- What makes the BirdieBall putting mat roll like a real green? Aerated polymers.
- BirdieBall putting mat is the only mat out there with grain to simulate putting with or against the grain on a real green.
- More than half a million BirdieBall putting mats have been sold, with a less than a one-percent return rate.
- 300-percent sales growth over the past year has BirdieBall looking for a new facility.
The secret that makes BirdieBall the king of putting mats is something you’ve probably never heard of: aerated polymers.
Yeah, I know. From the looks of it, you’d think it’s plain old foam, right? But according to John Breaker—BirdieBall’s owner, inventor and wannabe Elon Musk—you’d be wrong.
“We have this bias in our culture about foam being cheap and readily available,” says Breaker. “Our BirdieBall mat is quite the contrary. We go to great lengths to create a foam that functions like a real green. And there’s nothing cheap about it.”
In fact, “foam” is disdained as just another four-letter word at BirdieBall. The appropriate term is “aerated polymer.”
As you’ll discover, aerated polymers are at the root (pardon the pun) of BirdieBall’s putting mats.
BirdieBall and the Spongy Subbase
The BirdieBall putting mat galloped away from the field like Secretariat in last year’s MyGolfSpy Indoor Putting Mat Buyer’s Guide. And the more you investigate, the more you learn that the secret is in the subbase.
The BirdieBall putting mat is fundamentally different. Everything else is like a carpet or a mat. BirdieBall is foam. Breaker says that’s no accident.
“Look at the natural grass cross-section of a healthy, vibrant putting green,” he says. “It has a grass top layer and, right below it, is a very robust root layer. That’s where all the nutrients come in. It’s little fibrils of roots and it’s a very spongy subbase.”
The healthier the green, the thicker the subbase and, by definition, the spongier it is. As golfers, we hate late summer/early fall because that’s when greens get aerated but aeration makes greens more plush.
“Most modern greens are mowed so short—down to .001 of an inch—that the ball doesn’t travel on blades of grass,” says Breaker. “It actually rides on the spongy subbase. That’s why you see them roll greens. People walk on them; mowers ride on them. They need to be flat.”
So when it comes to a putting mat, how do you replicate that spongy subbase?
That’s where aerated polymers come in.
Fibrils and Foam
“Take any other putting mat in the world, other than ours, there’s a texture and a pattern,” insists Breaker. “The ball will ride on that texture and pattern. That’s why we decided to focus on the subbase and then create a grass-like fibril.”
Breaker has one of the more unique backgrounds in the golf business. He worked many years ago for one of the inventors of Teflon and holds several patents in the oil and gas industry. And he knows polymers.
That knowledge of polymers along with a profound frustration with is own putting skills led Beaker to aerated polymers and the BirdieBall putting mat.
“Aerating a green grows the root system,” says Breaker. “Aerating our polymer creates this spongy subbase. The two look different but they provide the same functionality, which is to compress under load. You don’t want too spongy but you do want spongy enough.”
If you’re expecting a traditional textile-type putting mat, pulling a big chunk of foam out of the box can be a bit jarring. Breaker says that’s becoming less of an issue since buyers are doing more research on the product and know what to expect.
“We’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and we’ve sold over half a million putting greens,” he says. “It’s a 100-percent different experience than a woven textile putting mat, that’s for sure. But when it comes to true roll, those textile greens have a pattern and the ball might go down one pattern one time and another pattern another time.
“Textile has a pattern and you want to eliminate any pattern because the ball wants to track into a pattern. God makes real greens very random and randomness is important.”
BirdieBall: It’s Not Easy Being Green
Take a close look at a cross-section of a BirdieBall putting mat and it looks kind of like hairy lime Jell-O. The subbase—the aerated polymer part—is cellular and the top is brushed to create tiny fibrils meant to emulate the grain.
“It’s angled slightly in one direction so the ball will roll either into or with the grain,” says Breaker. “Into the grain, there’s more resistance. With the grain, there’s less because the fibril is down, allowing the ball to roll faster.”
