Course of Style: Fate of the classic leather golf shoes

Photo: ECCO

The ECCO World Class line includes saddle shoes in brown and white or black patent and white; solid leathers with perforated saddles; and available reptile print details.

With the closing of the last American FootJoy factory in Brockton, Mass., this spring, the market for traditional leather-soled golf shoes is virtually wide open for the Denmark-based ECCO, which continues to make them, albeit with performance updates.

"There is no one left," said C. B. Tuite, the general sales manager of ECCO's golf division. "There are no major players besides us who make leather-sole classics."

FootJoy, a division of the Acushnet Company, remains the No. 1 maker of golf shoes in the world. ECCO is the fourth largest producer (after Nike and Adidas), but it is counting on its World Class GTX golf shoes, with leather soles and uppers, to fill the vacuum in classical styling. The ECCO World Class line includes saddle shoes in brown and white or black patent and white; solid leathers with perforated saddles; and available reptile print details.

FootJoy closed its Brockton facility, which had been in operation for more than 100 years, in March, citing the difficulty of producing costly, labor-intensive shoes in a market increasingly dominated by lower-priced performance models (including, of course, its own). The Footjoy Classic, introduced in 1959, was made with a process that involved stitching a leather welt to the upper sole. It was the only product made at the Brockton plant. The shoes, a few of which are probably still in the retail pipeline, sold for $250 to $350 and included exotic leather trims, like ostrich and alligator.

While the ECCO World Class shoes have full leather soles and uppers, they are not stitched together in the time-honored manner. Instead, a direct injection of liquid polyurethane seals the bond and also traps a cushioning layer — made of superball-like rubber — between the sole and the upper. (A visible line of stitching that goes around the sole of the entire shoe is there just for show.) But that doesn't mean the shoes are not labor-intensive; according to the company, 225 pairs of skilled hands touch each pair.

Why wear leather-soled golf shoes at all? Aren't sneakerlike, performance shoes a better all-around buy? Perhaps. But shoes with a smooth leather outersole are relatively frictionless on the golf course, thus keeping your feet cooler. The ECCO shoes are fully waterproof and require no break-in period (i.e., no blisters).

Then there are the esthetics. Some players just prefer the beefy look of a classic golf shoe. Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley and Thomas Bjorn are among those who wear various models of ECCO shoes on tour. Tom Watson wore them at the British Open.

So if you are one of those die-hard classicists or an Oldest Member type who thinks golf shoes should look like golf shoes, there is still hope. But it will cost you. The top-of-the-line ECCO World Class GTX shoes run about $430.

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