Nathan Fry started Tall Man Golf after 15 years of trying to develop comfortable clubs for players like himself who are significantly taller than the average golfer. After accidentally forgetting his golf shoes and playing a surprisingly comfortable round in slip-ons made of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), Rick Buchanan launched Biion Footwear.
Two entrepreneurs targeting the golf market with special equipment and footwear were recently highlighted in special features.
The Advocate of Baton Rouge (La.) featured the story of Nathan Fry, a 6-foot, 4-inch golfer for whom the game had become a “form of torture,” because standard-sized golf clubs forced him to take shots “from an uncomfortable crouch more suitable for chopping wood in a very short phone booth or ringing the bells of Notre Dame than uncoiling through the perfect circle that generates a towering drive.”
Commercially available extended versions of clubs weren’t much better, The Advocate reported, because those clubs, typically 1 to 1.5 inches longer with the hosel bent closer to 90 degrees, placed the ball uncomfortably close to Fry’s feet and required an unnaturally steep swing plane.
“The whole [clubfitting] industry is based on whatever size you are,” Fry told The Advocate. “You start out with a standard club and you try and learn how to swing it. And then they take that [flawed] swing and they say, ‘Well, we can make a club a little bit better to suit your swing.’ ”
“My premise is different,” he continued. “My premise is [that] I want my swing to look like Rory McIlroy’s, but he’s 5-foot-8 and he plays with standard-loft, standard-lie, standard-length clubs.”
Because Fry is 8 inches taller than McIlroy, a difference of roughly 12 percent, he figured that if he took a picture of McIlroy and stretched it by 8 inches, the clubs would also need to stretch to remain proportional, The Advocate reported. With a standard 6 iron measuring 37.5 inches long, that meant Fry would need one around 42 inches long.
The idea for Tall Man Golf, which Fry officially launched in the summer of 2015 to manufacture and market more suitable clubs for taller players, first came to him around 2000, The Advocate reported. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Fry hated golf and was a terrible player, but then moved to Arizona and developed a passion for the game. But though he started to play regularly, he found his height still made it difficult for him to play consistently.
After returning to Baton Rouge, Fry entered law school at Louisiana State University and began the lengthy process of prototyping clubs that would help him start a Tall Man Golf line and business, The Advocate reported. He already knew that “attaching a standard-weight club head to an overlength shaft resulted in a club that felt about as nimble as a sledgehammer,” and that he needed to find a way to make the club heads lighter. He began experimenting and attacked the problem with hand grinders, drills and “anything he could find to shave the weight” off the club heads, The Advocate reported.
In 2008, Fry graduated from law school and acquired his own milling machine. And after four years of prototyping, he knew his concept would work and that he could develop a new set of clubs for taller players, like himself, that could help bring more consistency and comfort to their games.
And in mid-2015, The Advocate reported, Fry quit his day job and began working full time on Tall Man Golf—turning his dream into reality after 15 years.
The heads for the Tall Man clubs, which weigh about 30 percent less than standard club heads, are made in China. True Temper makes the shafts in Tennessee, and Fry assembles the clubs in his garage.
A full set of Tall Man Golf clubs goes for $1,799, according to the company’s website.
“The truth is that golf is all about putting and chipping, so if you’re a great chipper and putter, this is irrelevant,” Fry told The Advocate. “What the clubs allow me and other fellow tall-man golfers to pull off are the hero shots—the big, towering drive [and] the soaring iron shot that you’ve never hit before.”
Fry believes there is a healthy posture for golf, and the clubs and proper fit allow tall people to enjoy it, The Advocate reported. The clubs do have a couple of drawbacks, it was noted. Players have to abandon the swing they concocted using standard-length clubs and swing like an average-sized person. Also, once someone uses the clubs, their body rejects “the bellringer’s” position.
The Advocate’s feature told the story of when Fry was playing with a friend who is 6 feet 1 and has a 2 handicap. On a recent round at Santa Maria Golf Course in Baton Rouge, he and Fry were both 150 yards from the green. But Fry’s friend had brought a 5 iron and needed a 6.
Fry gave him his pitching wedge from his Tall Man set and told him to choke down 2 inches. His friend was skeptical, but gave it a shot—and saw his ball land on the green. He then threw down another ball and swung again, with the same result.
On the next tee, The Advocate reported, Fry’s friend pulled out a 5 wood—maybe his favorite club—to tee off, but topped the drive. “Two shots, and his body just didn’t want to reassume the extremely uncomfortable position,” Fry said.
