In-depth: How fashion got into the swing of golf
For the younger, time-pressed and cash poor generations, golf used to be a sport associated with Surrey country clubs and the ageing gin and Jag brigade. It appeared to be a sport for the monied with time of their hands and it felt like golf clubs would be turning into wild flower meadows before Generations X and Z felt the pull of the manicured fairway.
However, thanks to the pandemic, golf has seen a renaissance in popularity and has become an ideal opportunity for more dressier fashion brands to segue-way into sportswear. Brands such as MR PORTER and Reiss have recently launched golf collections to capitalise on our new love of the outdoors, and they are not the only ones.
“Golf has always been a consideration to explore for [MR PORTER’s in-house brand] Mr P., even since the brand’s inception in 2017, as it’s a sport that blends style and its pastime,” says Olie Arnold, Style Director at MR PORTER.
“Inspired by golfing icons from the 1950s and 1960s, the elegance of the classic golf aesthetic was the perfect alignment for the Mr P. brand to reinvent and craft in a contemporary manner. We decided to launch the collection now as we’ve witnessed a spike in interest in golf as a sport, hobby, and let’s be honest, an escape over the last few months,” Arnold says.
However he doesn’t buy into the idea that golf has only just found its cool, thanks to the pandemic, arguing that a new generation of golfer had led to greater interest in the sport from a new generation of consumer before Covid hit. In addition icons of the past have also found a new fanbase.
Arnold says: “Golf has always been cool, it’s just been hiding for a few years and throughout the pandemic in particular, we’ve witnessed a relevant rise of interest in golf, both from a spectator and also a pastime perspective. The reasoning being twofold: For one, a new crop of leading athletes has emerged – think Viktor Hovland, Will Zalatoris, and Xander Schauffele – all of whom are captivating a ‘next’ generation of audiences. And secondly, the pandemic revived the sport as a pastime for enthusiasts and novices alike, where individuals sought the course for therapy or meditation, and friends were able to reunite and socialise in a safe and distant enough manner, out in the open.
“As younger audiences are turning to the sport, golf fashion has evolved to satisfy the needs of this new generation of golf enthusiasts who, while still concerned about the technical aspects of the game, also want to look good while playing. These guys are looking to past icons for inspiration, but ultimately are seeking a refreshed take on the typical golf dress codes.
“Sportswear brands have started to pick up on this trend, like adidas Golf who introduced a golf-ready version of their classic Stan Smiths just last month, alongside other leaders in the space including Nike Golf, Peter Millar, G/FORE, RLX Ralph Lauren, and even our own Mr P.,” says Arnold.
The Mr P. golf collection features 23-pieces encompassing ready-to-wear, accessories and footwear and is designed to offer an alternative to technical golfwear with prices ranging from £85 to £295 and like a number of the new launches in the market, it is designed to be worn on and off the course, which lends itself perfectly to our new blended lifestyles.
This too was the premise behind another new launch, which has also given golf something of a hipster twist; Sounder is the brainchild of Cathal McAteer and James Day. McAteer founded the fashion brand Folk and is a self-confessed golf nut while Day founded Urban Golf, the UK's first and best indoor golf venue. As a player, teacher, clubmaker and entrepreneur, Day has spent his entire career fighting for a version of the game that's more accessible, more rewarding and more fun. Sounder was the brand of golf clubs that legendary golder Seve Ballesteros used when he first emerged onto the world stage in the late 1970s.
“We’ve always been golfers, and we’ve always loved the game. But we never quite felt that there was a brand out there for people like us – that’s what we set out to do with Sounder,” says Cathal McAteer, co-founder and creative director of Sounder.
“We all had a little section in our wardrobe set aside for golf clothes – items that you’d never wear for anything else. That made no sense to us… why can’t you just play golf in clothes that look good and feel right?” he says.
“We think golf’s always been cool, and we’re thrilled that the rest of the world is coming round to our point of view. Golf is genuinely the most inclusive game you can imagine – it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, male or female, a beginner or an expert – everyone can enjoy the simple pleasure of being outdoors, with your friends, with your phone turned off and hitting a little ball with a big stick. There’s a timeless simplicity to golf that feels appropriate for the world we’ve all been living in, and it’s great that more people are discovering that.
“Our customers are people who love golf as much as we do. That’s not just experienced golfers – we also find a lot of people who are just starting out, or who are re-discovering the game for the first time in years. They don’t just like our clothes – they buy into our ethos, which is about celebrating golf as a game to be played and enjoyed, not just buying the latest driver or the newest tech,” says McAteer.
Sounder launched in March 2021 as lockdown two was in full-swing and golfers were feverishly practising their swings in anticipation of the clubs being permitted to re-open, which was a positive move for body and soul, believes McAteer.
