Bring more colour into play. The Knitcap interview

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Usually when people purchase new golf clubs, they come with standard club head covers. Why shouldn’t they, you buy the clubs off the rack, of course they come with a standard package and style, obviously depending on what brand and particular model you went for. You can change club head loft, lie and shaft flex how much you want, as long as you don’t go crazy with the colour of the bag, a new set of golf clubs pretty much looks like the other. Isn’t it at least a bit strange that on the one hand we dress in fancy, colourful clothes, think twice what to wear on the course to look decent and show off a bit and then at the same time sport off-the-shelf clubs and standard club head covers?

knitcap_logoFor those who want to stand out a little more or have a distinct taste in terms of style, colour or appearance in general, Oliver Volkmuth and Matthias Schneider founded Knitcap, a Germany-based company producing trendy club head covers, which look very different from what you are used to: they created a fully customisable bobble hat for golf clubs.

Golficiency’s Alexander Rose had the chance to discuss some details around the product and the company with Oliver (35), co-founder and managing director of Knitcap.

Golficiency: Oliver, could you briefly describe what Knitcap actually is and what products you offer?
Oliver Volkmuth: Knitcap is a product and a brand at the same time and as the word already implies it’s more or less a “knitted cap” for golf clubs. We offer individually designed and hand knitted club head covers and clients can choose between three sizes (driver, fairway wood, hybrid), three patterns and 12 colours. So everyone who’s good at maths can calculate the possibilities you have.

What customizing options do you provide and what choices do the purchasers have?
We offer two different product lines, or editions—the “Silver Edition” and the “Gold Edition”. The Silver Edition is ready to order as we have produced our best sellers on stock. The Gold Edition offers the possibility to assemble colour combinations according to everyone’s wishes and taste. You may also have initials, numbers or labels attached to the club covers and in the end you will get your one of a kind.

What initially made you create knitted club head covers in the first place? A jolly mood or a concrete feel for demand?
It’s not the typical story about two guys getting drunk and come up with the idea to knit head covers for golf clubs—although it would be a cooler story to tell that we were bored of our daily jobs in the IT business, where you never have the satisfying feeling to hold “your produced product” in your hands after one day of work. We wanted to do something “real”. And it didn’t take long until we stumbled over all these silly and inconvenient head covers you can see on the golf courses all over Germany. We were fed up with these ridiculous plush animals! We are grown men and don’t want to be remembered as the dude on the course with the plush peacock on his driver! That’s definitely not cool at all.

Looking back at the recent months, what has been the customer feedback so far?
The feedback is great. People love our product. They are excited about the colours and also the quality. We often receive photos of their self-designed head cover compilations which is awesome. Many customers buy our head covers as a present and thank us afterwards for the real surprise. When you look at the negligible number of complaints you can see that we only have few related to the quality. Sometimes you can get a ladder but we offer a convenient repair service and this problem is quickly fixed again. The majority of our customers are really happy that they can get an individually designed head cover fitted to their needs and personal style.

As you say “handcrafted”, how should we picture the manufacturing process? A number of grannies in a room, sitting together, knitting golf club head covers according to customers’ orders?
Yes that’s not so far off. We employ some elderly ladies who love to knit and were more than happy when we offered them the opportunity to knit something else than the 50th pair of socks or a jumper which the grandkids won’t want to wear anyway, and to get paid for. So this is a win-win situation for all; the grannies, our customers and the grandkids now being freed from having to wear itchy knitted things.

What are your distribution channels and what is your main target group?
We have an online shop where customers can create own individual “knitcaps” with a configurator. That’s really fantastic as it’s possible to see how it will look like once finished. Regarding target group, there are different types of customers. Mainly we have the individual golfer who is not affected by the latest trends and wants to have equipment and accessories that are handy, stylish, from high quality and protect their clubs at the same time. But there are also some older golfers who get nostalgic feelings as they are reminded of the time when they started to play golf.

When you look back at what you have achieved so far, what is it you are most proud of?
It’s a fantastic feeling to see that our employed ladies are happy to feel needed again and to improve their pensions with one of their favourite activity—knitting. Also we are proud that we have established a sunstainable product in our “green” sport.

Last but not least, as an outlook, what do you think you could venture in as a next step, do you already have specific plans how to grow the business in 2016?
That’s a very good question. We want to expand our market share in the European countries. Germany only has 650,000 golfers and of course not every German golfer wants to have a knitcap, so we want to become known in England, France, Spain and Italy as well.

