osing a golf ball into a water hazard, a friend used to say, is like walking up to a trash can and tossing in dollars. Do that several times across 18 holes and the cost of that golf round just went up. Lakes and streams are the final repose of innumerable premium Pro V1s, including many whacked just once or twice. It’s like money scattered across the bottom of the pond.
In 1992, former PGA Tour player Gary Krueger and two former teammates from Texas A&M recognized this as an opportunity. Thirty years later, their Texas-based company, PG Golf, has retrieved and re-sold more than 700 million golf balls, making it the world’s largest recycled golf ball company.
“There hasn’t been a roadmap for anything we’ve done, nothing ‘off the shelf,’ ” says Krueger. “So, one of the core tenets of our business has always been innovation.”
Getting wayward golf balls back into circulation begins with a fully equipped scuba diver who, sharing space with certain reptiles and amphibians, retrieves them by the thousands from the muck into which they have settled.
Delivered to the company’s newly expanded home in Sugar Land, just southwest of Houston, those balls are inspected and sorted using advanced vision systems that utilize artificial intelligence.
“AI,” says Krueger, “is allowing us to build out systems that can make incredible decisions, from spotting blemishes on the ball to recognizing discoloration and distinguishing one grade of golf ball from the next. I used to pride myself in the fact that we were not just low tech, but no tech,” Krueger muses. “That’s not the case anymore.”
Sugar Land is
Sweet for Business
To accommodate the company’s growth, PG Golf recently moved into expanded headquarters in Sugar Land Business Park, investing some $2.5 million in the process.
For Krueger, the move served as a live demonstration of Sugar Land’s reputation for business friendliness.
“We really wanted to fast track construction,” he says. “And that being the case, the city began working with us before we even initiated the permitting process.”
Projected as a four-month build, says Krueger, the new facility was up and running in 90 days.
“Our contractor was absolutely blown away with how smoothly it went with permitting, inspection and other interactions with the city. They said they’d never seen anything like it anywhere else.”
With 100 employees, PG Golf is one of Sugar Land’s top employers among businesses that include the oil and gas company Schlumberger, Texas Instruments, Fluor Enterprises, Champion X and Helix, Inc., a biotechnology company. Having arrived in 1983, Krueger has witnessed Sugar Land grow from a small town of 20,000 people to a bustling city with an ever-expanding population of 115,000 with a solid labor force.
“We have really benefitted as a company from being able to attract some really good talent at the managerial and other senior levels,” he says. “That’s been hugely important to our success.”
Texas is Tops Again
In 2021, personal finance website WalletHub named Texas the top state in which to start a business based on business environment, access to resources and business costs. For the year, Texas startups attracted a record $10.55 billion in venture capital — more than double the total from 2020.
“Investors continue to pump capital into Texas startups with the assurance that these businesses will thrive in the state’s robust entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Robert Allen, president and CEO of the Texas Economic Development Corporation.
Leading the way for Texas was the Austin metro, an emerging national mecca of entrepreneurship. Austin startups, according to the data research company Pitchbook, raised $4.9 billion in venture capital through 387 deals. At least five Austin startups — Firefly Aerospace, Abrigo, The Zebra, ZenBusiness and Iodine Software — achieved “unicorn” status in 2021 by reaching $1 billion in valuation.
Long viewed as a nexus for software development, Austin is increasingly a leader in sectors including consumer packaged goods, mobility and real estate tech. Real estate startup Homeward, founded in Austin in 2018, offers a way for potential homebuyers to offer cash for a new property without first raising the requisite funds by selling their existing homes. Homeward landed $371 million in venture funding in 2021 to help meet growing demand and to expand into new markets. Austin’s LiveOak Venture Partners, the state’s third-largest venture capital fund, was among the investors.
Workrise is another Austin-based startup to watch. A platform for connecting oil and gas companies to potential workers, Workrise raised $300 million last year, as the company seeks to expand into other sectors including renewable energy and defense.