Claude Pope III did not attend college to become a caddie.
Yet, looping at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., is where Pope found himself making ends meet after graduating from College of Charleston in 2006.
Pope describes it as an “awkward time,” considering the impending stock market crash of 2008. “People were being laid off left and right, so having a bachelor’s degree wasn’t doing much for me,” he said.
But the hours spent carrying bags at Kiawah and later at Maidstone Club in East Hampton, N.Y., and Cypress Point Club near Monterey, Calif., paid off.
“I figured I had peaked and thought it wasn’t going to get any better than this,” Pope said of working at Cypress Point. “I also didn’t want to caddie for my entire life. I was 27 and kicking around the bucket trying to figure out what to do.”
Pope had always been an apparel junkie, so as he networked while caddying and toyed with the idea of creating his own apparel brand, Bald Head Blues (BaldHeadBlues.com).
“The cool thing about caddying is you work for CEOs and highly successful people every single day,” said Pope, who once caddied for Jeffrey Immelt, former chief executive officer and chairman of the board of General Electric. “You spend four-and-a-half hours with a group on the golf course, and you do a really good job of listening. You hear what motivates them, you hear their day-to-day strategies and their routines. And it’s inspirational.”
Pope’s inspiration was his roots. As a kid growing up in Raleigh, N.C., Pope routinely visited the coastal Bald Head Island during the summer months.
“And if you’ve ever talked to someone whose been to Bald Head, one of the first things they’ll say is ‘Oh, yeah, we rode around in golf carts all week. It was great,’” he said. “Golf carts don’t have trunks, obviously, so you stack all your beach chairs, boogie boards, umbrellas, surf boards, and stand-up paddle boards on top of the golf cart. Then you strap all that stuff down with bungee cords.”
That image of a golf cart with a surfboard on top serves as the logo for the brand that Pope introduced to the marketplace in April 2014.
“It’s a preppy casual beachside look,” said Patrick Jones, owner of Ocean Outfitters, a retail shop in Southport, N.C., just a ferry ride away from Bald Head Island. “It’s probably the coolest logo I have ever seen.”
Pope is quick to point out that Bald Head Blues, is more than a brand, it’s a lifestyle.
“We say in our company, ‘You’re not just buying apparel, you’re buying a vacation,’” he said. “We want people to feel like they are on vacation each time they wear our clothes. We want them to smile and be happy and be comfortable. We sell a comfort story.”
Bald Head Island is a 14-mile stretch of coastline on the southeastern most point of North Carolina known for its relaxed pace. The island also features the renovated Bald Head Island Club and Old Baldy Lighthouse, the state’s oldest standing lighthouse. And, yes, golf carts are the main form of transportation.
Pope’s version of the Bald Head story is told on the hang tag of each product.
What began with an 800-foot boutique retail store selling polos, t-shirts and shorts that first spring and summer has evolved into a brand with staying power. Business spread into green grass and boutique shops throughout the southern coastal states and Alabama, and the brand can now be found in locales such as Cape Cod, the Hamptons and Upper Michigan.
PGA Tour players Martin Piller and Joel Dahmen are brand ambassadors.
The product line consists mainly of polo and button-down shirts, and quarter-zip jackets, but there are also t-shirts, hats, flip-flops, boxer shorts, belts, key fobs and dog collars. Pope said the brand recently launched a campaign with Lids, a national headwear retailer, and has introduced a limited-edition Freedom Tee, which will be available from Memorial Day through July 4.
“The logo and brand translate to anywhere that has a beach and a golf course,” Pope said. “We have a really good story. So many brands don’t have a story of who they are, where are they from. It’s just a brand.
“With Bald Head Blues we’re able to communicate that story of the island and the lifestyle, show people where it’s located on the map. Then I think people begin to buy in. They want that lifestyle. It sounds like paradise.”
Jones said that while the Bald Head Blues brand may not be widely recognized, it’s of the same quality as two other brands his store sells — Vineyard Vines and Southern Tide.
His customers also relate to the story.
“The story really does resonate,” Jones said. “It might not be Bald Head specifically, but people do reminisce about places they vacationed in the past and think about the great times they had and they want to capture that.”