Lining Up Retail Success

When Dr. Tim Muscaro slips away from his South Tampa dental practice, he usually can be found on a golf course. He’s an 18 handicap – but would doubtless be better were it not for every duffer’s Achilles’ tendency: three-putt greens.

Recently, however, he’s made progress.

In his backyard.

He sprang for an 18-feet by 20-feet putting green behind his Sunset Park house. Went for top-of-the-line synthetic nylon turf and added some seasonal landscaping. Cost him about $2,500.

He now swears by it – and not at his short game.

“It’s kind of a joke with my golfing buddies,” says Muscaro. “I’ve said on more than a few occasions, ‘Hey, I’ve got this exact putt in my back yard.'”

It’s all because he became enamored of a product he saw at a PGA Show in Orlando. A product that simulated surface contours, could be moved inside when necessary and wouldn’t turn his backyard into a construction site. It’s called Tour Links, from Seminole-headquartered Creative Sports Concepts Inc. The product, which is manufactured and shipped out of Dayton, OH, was launched last August.

Tour Links’ president is 45-year-old Baltimore native, David Barlow. He’s also the founder, inventor (with six U.S. patents and two pending) and lead investor (along with his parents). He’s in an industry that’s fragmented among mom-and-pop operations, landscapers, swimming pool installers and a number of companies that specialize in a range of sports surfaces.

The potential market has been conservatively estimated at nine figures. Obviously that transcends PGA Tour professionals and the landed gentry. Industry observers expect the numbers to explode when retail’s potential is finally realized.

That’s where Tour Links’ future – and fortune – lies, ambitiously predicts Barlow.

To date, his product line – with a price range of $239.00 to $1,699.00 – is already carried by sports retailers Brookstone and Golfsmith. The latter is the largest golf retailer in the United States.

“It’s a great fit for our customers,” says Chris Hargett, senior buyer at Golfsmith, “because it enables them to practice their putting and chipping as if they were actually on the golf course.”

Additionally, Tour Links is distributed by a number of the largest sports-surface manufacturers and installers in the country, such as Field Turf (which did Tropicana Field), Sport Court and Mirage.

An even bigger retailer awaits, however. Barlow has been in negotiations with Home Depot. The plan is for HD to begin carrying Tour Links in test stores with the expectation of a national roll out later in 2005.

The allure, points out Barlow, is cost, portability and flexibility. The greens lend themselves to countless configurations through the arrangement of modular panels that are easily assembled and re-assembled. An infinite number of breaks can be created by inserting foam contour mats beneath the turf.

“Anybody can have anything they want,” emphasizes Barlow.

From August to Christmas, Tour Links did about $500,000 in sales, he says. “We see the trend line for $3-4 million next year,” he projects. After that — $1 million a month. Then he’ll consider major investors.

“Right now we’re looking to sell our way out of debt,” says Barlow. After that, his ambitions couldn’t be more bullish – no putts about it.

“My goal and my belief,” underscores Barlow, “is that our product line will dominate this industry in three years.”

High-Profile Entrepreneur

Tour Links is not Tom Barlow’s first foray into sports. He’s a life-long golfer and a 12 handicap. He founded Dimensional Art Inc. that created, among other things, the interactive FanLand that was a big hit when the Tampa Bay Lightning called St. Petersburg’s Thunder Dome home.

Before formally launching Tour Links last summer, he proved adept at getting his patented product into numerous high-visibility venues. Among them: the Ryder Cup, the PGA Tour’s “First Tee” program, the Merrill Lynch “Skins Game,” ESPN’s 25th Anniversary celebration, The Golf Channel’s “Drive, Pitch & Putt” competition and NBC’s “The Apprentice.”

“We’re getting that corporate recognition,” says Barlow. “Then (individual) endorsements, per se, will come. “Our concentration now is retail – then getting it into the hands of pros.”

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