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Bridgestone makes golf balls to suit the golfer's game

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COVINGTON -- The golfer positions his club behind the ball on the tee. He draws back and swings, the club sounding like a whip before sending a small white ball into the air with a crack, accompanied by cheers and shouts from fellow golfers, imploring the ball to "Get in the hole!"

Bridgestone Golf can't guarantee that every ball that is made in its Covington plant will make a hole in one, but the company can give the golfer -- whether a professional or a weekend warrior --the tools he needs to have a successful round of golf.

"We make balls for that guy who plays on Saturday mornings and pays his greens fees," said Dan Murphy, vice president of marketing for Bridgestone Golf. "Contrast that against other manufacturers who say, 'Just play with what the pros play with.' At Bridgestone, we say play what fits your game."

Bridgestone Golf is a division of the Bridgestone Group, which is headquartered in Tokyo and is the world's largest tire and rubber company, according to the company's website.

"At Bridgestone Golf, we have the distinction of being the absolutely smallest division in a very large multinational corporation," Murphy said. "It's kind of an odd dual personality: We are a very big company with resources but our marketing can be quite entrepreneurial as we try to compete in the highly competitive golf equipment industry."

Bridgestone began manufacturing golf balls in Newton County in 1990. Until 2004, the company's brand name was Precept, which is still owned and manufactured by Bridgestone. In 2005, the Bridgestone brand was launched.

Since 1990, Bridgestone in Covington has produced about 50 million dozen -- or 600 million -- golf balls.

Murphy said Bridgestone golf balls are made with a unique core design -- "gradational compression core," which means the core is firmer on the outside and is softer toward the middle -- that can fit a wide range of golfers.

The company is protective of its specific processes, but Murphy said that the manufacturing of the golf balls begins with the core. He said large chunks of rubber are brought into the plant where they undergo a series of processes before they are molded into the core.

Another layer is molded onto the core and the recognizable pockmarked cover is then placed on the outside.

"Every ball is hand-inspected and viewed by a human eyeball," Murphy said.

He said Bridgestone does not sell factory seconds, or what are commonly known as "X-outs."

"We believe that we should never put a Bridgestone ball out there that we are not proud of," Murphy said.

The golf balls made at Bridgestone also undergo a variety of tests at the test site that includes a tee box, a putting green and several golf holes located behind the plant and offices on Industrial Park Boulevard. Murphy said several professional golfers have visited the site to test golf balls, including Matt Kuchar, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Lee Trevino and Brandt Snedeker.

Bridgestone Golf employs around 200 employees, with approximately 140 working in the Covington facility. The company just announced plans to expand production by 40 percent and hire 20 additional full-time workers.

"Today, we are the No. 2 brand in the market by dollar share," Murphy said, pointing out that Titleist is the No. 1 brand. "That is a big deal for us and very exciting."

He said employees take a lot of pride in the fact that Bridgestone is not a traditional sports brand and yet it has developed into one that is competitive with traditional sports brands.

"We are proud that we're Covington-based and we used this base of operations to have success across the national, and really, international market," Murphy said.