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Published: Wednesday, 9/26/2007

Maumee firm wins at virtual golf

BY MARK REITER
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Bill Bales co-founded AboutGolf, which made this year's Inc. magazine list of fastest-growing companies. Bill Bales co-founded AboutGolf, which made this year's Inc. magazine list of fastest-growing companies.
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Maumee's AboutGolf is doing for golf enthusiasts what flight simulators did in the training of airline pilots.

Using computer technology, military tracking radar, and video, the company's simulators can put golfers on legendary courses such as California's Pebble Beach and Scotland's St. Andrews.

The simulators analyze swings and record detailed information on the flight of the ball. That data can be used in instruction or in fitting a golfer for clubs.

AboutGolf made this year's Inc. magazine prestigious list of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the country.

With $9.1 million in revenue for 2006, the firm landed the No. 252 spot in the overall rankings and was sixth among computer and electronics businesses.

According to the September issue, the business grew 935 percent over three years.

The company's explosive growth can be traced to its focus on improving technology through continuing advances in research and development, said Bill Bales, co-founder and chief executive officer.

"We hope to sustain our growth and make the list again," he said.

The simulators, which project three-dimensional images of top courses onto a big screen, provide comprehensive feedback on club-head speed and ball speed, spin direction, and distance traveled.

All the information is stored in the computer to measure the golfer's performance.

The company began in 2003 as a subsidiary of Friendly Software, also a golf-related business that Mr. Bales and his brother, Bruce Bales, started in 1988.

A designer and creator of computer golf games, the company made products for professional golfer Greg Norman and for Microsoft Corp.

AboutGolf has about 18 employees at its headquarters in Arrowhead Park and about a dozen at a research lab in Beijing.

With simulator models starting at $40,000, AboutGolf's customer base so far has been golf retailers. Golf Galaxy, PGA Tour Superstores, Golf Town, and Edwin Watts are using the simulators in stores throughout the country.

Locally, Golf Galaxy, 5223 Monroe St., in Sylvania Township, uses one to fit customers for golf clubs. "It is a good tool to use for fitting," said Brandon Kuch, a store employee.

Bill Kline, head pro at Tamaron County Club in Toledo, said the simulator's precise feedback makes it invaluable as a training aid and performance measurement device.

"It is amazing how many times that amateur golfers find out that they can hit the ball farther than they think they can or hit it shorter than they think it can go," he said.

The simulators also are bought for indoor golf centers that offer year-round play, one-on-one professional instruction, and competition in leagues. A 10,000-square-foot indoor golf facility in Arizona is equipped with a bank of 10 of the simulator booths and is capable of hosting corporate functions.

"The most successful applications have been in indoor systems. They can provide league play similar to an outdoor golf league or a bowling league," said Mr. Bales.

The simulators have proven to be a boost to business at outdoor golf courses as well.

Perhaps the most promising market for the simulators and swing analysis equipment is in new home construction, Mr. Bales said, adding that business in that segment has more than doubled during the past year.



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