Dean Snell helped to create the original Titleist Pro V1 … and TaylorMade’s Penta and Tour Preferred performance golf balls. Now he’s got his own company that sells tour-like quality golf balls direct to golfers … at a low price with FREE shipping. You can buy them directly from www.SnellGolf.com
Golf Conversations: I was playing golf two months ago and was in the woods searching for a golf ball. I found a ball that had “Snell” printed on it. I said to the guys I was playing with, “Hey, it’s a Snell. Ever hear of this?” Snell? I Googled it when I got home and saw that Snell is a well-known fugitive from the law.
… and that’s how I learned about Snell Golf and you. So I wanted to get in touch with you and here we are.
Dean Snell: My marketing plan’s working. Whenever I play, I throw balls in the fairway and in the woods so people find them.
GC: You’re joking but I was thinking this might be another great, stupid idea of mine: give your balls away to the really awful golfers out there … the mega-slicers, the reverse-pivoters. They’ll hit your balls into the woods and those balls will have a message on them: “Go to www.SnellGolf.com for a free offer.” You’d be the Johnny Appleseed of the golf ball industry.
DS: What I do sometimes when I play … people behind me who I know, when I get on the 18th green, I’ll leave a sleeve of balls exactly behind the hole – right behind the flag so it doesn’t get in the way of someone who hits a good shot coming in. Whoever gets up to the hole first gets ‘em!
GC: I love that idea. Let me know when you do that again; I’ll fly up to Massachusetts. I’ll do anything for a free sleeve of balls.
I went to your web site and read about you. I hate to ask you the same questions you’ve been asked a million times … but I have to. And I want fresh material from you – I don’t want you reading stuff off your web site.
DS: Trust me, a lot of times the things I say need to be filtered!
GC: Watch it, Dean. I run a family web site. Speaking of balls, what gave you the cojones to come up with a new golf ball, manufacture it, market it, sell it? What a crazy idea to go up against all the big boys of the golf ball industry.
DS: I thought about doing this five years before I actually started. But my kids were in college; my goal was always to take care of my children first before I put my income at risk. I wanted to make sure that they were finished with school. The timing of it worked out well. It happened when golf was really hurting; people were leaving golf courses, memberships were dropping. Manufacturers would launch new clubs, people wouldn’t buy them; they’d wait six months and get them at half price. So there was a big demand for trying to save money.
I’ve been very fortunate to work for two of the top companies in golf: Titleist and TaylorMade. I worked with pretty much every single top player on all the tours.
GC: Julius Boros?
DS: No. I’ve been very fortunate over the last 28 years to learn a lot from these guys and gals. I wanted to help a little bit and give back to the game. Use some of the things that I’ve learned over the years and put that into a performance golf ball. Some people thought they could never afford tour balls – they would never buy them because they didn’t think they were good enough. They thought that the performance golf balls were too good for them … or had too much spin.
So instead of having big tour contracts and big marketing expenses … I eliminate that completely and I pass all savings back to the consumer. There’s no cost cuts in these balls. It costs the same to make my golf ball as it does to make TaylorMades or Titleists. But all the added things that those companies have that they have to pay … it’s their business model and it works for them – I pass that savings back to the consumer.
GC: Similar to tour players, I’m the kind of golfer who also doesn’t want to pay for golf balls.
DS: One of many! One of many!
GC: I’m sure they all came out of the woodwork when you started manufacturing golf balls. “Hey, Dean, send me a dozen of this, five dozen of that!” Everyone’s your friend when you make golf balls.
DS: The funny part of it is, you’d be surprised how many relatives I found out I never had.
The Snell name is not common but, oh my, I got so many cousins and brothers and sisters… I think a couple of kids that I’ve never met before!
GC: A couple of years ago I went to the Bridgestone factory in Georgia. I was interviewing one of the guys there. They tested my swing and recommended their E6 golf ball for me. He handed me a dozen of them. I pointed over to the factory and said, “How many golf balls a day are you producing over there?” I don’t remember the exact number but it was certainly in the tens of thousands. I said, “A dozen golf balls you’re giving me? C’mon loosen up a little!” That’s when they called Security and I was escorted off the property.
So eliminating the marketing costs, not paying big money to the tour players … that knocks off a good 30%-40% off the final price?
