The Making of Swag Golf

by | Mar 31, 2019 | Featured Product, Spotlight | 0 comments

Swag Golf is without a doubt, one of the fastest growing putter companies in the world. It’s hard to imagine that a company with such a following is only one year old. The meteoric rise may seem like a fluke, but if you know the guy behind Swag, it’s no surprise…at all.

I met Nick Venson back in 2006, while he was known throughout the Scotty Cameron collecting world as the hardest working guy in the business. He was living in Los Angeles, working for one of Scotty’s three US distributors. I’d built the website for his employer and went to LA for a few days to help them set up the gallery portion of the site. Since I was relatively new to the collecting game, but also made a quick name for myself, we became fast friends. His knowledge of the product, and all the idiosyncrasies of the different models and history was fascinating to me. While going through an especially large collection of putters, Nick would show me subtle changes that Scotty had made over time, and what the results were.

Over the next year, the Cameron collecting craze hit a fever pitch. Scotty’s collector base grew, “tour putters” became the must-have for every serious collector, and new headcover designs were flying off the shelves. But, as with any industry, change is inevitable. Nick moved back to Chicago in 2008 and switched camps to selling Bettinardi putters. This was a revelation for Nick. Being able to take his knowledge of Cameron collecting to a manufacturer that had a quality product and a facility close to home was ideal. For nearly a decade, Nick helped promote Bettinardi and build the brand to the following that it is today.

While a putter may seem like a simple thing to design, Nick would often tell me about tweaks that he’d been thinking about. Little things like changing a radius on the toe, just a hair, so at address it would appear smoother. Or moving the plumber’s neck forward 1/32nd to change the toe hang to make it easier for the average golfer to use an Anser style head. To a typical golfer, or even a discerning collector, these were tiny changes that wouldn’t even register. To Nick, they were crucial to get the most out of a putter.

Nick told me about a concept that he’d been thinking about, where the putter came directly off the mill and was ”ready to roll” without the need to grind anything at all. “They all told me that it was cost prohibitive even on a ‘tour putter’ and especially on a production putter”. He told me about an idea for how to mill a swan neck onto a putter head without needing to heat it up or bend it at all. Again, improbable. What about having a headcover stitched a certain way, so that it never lost shape, even after use? “I was told to forget it because it didn’t matter. It mattered to me though.” He’d had enough.

These things weren’t impossible, or a waste of time. They couldn’t be. He had it all figured out, but kept hearing “No” over and over. He was going to do all of these things, and so much more…all on his own. Swag Golf was in his head, and it was time to do something about it.

After several conversations with his friends and family (and an especially understanding wife) Nick got to work. He knew what he had to do, and exactly how he wanted to do it. With a decade of contacts in the golf manufacturing business in his Rolodex, Nick started making calls. This was going to be a lot of hard work, but he had to do it. There was a fire in his belly that wasn’t going to go away by just going to work for another manufacturer that might listen to him. This was HIS time. Not a single piece of this was going to be easy, but “impossible” and “no” weren’t on the table.

Working on the first prototype for the “Model One” was full of all the usual issues that any new company faces. “It was really hard. The first 5-6 prototypes were not at all what I wanted. I kept having to re-work angles and re-design every aspect of the head. The one thing that I had right immediately was the branding. Before I knew it, it was January and the PGA Merchandise Show in was 6 days away. I had a last-minute opportunity to get a booth, but I had no real product to show. So I did what anyone in my position would do…I showed off the only part of the putter that was right!” That’s right. Nick debuted Swag Golf at the 2018 Merchandise Show by showing off 20% of a putter coming out of a neon green headcover and a few headcover designs…and created more buzz than if he’d showed off a complete line of finished putters. “We didn’t staff the booth with anyone that had any knowledge of what we were up to. I just hired two models to stand there. If anyone asked a question, the only three things they were allowed to say were that Swag was launching April 1st, that the putters were made in Chicagoland, and that if they didn’t want to miss out they should subscribe to our email newsletter at swaggolf.com. It actually tuned out a lot better than I could have hoped.”

Full of media attention, and with an April 1 deadline for launch looming, it was time to double his efforts. Nick needed to get this right, or all of this work was going to be wasted and he’d end up just having an accessory company. That was not at all what he was setting out to do. He went back to the drawing board and started kicking out prototype after prototype, determined to get it right. “It was about a week before launch and we were still making tweaks. Then, it happened. We got it right. It was REALLY right. Such a handsome putter.” Enter, the Handsome One.

On March 31st2018, Nick was ready to release Swag to the world. He had a putter design he was happy with and a crop of great headcovers to go along with it. Nick was going after a very specific niche of the golf market. The 18 to 35 year old golfer that wanted to make a statement on the course with the gear they had in the bag. Guys just like him. “This is a relatively conservative sport, and it was just time to push that a little bit. I figured that if I was this way, I wasn’t alone. So everything we do at Swag is geared towards guys like me.”

Nick had built up a serious following on social media, by posting teaser pics of his putter and the edgy headcover designs that he’d worked on for so long. He had about 1,800 followers on Instagram, and had a few thousand names in his email database. It was now or never. It was time to “push the button” and release it all to the world.

“I think we sold out of most everything in under an hour. It was crazy. I was expecting and hoping to do well, but I couldn’t have ever expected that to happen. There were a few things that lasted another day or two, but we were backordered on putters in 9min.” Swag was officially in the market.

