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Bob Weeks

TSN Senior Reporter

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As the golf season in most parts of the country enters its last few weeks, the game can take some satisfaction that it provided one of the few low-risk activities at a time when it was needed most.

Rounds of golf are at record levels at many locations as players teed it up day after day, week after week.

The COVID-19 pandemic also once again proved that necessity is the mother of invention as companies retooled and reimagined ways to stay safe and also generate revenues. It led to many success stories in golf, many of which came seemingly out of nowhere.

Pin Caddy was one of the great product innovations that was born from the need to touch fewer things. The flag was one of those, which made getting your ball out of the hole difficult. The first solution was a variety of inserts in cups that kept the ball from dropping to the bottom. A cut-off pool noodle was one such idea. But those led to shots that caused the ball to bounce out of the hole. It wasn’t real golf, many said.

Then along came James Skrypec, a teaching professional in the Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., region, and brothers Zak and Kody Yoshy, who owned a metal fabrication business. They came up with the idea for a small device that sat at the bottom of the cup with a lever that allowed players to easily retrieve their golf balls using their putters.

The Pin Caddy, as the device was known, became an instant hit. It’s been sold into every province in Canada, as well as Florida, California and Scotland.

“When we first came up with the idea, we thought it would be cool if every course in the Kitchener-Waterloo area used them,” admitted Skrypec. “We never dreamed it would spread this widely.”

There are more than 250 courses using the Pin Caddy with almost unanimous approval.

“I called the first 150 courses we sold to for some feedback,” said Skrypec, “and we had a 98-per-cent positive response.”

The only dissenters were those who had non-standard pins where the unit didn’t fit that well.

After the initial wave of sales subsided, the Yoshy brothers set out to improve the original model. The first Pin Caddy came to market in just seven days and the booming sales meant there was little time to look at making it better. Now a second generation has been built. It features a rubber handle that doesn’t wear out and is a bit shorter to be less intrusive. It’s also made of stainless steel, so it won’t rust.

Courses where the Pin Caddy has been in play report that players say they hope the units will stay around even after the pandemic has disappeared. It’s become a much-accepted part of the game.

The Pin Caddy also helped the Yoshy brothers keep their business alive. With the slowdown in business, they were on the verge of closing up shop. Now, churning out Pin Caddys has keep the machines humming, even if it is still just a three-man show.

“My girlfriend may be the only one not happy about it,” joked Skrypec. “We were so busy I didn’t get to see much of her this summer.”

Another company that managed to pivot its business model was Levelwear, a clothing company known for its golf apparel. With the majority of Canadian courses closed at the start of the pandemic, it turned its focus toward making masks.

The company had its sewing machines at its Richmond Hill, Ont., headquarters turning out masks and used its overseas contacts to obtain more. But rather than just sell them outright, it turned the sales into charitable fundraisers. Working with its licensed partners such as the National Hockey League Players Association, the NHL and Major League Baseball, it managed to raise dollars for worthy causes.

In Canada, it generated funds for the PGA of Canada’s member assistance program, which provides members and their families with access to vital and confidential counselling and family support services.

Levelwear also supported the PGA of America’s Disaster Relief Fund, the LPGA Caddie Assistance Fund, Food Banks Canada, Feeding America and others with the funds raised.

“I don’t think we ever expected to be known as the mask guys but it’s a really nice way to help out on a few different levels,” said Brett Saunders, the brand manager at Levelwear. “It’s really a win-win in so many ways. It’s nice to be able to help out.”

The Levelwear masks have been hot sellers. They are omnipresent at golf courses where it’s rare to see staff wear anything other than the Canadian company’s models. There are also custom versions with club logos stamped on them. Many clubs are selling them to their players who wear them as they might a logoed golf shirt.

Outside of golf there are masks with the logos of NHL, MLB and CFL teams that can be ordered from Levelwear’s website.

“It would be mind-boggling if I told you how many we’ve sold,” said Saunders, who preferred not to reveal the exact numbers.

Golf may be a small light in an otherwise dark time, but these days, any good news is certainly welcome.