University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Alumni, students team to build a better golf club

Sully Sullivan using BombTech's student-designed driver
Sully Sullivan ’07 goes long with BombTech’s student-designed driver. Photograph by Joshua Brown

THE GREEN/
ENGINEERING

Alumni, students team to build a better golf club

When Josh Ross received a new golf club—a driver designed by four UVM undergraduate engineering students—he was, he says, “a little skeptical.” An independent reviewer for Golfballed.com, a partner with Reader’s Digest, Ross receives a stream of gear from major manufacturers. Golf is big money: the National Golf Foundation reports that there was about $4 billion in golf equipment sales last year.

But the lime-green-and-black club Ross received was built by the decidedly non-major manufacturer BombTech, the one-man-shop of Tyler “Sully” Sullivan ’07, a UVM School of Business alumnus. He built the club at home in Vermont.

“Can a guy really get together with some college students and create a driver that is comparable to those already on the market?” Ross wanted to know. Apparently yes—or even better.

“I have received many items to test and review,” Ross writes. “There has never been one that blew my mind as much as this driver.”

The tests Ross and others have done give the BombTech club, dubbed “The Grenade,” higher numbers for ball speed, carry distance, backspin, and total distance than other high-end drivers from companies like Titlelist, TaylorMade, and Callaway. Sullivan reports that business is brisk. He’s sold hundreds
of the clubs, direct from his company’s website, bombtechgolf.com.

His growing business began in frustration on the golf course. But not because he kept shanking balls into the rough. Instead, the clubs he was getting would break. He hits the ball hard. After six or seven drivers broke, he says, he’d had enough.

So Sullivan started building drivers himself, ordering shafts and high-end heads and assembling them at home. “I found out I was good at this,” he says, and pretty soon he was providing home-built clubs to his friends, too, and began to make some sales. But back-orders on heads—and a sense that the design of drivers was not what it could be, led him to wonder if he could go to market with his own, better, driver.

In 2012, Sullivan approached UVM’s College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences to see if they could help. Professors John Novotny and Jeff Frolik, who lead the year-long “capstone” course for seniors in the college, connected him with four students.

Soon, Mark Belanger, Ryan Corey, Ryan Mickelson, and Evan Olson—all mechanical engineering majors, class of 2013—were working away on club designs as their senior project. On a computer, they developed 3-D models of various possibilities, with an eye toward reducing wind drag on the club’s head.
The computer simulations led to building a real prototype that they tested in a wind tunnel in UVM’s Votey Hall. It had a large face, two large cavities in the underside, and a pleasing bulbous shape that fills the limit of the USGA’s rules: 460 cubic centimeters.

“It’s not a hard science,” Mickelson says. “You have to balance the visual appeal with the functionality. We had some ugly drivers and some pretty drivers. There is no template out there which says: this is how you make the right shape.”

Sullivan isn’t stopping with the driver. This year, he’s engaged another group of UVM engineering seniors to design a putter for BombTech. Corey Tillson, Tori Thacher, Cody Jackson, and Jeff Keenan have developed a design for a wing-style mallet putter, heavier than average, to be forged in carbon steel.

Pilot testing of the putter is in the near future. “We’re excited and nervous, too,” Jackson says. “Sully has put a lot of trust in us to design something that will be marketable and ‘game-changing,’ as he says. We’re his engineering team.”



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