RATHER THAN THE USUAL RUBBER-LIKE CORE covered by two or more layers of plastic their OnCore MA1.0 had in the center a hollow steel ball just under an inch in diameter and testing showed it helped average golfers hit straighter. However, there was a major problem namely getting a steel-centered ball accepted for play by the United States Golf Association. This brash young startup organization accepted the challenge and ultimately convinced the USGA to change the Rules of Golf making the MA-1.0 “legal”. Still not satisfied, they went on to develop a second better performing model called the Caliber. Today OnCore has moved and no longer has a metal-core ball in the lineup selling golf balls of traditional construction directly to The GENiUS golf ball. The “golf ball with a brain.” golfers over the Internet. For equipment geeks all this may be interesting, but it only scratches the surface of the intriguing projects the company is working on led by Blakely’s father Keith as CEO with Blakely the Branding and Marketing Vice President and Coulton the Sales Vice President. Northeast Golf asked Blakely about the company and their efforts to create what they feel will be “disruptors” of the golf equipment and golf entertainment businesses.
NEGM: Can you briefly tell us your background before getting into the golf ball business?
Blakely: Prior to OnCore Golf I was working at Full Six, which was an advertising agency based out of Paris and I was in the NYC office. We worked in the digital advertising space and it provided a lot of great experience. I finished college with a major in communications and a minor in marketing/advertising. I have always been interested in anything creative, so marketing and advertising was an easy path to choose to go down in my schooling.
NEGM: The industry’s first look at an OnCore product was the hollow steel core MA ball. What gave you the idea originally and what challenges did you face getting USGA approval for this unique construction back in 2013?
Blakely: The first ball was developed by a team of engineers led by Douglas DuFaux who still works with the company. He and his engineer friends essentially had a bad round of golf and being the inventors, they are, decided they would be able to fix the ball faster than they would be able to fix their swing. The concept behind putting a .9-inch hollow steel core inside the golf ball was to create a perimeter weighted golf ball. Perimeter weighting means it would reduce the initial side spin off the tee, creating less dispersion for a more accurate shot. RATHER THAN THE USUAL RUBBER-LIKE CORE covered by two or more layers of plastic their OnCore MA1.0 had in the center a hollow steel ball just under an inch in diameter and testing showed it helped average golfers hit straighter.
NEGM: OnCore presently has two models of balls, the two-piece Surlyn-cover Avant 55 and the three-piece urethane cover Elixr. Which kind of golfer is targeted for each and which is the bestselling?
Blakely: The Avant 55 is meant for slower swing speeds and for golfers who like a really soft feel. It’s great with distance, feel and is the lower price point of the two golf balls. The ELIXR is our top of the line tour ball and is built for avid golfers but also performs really well for swing speeds even in the mid 80’s which most tour balls don’t do. It has perimeter weighting from the innovative addition of high-density particles in the mantle. These create a much straighter-flying golf ball, with extremely high velocity off the tee, outstanding play in windy conditions and the thick urethane cover and 85 compression make it outstanding around the greens with a remarkable feel. Gary Player called it the best feeling golf ball he has played in over 65 years. The ELIXR outsells the Avant about 60/40.
NEGM: The direct-to-consumer sales model for golf balls is becoming increasingly crowded and OnCore is selling both on its website as well as through traditional retailers like PGA Tour Superstore and online outlets such as Amazon.
Blakely: OnCore has actually moved completely to a direct to consumer model. We have always put an emphasis on the D2C route but are now all in on that as trends of online buying are ever-increasing and not going anywhere, unlike its counterpart of traditional brick and mortar. We like to be able to tell our own story on the website and create that connection with our customers which is something you lose when you have others selling your product. When a pro shop wants to order—usually because members are asking for it— we do sell it to them, but we do not actively seek out those opportunities and it’s been working well for us!
NEGM: What is your market share goal for OnCore balls?
Blakely: We don’t really look at market share so much as targeting a population of golfers to become part of Team OnCore. Our goal is to engage with as many of the 22 million golfers in the US as possible but we’re also realistic and know that if we reach a few percent of those golfers, we’ll be making a significant difference in a lot of golf games.
NEGM: Some well-known names have made investments in OnCore: Charles Schwab, the investor, and brokerage firm founder, Hall of Famer Gary Player, and Al Geiberger, Mr. 59, the first to score a sub-60 round in a PGA Tour event. What part do they play in OnCore and how have they influenced the company’s plans?
Blakely: All three are tremendous people who have been great supporters both with their words of advice and encouragement and with their checkbooks. The investment rounds led by financial icon Charles Schwab have allowed us to get the inventory needed in place, move forward projects like the GENiUS ball, OnCore Buffalo, OnRange, and focus on creating partnerships with a variety of companies that will create further disruption via OnCore in the entire golf industry. Additionally, Al and Gary are legends in golf and have brought attention and credibility and a Rolodex of potential people that can further help OnCore grow. We’re currently working on some other very notable ambassador announcements with some leading professional athletes/golfers.
The Swingman, Jeremy Nowak looking fresh in
OnCore Golf gear next to OnRange.
