In an ordinary game of golf, the sound of a ball hitting the water usually results in a penalty shot—and a groan from the swinger. But when players tee off at a Splash City Golf driving range, that sound signals dinnertime for schools of fish in the Inner Harbor.
Since 2016, friends and co-founders Daniel Bucci, Shawn Flaherty, and Jamie Hodges have been bringing pop-up driving ranges to waterfront establishments across Baltimore (think Sandlot, Barcocina, and Rye Street Tavern), where both veteran linksmen and first-time putters attempt to score a hole in one on floating targets using golf balls made of fish food.
As a golf enthusiast, Flaherty was inspired by his waterfront job at the Living Classrooms Foundation to create an urban driving range that was both environmentally friendly and fun for city residents. He brought the idea to Bucci and, shortly thereafter, the duo launched the company with a target prototype: a rowboat outfitted with a cinder-block-weighted flag.
With help from Hodges, a mechanical engineer and patented inventor, the team has upgraded to a GPS-positioned inflatable target that is kept steady by an app. “[The concept] fits in Baltimore particularly well because it’s outside of the box,” says Flaherty, “and this town is very much that.”
The golf balls—which are manufactured in Barcelona, Spain, and sold in baskets of five, 15, or 30—biodegrade within 72 hours of hitting the water. Last year, Baltimoreans hit more than 10,000 balls into the harbor, and this summer, Splash City Golf will expand to new locations across Charm City, Washington, D.C., and the Eastern Shore, setting up courses at restaurants, bars, and private events such as weddings (including Flaherty’s this month).
The self-funded startup hopes to grow by making the balls locally and securing partnership locations across the county, while sticking to their Baltimore roots. “There’s a body of water in every city,” says Bucci. “Eventually, we want to be in all of them.”