Q&A: Jamie Ledford | President, Golf Pride

Under Ledford's leadership, the grip brand has opened a Global Innovation Center in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Ledford discusses the GIC's impact, lessons learned and the benefits of being located in America's golf epicenter

Jamie Ledford
Jamie Ledford.

In 2012, Jamie Ledford arrived at Golf Pride with a wealth of varied experience — having previously served as a strategy consultant with A.T. Kearney, vice president of global business development for Callaway Golf and director of consumer products for Starbucks Coffee Co.

As president of Golf Pride, Ledford oversees Golf Pride’s new Global Innovation Center, located just off of Pinehurst No. 8 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. The Center features retail, testing and rapid prototyping labs that allows the Golf Pride team continuously develop and test the latest technology, which, in turn, benefits golfers of all skill levels.

Ledford recently participated in a Q&A with The First Call's Stuart Hall and discussed a range of topics concerning Golf Pride — along with which is his favorite Pinehurst course.

The First Call: You've been with Golf Pride since 2012. How has the company evolved in that period?
Jamie Ledford: When I started, we saw ourselves primarily as a supplier of grips to club makers. Today, we see ourselves as a performance equipment brand in our own right. Our responsibility is to inspire golfers around the world creating confidence every time they grip a club and get ready for a shot. That simple shift in mindset has been a huge part of our growth and development over the last few years.    

TFC: What were some lessons learned along your career path that you're applying to Golf Pride?
JL: That is a great question. I do feel like I have brought all of my past experiences to my leadership role here at Golf Pride. While I pull a lot from all of the companies and all of the leaders I have worked for in the past — Kearney, Starbucks, Callaway — I pull the most from my time at Starbucks. I was there during their international growth phase. We were transforming the way people thought about coffee and coffee shops. There was such a tremendous sense of purpose and creative energy there that motivated everyone. It wasn’t world peace, but we did feel like we were bringing a little bit of happiness to people’s daily lives. In a way, I would say that is what we are trying to do here at Golf Pride for golfers around the world. 

TFC: Now that we're beyond the pandemic, are there any lessons you learned during that period that are still applicable? Did the pandemic alter the way we do business for better or worse?
JL: Adversity makes you better.  I think that was true for us at Golf Pride. That roller coaster from total shut down of retail shops in spring 2020 to the biggest spike in demand for golf equipment that anyone has ever seen was a real challenge. Our team did a great job, but it taught us that we need more than a great team.  We needed strong internal processes and advanced systems to be more agile and make easier to adjust to market conditions. We have already made good progress in this area, but the work continues.        

TFC: Golf Pride conducted tests at the Pinehurst fitting studio that sought to determine the impact of worn grip conditions on player performance. Other than the need for players to regrip their clubs more often — over 80% of players do not regrip their clubs every year — what were your top takeaways?
JL: This research was part of our “Grips Matter” initiative. We are on a mission to show golfers how grips impact their performance just like clubheads, shafts and balls. This was our first study. More will follow. We tried to control for all other variables and focus exclusively on the impact of grips and specifically the difference between fresh versus worn grips on a 7-iron shot. 

What we found was that fresh grips increased ball speed and drove on average 2 yards of additional carry, which could be the difference between clearing that bunk in front of the green or not.  The increased ball speed came not from higher clubhead speeds, but from more centeredness of contact on the face. 

Why did golfers hit it more squarely with fresh grips? There are two factors at play here that we are still unpacking. The first is simply micro slippage of a worn grip in your hand as you swing. We are working on new test methods here to see that more clearly through the swing. The second is mental and confidence. More than 80% of golfers felt significantly more confident with fresh grips in their hands and we think that contributed as much as anything to more square contact on the clubface. 

TFC: What, in your opinion, separates Golf Pride from its competitors?
JL: We will let golfers decide how we are different from our competitors. We are focused on pushing the limits every day on grip design and grip technology to help inspire golfers with a feeling of confidence to play their best. In that way, I think we take the greatest pride in the fact that more than 80% of Tour players play Golf Pride grips without any endorsement contract. They could choose to play any grip they want in those high-pressure situations. They choose us and that tells us that we are doing something right. 

TFC: Golf Pride's Global Innovation Center (GIC) has been open a few years, elaborate on what it has meant for the company. Like a lot of things, expectations of something going in often change after the immersion. What are you learning about or from the Center?
JL: The Global Innovation Center was a big bet for us on the future. We wanted to bring all aspects of grip innovation together under one roof and do it in a way that brought out the best in our team. We couldn’t be happier with the results. We work from the golfer experience back to better grip designs. At the front door of the facility, we now have our flagship brand store we call the Retail Lab serving golfers every day. Just past that, we have the Test Lab constantly pushing for more performance insight on grips. A few steps from there, we have the RP (Rapid Prototyping) Lab, turning new grip ideas into physical prototypes in hours. We can then close the loop by putting those grip prototypes immediately back in the hands of golfers who are visiting the GIC. The GIC has helped trigger so much fresh thinking — it has been amazing. 

