• With students’ help, Golf business booms
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     | August 11,2014
     
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    Tyler Sullivan uses the club he designed with the help of University of Vermont engineering students.

    Pull the pin and let “the Grenade” do the rest.

    That’s the philosophy of golf club designer Tyler Sullivan.

    It all began when Sullivan, a graduate of the University of Vermont School of Business and an avid golfer, was having problems on the golf course. He claimed he was hitting balls so hard that every driver he bought would break. Finally, after having gone through six or seven drivers, Sullivan decided enough was enough.

    “I just said, ‘I’ve got to be able to do this myself.’”

    So he started building his own drivers, and in his words “became kind of obsessed” with making better and better ones. Sullivan started selling the clubs and had some success doing so.

    “I started saying, ‘Why don’t I design them myself?’ But I’m not an engineer. So I called over to UVM and they said, ‘We’ve got this capstone project (that engineering students undertake). You might be a good fit, and you can do a presentation and see if the students pick you.’”

    That was in August 2012. Sullivan was indeed chosen by four senior engineering students who signed on to help design and build a better driver.

    Throughout the 2012-13 academic year, Sullivan and students Mark Belanger, Ryan Corey, Ryan Mickelson and Evan Olson devoted large amounts of time to the project. In March 2013, their efforts produced a club that Sullivan refers to as the Grenade because of its explosive power.

    “It was the best experience of my life, and theirs too, I think,” he said.

    According to Sullivan, the first ball he hit with the final version of the club went an estimated 310 yards.

    For a second opinion, he turned to the only other person at the range and had him try it out.

    “He takes a swing with it and doesn’t say anything,” Sullivan said. “I’m thinking that’s not a good sign. He hits it again. Then he goes, ‘How is that possible?’”

    Sullivan said the guy claimed the new driver sent the ball 20 yards farther than the one he had been using. The next morning, Sullivan said, the guy bought the driver, becoming the first customer.

    Josh Ross, a club reviewer at golfballed.com, said he had low expectations for the driver because it came from a small startup business.

    And the first balls he hit with the Grenade seemed to confirm his expectations.

    “It went really high,” Ross said. “I was telling myself this isn’t going to work for me because I want my ball to go low.”

    In golf, he explained, a ball that is hit really high in the air tends not to travel very far forward. But Ross said he soon noticed that wasn’t the case with the Grenade. Even though it was hit high in the sky, it kept traveling farther and father.

    With that, he was sold.

    “It was the best driver I’ve ever reviewed,” Ross said. “With a small startup company you don’t expect a driver like that.”

    Other reviewers such as Hooked on Golf Blog, 3 Men in a Bunker, and Golf Review Guy have also given the driver favorable reviews.

    Sullivan said the reason the driver turned out so well compared with other products was because he and the students went into the project focused purely on the engineering side. They didn’t worry about trying to sell the product.

    “Everyone’s building a product that can sell, not one that is necessarily good,” Sullivan said. “With UVM, the magic was to work with students who had nothing to do with marketing.”

    The Grenade was fully launched in May 2013 and put Sullivan’s company, BombTech Golf, on the map.

    Sullivan said he builds every club by hand and estimated he’s made more than 2,000. He has expanded from the Grenade and is now offering six types of clubs.

    All sales are through his company’s website, www.bombtechgolf.com.

    As his company has grown, Sullivan has maintained his connection with his alma mater. Last year, he worked with another set of UVM students, designing a putter.

    In the coming year he’ll be at it again. He wouldn’t disclose what he and the students will design, but said they are choosing from three options.

    Overall, Sullivan said, the last few years have been a whirlwind, but he feels lucky to have fostered a partnership with UVM after graduation.

    “It was kind of an unexpected journey,” he said.

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