A tiny independent golf shop outlasts deep-pocketed rivals in a cut-throat industry.
Dan Brady has spent the better part of his life surrounded by the equipment used in the game of golf—clubs, balls and tees. Yet the owner of Par Golf Discount in Dublin is honest about his own game. “I was never a real great golfer,” says Brady, 58. “I was never really much better than about a 12 handicap, but I really enjoyed the sport and the people associated with the sport.”
Brady opened his shop in 1982 not out of a particular passion for the game. Instead, a longstanding goal to be a small-business owner inspired the decision. “It was a clean business to be in—it's not like owning a bar or a restaurant,” Brady says.
Yet that business has changed radically over the past three decades. According to a report issued by the National Golf Foundation, “Golf and the Millennial Generation,” 18-to-34-year-old golfers have declined by about three million from the mid-1990s to 2015.
Matt Mossman of Mizuno USA describes the industry as “flat, at best”—due, in part, to what he describes as the cyclical nature of interest in golf. “You play golf when you're younger,” Mossman says. “Once we have kids, it seems like the parents' fun time and their needs for outside activities die. … Once your kids are out of the house, and you become an empty-nester, that's when you get back into it.”
Still, Par Golf—which opened in 1982 as part of the franchise Pro Golf Discount—has kept its doors open even as local competitors, such as Special Tee Golf, have vanished. The shop also has survived the encroachment of big-box retailers.
Longtime customer Tom Brough attributes the shop's endurance to its customer service. “It's not a store that's like a one-and-done experience,” Brough says. “You don't feel like you're in a store where you walk in and you never see that same person again.”
In addition to selling clubs, Par Golf carries apparel and shoes, buys and sells used clubs and maintains a workshop to repair clubs, which Brady describes as the most profitable part of the shop.
A native of Detroit, Brady traces the beginnings of his business to his sophomore year at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, when he bought a set of clubs from a Pro Golf franchise. “After talking with the salesman, he said that there were franchises available,” says Brady, who left school and persuaded his father to become an investor in his burgeoning business. After rejecting spots in Detroit and Ann Arbor, he chose Columbus to open his shop.
In the 1980s, encouraged by his first store's success, Brady opened three additional shops in the Pro Golf system and then opened two more in Cleveland—which he now describes as his “biggest mistake.”
“I was so far in debt because I grew too fast and really didn't have the cash to back it,” says Brady, who let his leases expire and returned to running a single shop, which was his most profitable.
In the early 2000s, Brady faced a new challenge—the emergence of national retailers that offered golf gear. Yet, in keeping overhead low in a single shop, Brady felt he was well-positioned to compete with the new kids on the block. And, when Golf Galaxy was acquired by Dick's Sporting Goods, Brady was sure that he could out-sell the competition.
“People come in all the time and say, ‘Dan, I was at the new Golf Galaxy out at Easton and wandered around the store for 45 minutes. Not one person even said hi to me,'” he says.
Once Brady's 20-year contract with Pro Golf expired, he struck out on his own; since 2002, the store has been known as Par Golf, which Brady runs independently.
In golf terms, Brady has navigated his share of sand traps and roughs, but he is optimistic about business today; he says revenue is up 20 percent this year from last, and he sees an uptick in millennial interest in the sport, too.
He also welcomes Topgolf, a golf-entertainment establishment that will soon set up shop in Columbus. “I think you're going to get people who are going to hit balls out there and go, ‘God, this is fun. I'm going to try to play golf on a real golf course.' ”
All of which leaves little time for Brady to improve his game. “I play maybe 15 to 16 times a year just because of how busy the store is,”he says.
Peter Tonguette is a freelance writer.