Henri Du Pont has dined in castles, drag-raced limousines, rubbed shoulders with royalty and played some of the most exclusive golf courses in the world. But on a sunny day last June he was with five senior citizens at Cokesbury Village, a retirement community in Hockessin, Del., hacking a spongy ball around with a golf club that goes for $29.95.
The 29-year-old great-great-great-grandson of DuPont corporation founder Eleuth�re Ir�n�e du Pont was demonstrating SWIN, a portable nine-hole golf game designed for use anytime, anywhere. A SWIN course can be set up on a fraction of the land required for a regular golf course, and players need carry only a single club, with a three-sided plastic head. It's a driver, wedge and putter all in one.
"SWIN lets people experience golf without getting up to their eyes in equipment, expense and time," says du Pont, whose godfather, Laurent de Vilmorin, developed the game in the early '80s at his home in Brou, France. Having retired as head of the computer division of NATO, Vilmorin stumbled upon sketches of a two-sided golf club that his father had drawn in the '30s. Vilmorin spent the next three years developing SWIN. The results of his efforts are the three-faced club; a spongy, dimpled ball; and "holes" that consist of thin rubber hoops about a foot in diameter. They sit at the bases of flagsticks that players plant wherever they want. To hole a ball, a player must simply knock it into the hoop.
Until he traveled to France in 1991 to meet his godfather for the first time, du Pont had never heard of SWIN, which is not an acronym but instead a made-up word whose sound Vilmorin liked. But after playing a few rounds, he was hooked. With Vilmorin's permission, he imported the game to the U.S. and began assembling SWIN sets in his Wilmington, Del., basement. (A set—with four clubs, four balls, 10 tees and nine hoops and flagsticks—costs $169.95.) Now Henri and his brother Ir�n�e, 24, run SWIN, Inc., out of a 3,000-square-foot warehouse in Newark, Del. "I've never completed a business course in my life," says Henri, "but for the past two years SWIN has been the first thought I have when I wake up in the morning and the last thought I have when I go to bed at night."
The same seems to be true for the folks at Cokesbury, who have formed a club of 38 players and set up a six-hole course on about four acres of land. They take the course down only on Tuesdays, when the grass is cut. "We might have to start taking tee times in the morning," says 83-year-old Ollie York, who finds SWIN a fine alternative to being on a golf course for hours.
Ginny Mueller, 80, another Cokesbury resident, gave up golf 45 years ago out of frustration. "I don't expect to play regular golf again," she says. "But I like SWIN because I can come out by myself and get a little exercise. It's very relaxing for me."
In 1996 North American Soccer Camps, the largest youth athletic camp network in the U.S., will launch 320 youth golf camps in association with Jack Nicklaus's Golden Bear International. The camps will be called Clubs for Cubs. "SWIN is the sole golf product our camps will use," says Ian Tonks, vice president of the new camps. The youth golf camp had been in the works for three years, but NASC was unable to find a safe game that could be used to teach young golfers. When SWIN made its debut at a toy fair in New York City last February, Tonks saw a perfect match.
The three club faces—marked D, W and P for driver, wedge and putter—and the bright halls, color-coordinated to match the grips, may seem like a joke to serious golfers, but the kids at the Tatnall School Day Camp in Greenville, Del., have requested that SWIN become a daily activity. "You can make up your own rules and set up the course any way you want," eight-year-old Dwight DeCarme said recently after whacking an orange SWIN ball about 75 yards with his junior-sized club. "It took one kid 16 strokes to reach the 1st hole, and that was a par-1," said Jen Reeves, 23, a Tatnall counselor. "But with each round he improved his score and his confidence. The kids really concentrate and keep at it."
"I think it's the perfect way to teach kids about golf, because SWIN is actually close to the game in its pure form," says du Pont. "When people first started playing, they didn't have a lot of specialized equipment. They just went out with a couple of clubs and a ball and had a good time."