SUDBURY -- With people around the world trying to figure out how resume doing the things they love, a Sudbury, Ont. company has found a way to get golfers safely back on the links.

Marc Benoit, owner Lively-based A10 Fabrication, has invented an innovative golf ball retriever he has dubbed, 'Hole Out.'

Hole Out is a touchless ball retriever that is inserted into the bottom of the flagpole. It has metal hooks on the top (covered in shrink wrap to avoid scratching putters) attached to a thin pipe that connects to a circular plate on the bottom that goes into the hole.

To retrieve their ball, golfers lift the hooks with their putter, and it pops out.

An avid golfer since he was 12, Benoit came up with the idea earlier this year when golf season was fast approaching. Many in the industry were unsure how the pandemic would impact the sport -- and how they were going to open for the year.

"I heard rumours of pool noodles (in the hole), I had heard rumours of not even having a hole, just a circle on the green," he said.

He realized those were bad ideas – and thought he could do better.

"So I approached (the Lively Golf Club) and said, 'Hey, can I donate a setup? I don’t know what it is yet, but I'm going to design one and I want to provide you guys with, you know, 20 of them,'" said Benoit.

Lively Golf Club general manager Mark Taylor – still unsure how things were going to unfold in time for opening -- welcomed the opportunity.

"To have so many people throughout the period of a day coming through here, touching the flag, putting their hand in the cup, we wanted to eliminate that … as much as possible," Taylor said. "And along came our good friend Marc … who, in the span of 48 hours, had come up with a solution."

Since installing Hole Out in Lively's 18-hole course, feedback from golfers has been positive.  Word-of-mouth has translated to sales across northern Ontario -- and interest from golf courses south of the border.

"I'm dropping the price a little bit for local courses just to try and support local," Benoit said.

"I've approached a course in Florida and I'm sending them a sample, as this is something they're looking to implement year-round."

Golf Sudbury's Sam Yawney, who owns and operates five golf courses across the city, said he sees big demand for Benoit's invention.

"There is certainly potential for him to establish it worldwide, it's not just North America," Yawney said. "Golf is in pretty much in every country around the world and who knows where he can go with it."

He can see Hole Out being something he uses on his courses long term.

"Going forward, for safety purposes, I can see them being used all the time," Yawney said. "Not just here, because of the virus, but it's something that may be used on a more permanent basis."

Even as restrictions are lifted, Taylor said the product is still useful because many golfers have mobility challenges that prevent them from bending down.

"Many of our senior members, our pensioners, are already asking us to keep them in going forward," Taylor said. "And with the new PGA rules that allow you to keep the pin in anyway, it's easier for them.

"You look at Florida, you look at Myrtle Beach and a lot of these retirement communities … if you can help people with certain conditions, I think this could be the next big thing."

The invention is a departure for Benoit's company, which normally services mining support and construction companies in Northern Ontario. What makes the company unique, he said, is their capacity to take on custom projects.

"We build for Minecat, PowerTraxx … Sandvik, Komatsu, Domtar," he said. "We build for pretty much all the mining equipment companies here in town.

"Other than that, we do custom work – so anybody (who) comes in with a drawing, we can take their sketches to try and make into whatever they imagine."

Benoit is in the process of acquiring Canada-U.S. patents for Hole Out and is already consulting with a company that manufactures flag poles for golf courses around the world to ensure his product meets PGA standards.