Phil Jones and his golfing buddies have lost their share of golf balls.
Now, Jones has made a business out of all those hours spent wading through the rough.
The Richmond salesman invented and recently began selling the Golf Ball Buoy, a bright orange, weighted marker made of industrial canvas that’s used to mark where a player’s ball lands after an errant shot.
“The pros don’t hit it into the grass, it’s for the everyday golfer,” said Jones, who also works in national sales for Richmond-based ad firm NetSearch Digital Marketing.
“When you hit (the ball) outside of the fairway, you have to go look for it. One guy will point to it and then roll off on the cart, and then you come up and say ‘Hey, where’d my ball go?’ You waste all this time looking for the same ball you saw five minutes earlier,” Jones said. “It’s a fun way to mark the ball and help your buddies coming behind you.”
Sales of the Golf Buoy began earlier this summer, selling for $16.95 before tax. Jones said the price is less than the cost of items he and his pals often use as make-shift markers.
“Over time, we’d throw beer cans, golf hats or towels,” he said. “A nice golf hat is about $35, and when you have friends like I do and you throw that hat on the ground, the first thing it sees is the bottom of the golf cart tire. A golf towel is like $30 and you don’t want to keep throwing it down.”
Jones said he had previously pondered the idea but that it really got some momentum during the pandemic, when he had time to give it more thought.
After looking through different materials like those found in dog toys, juggling balls and cornhole bags, Jones settled on a potential look and feel for the Golf Ball Buoy. The bright orange golf marker is made in the U.S. by Allen Manufacturing in Lewiston, Maine. Jones said that the company works with industrial fabrics that are found in military gloves and lifejackets.
Jones said that the trademark for Golf Ball Buoy is in its last stages after going through the process for 10 months. He has registered the name in the U.S. as well as globally, too. He said that he hopes to get a patent for the product.
Jones has paid for the startup entirely out of his own pocket, saying that initial research, artwork, business licensing and manufacturing cost him about $5,000.
To date he’s sold about 500 buoys, and last month scored his first bulk order: 130 shipped off to a golf event put on by Palmer Brothers Painting and General Contracting in Silver Springs, Maryland.
All sales thus far have gone through the Golf Ball Buoy website, but Jones gives some away to family and friends in exchange for helping spread the word. He currently runs the business out of his house and is the only employee.
“Now, with the golf courses that we’ve played at, we’ve left a few of them and people have started to recognize them,” he said.
At 61, Jones has been playing golf recreationally for more than 30 years and has worked in sales and business since he got out of college. He said his favorite course in the area is Independence Golf Club in Midlothian.
Jones said he is also a serial sender of unsolicited ideas.
“I’ve been doing it all my life. I have 30 or so (ideas) a day and just send them out,” he said. “I always come up with solutions to things and it’s kind of a hobby to send out letters or emails to companies for product ideas or improvements.”
With the Golf Ball Buoy, he’s getting the chance to take one of his ideas into his own hands.
“I’ve gone through all of the right steps to get a product out to the market that all came from an idea,” he said.