Course of Style: Columbia Applies Outerwear Experience to Golf

Friday October 2nd, 2009
Columbia Match Play parka

Making high-performance outerwear for golf is not much different from making outerwear for hiking, hunting and skiing. If it keeps you dry and warm on the trail or a ski slope—and allows freedom of movement—than it stands to reason it will work on the golf course. That is the thinking behind Columbia Sportswear's foray into the golf business.

The Portland, Oregon, based outdoor clothing brand, perhaps best known for its layered ski jackets and burly hiking boots, brought its new golf collection this week to a showroom in the heart of the New York's garment district. The signature piece in Columbia's golf line is the Match Play Parka ($200), a completely waterproof jacket that builds on Columbia's experience in designing 3-in-1 winter jackets.

The 3-in-1 design, familiar to skiers and backpackers everywhere, gives the wearer three configurations: 1) a waterproof shell, seam-sealed, with underarm venting, 2) a fleece liner that zips in or is removed depending on conditions, and 3) the fleece piece itself, worn on its own as temperatures permit. The Match Play golf jacket uses this approach along with Columbia's proprietary "omni-tech" fabric, fully waterproof yet more breathable than Gore-Tex, according to company executives (a claim we will not attempt to verify here). The jackets were tested on the caddies at the sea-swept Bandon Dunes Golf Resort south of Portland on the Pacific coast, Columbia executives said, which is about as wet and windy an environment as it gets.

"We felt there was a need for technical outerwear that was different from Nike and Adidas, with superior airflow," said Christina Beahm, the senior men's sportswear merchandiser for Columbia. "I am a stickler for breathability. You can actually see when they pump air through our garments that they are breathing," she added referring to the elaborate testing the company does on its products.

Columbia's golf collection, its second, includes shirts like the Freezer, a lightweight polo that is said to keep you 20 percent cooler on hot days ($65), waterproof shorts, and hats. The garments tend to have plenty of zippered pockets to stow your scorecard and tees (or trail mix). They are available online (columbia.com) or at club shops (but not mass retailers).

Like Oakley and Sunice, two other companies applying proprietary know-how and experience gained in other sports to the golf market, Columbia is looking to establish crossover appeal—getting its loyal customer base to consider its golf clothing, at the same time attracting a new audience, the serious golfer, with superior performance.

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