Course of Style: In pursuit of the perfect golf shirt

September 30, 2011

In this era of performance fabrics and technical golf apparel, Rick Martin is taking a stand for old-school cotton — and against what he calls "the fast-food look" on the Tour. Martin, who founded the Fairway & Greene company in 1996 to fill what he perceived as a void in the golf industry for fine cottons, is returning to the business after a seven-year absence (he sold Fairway in 2004) with a new company, Martin Golf Apparel.

The first collection will be available in golf shops in November. Highlights of the Martin Golf line include Pima cotton lisle shirts, that is, shirts with a smooth finish, in classic stripes and colors like red, navy, and sunflower yellow ($80-$85). Long-staple Pima cottons tend to resist fading and shrinkage. There will also be luxurious Alpaca and Merino sweaters ($150).

Golf tradition runs in the family. Martin's daughter, Terri, handles the merchandising for the new collection, and his son, Todd Martin, is president of Peter Millar, another classic golf apparel firm. Martin has spent a good deal of his career in pursuit of the perfect shirt - as a top executive at both Hathaway and Gant before starting Fairway & Greene - and he has been critical of synthetic fabrics, like polyester, for decades. He is especially skeptical of today's graphic, color-saturated Tour clothes.

"Some of these guys look like they work for a fast-food joint," Martin said, "like what they wear at Mcdonald's."  He traces the origins of this golf style to two influences: emulation of the 1970s, the age of Johnny Miller and plaid pants; and technical advances in clubs, which led to a parallel obsession with technical fabrics for golf.
"There's a market for that," Martin said. "There's also a market for good taste in clothing." More traditional guys, he added, "don't want costumes. They don't want things colored in such a way that they can only be worn one way. The cottons I use are designed for longevity."

The new company's slogan is "Timeless as the Game." Martin said he has always been inspired by golf icons like Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, "elegant, serious men who competed against others as gentlemen. They inspired me not only by their behavior but by their appearance."