The real test was if people would like the putter though. So many months had been spent making sure that he was happy with it. Now his product was in the hands of consumers though. That’s always a different story. “You know what you want, and you know what you like. When you put it in the hands of a golfer though…you just never know. Are they going to like what you like?” The verdict didn’t take long to come in. People were loving what he had made. “It was crazy to read what people were saying about the putter. They had no idea the effort that we’d put into it, but they really liked it. Then we started seeing them pop up on eBay and on the forums for significantly more than we’d sold them for. There was really a demand for the putter and headcovers that we’d made. It was crazy.”

Over the next several months, Swag released the Handsome Too, Savage, Savage Too, and dozens of headcover releases. Each one selling out, not in hours this time, but minutes. “The next release we did sold out in like two minutes. We thought we’d done something wrong with the shopping cart program, but then we looked and there were all the orders just sitting there. Insane.” Nick says that there are people all over the world that have set up monitors on his website, ready to buy whatever he has, no matter the cost. “We’ll see stuff up on eBay 2min after we release it. People just posting pics of their order conformation email. It’s seriously nuts. So we just keep playing into it.”

Rather than try to fight it, Swag started off by embracing it. Launching initially with a “Flipper” headcover, featuring a dolphin. “I had seen other manufacturers bang their heads against wall calling people after orders to see if they were bots or humans or ‘flippers’. We embraced the secondary market on day one. The flipper headcover even says ‘Buy low, sell high’ on the side.” Then, months later, a “Robo-Flipper” headcover was released as a tip of the hat to the bots that people set up to buy anything Swag lists for sale. “We wanted to see how badly people [and the bots] really wanted our stuff. We made very few covers and as they sold out the price went up. Starting at $222 each, $333 after 2 sold, more at $444, and by the time the 10th and final cover was left they sold out at $555.”

 

But more than just flashy headcovers, Swag plans on keeping up the momentum for a long time. Swag has done more than 5 dozen headcover releases in the first year. All limited numbers. All special. “I’d love to do a release of 2,000 headcovers, but that’s just not Swag. Not our plan. We want the culture of our collectors to be different from any other putter manufacturer. We have a slogan ‘making collecting cool again’ and we mean it. Sometimes you’ll get a special surprise when you open the box. Golden tickets, special versions of headcovers, or little extras. It should be like opening a pack of baseball cards. You just never know what you’re going to get.”

 

All jokes and headcovers aside, the thing that Nick wants people to know about Swag more than anything, is that they make a great putter. “It’s flattering that people like our headcovers, ball markers, and stuff, but our putters are fantastic. Ask anyone that has one, and they’ll tell you.”

It’s true. The little nuances that Nick stressed over for months really do make a difference. Little things that nobody ever thinks about when they’re making a putter head, like making sure that there are concave arches to refract the sunlight away from the eye at address. Or if the sole is milled a certain way that it’s easier to set up. “People think this is easy. It most definitely is not. I’m not an engineer at all. I’ve never claimed to be one. I’m an ‘idea guy’ that knows how to articulate what I want to the amazing team we have. I didn’t want this to be like every other golf company. We’re doing things differently here. People called me crazy spending such an absurd amount of money buying our own CNC mills, but I had to. It was the only way we could do things the way I wanted. I didn’t have to hire the best putter engineers in the business, but I did because the product would be that much better. Our team is made up of golf industry veterans, and people that had never played golf before. I thought that was important to have a good mix. Everyone contributes. I was really sick of hearing ‘no’ from the people I’d worked for in the past, so my team knows that if they want to try something to make the product better, they’re welcome to do it.”

Spending the day at Swag building a few putters for forthcoming reviews, I learned that what Nick says is absolutely true. A few times while I was there, someone came up to him with an idea, and Nick was very quick to say “Run with it.” or “What do YOU think?” The office is filled to the brim with arcade machines, one-off headcovers, random putter designs, and all the other accoutrements you’d expect with a company that’s part San Francisco startup and part putter manufacturer. (The Swag customized jukebox filled with 45’s of everyone from Steve Windwood to Wu Tang Clan was especially great.)

Another big break for Swag came when tour players started picking up his putter and putting them in the bag. “I never want to just stamp ‘Tour’ on a putter and then sell it to a consumer. That’s really not how it works. Every tour player is different and we make every player their own putter, milled to their specifications. That drives me nuts these days that people just stamp up a putter to say it’s for the tour, and then sell it directly to a customer. All of our tour putters have been on the tour somehow. No need to say it was out on the tour if it wasn’t.” Swag plans on selling tour putters very differently. “If it’s a Swag putter, and it says ‘tour’ on it, that means it actually spent time on the tour. You know, like it used to be.”

What Swag is most excited about right now it the release of the Suave One putter. “This is a completely milled swan/flow neck putter that was milled that way. No bending. No torches. What you see when you buy a Suave One is exactly how it came off the mill. We’ve been working a long time on this putter, and it’s seriously fantastic.” The Suave One will be released at midnight (Central) on April 1st. “It’s our anniversary, so we wanted to do something very special. Make sure you stay up!”

Swag Golf certainly didn’t invent the putter, headcover, ball marker, divot tool, or anything that they’ve produced so far. What they HAVE done, is taken proven designs and made them measurably better. Even if you don’t realize WHY it’s better. It’s fascinating to see the thought that’s gone into everything Swag has done in the last year. They’ve stayed very true to Nick’s vision. Having spent a lot of time with him over the last decade, I know he’s not short on ideas. Even though it seems like he’s done a lot in the last year, know for a fact that this is only the beginning.

Talk about all things Swag in the Swag Golf section of the Putter Talk Community where the Swag team will be giving exclusive sneak peeks into coming releases and interacting directly with everyone. Sharp eyes will also see some things to come in the pictures on this article. You may only see 20% of something, but if you know what to look for…

Discuss this article in the Putter Talk Community. (I’ll be posting some additional pics too!)