A pair of golfing mates from the Hokianga have brought their A-game to a business start-up that’s using plant pests like gorse to replace plastic tees.
Golf enthusiasts Koro Carman and Vaughan Hemara recently founded Green Waste Products NZ, which aims to reduce the ecological footprint of the golf industry by turning gorse into golf tees.
Carman said he was walking up the 13th fairway at the Kaikohe Golf Club in 2021 and “rummaging through my pocket for a Kuro [throat lozenge]” when he had the idea for the innovative venture.
“When I pulled everything out and opened my hand, I was surprised to see a palm full of plastic golf tees.
“It was the first time I’d seen a whole lot of plastic in my hand at once. I thought, ‘Holy heck, we can do better than this’.
“I started thinking about how we can remove plastic from the game of golf and what to replace it with.”
The duo, both Rawene Golf Club members, source the gorse from a couple of mates who have given them access to their properties in Hokianga and Kaikohe, and they’re about to start sourcing it from Waipapa.
“There’s a lot of it around,” Carman said.
“It’s staggering... I found out the gorse problem is everywhere. It’s an under-utilised natural resource that is, unfortunately, causing harm to our native ecosystems.”
Currently, Hemara, an artist, individually handcrafts the tees on a lathe at his home in Ōmāpere, using the stems and offshoots of the gorse plant.
But their goal is to scale up, which would require engaging a manufacturing process, something the friends are starting to explore.
“What we want to do, ideally, is mulch the whole plant up and do injection moulding and manufacture it to scale.
“The bigger picture is to turn other pest plants - tobacco weed, wild ginger and pampas grass - into everyday products to replace the plastic equivalents.”
Carman said around 3.5 billion golf tees are made globally every year, mainly from plastic.
“Gorse covers 1.7 million acres [687,965 hectares], or 5 per cent, of Aotearoa. That’s 13 Aucklands, and every year we spend over $20 million trying to control it. Plastic and gorse are a human, environmental and economic nightmare.
“We want to utilise this natural resource to create new, green waste-to-value opportunities. We believe it’s also an opportunity to encourage a new sense of hope and purpose.”
Green Waste Products NZ was one of 10 Māori start-ups selected to participate in this year’s three-month Kokiri Accelerator Programme.
Carman, who has worked in the tourism and hospitality industry for over 25 years and co-founded tour operator Footprints Waipoua, said the experience played a critical role in the development of a prototype and testing.
It also enabled the pair to network with entrepreneurs, investors and business professionals.
Carman and Hemara were mentored by a team of advisers, including Ian Musson from the Young Enterprise Scheme, Golf Managers Association of New Zealand chief executive Des Topp, and Kerry Topp from The Kerry Topp Collective.
Since then, Carman said they have had “fruitful discussions” with the New Zealand golf industry, along with private landowners, government agencies and manufacturers.
Golf clubs from around Aotearoa have contacted them to sell the tees in shops, and the friends are also making a special batch of tees to go to Italy, where the 2023 Ryder Cup is being held.
With their recent connections, they are “hoping there’s an opportunity for our tees to be used in that space”.
“It’s incredibly positive,” Carman said.
“But because we’re hand-crafting, we can only produce a limited amount. We can’t supply the interest that’s out there.”
The friends have launched a Pledge Me campaign to raise funds to help support their endeavours. So far, $4100 has been raised, with the goal being to reach $22,000.
After that, the tees will be available from their website.
Jenny Ling is a news reporter and features writer for the Northern Advocate. She has a special interest in covering roading, health, business and animal welfare issues.