FutureBirdies Hat Scotland

FutureBirdies Celebrates Year #1

While the world was trying to figure out how to adapt to life during COVID, kids and adults all over the world continued to played golf.  Golf was one of the few sports that was minimally impacted during the pandemic. While some just played, others took it a step further and started companies.  

Harvey, Jack, Jessica, and Ben Pollock hatched “FutureBirdies” out of weekend road trips from Charleston to play in the US Kids Golf Savannah tour.

“There was no US Kids Golf local tour in Charleston at the time, so Savannah was our only option.  We spent a lot of windshield time brainstorming ideas”, says Jessica.

After the Pollock’s lived in Germany for three years, Jessica started a Wine Import and Distribution company in 2019, so she was already in startup mode. 

Ben always had a entrepreneurial spirit being in the defense tech business for 20+ years but had never started a company.

“The only company I ever started was a lemonade stand in 1987”, says Pollock.

The Pollock’s researched some of the gaps in the junior golf market and hats first came to mind.

“Kids love hats about as much as Dad’s do”, says Ben.

“After years of playing sports as a kid, serving in the Air Force and playing lots of golf (albeit poorly), hats are the one item you cannot forget at the house, especially junior sizes.  The pro shops just don’t stock enough, or at all.”

Raising two junior golfers, Harvey and Jack, hats are not only a necessity, but a subtle statement on the course. 

“We want our kids and their golfing pals to have the option to look different and build their own unique brand as they play for fun and learn to compete in local and regional tournaments."

“The multi-billion dollar, publicly-traded golf brands have done great things for the sport but there is room for fringe golf companies and FutureBirdies is very much on the fringe.  To build a junior golf-focused platform seemed like a good idea so that is what we did”, says Ben.

Like so many other people, Ben and Jessica did not grow up in the golf business and their extent of playing golf was with friends, parents and grandparents. 

“My dad took me to the golf course when I was a kid and I remember falling asleep in the car ride home after a long day.  Dad had an old Honda Accord and when the AM radio was set to "talk" I was lights out”, says Jessica. 

Ben also had fond memories at a young age. 

“I played golf with my dad and grandfather but really enjoyed driving the cart and listening to the old guys (in their 60's) tell WW2 stories.” 

“We weren’t members of any private courses and spent time at the Muni’s of Johnson City.   Pine Oaks and Buffalo Valley were accessible and cheap.  Rope hats were a dime a dozen and my grandfather had at least 15 hats hanging on his wall at home.” 

Outside of playing golf, Ben grew up in Johnson City, attended Science Hill High School, and finished his sophomore year at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) before leaving for the Air Force.  His first college roommate and high school friend was a collegiate golfer name Daniel “Snoop”. Fontaine, who ended up transferring to the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) and shared a spot on the roster with 2010 US Open winner Graeme McDowell 

“Back at ETSU, I lived in the athletic dorm (not as collegiate athlete) and boxes of FootJoys, Bobby Jones shirts and hats would get dropped off randomly at our door.  Snoop and I would spend hours playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’97 on PlayStation and stack up two liters of Mountain Dew and pizza boxes in the corner.  Typical boy’s dorm room setup.”

“There was some good golf being played at ETSU during that time.  We ended up with PGA Tour winner Garrett Willis’ old dorm room.  Fred Warren was the golf coach in those days and they were ranked in the Top 25.  Little old ETSU was a legit program back then and with Jake Amos now at the helm, still continues to be a Division I powerhouse 25+ years later.”

"Seamus Power, Bobby Wadkins, Mike Hulbert all played at ETSU.  Many folks don't know Rory McIlroy signed a letter of intent to ETSU before deciding to turn pro.  Google it", says Pollock.  

One of Pollock’s best buds and best man in his wedding, Drew Jones, was another outstanding high school and collegiate player from Johnson City.  Drew went down the Junior College (Shelton State) path after high school and then later transferred to UAB where he started with fellow teammate Graeme McDowell and childhood friend Snoop.

“During High School and College, we'd all drive over to Pinehurst for the ’99 US Open, over to Greensboro for the GGO, or down to The Players to sit behind the old hedges on 17 and drink Budweiser on a fake ID while we watched Fred Couples pure shots onto the island green”

“When I was in the Air Force, I’d get a call from Drew on my “land-line” and we’d talk about him staying in college or playing mini-tours and making a run at the PGA Tour.  The best advice I could give was follow your gut, college will always be there”, says Pollock.

