It has been 60 years since Adolf Dassler first put three stripes on a pair of athletic shoes, creating one of the most recognizable athletic brands in the world. The German sportswear company he founded, Adidas (an amalgam of his nickname, "Adi," and the first three letters of his last name), is marking the 60th anniversary with a special collection of golf apparel, to be worn by Sergio Garcia in the U.S. Open this month.
The signature piece of the collection is a boldly striped golf shirt, with the white Adidas logo asymmetrically splashed across the chest of the black shirt. Both the mesh shirts and the stretch trousers, which have a more understated three-stripe logo on the rear belt loop, are made of ClimaCool technical fabric and go on sale beginning June 15 ($65 for the shirt, $80 for the pants).
Such exuberant branding reflects the sea change in golf fashion, from classicism to athleticism. Until recent years, golf has shied away from graphic displays on clothing, rooted as the sport is in genteel, country club tradition.
Adidas has long been torn about using their well-known trademark in an overt way on golf clothing. For many years when the company did put the three-stripe logo on golf shirts, it was only in a tone-on-tone color schemeblue embroidery on a blue shirt, for instance. It was there but not there.
However, all that changed seven years ago with a fateful decision made in its design studios in Carlsbad, Calif.
"We made a decision that the Adidas golf shoes would display the three-stripe logo," said Dave Ortley, the senior director of global footwear for the company. "At the time it wasn't a very popular decision."
Most golfers, according to the reigning view, were not comfortable wearing athletic-style logos on their footwear. They were considered perhaps too urban, too non-golf. But the impulse to mark one's brand clearly, for the cameras, is fundamental to contemporary sports marketing.
"You can see the three stripes from a mile away," Ortley said.
Nike, which has enjoyed enormous success with its swoosh symbol on all kinds of athletic shoes, especially for basketball and soccer, has been less successful using the swoosh on golf shoes. Even Tiger Woods' shoes have only a very small swoosh symbol, dime-sized, on the back heel area. But the Adidas three stripes, with their long history and simple design look, are perhaps identified by many golfers as classic in their own right.
In any case, Adidas put their stripes prominently on their shoesincluding bright orange on white, bold silver on blackand sales have boomed in the last seven years.
Adidas shoes are perhaps the only golf shoes that really stand out in television coverage of PGA tournaments. From its position as a distant fourth in sales, the Adidas golf footwear business now is second only to FootJoy in the United States and commands an estimated 20 percent of the global market. With about $600 million worth of golf shoes sold annually, at an average price of $73 per pair, we are talking about Adidas selling two million pairs a year.
Similarly, the company is expanding its branding of other apparel, emphasizing the guiding philosophy of its founder Dassler, who equipped Jesse Owens with his track spikes for the 1936 Olympics. The idea has always been the development of specific performance clothing for each sport to help athletes do their best. "We believe golf is a sport," said Tiss Dahan, senior director of global apparel for Adidas Golf. "The products we build always respect golf."