Before plunging into this deep dive into the Bag Boy-brand, you should consider this public service announcement (PSA).
If you’re a stubborn, set-in-your-ways, “you’d never catch me dead with anything that rolls” member of the double-strapped, carry fraternity, change the channel.
Nothing to see here for you obstinate strong-shouldered types. Especially those of you of a certain vintage who can’t look at a modern three- or four-wheeled push cart without reviving painful memories of trying to fold/unfold one of the antiquated two-wheeled “pull” carts.
For the emotional baggage you and your padded double-strap continue to bear, the golf industry of a previous generation apologizes. Technology wasn’t quite what it is today.
That said, trying to change your perception, much less having you read on about one of the game’s most innovative, best-known push-cart brands seems kind of pointless, right?
What’s that? Feet sore after you play? Shoulder? Back, too? More fatigued coming off the 18th green than normal? Set down that carry bag and put aside any bias you have against push carts.
This is a pretty cool story.
It starts with heritage. Bag Boy stands with Titleist, Wilson, PING, Lamkin and Mizuno as some of the best-recognized, longest-serving golf equipment brands.
Its roots date back to 1945 and traverse the country from Portland, OR, all the way to its current headquarters in Richmond, VA. There, Bag Boy has been on the cutting edge of modern push-cart technology as the pillar of parent company Dynamic Brands (also owner/operators of Burton, Datrek, Devant, IGotcha and Search ‘n Rescue).
Innovation is a company trademark.
Bag Boy’s new Nitron Auto-Open cart features a nitrogen canister inside the housing to promote one-step opening. Additionally, the four-wheel Quad XL and the TriSwivel II, a past recipient of MyGolfSpy’s Most Wanted push cart, reinforce the company’s global reputation for “unmatched quality, durability, and unsurpassed design innovation.”
“We’re not a glamorous hard-goods company or a flashy apparel, shoe or ball brand but Bag Boy is a mainstay of the industry in the accessories category,” explained Leighton Klevana, Dynamic Brands chief executive officer and founding partner. “Our brand recognition in push carts is outstanding. We have kind of established Bag Boy as the go-to brand for push carts for consumers and I believe the reason we’ve successfully built a leadership position is we make quality products, stand behind them and provide great service. I feel like we check each of those boxes.”
Bag Boy’s market penetration runs deeper than push carts. Travel covers, where it has also assumed a leadership position, and cart bags have become integral pieces of the brand’s portfolio. Both lines have the same unwavering commitment to quality and consumer-enhanced innovation Bag Boy maintains with its push-cart division.
“This is cliché but it’s the truth. It’s all about the product. Leighton preaches that to us all the time,” said Craig Ramsbottom, President of Dynamic Brands. “We can come out with great programs on carts or travel covers or bags that the customer or a pro really like or we can offer free freight or throw in something else but, unless the consumer wants that cart, bag or travel cover, and it sells through for the retailer, all that other stuff doesn’t matter. It’s just fluff. Without innovation, you don’t have a sustainable product.”
Bag Boy Beginnings
To appreciate where Bag Boy is going, you should know how it got here.
The original company golf cart was built in 1945 by a visionary entrepreneur named Bruce Williamson. A native of Portland, OR, Williamson fashioned his “prototype” from two lawnmower wheels (with flat tires) mounted on a folding, spring-suspension chassis. A standard golf bag was then attached to this base. For easier storage or transport, the wheels moved inward and upward toward a back shaft so the cart could fold.
Who said there was no innovation in 1945?
Received well by local golfers and professionals, Williamson took on a partner, E. Roy Jarman. Together, they started building golf carts from sand castings and aluminum tubing, eventually organizing under the brand name Bag Boy.
By the time Jarman bought out Williamson in 1957, the company had begun exporting its Bag Boy carts and a Carte-Mate golf bag internationally.
Browning Arms, a Morgan, UT-based recreation company, acquired it in 1969, operating the brand until 1993. At that point, AMF Industries took over, making Bag Boy a division of the Ben Hogan Company. Four years later, it was Spalding. The sporting goods brand was all set to purchase the Hogan brand but before the final deal was consummated, a decision was made: Bag Boy was held out of the sale.
Enter Klevana and his then-business partner David Boardman.
“Both of us worked for the Hogan company, so my association with Bag Boy actually started in 1994 when I was hired,” he said. “When we got wind of a possible sale early in 1997, David and I approached ownership and asked for it to be removed. Our intention was to buy it and operate it as a stand-alone.”
The simple, yet obvious, question is why? Bag Boy had been all but kicked to the curb under Hogan ownership. Without resources or support, it became lost in the day-to-day operation of a golf equipment powerhouse that didn’t have time for it.
