Penfold, the British golf ball maker made famous by James Bond, is being reinvigorated by a UK expat who lives in Delaware County and hopes the brand will get a boost from the latest 007 movie, No Time to Die.
“We are an official partner of the 007 franchise for golf products,” said Gavin Perrett, 37, chief executive officer of Penfold Golf Limited, a licensee of the parent firm in Dudley, England. The “Penfold-007 Collection” of golf balls, tees, towels, and markers will be available in November.
Founded in 1927, Penfold became known for its innovative golf ball technology as well as for partnerships with the pioneering female golfer Shirley Spork and rising stars such as Seve Ballesteros. The company enjoyed its greatest success from the 1950s through the ‘70s.
Eight years ago, at age 29, Perrett — a squash professional who since boyhood yearned “to have my own brand” — wrote what he describes as “a very cheeky” email to Penfold owner and UK businessman Paul Silk.
“I said something along the lines [of being] surprised that a company with so much history … wasn’t doing more, and that the [product] offerings were not quite up to the standard I would associate with such an illustrious name in golf,” Perrett recalled.
“I plucked up my courage and sent it. What did I have to lose?” he said. “We instantly created a bond. We both realized we got on really well, and we have a creative relationship.”
Silk, who said he was impressed by Perrett’s deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for Penfold, had been looking for licensees to partner with.
“When I bought the Penfold brand I was given a rare opportunity and have always been grateful, so I thought I’d put my faith in [Perrett] and see how he would perform,” said Silk, in an email.
“Over the last two years of the relationship he has gone from strength to strength, so much so that we have now entered into a long-term partnership where he will head up the U.S. and European markets for Penfold.”
The launch — on what turned out to be the eve of the pandemic — was modest, to say the least.
“The rebirth of the brand started from my attic in January 2020,” Perrett said. “The golf balls were still being manufactured, and I put $1,000 into [creating or branding] hats and golf tees and other bits and pieces. I set up the direct-to-consumer sales site, got the word out, and started telling the Penfold story.
“I wore every single hat. I still wear a lot of hats,” he said, sporting a spiffy white Penfold golf cap during an interview on a sunny September morning at the LuLu Country Club in Upper Dublin, Montgomery County.
“But it’s at the point where I can’t wear every hat.”
“I’ve never seen a business built from the ground up right in front of me,” said Lindsay Perrett, a registered respiratory therapist.
“I’m so proud of Gavin,” she said. “He’s getting somewhere, and it’s exciting for me to watch, because I know how much he loves it.”
Perrett said he first became aware of Penfold when he saw the classic 007 movie Goldfinger on TV. The 1964 film includes a golfing scene during which James Bond (Sean Connery) mentions the Penfold name and its signature golf ball’s ♥ mark (“here’s my Penfold Hearts”) while hoodwinking the dastardly Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).
Perrett, who coaches squash at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, is no longer wearing all the hats. He has a business partner, the lawyer Timothy W. Levin, as well as other investors. He recently hired Philly’s Ike Richman Communications to promote Penfold and has been working with Shipmate Fulfillment, a logistics company in the city, to handle orders.
“What we have achieved so far has been a miracle,” Perrett said, noting that the company not only “has been cash positive since the beginning” but has partnered with 007 (a “perfect” matchup, he said) as well as the Seve Balesteros Foundation (for Penfold gloves that will bear the late champion’s name).
“We also partnered with Coca-Cola for the PGA Tour Championship in Atlanta in September,” he added.
“Gavin hustles. He’s engaging. He’s got great ideas,” Levin, a partner at Morgan Lewis, said. “And with Penfold, he’s got a great story to tell.”
Indeed: As outlined in Barba’s My Golf Spy post, Penfold’s history has been marked by design, manufacturing, and marketing innovations, as well as dramatic setbacks during World War II. Company founder Albert Ernest Penfold, who made golf balls that were more visible on the ground and flew further through the air, was lost at sea when the British merchant ship in which he was a passenger was sunk by a German U-boat in 1941.
Meanwhile, wartime rubber restrictions forced the company to shut down its factory in Brooklyn — which had been built so Penfold could grab a chunk of the American market, and had its own artesian well to meet Albert Penfold’s standards for water used in manufacturing his golf balls. Later, Penfold’s home factory in Birmingham, England, was bombed by the Nazis.
Nonetheless, under the leadership of Penfold’s son, Dick, the company thrived in the 1950s, ‘60s, and into the ‘70s. Penfold himself personally invited Spork, one of the women who founded the LPGA, to be his guest in the historically all-male clubhouse at St. Andrew, the UK’s venerable “home of golf,” in 1951. Spork was “the first woman ever in the clubhouse,” she told an interviewer in 2018.
But in 1974, the Penfold family sold the company to Colgate-Palmolive, then a commercial force in the golf world. Subsequent owners closed the Birmingham facility in the 1990s and shifted production to Asia. Penfold’s high-profile days were over, and its golf balls became a niche product. A 2018 YouTube video on the Golf Mates channel dubbed Penfold “the golf brand you forgot about.”
“To revive anything, you have to do it right, and care about it, and put that care and love into it,” said Philadelphia musician and entrepreneur Graham Alexander, who bought the rights to and has revived the Victor Records and Victor Talking Machine brands associated with RCA’s long-gone Camden operations.
“Sometimes brands go away before they were supposed to, or before the public wanted them to,” Alexander said. “I think brands have their time to come back and if it’s done right, the public can fall in love with them again.”
Sheri Lambert, an assistant professor of marketing at the Fox School of Business at Temple University, agreed that Perrett has “a great, great story” to tell.
“Completely off the cuff, I see nothing but upside for him,” she said. “Nostalgia sells, especially since the pandemic.
“But the challenge with revitalizing a brand, or introducing a brand, is breaking thorough the clutter” of other brands competing for consumer attention. “And there’s a lot of clutter.”
Perrett is well aware of the competition (”brands seem to pop up all over the place”) and said Penfold has more than just a rich history to sell. He hopes quality, style, and detailing in Penfold golf clothes and accessories can help grow the brand as not only a traditional, but fashionable, choice.
“We are just doing our first new clothing [line] and we have made it a point to have the collection made in England,” he said. “I would love to be able to continue doing that, but the [cost] of textiles, and staffing, are through the roof.”
The pandemic’s global impact on the cost and efficiency of shipping is also a major challenge. Perrett recently found himself awaiting a shipment of polo shirts that were marooned amid a backup of cargo ships in the Port of New York and New Jersey. And some factories that produce other Penfold accessories have been shut down due to Covid.
Frustrations like those (and there are others) notwithstanding, Perrett is jazzed about Penfold’s prospects.
And so is Paul Silk. “I have always had a vision for Penfold, of quality, timelessness, and staying true to the founding principles of Mr. Penfold,” he said in his email. “We may not be the biggest brand in the world, but we are one of the oldest — and our hope is to reestablish the name of Penfold in the marketplace.”
Perrett’s vision, Silk said, is “uncannily similar to mine.”
Said Perrett: “I see it as my job to bring Penfold back to where it would make the Penfold family proud.”