UAB Blazers 2001

(Graeme McDowell second from left, Drew "Sticks" Jones, far right)

Lots of foreshadowing and inspiration to build FutureBirdies was being captured in the 1990’s and took 25 years to materialize and ultimately follow their gut to launch and build the platform.    

Some of the challenges they faced are not uncommon for a startup in any industry.  Seed money came from personal savings to recruit and outsource logo and website design, e-commerce development, all capital expenses that quickly depleted budgeted startup funds. 

In addition, the company had to find a source and good partner for the hats they wanted to develop. 

“We wanted to source and be “Made in USA” so we traveled to North Carolina and found a company with a small operation.  They entertained a meeting, liked what they heard, and politely declined to make hats for us.”, says Pollock. 

“What they did do, was give us a contact for AHEAD, LLC, an industry juggernaut and known brand to almost every PGA tournament and pro shop in the US.”

During peak COVID, the team worked with AHEAD to position the logo and badging and placed the first order and waited for the shipment to arrive. 

“While the hats were not “Made In USA”, we had to take what we could get based on workforce shortages here at home and supply chain issues overseas.  AHEAD was a good initial partner and very patient working with us through the process.” 

Working with a brilliant photographer and fellow local golfer, Nick Bowserfuturebirdies.com launched during Masters week 2022. 

“Nick was great to work with and patient with the kids.  They enjoyed the photo shoot and got excited when they saw themselves on the platform. 

"We had to steer them away from the big-brand hats and make them believers, so including the boys in the garage startup process was key.  Seeking their input for logo design and hat styles from the beginning sold them on the concept and they learned so much." 

"We learned as a family how to submit trademarks and successfully got two approved by US Patent Trademark Office (USPTO)."  

FutureBirdies” and “#1 Hat in Golf.” 

“We hand write thank you letters, go into the garage, pack the orders and take them to the post office for delivery.  The boys thought the whole process was cool and learned a lot”, says Jessica.

Like many Small Business Owners, Ben and Jess will acknowledge how tough the first year was but proudly wear it as a badge of honor. 

“If it was easy everyone would do it and we are proud to be a part of the fringe group of small businesses who share a like-minded passion for golf."

“There are 3 million junior golfers in the US and another 3 million worldwide, so the Total Addressable Market is massive and is certainly not the issue.  Learning SEO and social network algorithms (Instagram is terrible), sourcing suppliers and finding reliable partners and building brand recognition takes time, success does not happen overnight and we fully understood that.  

“We found out quick almost nothing is “Made In USA” anymore.  Do we want to just be a hat or apparel company and rely on the “blanks” market and supply chain issues overseas?   After year #1, I firmly believe the answer to that is “No”, but it will continue to be a core offering and at the forefront of the brand. 

“We are building a platform and thinking well beyond just selling hats.  We can be a tech company in the golf industry that develops relevant tools that benefit junior golfers and parents that assist families in making big decisions about their future."  

"We can advocate on behalf of junior golfers, especially in the Charleston area, which has so much potential but lacks the support of big resorts like Kiawah Island", says Pollock.

“With great golf developments such as Kiawah Island, Briars Creek, Bulls Bay, Yeamans Hall, Country Club of Charleston and other top courses in the area like Congaree and Chechessee, we should be churning out top-notch golf talent to rival North Carolina, California, Florida and Texas.  The main problem is there just isn’t enough incentive for these mega-private and for-profit operations to invest heavily in junior golf.   There needs to be more incentive beyond just good-will.  We believe US Kids Golf, PGA and USGA, along with local governments relying on golf industry revenue, should promote incentives to these great developments who are potentially falling short in their efforts to "grow the game". Criteria needs to be established and courses graded on these efforts and published for public consumption."

"Some of the courses mentioned above are doing great things, some of them not so much", says Jessica.  

(marker at Himalayas Putting Course, St Andrews, Scotland

So what is next for FutureBirdies? 

“We are open to any collaboration that makes sense for the platform.   We are kicking around some really cool ideas that will expand the platform and tap into the tech industry I have been a part of for 20+ years.  We want to intersect golf and tech and take advantage of these two great industries all while continuing to support junior golf and ensuring underserved communities have access to courses and programming.  There is so much untapped potential in every community.”

“The future of golf is bright and FutureBirdies looks forward to being a part of it”, says Pollock.