge, but that the only objective for this space was to figure out how to sell grips better than any place in the world,” Ledford says.

“We’re excited to be able to show off our product differently and interact and be here for consumers,” Hoadley says. “This is something we’ve never done before. I came to Golf Pride from Pinehurst Resort so I’m used to hearing consumer feedback right then and there — it keeps you on your toes. I’m excited to expose more of our Golf Pride staff to what our consumers are saying, what is the feedback and what can we learn from them pretty quickly. And it’s also really fun to own this space and change it out tomorrow it we want to.”

Ledford admits the first 3-6 months will be a learning process for Hoadley and Bare in terms of regripping volume. The first challenge comes in a few weeks when 2,200 golfers will converge on the North Carolina Sandhills for the U.S. Kids Golf World Championships in early August.

Where there are challenges there are also opportunities as Golf Pride will have the attention of kids from more than 50 countries.

Ledford said the new Retail Lab, which opened in late June, will also have the ability to test and experiment with quicker drying and more environmentally friendly solvents.

“We just haven’t had the lab to test that before,” he says. “And those two dimensions are sometimes in direct conflict with each other now.

“We really want to double down on how to do it right,” Ledford added of the regripping process. “We don’t have all the answers. The grip category is kind of complicated. When you walk up and see all the grips on the wall we want to simplify it. The install process works (across the country) but it could be a lot easier and more convenient than it is. So we want to discover those little ways that we can share with our customers about how to make the category of grips more approachable, more welcoming so you can come in and feel like you can get the right grips. We’re excited to bring this to life.”

David Droschak

During a 20-year career with The Associated Press – the largest news-gathering organization in the world – Droschak wrote more than 15,000 stories on people, places and events. The former AP sports editor was honored with the Sports Writer of the Year award in North Carolina in 2003, and is the longtime editor of Triangle Golf Today and Triad Golf Today.