Look no further than Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, North Carolina, for the only course in the country to play Softgolf, featuring oversized foam balls and the larger holes and golf-club heads to match them.
This full-swing game, which opened in March as a vendor at the Forsyth County-owned park near Winston-Salem, lets everyone, regardless of skill, enjoy a nine-hole round of golf.
Raymond Baldorossi Jr. and Carolyn Bennett-Sullivan, president and vice president, respectively, of Softgolf, are among the thousands of entrepreneurs who have turned to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) for free guidance on how to start a small business in North Carolina.
Through a toll-free phone line, counselors on the EDPNC’s Business Link North Carolina team help clients navigate all the permitting requirements to do business in North Carolina.
Baldorossi and his father, a design engineer in aeronautics, came up with the idea of Softgolf in the 1970s. By 1979, the initial five patents for the game, ball and clubs had been established, and the family-owned business opened its first Softgolf course in Delran, New Jersey.
The course operated for 10 years, but there were issues with the lease and, more importantly, the durability of the ball. In 2018, Baldorossi developed a stronger, closed-cell foam ball. He and his partner, Carolyn Bennett-Sullivan, began looking for a place to reintroduce the game. In 2018, they settled on North Carolina.
“I am a graduate of UNC-Greensboro, and we had been wanting to get back to North Carolina,” Bennett-Sullivan said. “We looked at Florida, but we liked the climate of North Carolina. North Carolina is a great state. It’s growing, it’s very business-friendly, and it’s an advocate for small businesses. The Winston-Salem area is thriving with innovation.”
Before they reached out to the EDPNC’s team of small-business counselors, Bennett-Sullivan and Baldorossi knew they wanted to open Softgolf at Tanglewood Park. In fact, the county had already offered Softgolf an opportunity to operate the game at the park for a weeklong trial, a preliminary to signing a lease to locate there.
But the timing of the April 2018 trial run left the pair only a week or so to understand and meet any permitting requirements, Bennett-Sullivan said. So in March 2018, Bennett-Sullivan called the EDPNC’s team of small-business counselors.
One key question was how their company, registered as Gassy Tees limited liability company in Delaware, could become recognized in North Carolina while doing business under the name Softgolf.
Senior counselor Holly Yanker helped Bennett-Sullivan understand what was legally required – just in time for the trial run.
“Without that help, we would have been spinning our wheels,” Bennett-Sullivan said. “Everything that is on the EDPNC website, as well as actually being able to speak to someone who can guide you on what needs to be done, helped so much.”
Businesses just starting up in the state appreciate having the personal touch, Yanker said. “The reason we exist is to ensure that small businesses understand how to be compliant with state rules and regulations,” Yanker said. “We are the best initial call for startups, providing the information they need and referring them to the right resources for assistance with education, loans or hiring people.”
In November 2018, the county signed a three-year lease with Gassy Tees, allowing Softgolf to operate from March to September at Tanglewood Park. And Baldorossi and Bennett-Sullivan have moved to Kernersville.
Softgolf charges $12 to play its nine holes, ranging from 45 to 100 yards, and $6 for each additional round. There’s even nighttime golf with glow-in-the-dark equipment, as well as team-building exercises for larger groups. Business has grown each week since the March opening, Bennett-Sullivan said.
Plans for the future include hosting a World Softgolf Championship at Tanglewood Park in September. And soon, Softgolf will no longer be hand-cutting its distinctive, redesigned golf balls.
“The game changer for Softgolf will be mass producing a highly durable ball, which we are on track to do by next summer. That will help our business grow,” Baldorossi said.
“We had to jump through a few hoops to do business in North Carolina, and that’s where the EDPNC stepped in ― to help us as we navigated those challenges.”