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Ridgeland home to golf industry’s ‘fastest-growing company’

Ridgeland — So far this year, four of five top finishers in PGA EuroPro Tour tournaments have used it. So have golfers at historic St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Loch Lomond golf courses in Scotland, and Waterville and Ole Head in Ireland.

The product? Referred to as the iPod of golf, SkyCaddie is one of the industry’s most innovative rangefinders for golfers. Ridgeland-based SkyHawke Technologies produces and markets the product worldwide.

“We can safely say that we’ve become the fastest-growing company in golf,” said Richard Edmonson, CEO of SkyHawke Technologies in Ridgeland. “This growth has been generated in a time when the golf market in general has been down. Most companies in golf are not growing, with a large percentage either losing money or showing poor performance.”

Teeing off

The idea for SkyCaddie came to Edmonson in the late 1990s, when cell phone usage was skyrocketing. He wanted to integrate GPS, wireless and Internet technology into a next-generation rangefinder that measures the size of a cell phone, weighs about four-and-a-half ounces, and is simple to use. SkyCaddie would rely on the same GPS network the military uses to instantly measure and automatically display the distance from the golfer’s ball to any target or hazard. No line of sight would be needed to accurately measure distance.

When investors saw the potential for the product, SkyHawke Technologies was formed in 2000. The first product, called SkyGolf, retailed for $399 and required a PDA (personal digital assistant). The revised version, SkyCaddie, retails for $349 and does not require a PDA.

“Until our product was developed, every aspect of golf had benefited from technology enhancements except distance,” said Edmonson. “Our product is one whose time has come. This part of the golf game has hadn’t had the benefit of technology enhancing it as every other part of the golf game.

Technology-enhanced equipment such as golf club heads and shafts and golf balls has had a big impact on the golf game. So has golf instruction, with all types of teaching aids and computer-assisted systems. But golf is still fundamentally about distance. To play your best golf, you really need to know how far to hit it, and how far you actually hit it. When you combine those two things, then you have a chance to hit a good golf shot.”

SkyCaddie delivers the same information to a golfer that caddy Steve Williams provides Tiger Woods, noted Edmonson.
“Some people may think a caddy is needed only to carry a bag, but there are other ways to get a bag carried,” he said. “A caddy provides valuable information to the player, but most golfers don’t have a chance to experience what a caddy can do for them.”

RankMark, a leading independent golf equipment and consumer marketing firm, rated the SkyCaddie its highest “Best of the Best” award. “Prior to introducing them to the (SkyCaddie), few realized that distance technology could improve their play so drastically,” wrote RankMark.

“Yardage books, which are time-consuming to use, and laser rangefinders are SkyGolf products’ two closest competitors,” said Edmonson. “We have a better mousetrap. It’s going to be fun to be part of golf history and see our product sitting among other great innovations in the game of golf.”

Surging sales

Last year, SkyCaddie sales increased 600% over 2004. This year, the company’s growth is on target to expand 150%.

“The impetus for the growth has come from several areas, including our network of golf courses, which has grown quickly to over 10,000,” said Edmonson. “This is what drives our business. Without a map, a GPS device for golf has no value.

“Second, the influencers in golf — the PGA of America, USGA, the NCAA Coaches’ Association for both the women and men — have gotten behind our product or support the advancement of distance technology in golf.

“Third, in 2005, our SkyCaddie became the first range-finding device to be used in professional competition. When the Adam’s Tight Lies Tour adopted our product exclusively for use in competition, we received an incredible amount of credibility but more importantly, a public venue to show how the product can perform. And it performed incredibly to speed up play and improve performance. During the season, eight of 10 of the top money winners on this tour used our product. We had four or five consecutive winners using our product and the tour was able to shave off almost 25 minutes on the opening round when they have a 156-player field.”

SkyHawke’s biggest break occurred last October, when the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A), golf’s governing bodies, made an unprecedented mid-term ruling that allowed range-finding devices to be used. “That added an enormous amount of credibility to rangefinder products and increased our already steep growth rate even more,” said Edmonson.

Developing business here, around the world

For Mississippi, the product’s popularity means increased jobs. Two years ago, SkyHawke employed 16. Now in the Magnolia State alone, the company has more than 80 employees. Another 125 people work outside of Mississippi mapping courses or selling throughout North America. Dozens more people work for the company internationally.

“We knew this was a worldwide product, but we didn’t anticipate developing international business for another year or two,” said Edmonson. “The international market started approaching us long before we anticipated it. We’re very proud of the fact that we have some exportable technology that fits in with a huge international market. Worldwide, there are over 50 million golfers. Golf speaks a common language. It doesn’t matter where you play, you have the same problem, and our product solves that problem. It also automatically converts to yards or meters.”

Even though SkyCaddie has rocked the golfing world, Edmonson said “our real potential remains ahead of us.”

“The foundation is now in place,” he said. “We need to seize the opportunity created to build one of the best known and respected brands in golf.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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