The Course of Style: The New Black

Wednesday January 28th, 2009
Coolblack is incorporated into the Polo RLX Unite shirt ($95).

Cool people love to wear black, of course, particularly if they live in downtown New York. On the golf course, however, even the most fashionable types tend to shun it, since dark fabrics make you hot—absorbing light and heat, exposing the wearer to damaging ultraviolet rays. For this reason, black golf clothes have never been especially popular [unless you are Gary Player]. Why sweat through your shirt on a sunny day?

Now there's a new black in fashion—and it's, well, black. A special textile process that makes black fabrics reflect rather than absorb the sun, "coldblack" is a registered trademark of Schoeller Technologies AG, the Swiss manufacturer that developed it. It should be turning up in golf wardrobes this year. The fabrics contain both a sun reflector and a UV protector.

Instead of absorbing 90 percent of the sun's rays, as conventional black fabrics do, coldblack reflects up to 80 percent of the heat rays and therefore stays noticeably cooler, the company says. How much cooler will coldblack fabric make you feel compared to a regular black shirt? According to Schoeller, which tested the product using infrared lamps, the coldblack shirt is cooler by 5° Centigrade (about 9° Fahrenheit).

Coldblack has already been used for tennis apparel and was incorporated in the team uniforms for the Davis Cup. The Polo/Ralph Lauren company has been testing coldblack, and four men's shirts in the company's RLX line will feature the technology this spring, with more items coming in the fall line. Look for more and more golf apparel makers to give the process a try.

If coldblack succeeds, it will ensure that in the future black will continue to be worn by really cool people.

Tour de Force
The success of a style can often be gauged initially only in an anecdotal way. Take golf shoes. The introduction of the Adidas Tour 360 golf shoe, with its sleek, hourglass, arch-hugging design and trademark triple stripes, was followed by a lot of visual evidence on television that pros were wearing it, including of course Sergio Garcia, who is sponsored by Adidas.

The shoes are quite striking, with their graphic side stripes and glovelike fit, so it might be easy to mistake their visibility for success.

So we asked Adidas if the shoes were actually selling. It turns out they are a major phenomenon for Adidas. They sell about a half million pairs yearly of the high-end Tour 360 (the Tour 360 LTD goes for about $250, so do the math).

In 2002, Adidas held approximately 4.5 percent of the golf footwear market in the United States, vying with Etonic and Dexter for third place behind FootJoy (62 percent) and Nike (about 20 percent). By 2008, Adidas had claimed more than 20 percent of the domestic shoe market, according to the company, and had shot to No. 1 in Japan. Both FootJoy (48 percent) and Nike (14.5 percent) lost share.

Nike Golf recently introduced its high-end competitor to the Adidas shoe, the Nike Air Zoom TW 2009, which will eventually be worn by Tiger Woods when he returns to the tour. A luxury shoe combining leather and ballistic mesh, the Air Zoom TW costs $270.

The No. 1 shoe in golf remains the FootJoy Contour, which retails for about $115.

Adidas Golf, which is part of TaylorMade/Adidas (which in turn is a wholly owned subsidiary of the German-based Adidas company), has been working overtime to come up with sport-specific engineering concepts to distinguish its golf products in various markets. Naturally, the company has been looking for ways to dial down the price of its shoes in order to compete at the lower end of the market. The newest version of the form-fitting 360, the Tour 360 3.0, was introduced last fall. It costs about $180. Adidas also makes the Powerband series of shoes, for men and women, at a lower price point.

TaylorMade/Adidas has been making wildly popular drivers for years (the r7 and Burner series) and, with the acquisition of Ashworth Inc., the clothing company, it has now become the largest golf apparel company. Now it is looking to run the table with shoes.

Looking Presidential
The good news for the golf industry is that President-elect Barack Obama plays the game—and has even vowed to lower his handicap to single digits. His adventures on the links could lead to a surge of new interest in the sport, at all age levels, not entirely unlike the effect of the currently missing Tiger Woods.

Now for the bad news. So far, he dresses more or less for the range: plain polo shirts; baggy cargo shorts or khaki pants; white cap; and saddle shoes. OK, but nothing great.

Hartmarx, which makes the president-elect's made-to-measure suits, might want to turn to their golf apparel subsidiaries like Bobby Jones or Jack Nicklaus—and get the leader of the free world some great-looking golf clothes.

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

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