Interview with Matt Ward
Ed Sandison is former marine conservationist and passionate golfer. He started working on the idea for OCEAN TEE in 2018 and has created a business which is creating sustainable products for the golf industry. His ambition is to encourage a more open dialogue around the environment and to use OCEAN TEE to make golf look cooler.
THE SANDISON STORY —
I love the ocean and I love golf. For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by marine life and their habitats. The rate at which marine environments are being threatened by plastic pollution is alarming and every time I played golf I would see plastic tees just lying about. I just couldn’t reconcile these two things, so I decided to set about creating a brand that would help shine a spotlight on the threat plastic pollution places.
Yes, we make bamboo tees and other sustainable products, but my hope is that by focusing on sustainability we can help to showcase golf as a modern, forward-thinking sport. We all want to open up the game to a more diverse audience and substituting plastic tees for a sustainable alternative is a really simple change that anyone can make to widen golf’s appeal.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
I want to build a brand that is impactful and bold. Even a bit disruptive! I’m not afraid of ruffling a few feathers, especially if it starts a dialogue about the environment and what we can all do to improve the current situation.
What was the genesis for Ocean Tee?
There are several moments I can think of that really stopped me in my tracks on and off the golf course, but really it was seeing plastic tees on courses that were right next to the sea. I could see where they would end up and it was completely ridiculous.
Because of my studies I have a close group of friends who are all really passionate about the environment. It wasn’t until I started having conversations on the golf course about plastic and tees in particular that I began to realize that people were much more open to making changes than I had realized. That gave me the encouragement to develop the idea of creating a brand that would help make those conversations take place more frequently.
How long a period from concept idea to actual rollout of product?
About 6 months! We were up and running and selling our sustainable bamboo tees online really quickly. It’s been quite a ride.
Who is your customer and how do you solicit feedback?
There is no specific age group, or demographic. Whether they are individuals, golf course owners or PGA professionals our customers are all just environmentally conscious golfers.
Social media plays a really important role in answering questions about the product, but one of the things we are very proud of is our transparency. If you visit our website you can find out everything you could possibly want to know about our supply chain, manufacturing process and the fabrics we use.
We openly solicit submissions from anyone who wants to present new ideas for products and processes which they think would be of interest to the company. We want to stay up to speed with the very latest sustainable production methods and help those businesses by promoting their fantastic work.
In what ways are you reaching customers — primarily online sales, retail outlets, green grass shops?
A combination really. We recently ran a campaign to combine the buying power of multiple venues to help them eliminate the use of plastic tees at their courses. This generated a lot of interest from Golf Clubs across the UK. We really want more green grass retailers to stock OCEAN TEE tees because we know that when people are given a choice between a plastic product and an environmentally friendly alternative, they are more likely to choose the sustainable option. This applies to all areas of shopping, not just golf.
Sensitivity to the impact on the environment is clearly major focus of your efforts — can golf really work in concert with environmentalists who often view one another with mutual distrust and sometime even derision?
It can and it does. We are partners with the GEO Foundation who are making golf more sustainable and more environmentally aware. The courses that have received their accreditation are doing incredible things to preserve and develop habitats. Take Al Mouj Golf in Oman where 173 different bird species were spotted on what is basically a man-made habitat.
Golf is one of the only sports where you are outside with nature for hours at a time. And that should not be underrated. Tours and tournaments around the world are leading the way showcasing sustainable solutions and we are incredibly proud to be part of this. We have had inquiries from every Tour across Europe, so look out for us at the next professional event you attend!
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Staying on the plastic theme, I would ban the use of plastic packaging. There’s just no need for it and some manufacturers have already proven that. It’s time that the others follow their lead.
Is enough being done by golf’s two main organizations — the R&A and USGA in terms of advocating more powerfully about how golf and the environment need to work in closer cooperation?
Golf is a very complex industry with lots of parties involved. These organizations have action plans in place, but the environment is everyone’s responsibility. Golfers can lead the charge from the bottom up. It’s small changes that can make a massive difference; just look at what banning plastic bags in supermarkets has achieved. Who would have thought that would work as well as it has?
Complete the sentence – Ed Sandison is —
The biggest challenges you’re facing — short and long term in your efforts — is what?
I thought my biggest challenge would be to persuade people that building a business based on sustainable golf products was a good idea, but surprisingly people have been really responsive. It’s as if the door was ajar and someone just needed to push it open. For Pro Shops it’s much harder, as they are small businesses – we understand that, but just because you’ve always sold plastic tees doesn’t mean that you have to carry on.
The biggest challenge for us will be keeping up to speed with this ever-changing market. There are so many incredible researchers and designers out there making advancements all the time. Fabric innovations, production processes and sustainable alternatives are evolving, and we really want to help these brilliant people showcase their work.
This is a brave new world, but all it takes is for a few people to make a bold decision to do things differently. We are really proud to be leading the way.
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