“There’s definitely a mindful quality to golf that feels right for the Covid-era. Working from home means it’s easier to sneak out for 9 holes before work or in the evening, and obviously being outdoors it’s easy to retain social distancing while you play. But I think there’s also a simplicity about slinging a half-set of clubs on your back and wandering out to hit a few balls – whether it’s with friends, with the kids or just to spend some time out of the house,” he says.
It’s testament to the popularity of golf that mainstream brands, like Reiss, have also decided to muscle in on the action. Reiss Golf came about after the company said it noticed its customers wearing the label on the golf course so it decided to launch a dedicated collection for the sport. As an extension of Reiss’ activewear range, Reiss Golf is “engineered for movement and performance in tapered silhouettes with typical sportswear detailing such as colour-blocking and quilted panelling. The collection comes in a colour palette of well-known neutrals, soft whites and classic black in fabrications that prioritise stretch, comfort and lightness, ensuring minimal friction when playing with sweat and water-resistant qualities.” Prices range from £70 up to £185.
Sounder’s McAteer says he welcomes the arrival of more brands into the space. “As golfers, we welcome anything that helps to raise the profile of the game, and to get more people out there enjoying it. We’ve had an amazing response from customers since we launched, and we’re confident that the quality of our designs, materials and construction will mean we can find our place in a growing market,” he says.
“We see ourselves as part of a broader trend within the golf business – a move towards a simpler, more authentic and more creative version of the game. We see that in course design and architecture, in equipment, and in golf media too… in apparel, that’s manifested by a move away from technical fabrics and ‘performance’ towards a simple, stylish and functional aesthetic, and an emphasis on sustainability and quality,” he says.
“Everything in our range is conceived by golfers and tested on the course by us. It’s critical to get details like the cut of a sleeve or cuff right – it needs to be loose enough to allow a free-flowing swing, but tight enough so there’s no fabric interfering with your grip. We use a Raglan sleeve a lot, for example, as it allows for a full shoulder turn when swinging the club,” he explains.
It’s good that McAteer welcomes more arrivals into the market, because they are coming thick and fast. Casual menswear brand Bee Inspired is launching a golf collection imminently and even the rapper Macklemore has launched a golfing brand called Bogey Boys (“for the golfer who knows he’ll never play like a pro but who can dress better than most of them”) telling British GQ: “If I'm going to play golf, I might as well be the prettiest dude on the course!” If the name Bogey Boys isn’t enough of a giveaway, then the launch video makes it clear that this brand is for golfers who take style seriously, but maybe not the game so much. And if a rapper is not only playing golf (and Macklemore isn’t the only one) then surely the affluent, male, middle-aged Home Counties clichés can be laid to rest.
"Since the pandemic, golf has seen an explosion in popularity among younger people [Millennials and Gen X],” says Nick Carvell, menswear and grooming writer, consultant and editor who interviewed Macklemore about his new golf range for GQ. “However, something was happening with golf before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19. In the US especially, golf has gained a new legion of younger, fashion-conscious amateur celebrity players: notably rappers Schoolboy Q and Macklemore. Over in the UK, ex-Directioner Liam Payne founded his own golf talent agency. These celebrities have tended to wear streetwear to the fairway, meaning for really the first time since the Rat Pack Sixties, we've seen cool people looking cool on the course - that's not only made more people curious about the sport, but also made golf feel like a cool, covetable past time rather than a game your dad plays.
“This has meant both a slew of golf labels launching - many by the golfing celebrities themselves - to create golf apparel lines that shake-up course dress codes (they feel rebellious) and these pieces being created as streetwear in its own right, to be worn both on the course and off.
“And, I would argue, that because streetwear has been so central to this new surge in interest in the sport, the fact that it's a part of the fashion industry historically based on responsive launches, multiple collection drops and pop culture, that this has meant golf has become a talking point on the style scene at large relatively quickly,” he says.
Golf ticks many boxes. It has a retro, gentlemanly and well-dressed image which appeals to guys who like to feel smart and appreciate nice clothes, while also being a social sport that lets you step out from the urban and into the country. Lockdowns gave people time to fill and golf, for many, was the answer. The contemporary update is this streetwear take which lends it an added layer of cool to the sport.
Golf is a conduit for more formalwear brands to create some form of sportswear or active wear. It also adds technical comfort into classic menswear designs. It's a smart sport that requires some form of wardrobe and purchasing new clothing goes hand-in-hand with it. For many brands, they are hoping golf has really hit its swing.
Listen to our recent podcast with the founders of Sounder, Cathal McAteer and James Day here.