Golf didn’t always have the ‘cool factor’.
Back in the day, golf used to lack that touch of glamour, charm, and flair. Yes, there were a few names who brought some style and personality to the course, such as the great Gary Player who famously sported his chic all black ensemble – not to mention the iconic Arnold Palmer. Yet, all in all, the image of golf was relatively traditional and so called ‘straight down the line’.
Tiger Woods’s rise to fame in the late 90s was the breath of fresh air the sport needed. His raw golfing ability, unique training regime and fiery personality were such a contrast to his competitors. Suddenly, because of Woods, golf captured the attention of not only golf fans, but the rest of the world.
Famously known for embarking on 4-mile runs twice daily, regularly lifting weights in the gym and playing tennis or basketball to shake up his regime, 20-year-old Woods was the first golfer to attribute as much time to working on his golf swing as to his fitness and physique.
Woods’s muscular frame made his iconic Sunday attire of black trousers and a high-neck red shirt look both cool and fashionable – two words that had rarely been used in relation to golf. His collarless shirts caused plenty of uproar in Clubhouses around the world, yet the traditional golfing uniform of plain polo shirts, loose cardigans and unfitted chinos were garments that did not have a place in Woods’s wardrobe – and the golfing rule book simply had to accept it.
Woods, unsurprisingly, soon found himself signing big money sponsorship deals with sports giant Nike, and in turn brought golf money, fame and attention on a level it had not yet seen before. In fact, he was the highest paid athlete in the world consecutively from 2002 to 2011 (and again in 2013).
Now into his mid-forties, Woods’s modern take on the game continues to inspire the younger generations.
It isn’t difficult to think of cool and stylish golfers who are playing today’s game and feeling the influence of Woods, such as Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas.
Following in Tiger’s footsteps, Day, McIlroy, and Koepka (to name just a few) have all signed large endorsement deals with Nike. Day was in fact the talk of the course at The Open 2017 after being one of the first golfers to model a pair of white Nike Hi-Tops on the fairways. In fact, the shoes may have caused more commotion in the press than the golf itself.
On the topic of shoes, just last year, Koepka was all over the sports pages at the PGA Tour Championship for sporting a pair of Off-White x Nike Air Max 90 golf shoes – not your classic style of golf shoe. Amazingly, golf reporters were more inclined to question Koepka about the shoe rather than his golf, to which Koepka simply responded: “it’s fashion bro”.
PUMA released the X Collection in 2019 to celebrate its 10-year relationship with one of golf’s main fashionistas, Rickie Fowler. A new range of Fowler’s signature flat brim-caps was unleashed and in came chic-style joggers over the classic golfing chino. Looking to find the perfect balance between trendy streetwear and traditional golf attire, style is clearly more important to golfers than ever before. These deals don’t just stop at golf attire, either, with Mercedes Benz and Red Bull also quick to sign up the fashionable Fowler.
More names who bring their fashion game to the course are Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Spieth is now one of the main faces of golf at Under Armour, a company which fittingly markets itself as the brand of the next generation. In fact, according to its Vice President, Under Armour’s golf range has been one of its fastest growing segments in recent years.
In the summer of 2019, Ralph Lauren launched the long-anticipated signature capsule collection in collaboration with one of its golfing ambassadors, Justin Thomas. Still maintaining Thomas’s timeless and sophisticated style, the collaboration focused on the brand’s American heritage with a red, white and blue colour scheme – timely released just before the start of the US Open Championship. Even the classic RL Polo Bear featured in the collection – named the Polo Golf Justin Thomas Polo Bear Cap, the infamous bear sported the ‘Thomas special’ sweater and tie ensemble which Thomas first debuted at the 2017 British Open.
I could go on; I could list more collaborations and further sponsorship deals, yet what is clear to see is that our modern obsession with image has drastically changed in the golf world. Brands are clearly choosing to capitalise on golf’s ever-increasing popularity; they are focused on developing lines specific to golf and are signing up today’s young golfing guns to model them. Considering many of these pro golfers rack up more than one million Instagram followers each, it’s no surprise that big brands are keen to collaborate.
Just like Woods, these PGA stars offer so much more to the sport than just their golf swing. They have style, they have personality, they have the coveted ‘cool factor’. The fact that Fowler can command big-money deals with major brands without actually ever having won a major tells you all you need to know about today’s game.
2020: it’s another year of the PGA Tour, and the press don’t just want to discuss the golf. The likes of Nike, Adidas, PUMA, and Under Armour are getting their ambassadors ready to put on a fashion show. Who will push the boundaries this time when walking down the infamous Magnolia Lane in April? Who will hit the sports headlines for their choice of footwear at Royal St. George’s this July?
We’ll wait and see. One thing is for sure, it all changed with Woods. The now 15-time major champion single-handedly transformed the game both on and off the course.
By Lydia Clissitt for Juniper Sport
Pictured: Fashion on the Fairways
Published on February 26, 2020