I’m willing to bet my entire collection of Jan Stephenson calendars that most of us weren’t even considering buying a golf practice net before last March. Then came COVID and suddenly nobody could find one.
California-based Spornia finished a close second in this spring’s MyGolfSpy Best Golf Practice Net Buyer’s Guide. The company is very much a Cinderella story, outta nowhere (sort of) to become a playah in the golf practice net game.
It’s fair to say most golfers hadn’t heard of Spornia before last spring. We want to take a closer look at this company, the father-son tandem that makes it tick and how it came to develop a unique pop-up style of golf practice net.
Buckle up, because it’s an interesting tale of a former high school baseball player, children’s tents and a pretty ballsy decision to say no to the Big Box stores.
Casey Cho was born and raised in South Korea and his first love – as far back as he can remember – is baseball.
“I loved to play baseball,” says Cho, Spornia’s CEO and founder. “I played second base. I was not a great hitter but I was a good runner and fielder.”
So what does a scrappy second-sacker who’s good-field/no-hit do when there are no ball games left to play? Well, go into business – marketing, specifically. Then he scratches the itch to get back to his roots and eventually patents a hitting net and other pop-up type products.
“In 1996 I was involved in making pop-up tents,” Cho tells MyGolfSpy. “I designed them and had them manufactured and wound up making pop-up tents for kids for Hasbro Toys. It wasn’t all that successful so I went into making pop-up nets for sports by myself.”
Cho is smart and wound up securing patents for his pop-up designs and, by the early 2000s, he set up a trading company to work with big-box retailers. By then he was making pop-up golf practice nets for Callaway as well as baseball practice nets for Easton and Louisville Slugger.
“I love sports and thought maybe I can make some different items,” he says. “Golf was a big sport back then because of Tiger Woods so I started making pop-up nets for golf. By 2003, I added baseball nets.”
This joint venture proved successful for more than a decade. But by the middle of the 2010s, Cho and his son Edward, also his business partner, had a decision to make.
Supplying the big box retail world with product may sound like the Holy Grail of sales but there’s a considerable downside if you care at all about your product.
On the plus side, you’re guaranteed a price and a boatload of volume. And if your product is good, the volume is going to go up. And up. And up.
However, as a supplier, you have to keep feeding the beast. And pretty soon, the beast grows to the point where you’re not just feeding him, you’re serving him. You’re trapped in golden handcuffs, a prisoner of the venture’s very success.
And then something like this happens.
“What happened was they wanted us to reduce the quality so we could reduce the price,” says Cho. “We changed it to try to meet their price but the pop-up wasn’t very good quality.”
Cho was faced with what Roy McAvoy would call a defining moment. Play the game with the big boxes and let the tail completely wag the dog or say no.
Cho said no.
“I said to myself, ‘I know the pop-up system and I own a lot of patents.’ I decided to do it on my own.”
Which brings us to 2017 and the creation of Spornia.
Cho decided the best way to get his business rolling was online.
“I thought it would be easy to sell online because I had the pop-up baseball and golf products,” he says. “But it’s not easy. With no brand, it’s tough.”
Prior to this spring, did you give much thought, if any, to the features, benefits and relative quality of a golf practice net? And could you name more than one leading brand?
“The biggest difficulty is people don’t know our name,” says Cho. “If a customer uses our product, they’ll know our quality.”
“Through pictures and videos alone, people can’t really see our quality,” adds Edward. “But once they have it in their hands, they’ll be able to see the difference in quality.”
The primary Spornia golf net – the SPG-7 – came within a whisker of being crowned MyGolfSpy’s Best Golf Practice Net. Cho says it’s unique among pop-up options.
“This one saves space,” he says. “Others take up a lot of space but ours is a space saver and can be used in corners.”
“A lot of golf practice nets, when you use them inside, the ball tends to bounce on the floor,” says Edward. “The Spornia golf net has mesh on the bottom so, instead of bouncing around, the ball will just land on the mesh and not harm the floor or roll away.”
Another feature the Chos tout is the integral target screen. It’s actually in front of the net and winds up taking most of the abuse when you hit balls into it. That adds life to the net itself and it’s much less expensive to simply replace the target screen when it wears out than to replace the entire net.
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Remember what it was like trying to find a golf practice net in April? Next to impossible. And even if you could find one, finding a practice mat was on the other side of impossible.
“We had stock but it lasted only a couple of weeks,” says Edward. “We’ve had to do pre-orders on our website every month since spring. We sell out every container.”
Edward estimates Spornia golf net sales more than tripled during the lockdown. He fully expects that explosion to slow down going forward, although the indoor simulator market looks like it’ll be the next big thing.