Oliver, thank you very much for the interview.

So, in case you want to stand out of the crowd, buy a neat present for a keen golfer or you want to match your own bobble hat, you might want to consider personalised Knitcaps in the future. And speaking of win-win situations, Golficiency readers are granted a special 10% discount for your Knitcap Gold Edition order via their online stores (valid until 15 Feb 2016).

Redeem your rebate with the code: golficiency

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“Golf is a wonderful game.” The Ricky Maloney interview

Ricky Maloney is one of the millions of people around the world who were infected with the golf bug not long ago. He made a new effort to properly learn the game in 2013 and is now on a mission to live golf to the fullest, next to a stressful London City job and family commitments.

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Golficiency’s Alexander Rose sat down with Ricky for an interview to discuss re-engaging with golf, feelings on and off the course and how to integrate this beautiful but time consuming sport into a full family calendar.

Golficiency: Ricky, thanks for taking the time for this interview. Could you briefly describe what or who brought you to the game and what made you interested in the first place?
Ricky Maloney: I think the first time I ever played was as a teenager with my great Uncle Tom, he was a very keen golfer and I had the privilege of watching him play several times. He was in his seventies then but could still play a decent game. A cousin of mine played quite a bit too, he was very good and I was his bag man for a while, he played competitively and had designs to be a pro but suddenly, without warning,  he stopped playing.

For how long have you been playing now?
Prior to 2013 I had probably picked up a set of clubs around 10 times in my life, to say my ability was abysmal is an understatement but that did not stop me enjoying the game. For Christmas 2013 my wife bought me a second hand set of clubs and booked me 5 lessons with the local pro. I played a few rounds after those lessons with mixed results ranging from terrible to not very good. In January of this year we moved to Essex from Kent and during the summer we joined Benton Hall Golf and Country Club.

How would you describe your progress which you made so far? Comparing to other beginners that you might know, do you believe you are able to handle things better or worse than others?
I have played Benton Hall around 5 times now and my lowest total was 111, that sounds very high I know but during those 5 rounds I hit several shots which convinced me that somewhere inside is a half decent golfer waiting to get out. I’ve been very fortunate to have met Shane Diles, the head pro at Benton Hall, he teaches my two sons, Evan, 12 and Beauden, 6. Just watching them has helped me no end, my grip has changed and I am now more focussed on the follow through than I was before.

I was impressed when you told me how professional your attitude was to learn the game. You read Ben Hogan’s book on golf fundamentals multiple times for instance. What do you believe are the biggest challenges for a beginner, swing-wise?
My sons have been playing for a year and I have to say their ability excites me, they have both been selected for the junior team at Benton Hall which pleases me no end. The reason I mention this is because their first coach, Ken Light of Burnham Golf Club, instilled in them 5 basic principles for set up, his reasoning being that consistent ball striking comes from a consistent swing that comes from a consistent set up. This theory sits well with that of Ben Hogan, a great friend recommended the book to me and I wanted to be sure that I caught every detail so I read it four or five times before heading to the range and I can honestly say the difference was startling. No book or tuition can complete the picture though, I’d say I’ve probably swung the club 2000 times over the last 12 months but it’s only within the last couple of months that I have realised I was so focused on the takeaway and the swing into impact that I paid no attention to the follow through, no wonder my shots were so inconsistent, I had no control post impact.

What is your sore point in your game, something in the swing or tricky lies around the course?
I am a persistent topper of the ball and Shane informed me recently that this was because my grip is too tight so my club face, although square at impact, is way too high up the ball. Shane filmed my swing and I’m pleased to say he suggested I wasn’t a million miles away from what I should be doing. Unfortunately since that revelation I’ve been travelling with work and not picked up a club again.

Taking this from a pure swing perspective to a more general level, what do you think are the trickiest hurdles for beginners to tackle in order to start with this beautiful sport?
I’d say confidence, I think everybody on a golf course has to earn the right to be there and for me I always worry that my standard is not sufficient enough to be on the same course as a scratch golfer. In a four ball for example, if I am having a nightmare, which was common, I worry what the other guys are thinking so on my next shot I try harder, which produces an even worse shot and the situation goes from bad to worse. Golf isn’t cheap and I am conscious of spoiling a round.