BirdieBall sells a green-refreshing brush. Among other things, it allows you to change the speed of the green by brushing the fibrils up or down.
“We’re the first company to even talk about Stimp readings on indoor putting mats,” says Breaker’s daughter, Katie, who runs BirdieBall’s marketing department. “That’s because we’re the only mat with a grain feature. We’re not just mimicking the roll exactly; we’re actually replicating speed.”
Still, the fact the BirdieBall putting mat isn’t a deep, dark green like every other putting mat can concern a first-timer.
“People have been so conditioned,” adds Katie. “We’re the only company replicating an accurate roll but people don’t see carpet or a turf-like product when they open our box so they’re initially shocked and don’t understand how this could act anything like a natural putting surface.”
Despite that, BirdieBall has a less than one-percent return rate largely due to the fact its customers tend to be more serious golfers.
“A lot of the ‘it’s just foam’ complaints come from people who just want something that looks the part of a putting green, not something that could help take strokes off their game,” says Katie. “That’s a different customer. They just want something that looks cool.”
Rocky Mountain High or Get Out of Denver?
2020 was a very good year for BirdieBall. Sales exploded by 200 percent for the Evergreen, Colo., company. But often success brings unintended consequences.
“We’re growing so fast we may have to move out of the mountains,” says Breaker. “We have a super-nice facility in a beautiful part of the country but we’re literally working on top of one another. We may have to move somewhere flatter where we can get more space.”
The COVID pandemic surely turbocharged BirdieBall’s growth. And while tripling the business obviously isn’t sustainable, Breaker says sales are still riding in the fast lane.
“We did all our December sales on Black Friday,” says Breaker. “Starting Dec. 1, we didn’t promise anything for Christmas. It was all pre-order that we said we’d ship by Jan. 30. Nothing slowed down. Orders kept coming in and they’re still coming in. We had to take 10 days off. We just couldn’t keep our foot on that gas that hard. Everyone got nice bonuses but you’re just tired. It’s exhausting.”
Breaker does believe COVID-fueled change in buying behavior will leave a lasting mark.
“When DICK’S and other retailers shut down, the demand didn’t go up so much as accessibility went down,” he says. “Retail stores are back but I think buying behavior has changed. People see they can get something in two days from Amazon or in three days directly from us.”
Breaker keeps coming up with enhancements to the BirdieBall putting mat. You can order an incline kit to simulate uphill putts and there’s a Double Depth kit to provide a full inch of drop into the hole. As for size, you can order a BirdieBall putting mat as large as four feet by 30 feet if you have the space.
John Breaker is an idea man, just like Bill Blazejowski, aka Billy Blaze from the 1982 Henry Winkler-Michael Keaton comedy Night Shift.
“Even my patent attorney quotes that movie to me,” laughs Breaker.
And while he hasn’t figured out how to feed mayonnaise to tuna fish, ideas do come charging at him all day long.
“I’ll walk into my kids’ office twice a day and say, ‘how about this one?’” says Breaker. “They’ll literally laugh out loud and go ‘no, no, no.’ You have to have a tough audience but that doesn’t stop the invention machine.”
And while he may sound like the mad-scientist type, in truth, Breaker is equal parts inventor and entrepreneur.
“People send me patented golf ideas all the time,” he says. “But there’s a difference between patents and patents that are functional. Something may be unique but is it solving a problem? Is there going to be a demand for it? If there isn’t, then there’s no sense in patenting it. Don’t even bother.”
To put it another way, the entrepreneur/inventor sees a problem and tries to find a practical, workable solution. The mad scientist, on the other hand, comes up with a solution and then tries to find a problem for it to solve.
“I was trying to improve my putting and everything on the market was either a woven synthetic piece of grass where the ball would just roll on top and not track at all,” he says. “Or it was something that went uphill at the end, which didn’t tell me anything about speed. I wanted to find a combination of rolling it right and then having it fall into the hole without going uphill.
“Putting air into the polymer was the way to do it.”
For more information, visit BirdieBall.com.
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