Dean Snell doesn’t have an agenda. He’s not tilting at windmills. Nor does he have ambitions to topple the establishment.
He’s just trying to have some fun.
Snell is one of the brightest minds in golf and while his golf ball company, Snell Golf, is not quite causing a wave in the ball business, it’s a sizeable ripple that is getting markedly bigger every year.
Snell Golf is a direct-to-consumer company with no sales reps, no Tour endorsement contracts, no paid advertising, no presence in pro shops and no accounts receivable. The company’s success in the last four years has primarily been due to word of mouth and some positive reviews by websites known mostly to golf gearheads.
However, you can’t fake it in the ball business and the primary reason for Snell’s increased awareness among golfers is the product. For 25 years, Snell was part of the golf establishment, creating balls for Titleist and TaylorMade. He worked on the original Titleist Professional and the ProV1, among many others. He is the owner of more than 40 golf ball patents.
So, Snell’s MTB (My Tour Ball) Black and the new MTB-X is original technology and many people believe — and testing shows — that Snell products compare very favorably to the industry’s high-end Tour-caliber balls. And, they are sold at $32.99 a dozen, less if you buy multiple dozens — and free shipping.
“It’s affordable,” Snell likes to say. The third ball in the Snell line is the Get Sum, a less expensive two-piece ball.
Snell left TaylorMade after his children finished college and in 2015, he started Snell Golf. “It was a fun, kind of hobby thing in the beginning,” Snell said. “At the time, golf was really hurting. Sales at the big companies were down, golf courses were folding, club memberships were going away. The timing was such that maybe we could try something different.
“I told my wife that we do all our Christmas shopping for hours online. Maybe we could do something like that for people who buy golf balls, to give them the technology and the performance and to make it affordable and stay away from the Tour and the pro shops.”
The company started with self-funding and Snell said a couple of friends gave him some help. In the beginning, it was a couple of guys and him, filling ball orders in a warehouse that a friend had given him.
“I’d take the orders, pack them and ship them,” he said.
He started slowly, knowing that if he took on too much, too soon, success could actually drive him out of business. But golfers started to catch on. In the company’s second year, sales grew 400 percent.
“I have a lot of good friends in the industry and the media and in 25 years of working with them, that creates some relationships in that everyone wanted to help,” he said.
Growth has been north of 50 percent in each of the next three years. Year-to-date, sales are up 62 percent over 2018 — and the heart of the golf season is just starting in most of the country.
Snell says that five PGA Tour players have offered the play one of the company’s balls.
“We’ve respectfully declined,” he said. “If we had 10 Tour players under contract for $250,000 a year each, that’s $2.5 million and somebody has to pay for that. Ultimately, it would be the consumer. That’s not our business.”
Snell Golf is in its third building and the company now has about 25 employees, which include Snell’s wife, their children and their daughter-in-law. Snell rises each morning at 5:30 a.m. and reads upwards of 600-700 emails he gets every day from consumers. At 7 a.m., he gets to work and everyone goes to the back of the building, fills and packs orders.
“We turn the music on, we pack and tell stories,” he says. “FedEx pulls up, takes all the orders out, and then I go to my desk and do work in the afternoon.”
And with each order, there is a personalized thank you note from Snell. Posted in the building is the company’s mantra, “One customer at a time.”
When the MTB-X was introduced earlier this year, a website, MyGolfSpy.com, conducted an extensive ball test with robots. Testing concluded that the Snell ball was the longest among all Tour-caliber offerings. When My Golf Spy published the results, the MTB-X sold out in six hours.
“We didn’t know anything about (the My Golf Spy test), when it was happening, what the results were,” Snell said. He air-shipped another order and the balls sold out in a day.
The proof is in the performance and Snell has the chops to produce balls that have a distinction with a difference.
“I have a little bit of an advantage,” he said. “I know what technology works. I know what mantle technology, what thickness to make it, what flex modulus to make it to give it the speed it needs. I know about cast urethane because I brought it into the golf market with the Titleist Professional. The first ball with a cast urethane cover was a ball that I worked on for three years at Titleist.
“Understanding what needs to happen to get performance is one of the advantages we have. Using that knowledge to make the lowest compression with the fastest speed, I know how to do that.”
Snell has also found out how to reach serious golfers with serious products. How much bigger it gets is anyone’s guess. But you somehow get the feeling that the company won’t grow too fast nor will it turn its back on its core philosophy.
You suspect he will continue to get up at 5:30 a.m. and read hundreds of emails from his customers. And unlike many other CEOs, he will actually listen.
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C.