Chicagoan Jim Grundberg worked a long time in golf before coming across a company he could call his own
By Chuck Wasserstrom
This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Chicago District Golfer.
Like a lot of people, Jim Grundberg worked for a number of companies but never quite got the sense any one stop was fulfilling his life’s passion.
Raised on the golf courses of Chicago’s northwest suburbs, Grundberg, now the CEO and co-owner of the Nashville-based SeeMore Putter Company, admits his introduction to golf was mostly coincidental.
“I played golf at a young age and played all over the public golf courses near my home in Arlington Heights,” said Grundberg, a 1979 graduate of the since-closed Arlington Heights High School. “The main golf course that I grew up on was the Mount Prospect Municipal Golf Course. I played a lot at the Arlington Lakes Country Club, which was off Dundee. There was even a little nine-hole golf course at the Arlington Park race track that I used to play a lot. Back when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I had a math teacher named Don Odbert, who was a golfer. He took a couple of us under his wing and played golf with us. That was kind of cool. It’s not like there were elementary school and middle school golf teams back then. It was a recreational sport.”
After completing his undergraduate studies at Stanford University, Grundberg spent 10 years working in a variety of golf-related roles for Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods. During his time in Chicago, he also earned his MBA from Northwestern University.
Grundberg had executive-level positions at TaylorMade, Odyssey and Callaway before moving to Nashville to become the chief marketing officer for Gibson Guitars. But after a few years, Grundberg conceded, “I started getting the itch to get back into golf. Tiger Woods was at the height of his popularity and I had expertise in both brand marketing and distribution.”
In 2003, Grundberg got together with Jason Pouliot, a friend and former Odyssey Golf colleague, and they started looking for golf opportunities.
“We had grown up in the business,” Grundberg said. “We had a tremendous network of contacts. We started getting together, just to brainstorm. Could we start something from scratch? What was our competitive advantage? What were our strengths?”
They quickly realized that starting from scratch would be tough. They saw how hard it was for reputable brands with huge research and development budgets to get new products into the marketplace every year and into the hands of tour players.
“Instead of taking on a near-impossible challenge,” Grundberg recalled, “we said, ‘Is there a brand in our industry that already has that level of validation and credibility?’ We looked around and we kept coming back to SeeMore because it was a brand that wasn’t really visible in the marketplace.
“We kept going back to the performance of Payne Stewart (in 1999). That was the greatest putting performance in U.S. Open history. But this was five years later. The research we did showed that this brand possibly could have been the next big thing, but with Payne Stewart’s tragic passing, this brand never got off the ground. It had been closely associated with Payne Stewart; it had been a brand new product that he put in play and he validated it.”
Initially, SeeMore Putter was introduced to the marketplace in 1998 by founder Jim Weeks. After gaining some popularity thanks to Stewart, the brand fell off the map after the golfer’s death. The company had already changed hands once and was available again when Grundberg and Pouliot started researching the business. The two golf executives saw that a couple of young players on the PGA Tour, Zach Johnson and Vaughn Taylor, had won tournaments using SeeMore putters and were regarded as two of the better putters on tour. They learned that both had the same putting coach, Pat O’Brien, who had been friends with Stewart. They were intrigued.
“We called Pat and started learning about the history of this brand,” Grundberg said. “We were just fascinated by the fact that everybody that had used this product felt it had made them a better putter, with a personal connection that we hadn’t seen with any of the other brands we had been associated with. At that point in time, we started the process of trying to figure out how we could reenergize this brand. It took us quite a while, a couple years, just to figure out who owned it, what they were doing with it, why they weren’t marketing it and how to acquire it.”
The transaction to close the deal took place in September 2006.
“The first month we owned the company, Zach Johnson and Vaughn Taylor were selected to the Ryder Cup team,” Grundberg explained. “So here was a brand that was basically dormant in the marketplace, yet two of the 12 players on the U.S. team were using it. And then, the very first major championship after we owned the brand, Zach Johnson goes out and wins the 2007 Masters using our putter.”
Johnson’s victory helped speed up Grundberg and Pouliot’s plan for the company as 2007 was meant to be a relaunch of the SeeMore Putter name after years of hibernation.
“Then all of a sudden Zach wins the Masters, and the brand gets called out on national TV during the telecast,” Grundberg said. “It accelerated everything. But we didn’t have distribution in place, and we weren’t able to capitalize on that victory the same way we were when Zach won the 2015 British Open. By then, we already had our product in worldwide distribution, and his victory was a massive boost to us.”
Johnson is not the only golfer getting a boost from SeeMore. Since his disastrous putting exhibition at the 2016 Masters, Ernie Els turned to a SeeMore model, and in his first 20 measured rounds after switching, he experienced an average of 1.2 strokes gained putting per round.
Results like that, Grundberg admits, is something to get excited about.