“We offer a blank target screen for simulators as an accessory,” says Edward. “If you have a simulator and a projector, you can see the results on the screen.”
Spornia’s simulator screen, at $40, is low end but eminently affordable. The Spornia Golf Net All-In-One bundle may be one of the best deals going. It includes the SPG-7 net with a chipping basket, a tri-turf hitting mat, a standard black bullseye target sheet, a white simulator target screen, mesh side panel extensions, foam pads to protect your floor and a swing indicator training attachment for $379.99.
The Spornia golf net itself is $219.99.
Spornia is also partnering with Optishot, offering the SPG-7 bundled with the Optishot 2 simulator.
“We have some more partnerships coming up,” says Edward. “We have a few offerings coming in, so we’re trying to decide.”
While the internet and the direct-to-consumer movement give upstart brands opportunity, it’s still a struggle navigating the path to success. Customers still need to be able to find you and trust your brand. Up until now, Spornia’s only real marketing has been through Amazon.
“When we started, we didn’t invest in social media,” says Edward. “We just invested in pay-per-click ads with Amazon. That’s why a lot of people have never heard of the Spornia golf net. We have a lot of Amazon reviews but not much on social media.”
Edward says Spornia is ready to flip that recipe and not put all its marketing eggs in the Amazon basket. “We’re trying to switch it all to social media and targeted advertising.”
It takes a fair amount of nerve to deliberately move away from a known business model. The Chos have already taken that step once when they decided – on principle – to walk away from big box retail. Walking away from Amazon may be an even more daring move.
What will the company be when it grows up? Well, beyond the Spornia golf net, Casey says he wants to create an overall sports company: not just golf, but baseball and other sports. He’s even considering apparel and other accessories.
“That’s my plan,” he says. “Right now, we’re starting with golf. Next year we’ll make other golf products along with some baseball products. Our goal is to become a bigger sporting goods company.”
For more information, visit Spornia.com.
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The Callaway Mack Daddy CB wedge offers a perimeter-weighted cavity-back design. That alone differentiates it from the majority of specialty wedges on the market today.
If you play game-improvement irons and have never felt comfortable with blade-style wedges or you’ve gotten wise to the fact that your set-matching A, G, S or L wedges don’t spin worth a damn, you’re exactly who Callaway is hoping to reach with its new wedges.
You may have never considered this but the wedge space is rife with contradictions. They’re mostly of the industry’s own making. The topic has been covered before by Cleveland and Mizuno but the conversation is relevant again with Callaway entering the fray.
It’s indisputable that the majority of golfers plays game-improvement or super game-improvement irons. Equally true is that the overwhelming majority of wedges sold are blade designs like Vokey and Mack Daddy JAWS.
It’s at least possible that the contradiction between the most popular irons and the most popular wedges can be traced to a lack of options.
Game-improvement players who aren’t comfortable with blade wedges often choose set-matching wedges.
Game-improvement players who want greater versatility and more spin around the green will typically choose a blade wedge.
The reputable options for game-improvement players who want the best of both worlds can be counted on one hand.
Shouldn’t there be more?
You get soles designed to work for the specific need of the target golfer and full-face JAWS grooves that are capable of generating real spin around the green – even when you miss the middle of the face by more than a little.
By the numbers, the Mack Daddy CB is only four percent larger than JAWS MD5. There’s size, and then there’s shape. The point is the CB looks big enough to differentiate itself from a blade but not so big as to look ridiculous.
Before anyone says it, this type of wedge isn’t new and it’s definitely not unique to Callaway. We covered similar offerings in our discussion on set-matching pitching wedges. Cleveland is two generations deep with its CBX line and Mizuno, with the S-series, has dabbled in this space as well.
That said, just because someone else has, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. COVID’s golf boom has created a flood of new and returning golfers. A higher-handicap demographic looking for more forgiveness in the short game is the ideal audience for the Mack Daddy CB. And, not for nuthin’, the big specialty wedge category presents an opportunity for Callaway to play in a sandbox where market leader, Vokey, doesn’t.
One of the stated goals of Mack Daddy CB offering is to take the guesswork out of your short game. That includes finding the right grind. And while I’m tempted to rephrase that as limiting your options, the argument is that the target player isn’t necessarily using his pitching and gap wedges around the green. He’s probably not manipulating the face of his higher-lofted wedges either. Callaway’s thinking is the Mack Daddy CB golfer isn’t looking to do anything much fancier than getting the ball on the green.
So, with that in mind, pitching and gap wedge lofts feature a full sole design. It’s intended to work in much the same way as the sole on your irons. You get plenty of forgiveness from the cavity-back design without giving up forgiveness in the way the sole interacts with the turf. The performance benefit should prove to be more spin and greater stopping power on full shots into greens.