NEGM: Rand Capital Corporation (NASDAQ: RAND) has been an investor since 2014. Do they have a role in the day to day operations and what role do they play in long-range planning?
Blakely: Rand has been an important investor since our earliest days. Peter Grum, their President, is one of OnCore’s outside directors and helps advise the company on strategic and financial matters.
NEGM: Rand and OnCore have announced the construction of a $30 million year-round sports complex in Buffalo that would include a three-tier golf range for a 2021 opening. What can you tell us about the project’s progress and timing?
Blakely: This sports and entertainment complex is going to set the bar for golf experience and we’re very excited about it. With the backing of a very successful local businessman, Joe Carubba, we were able to acquire a seven-acre parcel along the Buffalo River very close to downtown and are currently preparing the site for a groundbreaking this summer. We expect it will open one year later and will include some of the most advanced ball tracking, golf instruction, gamification, and social media engagement of any facility in the US.
OnCore Buffalo is a $30 million year-round sports and entertainment complex that will include some of the most advanced ball tracking, golf instruction, gamification, and social media engagement of any facility in the US.
NEGM: OnCore recently signed an agreement with CHIP’d for continued work on the GENiUS golf ball. Can you describe the technology being developed for the GENiUS and the status of the project which was originally targeted for release in 2019?
Blakely: We have been working with a number of groups having expertise in the Internet of Things (IoT), microelectronics, advanced sensor technologies, and miniature power supplies in order to bring the GENiUS ball to market later this year. Our objective remains the same – to deliver all of the information that a launch monitor typically provides regarding ball performance – velocity, distance, spin rate, spin axis, launch angle, and apex height – and provide locational information that can be combined with course GPS to determine where the ball is and how far it is from the green. The next step is to combine those internal electronic components with the protective shell we patented two years ago and optimize the ball’s performance and ensure the operating reliability of the electronics. Our current project plan has this being completed sometime in the third quarter of this year.
NEGM: Another of the cutting-edge technologies OnCore is involved in is the iPutt ball. What is iPutt and how is ball development progressing?
Blakely: We have already completed 95% of the development of the iPutt ball which will be used in miniature golf facilities in Florida and being planned throughout the United States. The iPutt ball contains many of the same elements of the GENiUS ball but doesn’t have to survive the impact of a driver on the tee so it was a bit easier to bring it to fruition. Its primary purpose is to keep score electronically and report the player, hole, and stroke count after each hole to an electronic leaderboard and to a smartphone app.
NEGM: Recently an agreement has been reached with PopStroke, the owners of golf entertainment restaurants with putting courses designed by Tiger Woods. What involvement will PopStroke have in the iPuttt ball design?
Blakely: Even though the iPutt ball doesn’t have to survive the rigors of on-course play, figuring out whether a ball’s movement was an actual putting stroke or not, knowing when the ball is on a particular hole on the course, and preventing manipulation or errors in the scoring was not a trivial matter. The PopStroke folks helped us to identify all of the likely scenarios that the ball would encounter, determine how long the ball had to be powered, what communications and software elements needed to be included, and a number of other considerations.
The iPutt ball which will be used in miniature golf facilities in Florida and being planned throughout the United States. The iPutt ball contains many of the same elements of the GENiUS ball but doesn’t have to survive the impact of a driver on the tee so it was a bit easier to bring it to fruition. Its primary purpose is to keep score electronically and report the player, hole, and stroke count after each hole to an electronic leaderboard and to a smartphone app.
NEGM: OnRange is another of OnCore’s initiatives for golf practice ranges. Can you describe the technology and how it has been accepted by range operators?
Blakely: OnRange is our innovative business approach to encouraging golfers to practice their game. By offering to bring launch monitor technology to a driving range or practice facility—at no cost to the facility—and then making the practice session much richer by providing data, competitive challenges and archiving session results we hope to provide golfers with incentives to practice more and practice smarter leading to much more enjoyment when they hit the links.
NEGM: It has been announced Oncore and Golf Boost, who specializes in artificial intelligence body recognition technology, will work together on analytical/instructional tools for golf. Please tell us the goal of this new agreement.
Blakely: Employing artificial intelligence with standardized golf swing models, we can quickly identify and assist golfers of all skill levels in improving their swings and achieving better results. Our belief is that many golfers don’t have the time, money, or access to traditional golf instruction and by delivering this to them in their homes, using only their smartphone, they’ll be much more inclined to stick with what is a very difficult game.
NEGM: What is your vision for the growth of Oncore for the next five years?
Blakely: We hope to have solidified disruptive partnerships and efforts that span across 3 verticals of golf—products, technologies, and experiences. These are things that we are well on our way to currently which makes it an extremely exciting time for us. In five years, we expect the whole golf world to point to OnCore as a story unlike any other in golf, starting as a small golf ball company that introduced a crazy idea of a ball with a hollow metal core to a company that is doing more than any other in terms of using innovation and out of the box thinking to disrupt and enhance the game.
Learn more - oncoregolf.com
OnCore Golf’s Disrupter
Northeast Golf Magazine
By Ed Travis