“That was the point. We did have time,” said Klevana. “What we saw was an opportunity to take a recognized brand, resurrect it, and get it back on its feet. The problem under Hogan was there was no synergy. You had the Ben Hogan heritage with these beautifully crafted irons and wedges and a ‘this is your grandfather’s die-cast pull cart’. The two brands had nothing in common. They didn’t align. David and I were young, had an entrepreneurial spirit and we wanted to do something new and different.”
Over the next 3 1/2 years, the Bag Boy line was completely redesigned and re-branded. But it was definitely not re-purposed. This was a golf-cart company that not only had the trust of consumers but also with retailers. What it really needed was exactly what Klevana and Boardman provided.
“Just a little bit of love,” said the CEO.
A Paradigm Shift to Push Carts
Ridicule once heaped on push-cart enthusiasts by bag-toters has eroded. Shifting consumer attitudes toward fitness and wellness have put more emphasis on walking instead of riding.
Europe’s influence on this North American movement is clear. Particularly in the United Kingdom, it’s routine to see golfers pushing their wheeled “trolleys,” some with their dogs trailing along.
“You’re seeing a big paradigm shift with this generation,” Ramsbottom explained. “It started with girls at junior events and college players using push carts, then it was the international kids coming from other countries around the world to play college golf in the U.S. They’re totally comfortable using push carts because that’s all they ever used back home. Now you have elite college programs all across America where the whole team is using push carts, including the guys. I think it’s only a matter of time before that becomes more ingrained with coaches to a point where, in the future, there won’t be a single program that has kids carrying clubs. They’re all going to be pushing.”
Supporting Ramsbottom’s theory was a study conducted by Dr. Neil Wolkodoff, medical director at the Colorado Center for Health and Sports Science. Several years ago, Wolkodoff proposed a simple hypothesis: What’s better – pushing a cart or carrying a bag?
Wolkodoff concluded that bag carriers burn an average of 721 calories walking nine holes while cart pushers burn 718 calories. His findings also suggested that carriers are more apt to sustain shoulder, back and ankle injuries.
Dr. Josh Nelson, a Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) Level 3 golf medical professional and sports chiropractor based in Australia, is in the same camp.
While carriers contend the added weight-bearing of a golf bag on your shoulder is additional exercise, Nelson believes it’s still much safer and healthier to use a push cart.
“Carrying your clubs not only places a huge amount of compressive force on your spine, it also causes lactic acid build-up in the surrounding muscles, causing fatigue,” he wrote in a 2016 TPI article. “There is also the issue of dropping and lifting the bag over 100 times during a round which places more torsional stress on the spine.”
Mounting evidence of physical benefits aside, old habits still die hard. Entrenched carriers, either single- or double-strap, remain a tough sell but green-grass club professionals and course owners are more on board with push carts and push-cart fleets than ever.
Ramsbottom tells the story of returning to his home club in Pennsylvania years ago, an upscale private course with a strong caddie program, where it was an anomaly to see a push cart. During a conversation, he promised the head professional push carts were coming.
“He just laughed; thought was I completely nuts,” Ramsbottom said. “Well, fast forward a few years and that same country club now buys push carts from us. Honestly, to say this is a paradigm shift isn’t overstating it. Elite country clubs have literally gone from never allowing a push cart on their course because it’s not the image they want to portray, to where now they’re cool, accepted and everywhere.”
Technology to the Fore
Recently, I asked a golf retailer who sells a significant number of push-cart products what word best sums up the category today.
“Advanced” he said without hesitation.
A perfect example is Bag Boy’s three-wheeled Nitron. Air pressure created by a nitrogen canister inside pushes the cart open with the front wheels popping into the playing position in about three seconds. The cart folds down almost as quickly into storage or ready-for-travel mode.
“We’ve always had a leg up on our competition when it comes to opening and closing our cart but what we really wanted to do was to take our two-step process a step further,” said Ramsbottom. “We challenged our team to come up with what we call ‘one step open’ and, with the Nitro Piston technology, it’s exactly that: one step. It’s why we call it Auto Open. It’s revolutionary to the walking-cart market. We introduced it last year and right away it generated a lot of interest from consumers and the marketplace.”
Bag Boy’s award-winning Tri-Swivel II model is equally “advanced” in technology. Compact to about 24” high and across, using a pretty simple three-step fold process, the product is feature-rich with a deep scorecard console, integrated drink holder, handle-mounted parking brake, umbrella holder, accessory bag, mobile device holder and Bag Boy’s patented Top-Lok bag-to-cart attachment system which keeps a golf bag from shifting or turning (or falling off).
