Brothers flying high with unique carry bag idea

Josh and Matt Smith knew their upstart FlagBag Golf Co. had arrived when they received a shout-out from a legendary broadcaster

FlagBag Golf Co.
Customers can submit their own pin flags for creation of a bag or purchase one that has been created in partnership with a growing number of clubs and courses.

The moment hit brothers Josh and Matt Smith a few months ago that they had accomplished something special in the game of golf when they ran across famed CBS play-by-play voice Jim Nantz during a round at Cypress Point on the picturesque Monterey Peninsula.

“He came up to us and he couldn’t have been nicer and more enthusiastic, talking about how his friend just bought one of our golf bags 10 minutes ago,” Matt Smith said of Nantz. “For two guys who grew up playing golf at a muni course in Oregon, to have Jim Nantz aware of your bag and who you are, now that’s a real cool thing.”

The “bag” Matt Smith is referring to is no ordinary looking carry bag produced by the brothers’ FlagBag Golf Co. In fact, it’s quite the show stopper if you happen to see one on the golf course or know a member at your club who has purchased one of the truly unique items on the golf merchandising market.

In the spring of 2019, Josh Smith, a veteran golf superintendent in California, came up with the self-described “crazy idea” of creating custom golf carry bags out of used, flown flag pins that were in many cases destined for the trash heap.

He reached out to brother Matt, whose background is in finance, to see if he would be interested in helping him launch the carry bag idea.

“I’m your typical dorkie tax, finance guy, and my brother works at the golf course so we couldn’t be more polar opposites,” Matt Smith said. “I have two degrees in finance so my hands are about as soft as a baby’s bottom and Josh has been working on golf courses for 25 years so we have a different pedigree.”

The conservative-natured Matt Smith at first reacted to the first attempt at the flag bag as being too “loud.”

“But if I’ve learned anything in my business career and in my education it’s to listen to the customer,” Matt Smith said. “We showed it to 10 different guys — and yes admittedly it was a small sample size for market research — but I thought we had something because everybody loved it.”

Josh Smith then connected with long-time friend, Todd Rohrer, at Macdonald Leathergoods to discuss his "crazy" idea. Rohrer had previously worked for 15 years at MacKenzie Golf Bags, one of the nation’s leading carry bag manufacturers, so he was a natural fit to lend his expertise to FlagBag Golf Co.

“I bet 80-90 percent of the MacKenzie bags out in the world today he built or was involved with,” Matt Smith said of Rohrer. “He has tremendous experience building high quality carry bags. Our team builds them, designs them, markets them, does all of that, but Todd’s team builds them for us, so we like to give credit where credit is due.”

Matt Smith admitted the FlagBag Golf Co. team was a bit leery starting a business at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“But we didn’t need to make 2,000 bags a year in order to make this work,” he said. “We were OK if it launched slowly. We thought we had a decent idea, and I would say we exceeded our expectations our first year 20-fold. Never in a million years would I have envisioned being at some of the clubs we’re at or working with some of the golf celebrities we’ve worked with.”

FlagBag Golf Co.’s big breakthrough came when the 2020 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am purchased 170 of its custom carry bags for the tournament’s celebrities as tee prizes.

“It was also like an advertising piece for the resort, instead of having six different players with their Callaway or Titleist bags they had their logo six times on everybody’s bag,” Josh Smith said. “As excited as we were I feel like the resort was equally excited to have that kind of billboard walking down the fairway on the celebrity’s shoulders.”

The flag bags are not cheap. They start at $895.

“Golfers are designing their own custom bags. There is no economy to scale or efficiency. It is a real one-off, personalized item, and it is being made in the USA so that means it’s expensive,” Josh Smith said. “The parts and pieces going into making the bag are of the finest leather, with amazing stainless steel fixtures, and then there is the amount of time it takes for one stitcher to pull it all together.”

That figure stands at more than 10 man hours.

“The golf bag business is definitely competitive,” Matt Smith said. “But there is always room for a complementary product. What I’ve often said is women carry purses and you may have one you carry to church and one you use for a night out. We’ve run into a lot of customers who are male that have multiple carry bags from different companies. I have seven carry bags now; over the years I’ve just collected them. It’s competitive but the golf consumer really respects a high quality, unique product and there is room at the table for a lot of companies if you bring something unique and well received.”

Individuals send in flags to have bags designed as well as club members who are proud to represent a particular private club or resort.

“If you call and ask me to make you a Seminole bag, we’re not licensed to do that,” Matt Smith said. “That’s part of the chase, too. They either have to buy that through the Seminole pro shop, which we work through, or they have to acquire the flags on their own to send us.”

“Overall, the private clubs have been wildly receptive,” added Josh Smith. “The clubs like it because they don’t have to buy inventory, we can just start building a bag for one of their members and the club is going to make 30 percent for really not doing a whole lot. The customers are so excited about it that it has just been a fun thing for pro shops to be involved in. They are fully functional golf bags and most people are using them as such, but some are even using them as a piece of memorabilia since golfers all love logos and their home golf courses.”

Having been connected with golf for more than 25 years, including playing competitively at St. Mary’s College of California and as a golf landscape artist, Josh Smith is certainly in tune with the game’s finer points.

“Josh always knew subtle things that were cool in golf that your average hack like me who was playing football and baseball didn’t know,” Matt Smith said. ”For a long period of time every bag we did just got cooler and cooler. There are so many stories you can tell with flags and our flag bags are 100 percent unique. They really give the customer full license to design whatever the hell they want. We have people sending in flags from their college, from their dad’s country club, whatever story you want to tell, you can put on there.”