Golf Pride is one of the nation’s most successful golfing-related brands. It’s also one of the oldest. Now serving its fifth-generation of golfers, the Pinehurst-based global business projects 4 million golfers will purchase their rubber grips this year alone.

“Eighty percent of tour pros use Golf Pride grips without endorsement. That is something we take a lot of pride in,” said Jamie Ledford, president of Golf Pride, during a presentation last week to members of Moore County Partners in Progress (PIP).

Last year, the company opened doors to its new 36,000-square-foot headquarters near the entrance of Pinehurst No. 8, off Murdocksville Road. The facility replaced its former offices in Southern Pines and put its corporate offices and a rapid prototype laboratory under one roof. In the next few months, Golf Pride will add a consumer interactive wing to its Global Innovation Campus.

Ledford said the new facility gives the company more visibility.

A former executive with Callaway Golf in Carlsbad, CA, Ledford is also working with other local business leaders on a golf-centric focus group coordinated by Partners in Progress. Their goal is to raise the profile of Pinehurst and Moore County as a proving ground for new or relocating golfing businesses and technology.

Golf research and development is one of four pillars identified in PIP’s economic strategic plan. The other areas of focus for attracting new businesses include entrepreneurship, healthcare, and manufacturing.

“It is a credit to Jamie that he comes to our community not only to innovate, but he’s interested in how we can get other companies to come to the area,” said Pat Corso, Partners’ executive director.

Recently PIP collaborated with the county’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) on a new video that highlights Pinehurst’s attractiveness as a business address for potential companies. Billed as an economic development project, the video will be presented at the 2020 PGA Merchandise Show to be held later this month in Florida.

“This is our launch,” said Phil Werz, CVB president and CEO. “It promotes our golf industry and the potential for a company’s relocation to Moore County.”

The CVB created the video in-house. Werz said the content relies heavily on Pinehurst — a globally recognized name — but the intent is to showcase the entire area for businesses once they come to visit. On-camera interviews feature leaders in the local golf industry, including Tom Pashley of Pinehurst Resort, Kelly Miller of Pine Needles and Mid Pines resorts, and Ledford.

Corso, summarizing a comment made by Pashley, said the recruitment effort is to identify “the right company, the right group, and the right ideas” to relocate to Moore County.

“This is a whole different attitude and presence in golf. We have Golf Pride, we have the USGA’s championship offices here, we have the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation and their leadership academy has shifted here,” Corso said. “What we have put together is a strong attempt to create change and draw like-type companies to Moore.”

 Established in the late 1940s, innovation has been an integral component of Golf Pride’s enterprising work. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been without challenge.

Ledford said since 2012 that golf club sales have declined by nearly 50 percent, U.S. golf participation has slipped by 1 percent annually for the last five years, and the number of rounds played has decreased by 2 percent annually in the same period.

“There is a slow leak of golfers playing each year,” he said. “As a golf equipment company, this is a scary trend to look at. You have to be thoughtful about how you want to proceed.”

A particular issue is the time it takes to play a traditional round of golf. Ledford said there are a lot of different interests competing for people’s time, so he sees new concepts like The Cradle, Pinehurst’s widely popular short-course offering, as solid investments.

Ledford also said while golf club sales have slowed, what is being manufactured is high quality. Therefore, golfers are more likely to keep their clubs for years at a time, opting instead to replace their grips.

“The reality is that all drivers today are good. Everyone is making good equipment,” he said. “But they still need new grips each year. Golf Pride has been fortunate to outgrow the golf market.”

Importantly, 50 percent of Golf Pride’s revenue comes from new products that have been created since 2014, he added.

“Product innovation has been a huge factor behind our growth over the past few years. Our big push inside Golf Pride is we want to make sure we are making performance equipment that helps golfers play golf better.”

He said the goal of the new rapid-prototype laboratory in Pinehurst is to compress the time it takes to develop a new grip from 90 days to one week.

“We want to fail faster on stuff that doesn’t work,” Ledford said. “By reducing the time it takes to innovate a product, we can run more ideas through the lab.”

Also at Golf Pride’s new campus, they hope to create a model for efficient regripping services that can be replicated in golf pro shops.

“Our ambition is to turn around the regripping of your set in about the same time it would take to get a haircut,” Ledford said.

Golf Pride has also gotten involved in the local community, serving as a lead corporate sponsor for First Tee of the Sandhills, in addition to supporting the United Way of Moore County, Scotland County Hospice, Relay for Life, and Shakespeare in the Pines.

(Original story by Laura Douglass, The Pilot)