TAKING A STROLL
Lending an assist with the push cart’s 360-degree maneuverability and its easy folding functionality was the purchase of stroller company Baby Jogger out of bankruptcy auction years ago. The company has since been sold but it remains a significant influencer for Bag Boy’s R&D team.
“One of the cool things getting into the stroller business is the easy-fold, compact nature of strollers and how they’re so smooth. The stroller industry has also had swivel wheels on their products for a long time so we introduced the swivel-wheel concept to the golf industry many years ago. There’s an awful lot built into the total ease of use of that product,” added Ramsbottom on Tri-Swivel II.
In terms of sell-through, the company’s top model is neither of the above.
The four-wheel Quad XL is No. 1. It, too, has most of the same advanced features of the Nitron and Tri-Swivel II but utilizes a two-fold process that compacts down to 24” x 17”. So popular has it been with consumers that the company extended the line to include the Quad Junior, a push cart designed specifically for young golfers.
“I can’t tell you if the three-wheel is better than our four-wheel or vice-versa,” Ramsbottom said, “but I can tell you this: We feel like we’re the unqualified leader in the push-cart category and we’re going to continue to push the envelope when it comes to innovation and hot models.”
Not Only a Top Dog in Push Carts
To travel to the 2020 PGA Show in Orlando this year, Bag Boy sent me a T-2000 travel cover to test. This is a category where the company has found great success as a value-infused alternative for budget-conscious golf travelers but also where it has invested in over the past few years and now competes remarkably well with higher-priced brands.
Bag Boy’s in-line skate wheels made moving around the airports a breeze. The T-2000 features plenty of padded support for club protection: a super-smart initiative called Stand Guard – effectively, a high-density internal foam-padded area that protects the stand-bag mechanism – two oversized garment pockets, one oversized shoe pocket and one for accessories.
Designed from 1680D polyester, the cover is topped off – literally – with Bag Boy’s patented Pivot-Grip handle which twists to the bag position, reducing arm and wrist strain.
Capable of fitting almost any cart or stand bag, Bag Boy kept it lightweight at just nine pounds. The T-2000 also folds down, not over, to tuck away almost anywhere.
“We’re going to give you more product for your money than you can get from somewhere else,” said Ramsbottom about the company’s travel-cover division. “That’s another factor for how we’re successful, why we’re successful and how we run the company. You’re going to get as many features, if not more features, from us than you will from a higher-priced competitor. Obviously, there are all kinds of travelers – someone who takes a trip once a year, a guy who travels and plays regularly – but the cool thing with our cover business is we can satisfy both consumers at a great price point.”
Bag Boy has extended its line of covers to six – all different in form and function – with the T-750 at slightly more than $100 being by far the brand’s most successful travel product.
Cart bags is another category where Bag Boy is prospering. Although it promotes its push-cart business as a power cart-centric product, Klevana and his team in Richmond are smart enough to be flexible. They pay attention to the market, listen to consumers and heed the advice of retail partners. Taking all of those things into account, the Revolver FX, Shield and the new Chiller Cart Bag – featuring a removable, insulated cooler bag capable of holding six 12-ounce cans – are popular alternatives with the E-Z-Go, Club Car and Yamaha crowd.
One of the main reasons for its category success is the 14-way multi-material rotating Revolver top with full-length dividers. The spin function allows the top to turn all the way around, allowing easy access to any club without the golfer have to reach for it or try to find it.
Brought to market in 2006, Revolver remains one of Bag Boy’s most popular innovations in any of its product divisions.
“There’s nothing in the market quite like it,” Ramsbottom said. “It’s been a success for us for years and it continues to have a lot of traction for the riding golfer. Revolver is an innovation that makes sense, it works, and the consumer gets it. That’s why they buy it.”
Positioned? No. “Poised” for the Future
If you’re one of the carry-bag proponents who ignored the PSA above and have read to this point, maybe this prompts you to try a push cart.
Then again, maybe you’re too far down the rabbit hole to change. The folks at Dynamic Brands understand that. They want you to know the push-cart movement is gaining traction worldwide and the brand isn’t going anywhere.
If you’re already a loyal disciple of the push-cart movement, perhaps this opens your eyes a little wider to a product and company that has been ingrained into the game for some 84 years.
“None of us are sitting here, resting on our laurels, enjoying our success. We know what we do well and we’ll continue to work to do it better,” Klevana said. “We don’t have a lot of interest in hard goods, apparel or footwear. We know we can layer in different products and perhaps acquire other brands that will be meaningful to our business and to the industry but, right now, we like where we are and who we are. We like where Bag Boy is today and where we’re going in the future.”
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