TFC: The Retail Lab was a new concept. What are you learning from that?
JL: Anyone in Pinehurst should come check it out. It's open to the public. We started with this basic idea that most shops push grips to the back room. We wanted to bring them to the front and show golfers how we see grips as equipment for your hands and treat you like a tour pro when you visit. We wanted to create the best grip buying experience that we could imagine. I hear such great reviews from people who have visited that it tells we have created something special. What I love even more is that we have our own retail customers coming to check it out to see what they can learn from it to deploy at their own shops. That is why we call it the Retail Lab.  Just like we are pushing grip design, we are pushing the retail experience as well for grips and trying new things in the store all of the time.    

TFC: Over short periods of time, say every four or five years, there can only be so many technological advances with a grip, so does what separates you apart from competitors? Then turn to the customer experience. If everyone is offering somewhat similar products, isn't it then about the consumer?
JL: We can’t accept the premise of the question. Our mentality is that we can bring something new and better to grip design every year. That is our goal. 

At the same time, you are right, there is more to it than just product design. We need to improve the entire golfer experience when it comes to selecting, buying and installing new grips. That experience needs to be a lot more convenient than it is today. That is a big part of the reason behind the Retail Lab. We have another innovation effort inside Golf Pride focused on making the install process faster and easier for everyone. We are pushing on both these fronts every year.   

Golf Pride Retail Lab
The Golf Pride Retail Lab, located off Pinehurst No. 8 in Pinehurst, North Carolina, allows golfers to visit, view and try out the company's different products.

TFC: Talk a little about Golf Pride’s newest offerings and the recently announced Tour Tack? Or what can we expect on the horizon.
JL: A lot of our new product insight comes from the Tour. Tour Tack is one of those examples. There are a ton of players who play classic Tour Velvet. There were a few players that were looking for a little tweak to this classic grip. They wanted a little more of that tacky “sticky” feeling that helps some golfers feel locked in when they grip a club. We have been working on this grip for a couple of years with several guys on Tour now playing it. For a limited time, we are making it available to the general public. Some might see it as a cross between Tour Velvet and Tour Wrap. It has some of the tackiness of Tour Wrap, but the classic texture of Tour Velvet.

TFC: How does having Golf Pride situated right there in Pinehurst, which is an epicenter of golf in this country, benefit the company?
JL: Pinehurst is often thought of as the home of American golf. There is such great history here. More than history, we chose to be here because the world of golf flows through Pinehurst like few other places in the world. While it is a small community, it is a global golf resort that pulls in golfers from around the world. By building our Global Innovation Center right inside the gates of Pinehurst No. 8, we feel like we have a unique opportunity to connect with all kinds of golfers. The support we have felt from the local community and those who travel to Pinehurst and stop by Golf Pride while they are visiting has been tremendous.  

TFC: Which Golf Pride grips are currently on your clubs and how often do you regrip them? Be honest.
JL: I play MCC Plus4 Align in a standard size on all clubs (even my wedges). My grips are always fresh and on point for three reasons.  First, I am just that way about all of my equipment. Second, I almost never play with a glove, so I need those grips to be fresh. Third, I am always talking with people about grips at the range or on the tee box and pulling clubs out of my bag to show them how they feel. I know there are a ton of people out there playing super worn grips, so I want them to feel the dramatic difference of fresh grips in their hands. That is the surest way to encourage someone to re-grip their clubs.     

TFC: Has your golf game improved during your time in Pinehurst?
JL: It is funny that most people who come and join our Golf Pride team in Pinehurst see their index increase significantly. That happened to me. The courses are challenging tracks. The conditions are different than other parts of the country. You are also playing different courses all of the time because there are so many places to play here. Over time, it makes you a much better golfer. When I go back and play old home courses and places like that, I can tell that Pinehurst has definitely sharpened my game. 

TFC: Is there a favorite course you prefer to play in that area?
JL: I live on Pinehurst No. 9 and work at Pinehurst No. 8. Even before we built the GIC at Pinehurst No. 8, that was my favorite course to play. It is challenging, but fair. It is the most natural and peaceful of the Pinehurst courses because it is built in a natural area with lots of wildlife and no homes around. Honestly, some of my favorite moments are walking that course at sunset with friends or Golf Pride team members and just playing and talking as we go.