February 02, 2023 6 min read 1 Comment
Although FlingGolf is a young and quickly growing sport, if you really dig in, its origin goes back many centuries to a wide variety of sports in lands far and wide. While golf’s deep origins are debated, its scholars generally accept that the Scots are responsible for what has become the game you see on TV today. And on the North American continent, for centuries, many tribes of the original peoples have been playing a sacred game, the Creator’s Game, which has become known as lacrosse.
The combination of these two sports is obvious in FlingGolf’s essence and pace of play.
Thirdly, it was Jai alai, a sport that originated in the Basque Country of Europe, that was to provide the final catalyst and allowed FlingGolf to perform alongside traditional golf. And lastly, back to North America and the youngest sport of the 4, it was snowboarding that became the model for FlingGolf to dare to insert itself onto the field of as traditional a sport as golf.
It was these four sports which played the biggest role in developing this new sport with a vision that it could be played by millions of people on any golf course on earth. Like virtually all sports, this one was formulated in a backyard with friends. In this case, my family’s backyard in the 1980s, when my brothers and neighbors would use our lacrosse sticks to hurl golf balls around the property, over ponds, hitting trees, and counting strokes along the way to determine a winner.
It was sometime in early 2012 that I took that backyard fusion of lacrosse and golf, and began putting the pieces together, figuratively and literally, to develop a product that could perform well enough to play on a course alongside the traditional game. Within months, the first prototypes of what has become the FlingStick was born. But these prototypes, built of pieces of toys, golf clubs, duct tape, screws and glue were at best only getting the golf ball 50-60 yards in a rough way. I knew I needed 200 yards, accurately, to step on a golf course with a legitimate product.
It was only when I found the Jai alai cesta in a nearby antique shop, that the performance of the prototype skyrocketed. Using the cesta, and analyzing video of this highly athletic and fast-paced sport, allowed me to create a much more powerful and accurate prototype. Incorporating and refining that ancient technology allowed me to hurl the golf ball over 200 yards. That was what we needed to begin work on a final product, which has become the FlingStick you now see on nearly 2000 golf courses.
From prototype to product; the evolution of the FlingStick
As a college student in the 80s, I saw snowboarding come on to the scene, led by its pioneer, Jake Carpenter and his company Burton Snowboards. The sport captured the imagination of a new generation, and offered an exciting alternative to traditional skiing. And not only that, but during its phenomenal rise and still to this day, snowboarding combines the height of athleticism and competitiveness with a casual camaraderie rarely seen in other sports.
In what other sport are competitors genuinely stoked to see their “opponent” pull off a new trick that knocks them down a step on the podium? I never cease to be impressed with the vibe that the snowboarding world maintains, and also see it spread to other sports.
These snowboarders were like family with each other. That is what I wanted for our new sport. Snowboarding became the model for where FlingGolf was headed: a new sport on a traditional field of play, and also players in it to create the family and grow the sport.
We needed a name for the business and brand to capture and express that energy, and New Swarm was created.
“New”, so that even decades from now, we aim to be the innovators with the highest performing equipment and most exciting brand, and “Swarm” to capture the active community of players “liberating” golf courses across the globe.
Over the years, New Swarm needed to grow its capabilities and staff up to support the growing community. This started early on with Steve Bloom, with a veritable Swiss army knife for a skill set – developing the first website, updating the products, growing a list of vendors for the product, creating unparalleled commitment to customers all while wearing the hat of a salesman. Steve was a natural fit for a young business like this.
Within a few more years, John Pruellage, a sports junky with a corporate, finance and legal background, joined New Swarm to help solidify operations behind the scenes and develop strategy and execute to formalize the sport and expand the business. Now the core team was complete.
We knew all along that for FlingGolf to go the way snowboarding has, the sport needed a formal competitive structure to satiate the appetite of top players and showcase their skills to the world. And while the World League FlingGolf was a concept that had established a handful of smaller events, including the first Longest FlingShot Championship in 2019, it sat dormant for the Covid years until we felt that the player base was strong enough and cohesive enough that we could create a series of successful national events to drive competitive play.
It turns out the best way to grow a player base is to show the sport on prime-time National TV. Out of the blue in early 2020, ABC reached out to us and asked if we wanted to apply to appear on its hit show, Shark Tank.
We applied, we made our appearance in 2021, and our player base went wild. In that moment, the awareness we had created with golf courses across the US and Canada, partly through our partnership with and support of the National Golf Course Owners Association, became the foundation for a player community that would take the sport to new heights over the next two years.
With that fired up player base, growth across the US, Canada, and overseas, we made arrangements to get the World League FlingGolf back up and running with national events.
While in the planning stages, again out of the blue, this time ESPN reached out to us and asked to partner on our next event. Months later, with the advent of ESPN’s airing of World League FlingGolf’s New Swarm Classic at the American Classic Golf Club, the sport had once again reached a wider national audience and new heights.
But the most important thing to happen at American Classic that May weekend was not ESPN’s coverage, it was that at the first opportunity to physically come together, the diverse and widespread player community, without prompt, fully embodied that awesome combo of camaraderie and competitiveness that the snowboarding world expressed so well. When it grew even stronger at our second national event, the Virginia FlingGolf Open later in ’22, we knew we had all become a growing family and it was here to stay.
In 2023, we have lined up WLF’s New Swarm Tour of 5 stops across the US, starting in San Diego in February and ending in Virginia in October. These tournaments will bring out the best FlingGolf players in the world, but local and traveling players of any skill level will also play, and experience and grow the sport’s competitiveness and camaraderie first hand.
As we celebrate New Swarm’s 10th Anniversary in 2023, we can look back over the pioneering years – bringing a new product and a new sport to market with no road map, instead just a firm vision, belief and hard work that has captured the imagination of a rapidly growing group of players across the US and abroad. We see that more FlingSticks have left the New Swarm factory in the last 2 years than the first 8, and players have taken them to play on over 1500 known golf courses in 32 countries.
With that traction, more attention brought to the sport every month, and 15,000 golf courses in the US and 35,000 across the globe already built and waiting for us, the future of FlingGolf is a bright one.
For John and Steve, and all of New Swarm’s partners, players, and courses, we look forward to sharing FlingGolf’s next 10 years and beyond.
Aim high and let it fly!
Alex Van Alen
Founder, New Swarm/FlingGolf
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Shawn Van Lancker
February 09, 2023
Love this Alex! Such an accomplishment!