Tour players trust their tools with Hulka

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Tour players trust their tools with Hulka

By JUSTIN JARRETT jjarrett@islandpacket.com 843-706-8120
Published Saturday, April 19, 2008 in The Island Packet  |  618 Words  |  heritage/tournament

Steve Hulka was standing in the Baltimore/Washington International Airport in late September 2001 when the idea struck him.
"I went home for my aunt's funeral with just a backpack," recalled Hulka, a longtime PGA Tour caddie. "And I could not believe in our country that we would ever see armed guards and lines 2 miles long just to get through security."
So he started asking around to gauge interest in a service that would transport players' golf bags and luggage from one PGA Tour stop to the next. He felt the interest was great enough, so in fall 2002, he pitched the idea to Henry Hughes, now the PGA Tour's executive vice president and chief of operations.
"He told me, 'We've had someone come to us about this very same plan, but we never received his business plan. Do you have one?,' " Hulka recalls.
"Yeah," he fibbed.
"So I stayed up that entire evening and devised my entire business plan and sent it FedEx the next day," Hulka said. "Within a week, they called me and said, 'You're on.' "
And H.O.P.E. (Hulka's Overland Players Express) was born.
The business started small -- five players signed on initially -- but as word got out, things picked up. Hulka outgrew the original trailer in less than three years, and he now has 35 full-time clients and takes on as many as 15 more some weeks.
He hauls everything from suitcases to baby strollers and everything between -- he once hauled a BMW motorcycle from Phoenix to Pebble Beach for Peter Lonard's caddie, Scott Martin.
If someone needs to get it from one PGA Tour stop to the next, Hulka will haul it.
"We now have more toys and strollers and playpens than we have suitcases and golf bags, because the wives love us," Hulka said. "We're the official crib-hauler of the PGA Tour."
Hulka picked up some extra cargo last December, when his wife of 25 years decided to join him on the road. Mary Hulka shares the driving duties, making it easier to get from one destination to the next in a timely manner, and allowing the couple to see the country together.
"Over the years that he's caddied, almost 30 years ... now I get to see all of the places that he would always describe to me," Mary Hulka said. "I'm living his life and seeing what it's been all about."
On the busiest of weeks -- this week's journey from Hilton Head Island to Dallas for the EDS Byron Nelson Championship will be among the busiest of the season -- the Hulkas' trailer will carry more than 200 pieces of luggage.
The goal is to load it all up Sunday afternoon and get it to the next stop as early as possible on Monday. And so far, they haven't met any major disasters ... though there have been some close calls.
Just last week on the trip from Houston to Augusta, Ga., Steve Hulka looked in the side mirror of his 4-wheel-drive Chevy truck to see the dreaded blue lights. When the officer came to the window, though, he didn't ask Hulka to slow down; he warned him that one of the tires on the left side of his trailer had blown out and been shredded off the rim.
The Hulkas pulled into a Wal-Mart in Baton Rouge, La., where they bought a hydraulic jack and changed the tire so they could keep on trucking toward the Masters.
"We were about an hour late in Augusta," Steve Hulka said.
But at least nobody had to wait at the baggage claim.