DS: It can. It depends. Some of the companies have bigger marketing expenses. They have sales reps that are out there selling to pro shops – and the shops need to make margins. What we’re doing is a direct-to-consumer model with free shipping.
If you buy a dozen of our balls, you still have to go to those golf courses, you still have to pay greens fees and cart fees. If you bought two dozen Snell golf balls maybe you could play twice as much instead of one time. Or you spend a little more money at the 19th hole to support the club. There’s a big market out there that doesn’t want to spend $50-$60 for golf balls in pro shops.
GC: Your tour-like ball is called what?
DS: It’s called “My Tour Ball” and on the social media sites it’s been shortened to “MTB.” It’s a 3-piece, cast-urethane golf ball. The cast urethane technology is what’s in the Pro V1s and the TaylorMade Tour Preferreds – TPX, TP5. I believe the urethane is the best cover technology that’s out there. It has a thin cover but we can make it soft and durable so you get that nice check and control around the green.
I honestly believe that if you can get more people to try this kind of performance ball – and make it affordable for them – it’s gonna help their game. An 18-handicapper misses 17 greens, roughly. If they’re using low-compression, low spin balls, they’re getting the least performance where you need it the most. If you can give performance to players from 100 yards and in … they’ll never hit golf balls that’ll spin and suck back off the green but they may stop five or ten feet closer to the hole. Which may be an up-and-down or eliminate one or two three-putts which will help their score. So having that performance around the green is very important; it can help you get better at your game.
GC: Bridgestone had a ball fitting program when I visited them. They measured my swing speed which was pretty slow. I believe I was wearing culottes at the time…
… supposedly because of my lower swing speed, I wasn’t suited for a tour ball. That’s why they told me an E6 was the correct ball for me. But then you listen to Titleist’s commercials and they say the opposite – similar to what you just said – that a high-handicapper can benefit from using a tour ball. It’s confusing to the average golfer.
DS: This is where I want to differentiate Snell Golf from the big manufacturers that have large marketing budgets. It’s really no b.s. The covers of these golf balls are 30,000ths of an inch. So every single golfer hits through the cover into the core, no matter what your swing speed is. With the Bridgestone fitting system – which was a nice thing – you hit three drives into a net with a couple of different balls that the technician can pick. “This one’s longer, this one’s shorter; look, you just gained five yards – that’s the ball for you.”
When you play golf, you don’t get to pick and choose the drives that were better or worse. You gotta hit the one you played. If you shoot 100 and you hit 14 drives, you have 86 other shots you have to play.
Low-compression golf balls have half of the spin with wedges and irons compared to tour balls. Half. So if you play 80% of your game from 100 yards and in, you are now using a golf ball that has the least amount of spin where you have the most shots to be played.
If you buy into this theory – and I’m gonna give you a big if here – that you’re a slow-swing player and you’re gonna compress the ball more … let’s say it goes one-mile-an-hour faster – which it won’t but let’s say it will. And you hit your drive 250 yards. Your one-mile-an-hour ball speed increase just made your drive on a good shot go 8 inches longer. You just hit it 250 yards and 8 inches. You still have the rest of the hole to play. You’re gonna play that hole with a golf ball that has half the spin and half the performance of the tour golf balls.
Remember: you’re not being fit for wedges; you’re only being fit for a driver, the club that you hit only 14 times off the tee. And that’s on your good shot that went 8 inches further. When you play golf, see how many times out of 14 you hit the ball in the center of the face and it goes right down the middle of the fairway.
GC: That certainly makes a lot of sense. Let’s back track. When did you start the company?
DS: I started the thought process at the end of 2014. I did some prototype work, we did a few iterations. Then we launched it in March of 2015. Last year, 2016, was our first full year and we grew 400% over 2015. And this year has just taken off – January, February and March are better than the summer months. Things are moving well.
DS: Yeah, no complaints at all. The business model is working. We have three factories that make our golf balls; they’re overseas. The designs and specs come from me. The quality control is done through people we have working in the factories that send us reports. All of the factories are state-of-the-art with excellent quality systems. We have the balls shipped into Massachusetts; we pack and ship every day via FedEx.
GC: You were coming from an engineering background; your experience wasn’t in sales and marketing, and distribution and all that other business-type stuff. You must have had to recruit a team of people to handle that. That’s no small undertaking.