Sand and lob wedge lofts offer a modified version of Callaway’s W grind. It’s not open it up and flop it versatile but it’s designed to give you a bit more versatility around the green. That’s especially true for golfers who struggle to escape bunkers.
It’s not about style points; it’s about getting up and down more often.
With that in mind, eight bounce/grind combinations seem reasonable. The lineup isn’t nearly as robust as the mainstream JAWS MD5 but it covers 46 to 60 degrees in two-degree increments.
The stock steel shaft in the Callaway Mack Daddy CB is the KBS Hi-Rev 2.0 105. It’s quite a bit lighter than the typical wedge shaft. That speaks to the reality that the target player is likely playing something in the 85- to 105-gram steel range. It’s one thing to play a heavier shaft in your wedges; it’s another to play one that is, by comparison, obnoxiously heavy.
The graphite option is the KBS Hi-Rev G. It’s an 80-gram option that should pair well with lighter-weight graphite iron shafts.
A 60-gram version is available for women. The stock women’s build is one inch shorter.
The stock grip is the Golf Pride SG-1. The 1 indicates the grip is one-inch longer than standard, giving you the option of choking down a bit.
The women’s grip is the Lamkin Sonar Women.
The retail price for the Callaway Mack Daddy CB is $129.99. Availability begins Sept. 24.
For more information, visit Callawaygolf.com.
BirdieBall is already No. 1 in MyGolfSpy’s Putting Mat Buyer’s Guide and is one of the best training aids on the market. Now they’re introducing a brand new feature that will not only improve your game but will have you addicted to practice almost overnight. BirdieBall PuttUp takes the classic BirdieBall mat design and dials it up. Literally.
BirdieBall offers many varieties of length, number of holes, green speeds and other customizable options. Not to mention you get a perfect roll on every … single … putt.
BirdieBall knows the game can be intimidating for beginners and wants to make golf fun and accessible. BirdieBall’s claim to fame is “BirdieBalls.” Visualize something more similar in looks to a napkin ring than a golf ball but when hit with a club, it simulates the same launch and spin as a regular ball but with a restricted flight of only 40 yards.
After BirdieBalls launched them to training-aid success, BirdieBall aimed for the next level, creating a putting mat that can be almost endlessly customized. While it’s a resounding success from a customization standpoint, is it any good? Hell, yes!
The putting greens feature authentic grain and Stimpmeter speeds to replicate a natural putting green. “But does this roll like a real green at my course?”, you ask. Absolutely. The ball stays on course when it slows down as long as the ground is level and remains perfectly straight from start to finish.
You can adjust your mat to three different speeds: slow (9 to 10 feet on the Stimpmeter, typical for a public course), medium (10-11 like a private course) and fast (11-13 to simulate a tournament course).
BirdieBall isn’t fixing what isn’t broken. They’ve kept the same perfect rolling mat (four feet by 10 feet) and added a PuttUp incline ramp to simulate slope. It’s not an original invention. However, BirdieBall is putting their own spin on it. Because of the incline, you can practice up to an 18-foot putt on a 10-foot-long mat. BirdieBall has also incorporated different hole sizes to make the experience more challenging.
If you’re planning to work on 18-foot putts, aim for the far right corner. Not only is it the farthest putt the mat offers, it’s also the smallest diameter hole. If you miss a putt, the ball feeds back to you thanks to the ramp and side bumpers.
With the different holes and hole diameters, I created a points game to keep things interesting. It might not seem like anything groundbreaking but, trust me, it’s addictive.
If you want to revert to the classic version, the new ramp feature and hole diameter can be removed. Essentially, adding the PuttUp gives you two putting mats in one. Bargain!
The BirdieBall PuttUp will be available early September 2020.
I hate to practice but BirdieBall’s PuttUp doesn’t feel like practice. It’s fun and easy to get hooked on. After making it a competition, I found myself hitting hundreds of putts and quickly improving. I was also hesitant to trust how similar the roll is to a green but it’s remarkably close. When I’m done, I just roll it up and store it away.
Check out the PuttUp putting mat at BirdieBall.com to learn how it could help you improve while having fun practicing.
After much anticipation we’ve released our first Ball Lab covering the 2020 Callaway Chrome Soft review. Also, are virtual fittings the way of the future, and how does one improve on the Most Wanted Umbrella?
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We cover a host of new releases including Mizuno’s ES21 Wedge and Taylormade’s P770 line of irons. Is it spring again?
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Golfers and manufacturers talk about superior feel of forged clubs, but does forged actually perform better?
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