New products give company lift on course

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The grass is green on SubAir's side of the fence.

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Kevin Crowe, an agronomist and golf project director for SubAir Systems in Graniteville, shows SubAir units to be shipped to a golf course in China. Most SubAir sales are outside the country.  Tim Rausch/Staff
Tim Rausch/Staff
Kevin Crowe, an agronomist and golf project director for SubAir Systems in Graniteville, shows SubAir units to be shipped to a golf course in China. Most SubAir sales are outside the country.

The 5-year-old Graniteville company that focuses on keeping golf greens that color is figuring out where to put a new building in order to add manufacturing space.

SubAir staff is no longer simply interested in keeping the greens dry, which was the technology that started the firm. They're working to keep them warm and cool, too.

Company sales have risen 70 percent a year for the past three years, Chief Executive Mike Corwon said. The growth has a lot to do with its expanding product line, from high-powered fans to cool greens in the summer to wireless sensors that allow golf course superintendents to measure moisture and temperature.

Mr. Corwon said this year's new product is a mobile misting machine that can be mounted on a golf utility cart. The MobileMist was unveiled at an industry show in February and a few orders have already come in.

"This is a product you sell in the summertime," he said.

Mr. Corwon said he expects 2008 to be financially similar to the past three years, despite a weak golf market in America. More than half the company's sales were outside the country.

Pallets of SubAir units tagged for China are awaiting shipment.

SubAir's namesake product uses air flow under greens and fairways to suck out moisture. It was developed in 1994 by Marsh Benson, who is the course superintendent at the Augusta National Golf Club.

"We don't need to be in every golf course in America to be a successful company, but we are seeing more acceptance," Mr. Corwon said. "It is a top-tier product. You won't find this on municipal courses."

Some of those top-tier courses include Pinehurst, Bay Hill, Los Angeles Country Club and Pebble Beach.

A new product -- something Mr. Corwon calls a "very top-tier" idea -- is under development in a corner of SubAir's 25,000-square-foot facility. The idea is hydronics, using water heaters and chillers to control the temperature of greens and tees with underground pipes.

"A test is going on with Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill," Mr. Corwon said. "There is a full-course installation going on in Korea. ... A lot of evaluations going on about this technology."

A technology acquired in 2005 began the sales increase. It was Turf Breeze fans, specially designed for golf course use. Some of them can be found at Augusta Country Club.

SubAir had six employees in 2003, when it was split between two locations in Aiken. It now has 21 employees based in its own facility near Sage Valley Golf Club on Bettis Academy Road.

Mr. Corwon and his staff is determining whether to put up a second building on its 8-acre location or in an existing nearby industrial park building. SubAir outsources sheet metal bending and cutting and wants to bring that in-house, he said.

The expansion should be done by the end of the year.

Reach Tim Rausch at (706) 823-3352 or timothy.rausch@augustachronicle.com.


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