While Fry has encountered plenty of skeptics along the way, some are now his customers, The Advocate reported.
“What I found is if I put a 4-inch-over club in a 6-foot-3-inch guy’s hands, they think it’s too long,” he said. “The PGA guys and doubters say [major club manufacturers[ would have done this if it were needed.”
While Fry agrees that the major club makers all have great products, it’s also true they have been successfully selling the same things to tall guys for a hundred years, and have no incentive to retool a manufacturing line, design clubheads that weigh 30 percent less and custom-build clubs to every customer, he feels.
Fry believes his proportional fitting system and Tall Man Golf can be like other ideas that changed the sport: moving from wood shafts to steel and then to graphite, from persimmon woods to metal, and then to oversize heads. At each step along the way, there were undoubtedly people who grumbled and called the new equipment ridiculous, he noted.
In addition to helping taller players develop better shot consistency, Fry thinks the real “pain point” that may lead to sales of his sets is the reduction of physical discomfort, The Advocate reported.
Back pain made him worry he would have to give up golf, because before he developed his Tall Man Golf clubs, a half-hour of chipping practice left him too sore to play a round, Fry noted. But he recently played eight rounds in one week with no problems, he said.
This is a common problem even for players who aren’t considered “tall,” Fry noted—most notably, Tiger Woods, who is 6 feet 1 and has used standard-length clubs throughout his spectacular career, which is now in jeopardy because of Woods’ recent physical breakdowns.
“Guess what? His career is over. He’s destroyed his back. He’s destroyed his knees,” Fry said, noting that at one point in Woods’ career, his swing required him to drop down almost 6 inches to strike the ball, creating unimaginable stresses.
The Globe and Mail of Toronto recently profiled Rick Buchanan, Chief Executive Officer of Biion Footwar Inc., based in Collingwood, Ontario, Canada. Biion manufactures ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) golf shoes, using the same material popularized by the Crocs line of kids’ and adults’ shoes.
Buchanan’s journey towards starting Biion, The Globe and Mail reported, began when he went to play a round at the Wooden Sticks Golf Course in Uxbridge, Ontario and discovered he had forgotten his golf shoes. He began walking the fairways in slip-on shoes made of EVA in a brand styled more like Converse sneakers, “and they were just unbelievably comfortable,” Buchanan told The Globe and Mail.
That inspired the formation of a company to make EVA golf shoes, and Biion debuted in 2014. It now sells its line globally, The Globe and Mail reported, after introducing them, “in a kaleidoscopic array of colors and patterns,” at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show and immediately receiving orders.
“Probably within 30 days after the show, we went right into about a dozen countries,” Buchanan told The Globe and Mail. “As an entrepreneur, you go, ‘This is fantastic!’”
“But I feel we jumped the gun on all that stuff,” Buchanan continued, relating how with demand rushing in, the company had to backtrack.
“We scaled back on our distribution, just to make sure we had our own backyard taken care of [in Canada and the United States],” he said. “And then we wanted to mirror that country by country. As opposed to going into 18 countries and doing a subpar job, let’s pick six key countries.”
Much of the interest in the shoe has come from its ability to cross into other markets, The Globe and Mail reported. Instead of a sneaker or clog-like Crocs design, Buchanan, a veteran of the fashion industry who has helped to introduce and distribute many other brands, made his shoe more form-fitting, like a rubber Oxford brogue.
Buchanan told The Globe and Mail that he has never seen a brand catch on so quickly. “It’s surprising,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of colors, as you can see on our website. And our weakest category is the classics—the all-blacks and the whites and the white-and-blacks. The strongest categories for both men and women are the brights and the patterns.”
People are naturally also wearing the rubber shoes for other activities, such as boating, and as general lifestyle shoes, opening up new niches, The Globe and Mail reported.
“I always knew we would transition off the golf course into more lifestyle,” Buchanan said. “But it’s been a lot quicker than I anticipated, and you’ve got to be careful. As a startup company, you can get pulled in hundreds of different directions,” he said.
Initially concentrating on the golf market made sense, he added, because there are only half a dozen major golf footwear companies, as opposed to the thousands of general shoe brands.
Yet the early rush of distributors latching onto the product has been a problem, too, he noted. “I’m not going to say everything’s been roses here,” Buchanan said. “We’ve fallen in certain places where we shouldn’t have gone, because we went off our critical path.”