Speaking of costs, what annoys you more, the club membership fees or the not-so-cheap equipment?
I’m lucky as my membership is a family affair so we can all play golf, use the gym, swimming pool facilities etc, there’s something for all of us so I don’t begrudge the fees as we definitely get our monies worth. As for equipment though, given my propensity for losing balls, I would like them to be cheaper.

What clubs do you play and why? And do you plan to adjust here or there in you bag anytime soon?
Mizuno MP54 irons, a Dunlop putter, I don’t have a driver but I tee off with a 3 wood which is an old Callaway. My wife bought them for me, second hand. For 2015 though I am going to spoil myself and buy the entire Ping G30 set, and I’ll take whatever putter Shane says I should. I’d like a Scotty Cameron or a Ping Anser.

How often do you manage to get to play? And how does a Ricky Maloney golf day usually look like? Is it more the long game that you practise or do you spend a considerable amount of time chipping and putting?
In the summer I tried to get out early on a Sunday morning so that I was back by 10am, this way my round didn’t impact the family too much. Since the boys have been training with Shane on a Saturday I tend to go round the 9 hole par 3 course after their lesson with them, this helps with my short game. My chipping and putting is very good for a generally poor player, I put a lot of time into putting.

What was your biggest personal golf moment so far?
There are two, my first ever birdie on the 350 yard par four 7th at Benton Hall, my first and last on the 18 hole course but there will be plenty more to come. The other was a golf weekend with 7 friends, our wives had plotted and treated us all to a Father’s Day gift. I played 36 holes with the same ball, I don’t know how but I played out of my skin and after that weekend I really thought I had cracked it. The next time I played, with my very first tee shot I lost that bloody ball. I should have framed it.

When you could ask for one golf related wish, what would it be?
I want to win a competition at Benton Hall, that’s a long way off but I’ll keep working at it.

The Ricky in two years, how good will he be and why?
Well I’m a realist so I’m not going to say I’ll be a scratch golfer, I’m aiming for an 18 handicap within 12 months. And 12 within 24 months. I think I can do it.

You said your kids started playing as well. How important is that for you?
It’s fantastic, watching them strike the ball so cleanly and accurately is a wonderful thing. The point of getting them into the game was so that we could have a shared interest as they grow, that and the etiquette and respect that golf teaches, that’s very good for children to learn. It just so happens that they are good, really very good. They don’t know yet but for Christmas I’ve bought them a set of Ping Moxies each. They currently use a junior Dunlop set. When testing the Pings we had them on a TrackMan and it was funny to see the pro’s face as my 6 year old consistently drove 80-100 yards straight down the middle. The older boy has driven as far as 175 yards, that’s not much less than me! I’m excited for them, golf is a wonderful game and to be able to play it well must be a wonderful thing.

We all know golf is time consuming, what advice could you give to beginners to get over job, family and other commitments and to schedule in some golf on top?
I’m lucky as I have sons, that enables me to sell the concept of ‘boys time’ to my wife, she likes that as she gets to take our 5 year old daughter on girlie shopping trips whilst the boys are at the range and on the course. That said, my daughter has her own 9 iron too, it’s a tiny thing but she has a tidy swing!

Thanks Ricky, this was a very insightful conversation. I keep my fingers crossed for your and your boys’ golf swings!

And I look forward to playing a round with you some time soon.

First steps as a pro. The Joel Girrbach interview

The future is bright for this young golfer! Joel Girrbach, 21 years old from Switzerland has made impressive progress over the last years. Starting playing golf in 2001, he needed 3 years to come down to a handicap of 20 and another 3 years to reach a handicap of 6! After further 3 years he was at +1 and the latest handicap he had was an unbelievable +4.3.

Now in September he made the step which he waited for such a long time—he turned pro as one of the best players in Switzerland and fulfills his dream making a big step onto the Challenge Tour or even the European Tour.

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His last tournament as an amateur used to be the 2014 Omega European Masters in Crans-Montana at the Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club in his home country Switzerland couple of days ago. Golficiency’s Alexander Rose managed to talk to Joel about his golfing past, the experiences on tour so far and as well about the next steps being a professional golfer.

Golficiency: The last time we met in person, you were a single digit handicap golfer, 17 years old with a strong belief becoming a golf professional one day. Are you living your dream right now?
Joel Girrbach: I think it’s the dream of every sportsman to make your hobby to your profession. It was always my dream to become a professional golfer. I reached that point now but it’s still a long way to go.

