The Surprising Virtues of Golf in Pittsburgh

I do not play golf. I have been known to flail at a golf ball in the company of friends, to enjoy the process, and to enjoy a drink in the clubhouse after a so-called "round" of golf. But I cannot be said ever to have "played" the game.

Pittsburgh, however, is golf-obsessed. Excellent golf courses abound, and both the local business community and the local non-profit community take full advantage. The "golf outing" is a staple of event calendars here. I have gotten accustomed to the practice, though as a newcomer a decade ago I found it absolutely mystifying. There are plenty of golfers in California, where I come from, and they play golf for business as well as for pleasure, but golf ranks nowhere near the top of the list of mandatory business pursuits on the West Coast, as it seems to here. Cycling -- now there's an entrepreneur's sport. In the Silicon Valley, it's all about cycling.

But I digress. The point of the post isn't really about the game of golf, but about the equipment of golf. As most golfers know, the sport relies on some serious high technology materials science. Via Chris at NullSpace, I learn today about Integran, a Toronto-based company with a Pittsburgh research facility that works on nanotechnology applications. Right now, the company is using nanotech in sports equipment, including golf clubs. (Chris wonders why he learns about the Pittsburgh connection by reading a Toronto publication, but I wonder how else he would learn about it.)

Integran, in other words, appears to be marrying two of Pittsburgh's special talents. The region is home to a lot of some world class materials scientists. (Not that this is evidence of world class anything, but don't forget that the precursor to Silly Putty was developed in Pittsburgh.) It's home to some world class golfers, golf courses, and thousands of golfers and golf fans.

I don't imagine that combining these things is actually part of Integran's strategy, and I don't even know whether any of the sports-equipment research is being done here. But it's fun to take these things and arrange them this way, because it lets me ask the following question: Is Pittsburghers' obsession with sports of all kinds worth something in the innovation economy after all? Pick your sport or outdoor activity. Pick R&D talent already present in Pittsburgh. Are there opportunities waiting for strategic combinations? Are there combinations underway that we aren't hearing enough about?


5 Responses to "The Surprising Virtues of Golf in Pittsburgh"

Jim Russell said... 1/21/2009 3:45 PM

Schultz said... 1/21/2009 7:26 PM

Pittsburgh is golf obsessed? That is news to me. I think the region does have some of the best values in terms of quality golf courses but in some other regions golf is so popular that you need to book tee times weeks in advance. I have yet to see that here around the burgh.

Jim Russell said... 1/22/2009 1:04 PM

Turning the post theme on its head, here is a story about a Pittsburgh Steelers player who likes to build robots:

Schultz said... 1/23/2009 9:28 AM

Awesome Jim. It would have been a sin not to have a mention of the Steelers in any of the blog posts leading up to the Superbowl, right?

Anonymous said... 1/27/2009 7:40 AM

Alas, Pittsburgh failed to turn its golf and materials assets into a sports juggernaut -- like San Diego did.
When the aerospace industry was hit hard, idling thousands of materials engineers, San Diego entrepreneurs led and now dominate the golf club industry -- introducing titanium clubs and other materials innovations. Now nearly every major club maker has at least an R&D facility in San Diego.

Once again the presence of a talent pool and an entrepreneurial climate lead to regional success.

Perhaps the overheated (at least until recently) markets and prices in San Diego offer Pittsburgh some shot at capturing some of that business, but their ability to test outdoors year round is a big edge.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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