The Course of Style: Golf's New Fashion Juggernaut

Wednesday January 28th, 2009
Fred Couples, the epitome of casual style, has worn Ashworth for years.
Matthew Emmons/Getty Images

When TaylorMade-adidas Golf closed on its acquisition of the Ashworth Golf Company in October, it created perhaps the world's largest golf clothing company.

Adidas Golf is primarily a clothing and accessories maker (unlike Nike, which is a large equipment maker as well as an apparel manufacturer), with sales estimated at about $300 million annually. Add to that the Ashworth business, which at its peak was in the $100 million range, and you have an apparel giant. The two will share a booth (a large one) for the first time at next week's PGA Show in Orlando, Fla.

But what exactly was the point?

"The primary reason to buy Ashworth is that we're a growth company," said John Kawaja, the executive vice president of TaylorMade-adidas in charge of the global Ashworth business. "And we see an area of the business we couldn't attack, the lifestyle aspect."

Ashworth's collection of golf clothing caters to the green-grass or country-club pro-shop trade, with classic cashmere sweaters, rib-knit polo shirts and wool-blend trousers, the kind of garments that are typically also worn off the course, at the proverbial 19th hole. Hence the "lifestyle" aspect.

Adidas, Mr. Kawaja said, takes "the opposite approach, focusing on performance innovations, making apparel products as equipment." The Adidas look is essentially an athletic one, where function precedes the style. The Ashworth collection would presumably fill the gap in the Adidas line for traditional or classic clothing.

However, Mr. Kawaja studiously avoids tags like "traditional" or "classic" as applied to Ashworth. He prefers to use the words "authentic" and "modern." Ashworth Golf, founded in 1987 by a golfer for golfers, is an aspirational brand (read: luxury) known for its distinctive fabrics, quality and comfort. Fred Couples is an example of a top golfer who wears Ashworth clothes.

The Ashworth acquisition, then, does not exactly match up with Adidas but, rather, complements it. It takes Adidas into areas where it could not go alone. When you walk into a typical large golf retail shop, the performance-oriented athletic wear—Adidas, Nike, Under Armour—tends to be grouped in one area. The golf lifestyle apparel—Ashworth, Fairway & Greene, and so forth—is in another. Now TaylorMade-adidas, which paid about $28 million for Ashworth and assumed about $45 million in Ashworth's debts, will command real estate in both.

By the Sea

Tehama

Seacell, as this fabric technology is called, is made from Lyocell (100-percent wood pulp) and seaweed, with a touch of silver that, the company says, adds to its anti-microbial (and therefore, anti-odor) properties. The fabric also contains various minerals and nutrients from the seaweed that are said to have a salutary effect on your healthy radiant self. Meantime, let's hope it does not make you look like a character on the ghost ship in "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Last year Tehama introduced garments that it said would infuse Vitamin C into one's skin. This year's Seacell fabric, when fashioned into a $68 golf shirt, "hydrates and nourishes" your skin, detoxifies and oxygenates, soothes skin rashes, and "promotes cell regeneration," among other things, according to Tehama.

Now if it could just make us hit the ball a little straighter.

Have a question, suggestion or news item for Woody? Send an e-mail to woody@golf.com.\n

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