Equipment

Course of Style: Hip Meets High-Tech

Oakley's Level Polo

Not all golf companies are crying about the economy. Oakley, the sunglass and sportswear company, is very bullish about golf. Oakley saw its golf sales increase 20 percent in 2008, compared to 2007, according to Brianne DeWeese, a company spokeswoman. So far for 2009, Oakley golf apparel is also going strong, its executives said this week.

The Oakley team was in New York Wednesday to make presentations at the ultramodern Thompson Hotel, on Allen Street near Stanton, a section of Manhattan that was once a no-man's land of tenements, bodegas and boarded-up buildings but is now a chic and thriving shopping and nightlife district. The building is so glam and high-tech it shows cinecitta movies (with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg) in the elevator.

Likewise the Oakley philosophy and perhaps the secret of its success is advanced design combined with great technical execution that respects the demands of each sport. The company originally dressed surfers, skateboarders, skiers and other extreme-sport types before adding golf. In the somewhat traditional realm of golf apparel, the result is clothes and accessories that appeal to individualistic young people. These are not your dad or mom's golf clothes.

For spring, the Oakley golf shirts feature bold asymmetric patterns and color blocking in street-fashion colors. Performance shorts are creaseless and somewhat loose fitting, a bit like board shorts but with traditional touches, like updated pinstripes. Oakley shirts and bottoms cost between $50 and $65. Golf shoes are $90 to $130.

Oakley products tend to appeal to professional athletes. Tons of major league baseball players wear the sunglasses, without endorsement deals. Many athletes wear them, Oakley executives say, because they want to, not because they are paid to. Among Oakley's sponsored golfers are Rich Beem, Ricky Barnes, and Parker McLachlan, who wear the apparel head to toe. However, during any sun-drenched pro televised tournament, you will see many, many golfers wearing Oakley sunglasses by choice, especially the G-30 and G-40, which employ a rose-colored lens system that helps to highlight subtle differences in the color green (thus increasing one's visual acuity for putting and judging distance). Sunglasses in a way were the doorway into the golf market. A homegrown American business — since 2007 it has been a division of the Italian-based eyewear company Luxottica Group SpA — Oakley has used its credibility in eyewear to establish a youthful, irreverent brand that spills over into mainstream sports.

The challenge, of course, is for the brand to broaden its appeal while remaining cheeky and in tune with the young. At Wednesday's showings, Oakley brought along some of its almost-famous athletes: a Finnish skateboarder (named Eero, of course); a blond surfer who makes point-of-view surf films of monster waves using a camera placed inside his helmet; and a snowboarder from Brazil who demonstrated, among other things, the magnetic closures and the USB port pocket on his Oakley parka.

You really felt as if you should be saying "dude" a lot.

Body Armour
Also in town, by coincidence not design, was another golf apparel maker that is showing increases in sales, Baltimore-based Under Armour Inc.

"We were up 18 percent in 2008, compared to 2007," said Chris Biersmith, the director of men's and youth apparel at Under Armour, which showed its wares at the Bryant Park Hotel in midtown. "Even with all the doom and gloom, we are ahead 15 percent in 2009 over 2008."

Well-known for its moisture- and temperature-management performance clothing, especially its compression undergarments, Under Armour started out making clothes for football players. Lately golf apparel has become its bestselling category among the various sports (soccer, football, basketball, hunting, and so forth) it targets. Hunter Mahan is one of its sponsored pro golfers.

Biersmith attributes the surge in golf sales to the fact that it is a year-round sport and golfers can easily wear their polo shirts to work. Not unlike Oakley, the Under Armour approach is based on technical innovation and an eye toward newness.

"In the old days," said Biersmith, "there was the country club guy. Now they want to look different."

Trad Not Rad
The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill is kind of a coming out party for tour professional John Rollins, a very consistent player and two-time tour winner, who makes his official debut in clothes by Dunning Sportswear. A mix of preppy and performance, the Dunning look includes cotton pique shirts and fine Merino wool sweaters as well as Coolmax trousers and shorts. The Canadian company, which also sponsors Zach Johnson, is led by Ralph Dunning, a former Ironman athlete.

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

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