Golf’s got an image problem. Long-perceived as the sport of rich old white guys – something no doubt seared even deeper onto the public consciousness thanks to Donald Trump being the sport’s unofficial posterboy for the past four years – what these chaps wear for a round has become the unofficial uniform on the green: saggy pleated trousers, unintentionally oversized polos and insufferably orthopedic-looking shoes. However, in a pandemic plot twist that no-one saw coming, Covid-19 might have supercharged a revolution in the sport that’ll reach far beyond the fairway, right into your wardrobe.
According to golf strategy consultancy The Revenue Club, 2020 saw a “seismic shift” in the sport’s demographics. Back in June 2019, the age group most likely to pay to use a course for the day at golf clubs in Britain was 65 plus. A year later, after courses reopened following the first national lockdown, this had flipped from retirees to those aged 24 to 34, with 18 to 24 year olds becoming a sizeable demographic on the fairway in their own right for the first time since records began.
“I’ve never played as much golf as since Covid hit,” says marketing and communications director Joshua O’Hara, 28, an amateur golfer based just outside of Manchester. “As soon as courses opened back up last year, more of my friends came to me asking about how to get started. Lots were furloughed and it was one of the only sports you could do. It was a real saviour for a bit of socialising and exercise — and for taking your mind off what was going on in the world.”
Now he has a WhatsApp group with his golf mates, somewhere they can share potential tee-times and plan for the courses reopening once again in the coming weeks — but it’s also a place to talk about what they’ll wear.
“We’re always sharing links to new lines of apparel or the latest golf shoes to drop,” says O’Hara. “The way people dress for the sport is changing. It’s more relaxed – taking its cues from streetwear and far less focused on trying to look like a golf pro.”
This change in the aesthetics of the sport has probably been caused by a perfect storm of Millennial-facing factors. First, over the past couple of years, a new wave of younger celebrities that break the sport’s stereotypes around age and race have started playing the sport — most notably rappers like Schoolboy Q, Tyga and Macklemore (who has recently launched his own mid-century-inspired golf line, Bogey Boys).
Second, there have been a series of next generation professional golfers who have toyed with the sport’s strict dress codes in a very public way – a prime example being 29-year-old Tyrell Hatton, who rocked the golf world when he wore a hoodie at the PGA European Championship in October last year.
"The way people dress for the sport is changing. It’s more relaxed..."
Third, with retail outlets closed due to the pandemic, most Millennials wanting to get the right kit for the course will have headed to social media to research brands and get style inspiration as opposed to settling for what they could get at the pro shop. All three of these have meant burgeoning new wave golf brands on both sides of the Atlantic have exploded over the past year.
“This pandemic has poured gasoline on the fire in terms of our growth trajectory,” says Jason Fields, founder of golf label Radda, when I call him in Los Angeles. “On social media, our audience has grown over 95 percent in the 18-35 category, first time buyers have more than tripled since the start of the pandemic and minority millennials are the fastest growing demographic in our customer base.”
Having learned to play golf with his uncle from the age of nine on the same municipal course as Tiger Woods in South Central LA, Fields founded Radda in the summer of 2019 as he’d never been able to find apparel for the sport that he felt reflected his aesthetic or attitude.
“When I would buy clothes for golf, nothing made me feel like I was representing myself authentically on the course, it felt like I was putting on a uniform,” he says. “I have tattoos, I don’t shave very often, I’m from South LA, but I’m a golfer, you know. And yet all I could find was this traditionalist approach. I just asked myself, ‘Why does golf clothing need to look like this?’”
He launched Radda for young golfers who, in his own words, “aren’t called Chad and don’t belong to a country club”. The result was a range of embroidered polos, tapered golf slacks, bucket hats and light coach jackets. It’s a line that shouts its streetwear credentials but merely whispers its golfing ones — and with good reason.
“We don’t look at the golf pros for inspiration,” says Fields. “We were looking at what our peers were wearing on the course: Our Legacy, Dries Van Noten, Aime Leon Dore. We took what we liked from those styles and incorporated it into our design language.”
For many traditionalists, Radda’s use of eye-popping colour and pattern, not to mention big, bold logos, could be seen as rebellious. Does he get a kick out of shaking up the style scene, especially at places that often have such strict dress codes?
“Everything can be considered rebellious in these environments!” he says. “But our designs aren’t meant to be disruptive, that’s just the stale nature of those country clubs. There are clubs that women can’t join, there are clubs where there are no black people, there are clubs that have awful histories — but people are concerned about me wearing a hoodie? That to me is just disgusting.”
Fields is not alone. Over in the USA, new wave golf labels like Whim Golf, Eastside Golf, Random Golf Club and Malbon have made democratising the sport a central pillar of their brands — bursting onto fairways across the country with big, bold logos and pieces designed to appeal far more to the hypebeast than the pro-style purist.
This idea of breaking traditional barriers to entry for the sport is also central to brands here on home turf.
“One of the key tenants of our brand is inclusivity,” says Jojo Regan, co-founder of British golf label Manors. “Golf is seen as white, elitist and stuffy. It also has its issues with sexism and diversity when it comes to clubhouse membership.”
When he launched Manors with two friends in June 2019, he knew these were issues he wanted to address with the business. One of his first moves was to sponsor Adem Wahbi, a Belgian golfer with cerebral palsy who is in the top ten World Disabled Rankings — and “an absolute legend”.
“Golf is seen as white, elitist and stuffy..."
However, much like Fields, Regan started Manors as, despite being a keen golfer, he couldn’t find anything out there that you’d been keen to wear out to brunch as well as in the sand bunker.
“What we wanted to do was to give the amateur golfer an opportunity to dress in a way that was more lifestyle focused, but still engineered for the modern swing — so the garments don’t get in the way when you’re playing,” says Regan. “Our clothes needed to fundamentally be on- and off-the course appropriate.
For Regan, one of the major stumbling blocks to this is traditional golf brands’ obsession with technical, high-performance fabrics — brilliant for the pros, but not the most stylish choice for a leisurely round followed by a couple of drinks in the pub afterwards. With that in mind, the team behind the brand focused on more traditional fabrics to increase the versatility of the pieces and took aesthetic inspiration from the kind of pieces you’d expect to see on British courses, just loosened up.
The result is a range defined by its sleek woven-in-England knitwear (coordinating cardigans, polos and rollnecks), bold tartan trousers with relaxed-yet-tapered fits, sleeveless vests, and checkerboard long sleeve knits. In short, it’s the kind of gear that not only looks superb in context on the green, but it’s versatile enough to be split up and worn wherever you want without giving away your predilection for a little pitch-and-putt.
And that’s where these new wave brands have the big boys of the pro shop licked. Sure they’re bringing the sport’s style on the course up to par, but it’s a club anyone can join whether you’re interested in getting a round in or not — no membership required.
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