Making it in Montana

Entrepreneur found success in California with wooden lacrosse sticks but wanted to build his business here

By Molly Priddy
Joe Clough poses with one of his hand-crafted lacrosse sticks at the Pin and Cue Bowling Alley, his place of work, in Whitefish, Montana on July 25, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

WHITEFISH — To get to work, an entrepreneur needs to have an idea and figure out the means to make it happen. But for a growing number of Montana producers, knowing where they want to make their product is also important.

Such is the case of Joe Clough, who hails from the Bay Area of California but now works as a bartender at the Pin & Cue bowling alley here and also takes on mechanical jobs. It’s not so much that he has a passion for pouring drinks — though he enjoys it — it’s that the job gives him the means to stay in Montana to grow his business, Wood Spoon Lacrosse.

The company builds lacrosse sticks from American ash and white oak, and they come in two versions. One is solid wood, and the other is wooden with a carbon fiber core.

Clough himself used the carbon-fiber version for his whole career playing lacrosse at the University of Montana.

“There are harsher elements here than in the Bay Area,” he said. “We wanted to make something that could combat the snow and the cold.”

Clough graduated from the University of Montana two years ago, and he fell in love with the state while here. But before he got to Montana, he and his father built lacrosse sticks from wood as a project for Clough’s senior year of high school.

His dad runs a cabinetry business, and the access and ability to make the sticks also helped make the sport more affordable for Clough’s friends. Metal alloy sticks — tough and light enough for adult-level lacrosse games — can cost hundreds of dollars all told, and that’s just one piece of equipment.

“It’s definitely an expensive industry,” Clough said. “Dad and I wanted to see what we could do to make things cheaper for my buddies.”

What they ended up with were solid wood lacrosse sticks that have the bend and strength of metal alloys but only cost $20; the carbon-fiber version is $90. The shafts also come with a lifetime guarantee.

Since they originally developed the product in the Bay Area while Clough was in high school, they’ve had time to build a following. After college in Montana, Clough moved back to California, but soon realized that even with a business starting to take off, it wasn’t where he wanted to be.

“I wanted to get the heck out of California,” Clough said.

Lacrosse has started picking up in Montana in the last decade, and Clough, who coaches an AAU team, believes it won’t be too much longer until it becomes a school sport instead of a club sport.

He wants to help grow the sport while also producing the sticks here. The wood comes from humid American states, because of how it allows for better weight and flexibility from the wood. But the shafts are made here.

“There’s a lot of pride in the Made in Montana labels,” Clough said. “To do something like that is being part of the Montana brand. There’s nothing like it in California.”

Clough’s little brother is a student in Missoula and has already decided Montana is for him, and his father plans to soon move his whole cabinetry business here.

“I’ve never been happier than the two years I’ve lived in Whitefish,” Clough said.

For more information on Wood Spoon Lacrosse, visit www.facebook.com/pg/WoodSpoonLacrosse406.

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