In retrospect, could you briefly describe the way you became such a good player over the last years? How did it all begin and what was the main driver for your success?
I think the beginning was when I became a full member of the national team. They also changed the system in the federation and hired new coaches. We had a great support in the winter time and a lot of camps. That’s when I improved the most.

As one of the best golfers in Switzerland, could you elaborate on how your golf game and your career was guided by others, i.e. who had impact on your abilities, your plans, your motivation and your will to get that far?
When you play the big amateur tournaments, you get better automatically because the level right now is unbelievably strong. We don’t have many good players in Switzerland so I tried to compete with the best players in Europe. I also had to chance to play couple of Challenge Tour and European Tour Events. Of course I look up to those guys and try to figure out where I can improve to get onto the main tour. But I also look up to guys from other sports. Roger Federer for example was a big inspiration for me.

Among all these, was the most influential person so far in your young golfing career? And who would you consider as your team, your inner circle going forward?
It’s hard to say. There are so many people in my background who are important to me. Of course my golf coach is one of the most important guys. But there is also my fitness- and mental coach and of course also my family and friends. All of them invest everything for me and support me everyday. I think nowadays you need a great team around you to reach your goals and luckily I have a great team around me.

Early September you played the 2014 Omega European Masters in Crans-Montana as an amateur and unfortunately missed the cut. How have the days with the big guys been and what do you take from such tour event in terms of mental, strategic or possibly even technical advice?
When you are an amateur golfer and you have the chance to play such a big tournament as Crans is, it’s just another world. There are so many things going on around you with the press, the spectators, the hospitality and also with the good players. It’s an incredible feeling when you stand on the range and one of those „big players“ is right next to you. You need experience to handle all those things. Unfortunately I had two bad holes which cost me the cut. Anyway, I learned a lot in this week and really enjoyed it.

Was there a chance to hang out with some of the players like Colsaerts, Molinari, Wiesberger, Dubuisson or Manassero? How open are these guys towards “newbies” on the tour?
Yes there was. Crans-Montana is such a beautiful place for that because it’s a small village. If you go out in the evening you see all those guys and you can also talk to them. They are absolutely normal and human.

The step to become a professional golf player after Crans-Montana, how long was that something which was planned in a way, envisaged or do you just feel that it’s about time now?
For me it was already clear in February that I’m gonna turn pro in September/October. I think the Omega Masters was a great tournament to finish my amateur career.

How well thought through is the move to becoming a pro, is it even possible to prepare properly apart from the pure training? What steps need to be taken for example?
It’s hard to prepare properly because you don’t know on which tour you play. As soon as you know on which tour you’re playing you can start to prepare yourself for the tournaments. When you turn pro you have to organize so many thinks with sponsors etc. Of course also your training has to become more professional.

Imagine everything works fine in the beginning, which I really keep my fingers crossed for, what are your next steps now? What hurdles to tackle, what tournaments to play?
If everything works perfectly the next months and I can make the card for the European Tour or Challenge Tour then I’m gonna play a full season on the main tour next year. That’s my goal of course and I’m gonna put all my effort to reach that goal.

Keeping in mind the last years’ Ryder Cup wins, is there a special fascination around the European Tour and what do you believe is so attractive?
Playing on European Tour is amazing. All the tournaments are really well organized and they do everything for the players. It’s the main tour in Europe and the level gets better and better every year.

As a young guy moving onto the pro tours, what are your most important tips you could give other young people thinking about a similar step? What are the key measures to take?
It’s hard to give any tips because this sport is so individual. But important is that the young kids should play international tournaments as soon as possible. The level at those tournaments is so much better than playing national tournaments. To compete with those international players makes you a better player.

Is there a special type of golf course you prefer and could you explain why?
I don’t have a special type of golf course which I like more. I like old golf courses with a lot of trees but it’s also very nice to play on links courses. I love the course Royal Lytham. That’s probably my favorite course.

What was the most impressive thing that happened to you in your young golfing career and what are you looking forward to in the near future?
I think the most impressive thing was when I won my first international tournament. That was such a nice feeling. But also playing the Challenge Tour and European Tour was really impressive and a nice experience.