DS: When I worked at TaylorMade, I was involved with all aspects of the golf ball division. I was heavily involved with the marketing and the packaging, the sourcing, the engineering and manufacturing side. It was a great place to work. I learned a lot. The model I have now – the direct-to-consumer online – is a little different than the traditional marketing model where we have to go out and get sales forces and give them a lot of point-of-sale stuff. We have a good marketing team in-house. I pulled on some resources from the industry that have experience in the sales side.
We have hundreds of pro shops that have called us and said they want to carry the ball because their members have asked for it. We give them a pro shop price that they can make good margins on; they pay up front – six dozen minimum and we ship to them for free. The deal is good for the pro shop; they don’t have to invest a lot. Because we don’t do consignment stuff, they have to pay for them and we ship them free.
One pro shop started with six dozen every other week; he now buys 24 dozen a week from us. He’s selling them quite a bit in his shop in California, so things are going well.
GC: Cha-ching! How did you come up with the name for the company?
DS: I knew this guy, Dean Snell. I spent a lot of time with him over the years.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to actually put my name on the company. I worked at Titleist for seven years and TaylorMade for eighteen. I was involved in a big part of the designs for the Titleist Professional and the original Pro V1. That concept of a three-piece, thin-layered urethane ball was something I was a big part of. And then the five-piece balls for the TaylorMade Penta and Tour Preferred. For me, the engineering validation is when I work with these tour players, spend time at their homes with their families and create relationships. Then when they win and win majors, that validates the project that I just spent three years working with these players to develop.
There’s a lot of direct-to-consumer online companies out there; probably 10-15 of them. But I thought that if we were going to have some niche, it would be the credibility side. And that came from the experience that I’ve had for twenty-five years designing golf balls for two of the best companies.
GC: As your business model doesn’t pay endorsement money to tour players, those guys aren’t going to use your ball, right?
DS: Correct. I talked to Sergio and I talked to Justin after the Masters. They’re good friends of mine and I stay in contact with them. I wish them well. We had five tour players and agents call us in the last year-and-a-half to play the ball. They wanted a significant amount of money; they said they would get us ten more players because they played the ball and they think it’s better. My response was: “we respectfully decline.” If you really think the ball is better … if you wanted a $200,000 contract … you have putts on the 18th green now for $200,000. Maybe down the road you might see players use what they want and don’t have ball contracts.
To support the Tour is more than just paying the player money. You need people on tour, you have to have Trackman or Flightscope systems, you have to be out there Sunday night through Wednesday. It’s a big process and it costs a lot of money.
GC: Instead of paying a tour player $200,000, maybe you pay some guy who has a golf web site $10,000…
… something to think about, Dean.
DS: I’ll put that down in my notes!
I like how at Bridgestone you don’t ask for a dozen, you ask for ten dozen. When you start with me, you ask for $10,000. I like that!
GC: As a wise man once said, “You don’t ask, you don’t get.”
DS: That’s correct.
GC: You make another type of golf ball, don’t you? Besides your tour quality ball?
DS: Yes, it’s a low-compression ball called “Get Sum.” It flies a little higher, it has a lot less spin. It’s for players that just want to enjoy the game and have fun. Hitting the ball up in the air could be a win for them. It’s really affordable.
The name is goofy but there’s a reason for it. I played in a foursome every week when I was out in San Diego. One of the guys that played with us was awful. But that one time he connected and his ball would go fairly straight, he would turn and holler, “Get some of that!” So everybody started saying that. Which morphed into “Get Sum.”
GC: Your tour ball – the My Tour Ball – what’s a dozen priced at?
DS: It’s $31.99 with free shipping. We also created a Value Pack, which is six dozen golf balls. That’s equivalent to $26.33 a dozen.
GC: Nice price for a tour quality ball.
DS: That’s our number-one seller. We created a Test Pack which contains the Get Sum and the MTB. It’s two sleeves of each kind of ball. It’s $26.99 – that gives players 6 golf balls to do some good testing and come up with their own results. It includes a card where I recommend how people should test golf balls.
GC: The Get Sum comes in an optic yellow?
DS: The Get Sum comes in white and optic yellow. Those are $20.99 per dozen; the Value Pack for those is $85 for six dozen – that’s about $14 per dozen.
GC: It’s a great product at the right price, Dean.
DS: Thank you. Send me your address and I’ll send you some balls to test. It won’t be ten dozen.
GC: And the $10,000?
Don’t answer that! Thanks for your time, Dean.