COVINGTON, Ga. — When Bridgestone Golf was formed and established in Newton County in 1990, the company promised to employ at least 20 people and pump out a minimum of 500,000 golf balls per year.
Three decades later, the company has exceeded its own expectations. In 2020 alone, Bridgestone Golf has manufactured 1 billion balls while employing nearly 160 people, President and CEO Dan Murphy said.
Located off Industrial Park Boulevard in Covington, Bridgestone Golf operates on 20 acres of land purchased in 1989 for $600,000. On the property sets a 24,000-square-foot plant and a 135,000-square-foot testing range. When initially purchased, the company planned for a potential 12,000-square-foot expansion.
Though it had been in discussion among the city’s and county’s decision makers for years, news of the facility coming to Covington was first announced April 20, 1989. It was the Japan-based Bridgestone Corporation’s first Bridgestone Sporting Good Manufacturing (USA), Inc. in America to manufacture golf balls.
In 1989, when asked “Why Covington, Georgia?” Bridgestone representatives said, “Georgia is a center for golf business, plus we have an established sales network which extends from Atlanta. Specifically, we chose Covington because the city was so enthusiastic about our plans. Its close proximity to Atlanta was also a prime factor.”
“This is the world’s largest market for golf balls,” Yoji Terasaki, director of Bridgestone Corporation’s Sports Division, said at the time. “And we want to be well positioned to service its needs.”
The plant was built within a year, and production got underway in 1990. Bridgestone invested approximately $6.3 million over a three-year period into the Covington production facility, according to documents from the Newton County Industrial Development Authority.
Bridgestone Golf in Covington is now in its 30th year of business. Murphy said there have been plenty of ups and downs over that time, but 2020 — as odd as it may sound — has been the company’s best.
During an event held Thursday, Nov. 12, to celebrate Georgia being named No. 1 in business climate for an eighth straight year, Murphy said he wasn’t surprised by the ranking.
“Site Selection — eight years in a row is an amazing run, but Bridgestone knew that Covington and Georgia was great for doing business 30 years ago,” he said. “Because that’s when we established Bridgestone Golf right here at this facility. And in those 30 years since, we’ve manufactured more than a billion golf balls in that factory.
“And every golf ball is perfect, and we’re very, very proud of that.”
While many businesses have suffered during the pandemic, Murphy said the golf ball makers were able to persevere, partly due to the state’s leadership creating a successful reopening plan.
“There’s been peaks and valleys. But in 2020, we needed a win,” Murphy said. “We were like a sports team going into this year, and we needed a winning season. We had some things happen, and 2020 was our year to break out and get going. In January, we did. We got off to a great start, went to our trade shows… Everything was going in a normal, good way.”
But then everything stopped.
“That was some nerve-wracking times,” Murphy said in reference to a weary April. “I remember being the only guy in this building over here a couple of days.”
In May, Murphy said the company was able to turn things around.
“Golf became a safe haven,” he said. “It became a place where people could go and get some recreation, get some fresh air, and so all of the sudden, what looked like disaster became opportunity. And because of the leadership of the state — we just want to say ‘thank you’ — the way that things unfolded for us turned out to be very good.
“We’re having a record year in sales and profits,” Murphy continued. “Of all those 30 years, this is the No. 1 year, and the reason why is because when opportunity knocked, we were able to get going sooner than our competition. We have a couple of other competitors in other states. They had to shut down for a very long time, and they were left without inventory, they couldn’t service the golf surge that happened, and we were. And as a result, we’ve been able to take, share and move our business forward and secure our place in the community and business and the jobs of all those beautiful green shirted people (Bridgestone employees) that are over there.”
Serra Hall, vice president of project development for the Newton County Industrial Development Authority, said Bridgestone played an integral role in the community’s response to COVID-19 and helping all businesses succeed in unprecedented times.
“Bridgestone Golf was a true leader during COVID to aid in facilitation of data for our business roundtable sessions and a great example of how to maintain business throughout this uncharted time,” she said.
Murphy said Thursday that Bridgestone was taking the momentum of a historic 2020 and riding it into the Masters Tournament held in Augusta from Thursday, Nov. 12, through Sunday, Nov. 15, through its two star clients, PGA golfers Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau.
Both Woods and DeChambeau recently signed long-term contract extensions to continue using the Covington-made balls on the PGA Tour.
“Tiger’s the best player that’s ever walked a golf course, so we’re just thrilled to have him play our ball,” Murphy said. “This is a little secret: He’s played our ball for 20 years even though he’s been a Bridgestone guy for four. You say, ‘how did that happen?’ It’s because we used to make the Nike golf ball for him. So, he was very familiar. When Nike backed out of the business, he came to us, and we love to have him.
“Golf’s next superstar is Bryson DeChambeau, and he’s our guy,” he continued. “He hits (the ball) a mile and is getting all the headlines. You look at any headline this morning with Masters happening … everybody’s talking about two stories: Can Tiger defend and can Bryson take apart Augusta National? So it’s really a thrilling time for us to be doing what we’re doing, and all of that means we’ve got to make more golf balls.”
DeChambeau finished tied for 34th for the tournament with a -2. Woods finished tied for 38th with a -1.
Murphy said he’s looking forward to the next 30 years of production in Newton. The company currently employs 158 people, but Murphy said it would expand production as needed to meet rising demands.
Hall said Covington is fortunate to be home to such a successful, national brand in the sports industry.
“Bridgestone Golf has been a pillar of business success in Newton County,” she said. “Bridgestone Golf is an outstanding community partner and an integral part of our business community through our work in workforce development and education. We could not be more proud of the locally sourced product that provides joy to so many young and old. We are grateful for their legacy in Newton County and are honored to work with Dan Murphy and team.
“Bridgestone Golf is not just a business,” Hall continued. “It’s truly a bright light of our business makeup from their employees and their product mix that reaches around the world. “