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Marketer of golf gadgets tries to iron out the kinks

One of a series on local public companies, focusing on their financial performance

Frustrated with your golf swing? Maybe the Angle-IRON can help.

If a golfer swings the hinged club correctly in practice, everything's fine. But if the swing isn't true, the Angle-IRON collapses at the hinge.

The $119.95 AngleIRON is part of a line of golf training aids and accessories marketed by a young Clearwater company called Level Best Golf Inc.

The company's products are endorsed by some well-known golf figures like Bruce Harmon, who coaches PGA sensation Tiger Woods, and Gary Koch of Tampa, a former PGA player who is now an NBC golf announcer.

"Throughout my golfing career . . . I've been exposed to hundreds of golf products and training aids. The AngleIRON is by far the most brilliant and effective training device on the market," Koch gushes in an ad.

But endorsements are one thing; sales are another.

The company, which went public last summer, had sales of only $500,000 in fiscal 1996 as it lost 42 cents per share. And as its stock price stagnates at about $3, there are doubts as to whether the company will be able to find a profitable niche in the golf business.

In recent financial statements, the company's accountants, Winter, Scheifley & Associates, P.C., said Level Best will have trouble continuing as a going concern if it can't get more financing and move forward with its marketing.

But the founders of the 3{-year-old company, brothers Fred and J. Greg Solomon, are confident. They say their problems aren't unusual for a young company, since they have just gotten past the money-losing research-and-development phase.

If the company can turn things around and find the right products, it will be tapping a rich vein. Golf is booming: One analyst predicts that spending on the sport will climb 5.2 percent a year to reach $28-billion in 2005. And rare is the golfer who has no desire to improve his game.

"One of the reasons we will be so successful is that the demographics of the (golf) business are changing to more of a mass-market audience," said Butch Paul, the company's national sales manager. "There's a lot of good technology out there. Handicaps haven't gone down in 30 years. Everyone is looking for a magic pill to make them good overnight."

The company is ready to sell. It expects to generate $10-million in sales and make 25 cents a share in fiscal 1997.

How will it get there?

Next month, Level Best will launch a barrage of infomercials for its products, including training videos and gadgets like the Putt Perfector, which fits on a putter and helps develop proper form.

And the company is working to get its products into more stores. It already has agreements with such chains as Sports Authority, Champs and Best Buy to start selling Level Best products next month, the brothers say.

But advertising and expansion of retail outlets require cash, and the Solomons aren't made of money. The brothers _ businessmen originally from New Smyrna Beach who were previously in construction and engineering _ started the company with about $500,000, using their life savings. (The founders so far have paid themselves small salaries. President Fred Solomon made $20,000 from Level Best last year.)

Next, the company tapped the public markets with two private placements and a public offering, raising about $3-million. Another private placement to raise $3.8-million more is in the works. But at some point, the well could run dry if the company doesn't post better financial numbers.

Though big golf names like Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods are already endorsing products for other companies, Level Best has signed up some notables, including Harmon, Koch, LPGA golfers Juli Inkster and Jan Stephenson, and seniors players Jim Dent and Wally Armstrong.

Level Best, which has 12 employees in its Clearwater headquarters, finds products and markets them; it's not a manufacturing company.

The company has its biggest hopes pinned on the AngleIRON, which was designed by Rick Bradshaw, the golf pro at Pebble Creek Country Club in Tampa. Bradshaw, who says he has given 70,000 golf lessons, worked on the AngleIRON concept for four years as he came up with 13 prototypes.

Level Best spent $300,000 on an AngleIRON infomercial with Script to Screen, the company responsible for infomercials selling the NordicTrack, a famed exercise machine, and Hooked on Phonics, a well-known educational aid.

Retailers were initially skeptical, said Greg Solomon, Level Best's executive vice president. The company is the first to sell a whole line of golf training aids in the general retail market instead of just in pro shops.

And as Level Best has struggled to gain credibility, it has been ignored by the stock market. With just 3.3-million shares outstanding, the company's stock is thinly traded, and hasn't moved much since it entered the market at $2.25. The stock closed Friday at $2.62{. To get the market to pay enough attention to push its stock up, Level Best will need to meet or exceed its sales and earnings targets.

Level Best Golf Inc.

WHAT IT DOES: Markets golf improvement and training products and golf accessories.

LISTING: LBGF on the Nasdaq bulletin board.

HEADQUARTERS: Clearwater.

CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT: Fred Solomon.

52-WEEK HIGH: $5

52-WEEK LOW: $2

FRIDAY'S CLOSE: $2.62{

1996 REVENUES: $500,000

1996 EARNINGS PER SHARE: 42 cents

EMPLOYEES: 12

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