Putt it on

Golf apparel adapts to appeal to a younger demographic.

Back in the 1980s, comedian Rosie O’Donnell described golf as “…not a sport. Golf is men in loud pants, walking.” While color in a good way is still key, it’s safe to say that there’s a new era of fashion and fit on the links.

“Golf apparel is getting much more sophisticated,” says Marty Hackel, fashion director of Golf Digest. “For too long it was your father-in-law’s look, with a white polo shirt and khakis. Today’s players are getting big help with smart-looking clothes designed with some style and creativity. Look at Rickie Fowler in Puma or Nick Watney in Hugo Boss…Polo has a huge presence. They’re creating very colorful, fun and outdoorsy looks. Specialty stores have discovered that golf is a cool lifestyle and they can have fun with it.”

At Macy’s, fashion director Durand Guion describes golf business as “through the roof. There’s much more fashion in slimmer fits. The collections are targeting the younger or young-minded guy who thinks about style. Of course, a lot of it then ends up being worn on the street. There’s a huge impact from performance fabrics—they take color brilliantly, so that alone has improved the look dramatically.”

“Golf is finally becoming fashionable again,” says Travis Mathew CEO Chris Rosaasen. “Young and fit is the new normal on the PGA Tour. Players are starting to care as much about their appearance as they do about their equipment and technology.”

The Travis Mathew golf brand has had a more contemporary approach to fashion since its inception in 2008 (Rosaasen was the original founder of the Rosaasen collection) and recently signed a license with denim maker AG.

“AG’s Sam Ku and I share a love for golf and great product. We sat down and analyzed each other’s business and realized we shared a very similar customer. The guy that was wearing TM at the high-end country club was also putting on AG when he was heading to dinner. Since we share the same customer it was a perfect fit for a collaboration.”

Contemporary brand Original Penguin is also stepping up to the tee, launching a new golf collection for spring 2013. Emily Bohonos says, “Penguin has become a lifestyle brand, so this just seemed like a natural extension and our parent company, Perry Ellis International, already has golf expertise in-house. We tested a capsule collection in our retail stores and on our website and it’s done well, so we’re expanding. [Editor’s note: PEI’s brands include Grand Slam and licensed product under Callaway and PGA Tour.] There are so many more people playing and a new generation of up and coming golfers, yet there doesn’t seem to be as much of a uniform on the course as there used to be. Now it’s much more about self-expression.”

Will Cropper is with Streetwear, Inc., which has the license for St. Andrews, the 800-year-old Scottish home of golf. “I need to do justice to this brand,” says Cropper. “St. Andrews has a rich tradition and heritage, yet we also think of it as the leader, the first. It has to be classic, but not staid or boring.”

The collection’s high performance polo-style golf shirts have the added benefits of a new cooling fabric (IceFil technology can lower skin temperature by preventing thermal conductivity between skin and fabric), anti-microbial treatments, and a UV/UPF protection of 50-plus, while sweaters offer a wide range of fabrics including synthetics, cottons and cashmere.

“It’s all about fit and style. I’m a fashion guy, and I would put on a medium in most golf shirts and feel like I was wearing my dad’s,” says Randy Gordon at Sub70. “We’ve addressed that issue but also kept our logo small and subtle so it can cross over easily. You can wear our five-pocket pant to dinner. Fred Segal has carried our collection.”

But is this new customer buying golf in his usual store, or from green grass or sporting goods shops?

“Essentially, our customer is shopping wherever is most convenient for him,” says Rosaasen. “He wants something that can be worn on and off the golf course, so he’s shopping at his local country club, department store or specialty store.”

Zero Restriction’s roots are in a Gore-Tex rain suit that has a 17-year history, and retails for around $700 for the serious golfer who won’t let a little storm keep him from his sport. The brand can be found in about a thousand golf shops, but about a year ago started looking to be more about ‘life sports.’ “We did a seminar at Darien Sport Shop and customers loved the fact that we could offer product that they recognized from owning the rain suit, but that they would feel comfortable wearing sailing or playing paddle tennis. We’re also in Bloomingdale’s golf zone. The challenge is explaining all the product features to the salesperson so that he can then pass it on to the customer.”

Performance anxiety

While performance features certainly drive sales, just how important are they, really?

As Golf Digest’s Marty Hackel says, “It’s all polyester. There’s good polyester and not-so-good polyester. The tech fabrics have become very popular, yet there are also a lot of traditionalists out there who extol the virtues of natural fibers and how well they breathe…in the end, it’s golf, not the 100-yard dash, so why are we so worried about sweat?”

“Fabrication and fit are the most important things,” says Travis Mathews’ Chris Rosaasen. “Our goal is to design a product that will perform under the most extreme conditions on the golf course (moisture wicking, UV Protection, stretch, etc.), but still look appropriate everywhere else. The wearer shouldn’t look like he just walked off the course. A great example is our 40/60 Interlock fabric. At first glance it looks like your traditional pique shirt, but after close inspection you notice the nice soft hand, stretch and its moisture-wicking capabilities.” As Sub70’s Randy Gordon puts it, “On a 98 degree day, you can’t wear a plain cotton shirt—it’s just not practical!”

Linksoul was formed when Pima Direct partnered with golf apparel wiz John Ashworth, to create a lifestyle collection. The company’s Mark Kileen says, “It’s about the combination of performance and luxury. We don’t incorporate a lot of the SPF and other treatments, because that all washes out eventually, anyway. We do incorporate a proprietary finish for a soft, silky hand—it won’t wrinkle, fade or pill. Our fit is more tailored; we have a shorter sleeve and less fabric in the chest and waist, which just makes a body look better. We incorporate John’s love of natural fibers to create product that makes you feel good—which will affect your performance!”

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