BY ERIC FLOWERS
Whoever said “golf is a good walk spoiled” ought to meet Paul Hodge. Hodge is the 40-year-old CEO of Bend-based GolfBoard, a mechanized personal transport system that is one part Segway, one part snowboard and totally unconventional. The boards, which will debut this spring at 250 courses around the United States, including several in Oregon, are in essence large electric-powered skateboards that allow golfers to surf the emerald fairways rather than trudge across them. A serial entrepreneur who has helped launch half a dozen startups over his career, Hodge is a passionate electric vehicle enthusiast but only a casual golfer. Perhaps that’s why it took him more than a year of riding prototype boards in California and Hawaii before he realized the commercial potential of an electric board. It’s a radical idea, but one, he feels, whose time has come. “We were going to be the rebels of the industry … to fight against the golf-course establishment,” says Hodge, explaining the team expected to be run off the proverbial fairways by tradition-obsessed golf-course managers. What they found was an industry eager to address the sport’s ongoing slump in America, where both the number of rounds played and number of total players is on the decline. GolfBoard has some 800 back orders for demo boards already; the company expects to double sales numbers next year. Says Hodge: “If the industry wants to survive, they need to be innovative.”
Product: Personal transport for golfers
CEO: Paul Hodge
A Million-Dollar Idea
Hodge and his partners, surf legend Laird Hamilton and Bally Total Fitness founder Don Wildman, have so far invested millions of dollars in the company. Due to the extensive custom design and engineering work required, “nobody anticipated the difficulty of building this product to what it is now,” Hodge says. Last year the company conducted a Kickstarter campaign that injected another $100,000 into product development.
GolfBoard is looking for a permanent home for its corporate headquarters with all signs pointing to Bend. The company plans to have the doors open by April, with a staff of approximately 10 executives and support staff on the payroll.