Three years ago, Gabe Coyne set up a few golf outings with friends who were gradually migrating back to the sport.
For many, life responsibilities had put tee times on the backburner. Careers, marriages and children took priority. Yet here they were, in their mid-30s, dusting off the clubs and rekindling the golf flame.
They quickly realized their clubs were old and outdated. Not persimmon-wood-old but aged within the last 20 years. Little did any of them know it would lead to an upstart direct-to-consumer club retail company.
"It's important to note that none of us were very good," said Coyne, foreshadowing what came next.
For these average golfers, they came to the consensus that finding a reasonable set of clubs was as joyful as a root canal.
"We thought, 'What is going on in the world of golf clubs?' It's complicated, it's expensive, it's intimidating, it's confusing and it's ugly," said Coyne. "It was paralysis by analysis."
Coyne and his friends—a band of designers and software engineers whose expertise lay in ideation, iteration, validation and product launches—wondered why there wasn't a brand that simplified everything, especially one that emphasized design.
Nothing looked hip or cool, and the latest tech advancements promoted by the top brands served as the most exciting selling points.
"The fact is, the big brands market to the most affluent 5 million golfers," Coyne said, "because that's the highest margin of opportunity. That leaves 32 million they're not too worried about ... we believe 10% are starters and the other 10% can break 90, and we're in between all that."
Prior to 2021, the National Golf Foundation cited there were about 25.1 million golfers in the U.S. By 2021, that number increased another 12 million. Golfers were defined as those who played on a course or participated in off-course activities like driving ranges, simulators or entertainment centers.
In a moment of clairvoyance, Coyne and his friends saw an oasis in a golf equipment desert.
They leveraged data, focus groups and digital campaigns to see if a mid-level player would be interested in clubs that were aesthetically pleasing and engineered with similar top-brand materials at an affordable price.
The burgeoning Stix Golf received validation at every level.
"Design is complete when there's nothing left you can take away, not when there's nothing left you can add," said Coyne, the Stix Golf CEO. "It seems like in golf, design is never complete because there's more you can add."
Coyne believes all the tech jargon has its place, but for a different consumer type. This was about simplification and developing a brand for the non-stereotypical golfer.
After making myriad tweaks with engineers, out of it came a minimalist, yet creative-looking set that catches the eye's attention. Before pre-launch, Coyne put an order on his credit card through a manufacturer with a goal of Stix Golf selling a set of clubs a day for 90 days. Within two weeks, everything sold out, says Coyne.
Founded in September 2020, Stix Golf offers three flexes and five heights as part of nine-, 11- or 14-club sets for under $1,000. Irons and wedge sets, or individual clubs, can be had as well.
The clubs, without a doubt, are sleek, lightweight and durable. Most clubs feature an all-black finish that mixes monochrome textures with a red accent that denotes a functional element or touchpoint.
Of course, they're not in the top-tier OEMs, or for the advanced player, but they're exceptional compared to an out-of-box product.
Stix Golf plans on building its niche on tenets that democratize the sport. Chief Marketing Officer Aaron Ormond says its consumer is defined as a "casual golfer," or one who plays two to three times a month. Through data gathering, 70 percent of its consumers are under age 40.
"These are the ones watching other sports, going to concerts and doing all the things a consumer does in their daily lives that isn't golf. We're trying to find the sweet spot between golf and the other things they like to enjoy," he said.
Stix Golf may be onto something. Some celebrities and athletes have endorsed the clubs. It should be noted they were not paid. UFC fighter Ian Garry posted a lengthy video on social media about his set. Professional athletes Kurt Benkert, Matt Gay and DJ Augustin, as well as former LPGA player Anya Alvarez, also provided credence.
Without a doubt, there's a push to build brand awareness. Winning the Red Dot Award, a global competition, for design helped. How much? It landed a Stix set to be sold through the Museum of Modern Art online store.
"No other golf product has won a design like that," Ormond said. "We want to be where our audience is, and the award helps us gain entry into such opportunities."
Since ramping up, Stix has grown to 25 employees and Coyne continues to scale the company. Last year it landed accounts in Midwest-based Scheels stores and PGA Tour Superstore. This past May, the company announced the close of a $10 million Series A financing round.
The future looks bright. Asked what success looks like on the horizon, Coyne didn't hesitate.
"Success looks like more happy golfers, a more diverse and broad audience enjoying the game, because a lot of barriers have been broken down historically in a culture that is exclusive, elitist, expensive and complicated," he said.
"We want to be a part of the story that ushers in the next generation and makes golf fun, cool, accessible, and casual."