Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer
The coveted green jacket, is a tradition like no other. Augusta National and the Masters Tournament is as trustworthy as the first buds of Spring, both come every year like clockwork. A culmination of talent and history, the first of four major golf championships a year, the Masters has been a Southern tradition since 1934. The first greens were christened this week, and one Macon County resident is paying close attention to the game.
Bobby Grace has lived in Highlands since 2016. He bought two acres of land in Macon County in 1998 and fell in love with the mountains of Western North Carolina, a cool retreat from his hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla. Business and other responsibilities kept him from relocating immediately after first buying the property, but since August 2016, Grace and his burgeoning business has called Macon County home.
“The views, fresh air, no airplanes overhead, the farms where we get our organic food, the people are so nice,” Grace said of his favorite things about calling Macon County home. “And the golf courses are fabulous!”
Grace doesn’t just find solitude in the quiet lifestyle of Highlands, but he finds inspiration for his international business, Bobby Grace Putters. In the golf industry, Grace is a household name.
Grace’s story is an authentic American success story that began when he was a teenager in St. Petersburg, Fla., not far from where his first Tour Shop was headquartered.
Taking up golf at a very young age, Grace quickly became a champion junior golfer, winning many titles and even competing in the U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur. He soon realized that his fascination with the game extended beyond participating as a player to its history, with a particular focus on the classic game-changing clubs.
He developed an eye for rare clubs and over time his personal collection evolved into a full-blown business whose clientele included many touring pros who, like Grace, loved the legacy of the game.
As his “classic club” business flourished, Grace started to tinker with club design using the insights he had gained from studying the all-time great golf clubs. By 1992, Grace had recruited a local manufacturing team and was producing “prototype” putters that he introduced to a select audience. In August 1994, Grace had the opportunity to show one of his “prototype” putters to Nick Price – who was soon to become the number one player in the world.
Price was warming up for the third round of the tournament when he tried Grace’s putter. He became so excited by the feel and results he enjoyed on the practice green, he immediately replaced the putter he had been using and used Grace’s prototype, called “The Fat Lady,” for the final two rounds.
When Price returned to his home, he asked Grace to send him another “Fat Lady” with some minor adjustments. The following week Nick used the “Fat Lady” at the PGA Championship, winning wire-to-wire and talking about his new putter the whole time.
Because Grace’s name was known throughout the golfing world – and because Price was so enthusiastic in his praise for this miraculous putter – the week after the Championship the newly formed Bobby Grace Putters received 27,000 orders for “The Fat Lady.”
“Our first year in the business we had so many PGA Tour Players, LPGA, European PGA, Japan PGA, Australasia PGA and Canadians PGA players using our putters at the same time it was phenomenal,” Grace said of one of his proudest accomplishments. “We had both the men’s and women’s #1 player in the world winning all kinds of professional tournaments all around the world using our putters. We had a 15,000-square-foot facility in St. Petersburg, and 41 employees where we pumped out 90,000 putters our first year.”
Since then, Grace’s business has taken off. His reputation as an unorthodox and innovative designer attracted attention from tour players and other manufacturers and shot him to fame. Grace has continued to innovate with both his designs and use of materials at his state-of-the-art Tour Shop, where he personally oversees every aspect of Made in America production.
“Made In The USA” is the key to high quality and hands-on products,” said Grace. “Many of my clients who are collectors will not buy it if it’s made overseas.”
With Masters Week in full swing, Grace said his shop prepares the best way they can.
“We build up lots of inventory of putters to be ready for the customers to call, stop in and order offline,” he said.
Grace is capitalizing on the inspiration he finds in Highlands to continue creating innovative products, and is flourishing with the complete relocation of his business headquarters to Macon County from Florida.
“Yes absolutely,” Grace said of Highlands lending itself to the golf industry. “It is actually a huge part of golf’s history. The father of the famous Bobby Jones, who started the Masters, and one of the most famous golf course architect (Donald Ross) together built Highlands Country Club back in 1928. It is a tremendous golf course and a thing of beauty. The other courses, less that 15 minutes from my Putter Fitting Studio that are awesome are Highlands Falls Country Club, Cullasaja Country Club (Arnold Palmer Design), Old Edwards Club, Wildcat Cliffs Country Club and Wade Hampton Golf Club.”
Having Grace in Western North Carolina is also good for other people in the industry. Will Peoples, owner of The Peoples Clubs and Tour Stock Putters, is located in Jackson County and is a Bobby Grace Putters distributor.
“Its means a great deal to have Bobby Grace Putters in our backyard,” said Peoples. “We like to support N.C. businesses and do so as much as we can for them. Having him local is not only good for the local economy but also is very convenient as we can stop by easily and work with him on a unprecedented level. If we want to see something in person he’s just short drive away. If a customer wants a putter customized rather than having to ship it and wait, we can just drive up there and get it done the same day.”
Peoples operates two online, full service golf stores. The Peoples Club Shop is a full service online golf store which specialize in custom built tour issue clubs that give our customers every advantage possible. The Peoples Clubs was founded in 2008 and has built countless clubs for pros, collegiate golfers, and aspiring pros. Peoples’ second business, Tour Stock Putters, has grown to be one of the most well known and respected Tour and Limited Putter dealers in the country. The online shop is updated frequently with new, rare, and unique products all the time. Founded in 1997 by Nick Venson, TourStockPutters.com has been selling high end putters, such as Bobby Grace Putters, across the globe for over 20 years. In 2017,The Peoples Clubs acquired Tour Stock Putters.
Like Grace, Peoples said Masters week means big business for him.
“From a business standpoint, Masters week is huge, it’s really the kick-off to the season, we notice increased sales, web hits, and inquiries during that week,” said Peoples. “This year we are doing several special promotions and sales specifically for the Masters, including a Masters themed putter online at Tour Stock Putters.”
Peoples agreed with Grace and said that the Highlands community makes for the perfect backdrop for his business.
“The history and tradition that can be found in both Highlands and Cashiers is a perfect match for what we do,” said Peoples. “Not only do the towns itself live and breathe golf, but several of our customers have second homes in the area and we also work with most of the local courses and help them as much as possible.”