Streetwear – long the origin of New York’s hip-hop and California surf culture – has made its way onto the green grass of golf courses.
“Golf has become cooler and it has become less aloof because there are parts of the sneaker community that have embraced it,” said Jacques Slade, a sneaker YouTuber and golfer who spoke out about the need for more golf shoes that reflect the sneaker. culture.
Hip-hop culture and sneakers have always been close, but the connection between hip-hop and golf may not be too far off, says Ankur Amin, an owner of New York streetwear boutique Extra Butter. He said the ambitious appeal of golf has helped the style of golf bond with its customers.
“So much that we do in street culture is about pursuing the good life,” he said, “and so much about golf represents that, just like Moët & Chandon or Louis Vuitton do.”
Tiger Woods, a Nike-sponsored golfer, brought many new fans to the sport in the late 1990s, but waning interest in his products in the 2010s paved the way for a streetwear crossover to golf. Nike and a subsidiary, Jordan Brand, began releasing collectible silhouettes as golf shoes, such as the Air Max 1 and the original Air Jordans.
Sneakerheads salivated. “You have people who grew up with the Jordan brand,” said the rapper and golf entrepreneur Macklemore, who has done sneaker collaborations with Jordan. “It makes sense for people to go crazy.”
And sneaker culture’s grip on golf has only grown. While the pandemic has devastated a number of institutions, it has also boosted participation in golf, as well as other activities conducive to social distancing, such as running, walking and cycling, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm.
“When the golf courses reopened, the business just took off,” said Matt Powell, the NPD Group vice president and sports industry analyst, who said attendance was also slightly higher before the pandemic.
Many people bought golf sets at entry-level prices in 2020, he said, an indication that newcomers were picking up the sport. “One of the beginners who buy $400 golf sets is not going to drop $120 on golf shoes,” he said. “They’re going to play in sneakers.”
Sneakers have always been an overarching part of millennial fashion choices, but now some adults in their late 20s and 30s have the disposable income to play golf — or at least try to. Top Golf and Five Iron Golf venues, in some ways the equivalent of bowling alleys, have also opened across the country, making elements of the sport more accessible in urban areas where courses are harder to find.
“Golf is a game that’s very traditional, but when you look at millennials and all the generations that follow them, they’re never afraid to do something different,” said Gentry Humphrey, former vice president of footwear at Jordan. Note that the company’s entry into sports led.
Before retiring last fall, Humphrey also spent time running Nike’s golf business. Part of Humphrey’s philosophy was to transform Nike and Jordan sneakers, which collectors love, into shoes that can actually be used on the fairway. “Kids want to go outside,” he said, “and they prefer to go out with something fresh.”
While producing these golf sneakers may seem as simple as adding high-traction soles, there are also other considerations, such as waterproofing and adjusting the cushioning.
“We didn’t want it to be just a basketball shoe going to the golf course,” said Humphrey, adding that Nike had developed new shoe technologies such as the Integrated Traction Bottom — a rubber outsole without hard spikes that players could wear all day.
Another part of Humphrey’s strategy was to provide a broader platform for golf startup brands through product collaborations. For example, Eastside Golf, a brand founded in 2019 by professional golfers Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl Cooper, who played together at Morehouse College in Atlanta, aims to increase diversity in the sport and introduce young people to the sport.
“Who said you can’t play golf in a T-shirt?” said Cooper, the first African-American all-state golfer in Delaware. “When they made these rules, minorities weren’t even allowed to play. People are trying to hold on to a tradition that was already broken or flawed.”
Ajanaku, who trademarked the Eastside Golf clothing line, featuring a black man in blue jeans wearing a gold chain and baseball cap while swinging a club, said the prominent placement of a person of color on the company’s products was a milestone.
“The fact that we have a black golfer’s logo on our clothing appeals to anyone who has not felt welcome in the sport,” he said.
The Eastside Golf logo was featured prominently on the tongue of their Air Jordan collaboration, which used the silhouette of the original Air Jordan IV, a retro sneaker highly regarded among sneakerheads. The golf spikes were removable so that the sneakers could also be worn outside the course.
Shoes that are convertible or easily transferable from the green to the clubhouse are one of the most important innovations that have helped shape the sneaker culture within golf. For fashion-conscious individuals, half-inch spikes on the bottom of a sneaker can significantly alter the shoe’s aesthetic. Brands are therefore increasingly opting for subtle traction at the bottom of their golf shoes instead of straight spikes.
“There were so many people who bought the golf product collaborations but didn’t even play the game,” Humphrey said. “My phone rang more for the Eastside Golf collaboration than for some of the projects we did with Christian Dior. The sport is looking for a new dose of energy and this was a great way to introduce something new to it.”
On tour, eagle-eyed golfers or sneaker collectors may have seen these shoes on the feet of Bubba Watson, 43, or Harold Varner III, 31, but even younger pros bring a different swagger to the PGA Tour, Slade, the sneaker YouTuber, said. Many of the players now on tour, he said, “grew up listening to Travis Scott or Tyler the Creator. They come into this world with a completely different perspective.”
Last summer, Amin’s boutique, Extra Butter, teamed up with Adidas to create a streetwear golf collection inspired by the “Happy Gilmore” movie, which includes golf shoes, sneakers, balls and putter covers. The store is also introducing new golf-based brands to its inventory, such as Radda, Whim and Manors Golf.
“From the dawn of hip-hop culture, there has always been an air of wanting to represent what you aspire to,” said Bernie Gross, Extra Butter’s creative director. “We have a background that doesn’t represent this, but this is what we hope to achieve one day. Golf is part of that.”
Rappers are also getting into the golf business. Drake teamed up with Nike to launch a 10-piece golf collection worn by four-time major champion Brooks Koepka. And Macklemore, the Seattle-based rapper, launched his own wave line — called Bogey Boys — in February 2021.
Macklemore only started playing on holiday two and a half years ago and was immediately hooked. But even before hitting his first 5-iron out of the fairway bunker, he was already looking for classic 1970s golf looks. He started his independent golf brand because he saw a market for new players who wanted a unique style on their appearance on the course. to give.
Since its launch just over a year ago, Bogey Boys, whose look is inspired by the swag of golfers like Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino, has sold out its first collection of limited-edition products along with Nordstrom and opened its first store location in Seattle in September.
But beyond collectability, style and functionality, Eastside Golf’s founders believe there are more possibilities for the conventional sport.
“Golf can learn from sneaker culture,” Cooper said. “Sneaker culture is all about individuality. That’s what golf was missing.”