And last but not least, what’s in your bag, Joel?
I’m a full Ping Player. I have the S55 irons (3-PW), the Tour Wedges, Scottsdale putter, G30 3 wood, G25 hybrid and a G30 driver.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Joel. All the best for you in the future!

For more information please have a look at Joel’s website (in German) http://www.joelgirrbach.ch.

You need a lot of balls to play like I do… The Vice Golf interview

Generally players around the world are used to buy brand new golf balls for their private rounds, no matter how good their game is. A fairly costly procedure for the weekend golfers as most of them won’t finish their round with exactly that ball they started with, directly correlated to the number of hazards on the course obviously.

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Then someone discovered that scuba divers could be the solution to all that as they realised that hundreds if not thousands of balls lie at the bottom of the water hazards, ponds and lakes out there. It became business model to quite a number of companies lifting these balls, clean them, sort them and sell them again to the more cost sensitive customer. As you can imagine some of these balls were almost new, others have been lying down there for years. So effectively playing lake balls is like wearing second hand clothes, without trying them on.

Think about this when your group partner next time says something like he would never ever play anything else than Titleist balls – he might actually refer to 5-year old Titleist lake balls he just bought for a third of the original price.

For sure there are cheap ball companies as well, but for good reason very few people adopted playing with these. Golfers who strive for getting better in this game, who spend thousands for the right sticks, who pay thousands a year for a club membership… who would play with sub-optimal balls? So on the lower end of the price range the market was bleeding out due to lacking quality and missing customers’ trust.

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And then there are companies like Vice Golf, providing the golf ball market with affordable high-quality balls. Golficiency’s Alexander Rose spoke to Ingo Düllmann and Rainer Stöckl at Vice Golf and discussed their business model, strategy and targeted client base of this aspiring Germany-based golf ball company.

Golficiency: First of all thanks for taking the time to answer some questions, that’s much appreciated. Vice has managed to tap the toe into the golf ball market by providing high-quality balls for reasonable prices. How exactly do you manage that?

Vice Golf: Our brand succeeds by avoiding the middleman and selling exclusively via our own website (www.vicegolf.com). In addition, our customers receive further price advantages through larger packaging units as well as cutting out unnecessary PGA world class player sponsoring. For spontaneous buyers, there are also smaller trial units available.

There is quite some competition in the golf ball market. Brands like Titleist have a huge stake on pro tours, others dominate the club players market. What does Vice envisage in terms of market share in let’s say one and five years and how do you want to achieve that goal?

In contrast to traditional golf brands such as Titleist we are positioning our brand by collaborating with hip, high-quality, and design-oriented brands. In addition, we also focus on limited editions with individualized logo. Our aim is to make golf young and cool again. Regarding our stake in the market we will try our best and grow as fast as possible.

What is your typical target customer?

Golfers from all ages with a sense for design, focus on high quality, performance and a need for a great deal!

The team at my home club is playing Vice balls across the board. Do you envisage to treat this customer class differently? Or in other words, do you prefer competitive golfers as clients or more the weekend golfers as the ones who effectively lose more balls than others?

We love both, but in the end we sell high quality performance products which should be used also on a competitive basis.

Vice extended their product range over the last months in terms of colours, features and prices and as well offers personalization. What new products or services can the consumer expect in the near future?

Unfortunately I cannot tell you too much on this matter, but we will expand into other product categories and additionally will come out with a new ball model for 2015.

Your target client base is obviously international. What has been done exactly to attract golfers abroad to use Vice balls instead of their usual suspects? And how has the general international perception been so far?

Obviously we offer a great product for a great price. Besides that we focus on our customers’ needs. Well-designed products of the best quality available for a bargain – in comparison to what you would normally pay. Customization is also a big deal and we are proud to make this process as easy as 1,2,3. The perception in other countries was amazing! We are very happy to see that our brand also is appreciated in almost every country in Europe and also in Australia!

Vice is a Germany-based company. How is that an advantage or disadvantage, or how does this play a role in your distribution and marketing channels?

We engineer and design all our products in Munich, Germany. We pay attention to every detail and do not launch products before they are really finished! This probably is slowing us down a bit but we are proud to say that all of our products are tested until perfection is reached. Probably it’s the world class beer at the Oktoberfest (beerfest) and the beautiful golf courses which inspire us most and lead to our claim: EMBRACE YOUR VICE!

Thanks for the interview.

For more information please see http://www.vicegolf.com