Henri du Pont has dined in castles, drag-raced limousines,
rubbed shoulders with royalty and played some of the most
exclusive golf courses in the world. But on a sunny day last
June he was with five senior citizens at Cokesbury Village, a
retirement community in Hockessin, Del., hacking a spongy ball
around with a golf club that goes for $29.95.
The 29-year-old great-great-great-grandson of DuPont
corporation founder Eleuthere Irenee du Pont was
demonstrating SWIN, a portable nine-hole golf game designed for
use anytime, anywhere. A SWIN course can be set up on a fraction
of the land required for a regular golf course, and players need
carry only a single club, with a three-sided plastic head. It's
a driver, wedge and putter all in one.
"SWIN lets people experience golf without getting up to their
eyes in equipment, expense and time," says du Pont, whose
godfather, Laurent de Vilmorin, developed the game in the early
'80s at his home in Brou, France. Having retired as head of the
computer division of NATO, Vilmorin stumbled upon sketches of a
two-sided golf club that his father had drawn in the '30s.
Vilmorin spent the next three years developing SWIN. The results
of his efforts are the three-faced club; a spongy, dimpled ball;
and "holes" that consist of thin rubber hoops about a foot in
diameter. They sit at the bases of flagsticks that players plant
wherever they want. To hole a ball, a player must simply knock
it into the hoop.
Until he traveled to France in 1991 to meet his godfather for
the first time, du Pont had never heard of SWIN, which is not an
acronym but instead a made-up word whose sound Vilmorin liked.
But after playing a few rounds, he was hooked. With Vilmorin's
permission, he imported the game to the U.S. and began
assembling SWIN sets in his Wilmington, Del., basement. (A
set--with four clubs, four balls, 10 tees and nine hoops and
flagsticks--costs $169.95.) Now Henri and his brother Irenee,
24, run SWIN, Inc., out of a 3,000-square-foot warehouse in
Newark, Del. "I've never completed a business course in my
life," says Henri, "but for the past two years SWIN has been the
first thought I have when I wake up in the morning and the last
thought I have when I go to bed at night."
The same seems to be true for the folks at Cokesbury, who have
formed a club of 38 players and set up a six-hole course on
about four acres of land. They take the course down only on
Tuesdays, when the grass is cut. "We might have to start taking
tee times in the morning," says 83-year-old Ollie York, who
finds SWIN a fine alternative to being on a golf course for hours.
Ginny Mueller, 80, another Cokesbury resident, gave up golf 45
years ago out of frustration. "I don't expect to play regular
golf again," she says. "But I like SWIN because I can come out
by myself and get a little exercise. It's very relaxing for me."
In 1996 North American Soccer Camps, the largest youth athletic
camp network in the U.S., will launch 320 youth golf camps in
association with Jack Nicklaus's Golden Bear International. The
camps will be called Clubs for Cubs. "SWIN is the sole golf
product our camps will use," says Ian Tonks, vice president of
the new camps. The youth golf camp had been in the works for
three years, but NASC was unable to find a safe game that
could be used to teach young golfers. When SWIN made its debut
at a toy fair in New York City last February, Tonks saw a
The three club faces--marked D, W and P for driver, wedge and
putter--and the bright balls, color-coordinated to match the
grips, may seem like a joke to serious golfers, but the kids at
the Tatnall School Day Camp in Greenville, Del., have requested
that SWIN become a daily activity. "You can make up your own
rules and set up the course any way you want," eight-year-old
Dwight DeCarme said recently after whacking an orange SWIN ball
about 75 yards with his junior-sized club. "It took one kid 16
strokes to reach the 1st hole, and that was a par-1," said Jen
Reeves, 23, a Tatnall counselor. "But with each round he
improved his score and his confidence. The kids really
concentrate and keep at it."
"I think it's the perfect way to teach kids about golf, because
SWIN is actually close to the game in its pure form," says du
Pont. "When people first started playing, they didn't have a
lot of specialized equipment. They just went out with a couple
of clubs and a ball and had a good time."