Where To Golf Next

To Ship Sticks or not, that is the question

Ship Sticks makes golf traveling easier by shipping golf clubs to destinations ahead of the golfer

I must come clean. Before being assigned this story I never thought for one millisecond about shipping my clubs prior to a golf trip with my buddies. I’m from the era of waving goodbye to loved ones at the gate, so I guess I’m still living in an idealistic fantasyland when it comes to flying.

Heck, I didn’t even know until recently that Eastern Airlines has returned to business.

The more research I did on shipping clubs in advance the more I believe I’ll give it a try the next time I tee it up on vacation. It can cost as low as $39 if you plan five days in advance.

Airlines misplacing clubs came to light during the U.S. Open this summer when journeyman golfer Michael Buttacavoli withdrew from qualifying because his clubs didn’t make his American Airlines flights. He chose not to rent clubs and withdrew.

How often does this happen? Well, that depends on who you talk to, or if you’ve ever waited nervously by the airport oversize baggage bin for your clubs that apparently have vanished into thin air. You’ve suddenly become that “lost club guy” while the rest of your foursome scoops up their sticks and heads to the links.   

We can all agree that airline travel in general has changed drastically since 9-11, and that lead time, additional fees and security lines often create a nightmare situation, especially if you’re also lugging along a heavy golf bag with your other luggage.

> Five tips: How to travel with golf clubs the conventional way

The leader in the industry of shipping clubs is a company called Ship Sticks. Founder and CEO Nick Coleman began the firm with two employees, and now has more than 75. “And we’re hiring every week,” he says.

Founded in 2011, Florida-based Ship Sticks offers some of the following: on-time guarantees, insurance, shipment protection, real-time tracking and personal service. Since the firm’s inception, it has shipped clubs over 300 million miles and now is affiliated with more than 3,000 clubs.

One such club is Pinehurst Resort, which with nine layouts has to be buttoned up when it comes to organizing golf club pick-up and delivery.

Ship Sticks arrive at Pinehurst Resort
A Pinehurst Resort and Country Club baggage handler readies a golf bag for play after being delivered from Ship Sticks.

Matt Chriscoe is the resort's rooms manager and in charge of keeping organized chaos when it comes to guests receiving their clubs on time and at the proper course. He said even though the resort makes more than 1,000 round trips yearly to Raleigh-Durham International Airport to pick up guests, those having clubs shipped directly to Pinehurst Resort has increased threefold in the last few years.

“Our goal is to make that experience as seamless as possible and a lot of communication goes on behind the scenes between the shipper, our warehouse where we store all the clubs, and then eventually to the guest,” Chriscoe said.

Coleman says his company uses various carriers to get clubs to their destination on time — and in one piece.

“Our clients can go online and print a label and affix it to their travel bag, and then boom, it’s off from their perspective location and it just arrives at their destination,” he said.

There has been competition to Ship Sticks in the last five years, including FedEx. Most companies who focus on just shipping golf clubs have not lasted. 

“You need to be an expert in logistics and understanding supply chains and how to move bags properly,” Coleman said. “Anybody who wants to go launch a website and say they ship bags they have a really good chance of failing. There is a lot of technology that powers the system, there is a lot of knowledge that powers the system.”

Coleman said international delivery is growing rapidly, too. He calls Heathrow Airport the “Bermuda Triangle” for golf bags, claiming that 40 percent of bags shipped through the London airport are misplaced and don’t make their original flights.

Champions Tour player John Inman knows that experience firsthand. He was returning from the Senior British Open last year when his clubs didn’t make his flight back to the states. Normally not that big a deal, but Inman was leaving in three hours for a qualifier in Minnesota. He hurried home and threw together a set of old clubs in the garage. Funny thing, he went out and shot a 65.

“The driver and 3-wood grips were so bad I spent all day scraping them on my windshield trying to get some traction,” Inman said. “I guess the sad part is it’s obvious I don’t know what clubs I should be playing with.”

So, should Buttacavoli rented some clubs and went out and tried to qualify for the Open anyway instead of withdrawing? Probably.

Airlines will deliver your “lost bag” 99 percent of the time on the next incoming flight. But that could take 8-10 hours in some instances. They will rent your clubs and provide shoes and balls at no charge. 

But as one Delta baggage claim official said: “If you are 6-foot-7 that’s an issue. The last thing we want to do is ruin someone’s golf trip.”

Or, as Coleman suggests, Ship Sticks will come to your home and relieve all stress.

“We’re heroes in a lot of people’s eyes,” Coleman said. “For a first-time user who hasn’t ever had the experience it’s very liberating. You leave your house, you go to the airport, you go through security, you get to your end destination and your golf clubs are there waiting for you and you’ll say ‘Wow, that was easy.’ It’s like a revelation.”