2017 Interview Series: Bret Blakely & Steve Coulton Of Oncore Golf
The new Buffalo, the one that outlasted the surges and recessions of the past 25 years, could not be better exemplified nor represented than with OnCore Golf. A local brings a friend to town, they develop a company concept, utilize the wisdom and experience of previous generations, create a lifestyle around the products that makes sense, and slowly build connections across the international world of their product. Fortunately for us, Bret Blakely and Steve Coulton chose a golf ball as their product. As 2017 brings the anticipated arrival of the OnCore tour golf ball, there is no better partnership with which to begin our interview series than the men of OnCore Golf.
1. Tell us about yourselves and how you came to know each other, then go into business together.
I grew up in North Buffalo and have been a Buffalonian my whole life. I grew up always being drawn to sports and to anything in the creative realm. I was in Buffalo for my whole life with the exception of 3 years from 06-09 when I moved to NYC to explore the big city and land a job in marketing and advertising. I ended up meeting Steve and a bunch of other great friends through, of course, a buffalo connection. Steve and i became quick friends and it was in 09 that steve and I first formed OnCore Golf together. The job market tanked at the end of 08 and we both lost our jobs the same week in December of 08. Shortly thereafter we started going to the small business association in lower manhattan every day to get free advice and learn how to even start a company, write a business plan, write the by-laws etc. etc. etc. After a couple years we actually began our journey with OnCore Golf as a real company commercializing a unique golf ball with revolutionary performance benefits.
2. What are your backgrounds in golf?
Admittedly, I played every sport religiously except for golf growing up. Part of that was because my friends grew up playing and were good and I was not. I was good at every other sport and felt the intimidation of being the worst golfer on the course so never really got into it. Now it is a different story and I love the sport but lost a good chunk of years that I could have been developing my game.
3. What did you see (or not see) in golf that led you to believe that a business like OnCore might succeed?
I saw a complete lack of innovation in the golf ball space as well as an industry that seemed to have a lot of negative issues. It was a sport that seemed to only be for the wealthy and elitist part of society. I felt like golf needed to have more of a personality and be more inclusive. I felt like we could leverage our youth, our different approach, our inclusive philosophy and our desire to make the game accessible to everyone and anyone into success. We want to build bridges, not walls. OnCore is a breath of fresh air to an industry that is just learning that you can respect tradition while still having fun.
4. I seem to recall a steel-core ball making some waves in Buffalo in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Any relation to your first product?
The engineer Doug DuFaux (who is part of OnCore Golf) had been working for my father when he had this crazy idea for a golf ball. They funded the building of a prototype in order to create visibility on an advanced materials and nano tech company my father ran. It worked and landed them on the front page of usa today but their intention was never to become a sports manufacturing company and just did it for the eyes. The product was nowhere near comercializable at that point either and would have to undergo significant improvements before it was ready for OnCore to take it to market.
5. What were the critical, early steps in OnCore’s history that took you from “we might make it” to “i think we will make it”?
One stands out more than any other….and that is the 2 year battle with the USGA. We submitted our ball two times and were rejected both times based upon a subjective rule the USGA added in 2008 saying that in addition to the 5 quantifiable metrics that determine a balls legality, they can also decide at their discretion whether the ball is of traditional and customary form and make. We did not give up and put together an appeal to the executive standards committee who eventually overturned the rejection and announced that OnCore Golf became only the second company in 100 years to get the USGA to rewrte the rules and allow a new technology in. Once we had the USGA conformance and literally made history, we felt like we were on the right path and things were looking up.
6. OnCore is sponsoring the Gateway Tour, a western USA mini tour. How does that benefit OnCore?
It provides tremendous visibility in a golf centric part of the country with professional golfers that all have the potential to make the next levels. There is also something to be said for the credibility of OnCore being the title sponsor of a professional development tour that over 168 pga pros like Bubba Watson have played on. Lastly, we provide levels of support for our players at the development level that just hasn’t been offered by any of the big guys before. It’s a different approach to help develop players that may never make the pga rather than pay a pga player millions to validate your product.
7. Who is responsible for the cutting-edge look to OnCore’s visuals, both still and moving?
We all have a hand in it but as Brand Director I provide a lot of the vision and creative elements and then our incredible graphics and video teams put it all together. I also love doing a lot of the photographic and video content myself but for the high end stuff, I leave it to the experts to bring my vision to life.
8. Why go to crowd-sourcing for the next product, the tour golf ball?
We have two of the most accomplished golf ball engineers in the history of the industry. These guys created all the best balls golfers have played with. We looked at this as an opportunity to get real feedback and insight from golfers that would be interested in the tour ball. We like bringing people along on this journey and making them a part of it. By using their feedback and insight to help guide the final performance benefits, we think that people will feel like this is truly THEIR ball and that their wants and needs are what matters to us.
9. What question haven’t we asked, that you would love to answer? Ask it and answer it, please, and thank you for your time.
Why has OnCore been able to succeed and exist in an industry where nearly all new coming ball companies fail after their first year?
I think it is because we provide something that no other company in golf provides. OnCore is the anti-establishment of golf. We represent that person who celebrates their differences and uses it to shape a truly unique vision and perspective as to what golf can be and what it can stand for. We don’t like to think of ourselves as a company that sells products but rather a company whose ideology, messaging and approach provide a source of inspiration, drive and individuality. There is something to be said for someone who does not concern themselves with fitting in but instead makes sure they stand out.