The Perfect Tee

Pro shops are making their fairways green with envy.

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Sara De Palma

golf dressThis makes sense: To keep up with a sport experiencing swifter trends than haute couture—beyond the typical country-clubber, golf now reaches fashionably femme execs and tech-savvy Gen Xers—Maui pro shops have been polishing their game to a tee.

I recently toured the island scouting for the latest trends in golf’s favorite companion activity: no, not gambling . . . shopping! Ease out of those spikes; this course doesn’t call for a nine-iron. (Just remember your plastic.)

Golf apparel isn’t totally about that souvenir t-shirt, but almost. “Ninety to ninety-five percent of the merchandise we carry is logo-ed,” says Jennifer Sylvester, sales and marketing manager for Wailea Golf Club. As we browse the racks, I see she’s not kidding. There is Wailea’s seahorse embroidered on a Burberry bag, bedazzled on a ball cap, stitched at the bottom of a bright pink Lily Pulitzer polo; it’s on ball markers, club covers, and every Tommy Bahama silk in the store. This is when I realize it was golfers who came up with

“Been there, bought the t-shirt.”

A dinner conversation with a group of PGA pros helps me to understand better. “Logowear is a big deal with men. It’s a bragging point, a conversation piece,” explains Joey Castillo, from O‘ahu—he’s in town to join his brother and a friend, Wade Nishimoto, for a PGA tournament. Castillo’s statement comes full circle as I notice that each of their shirts sport evidence of a different day on the links.

As far as logos go, the Kapalua butterfly is a classic. Gary Planos, the golf resort’s senior vice president, tips me off to an upcoming release: this summer they’ll introduce logowear with the new Mercedes-Benz Championship insignia. “Guess this is going to be outdated,” Planos jokes, pulling at his shirt.

To sell all that logowear, pro shops are implementing competitive retail strategies. “A good pro shop has to be a good retail outlet,” says Nishimoto, a Big Island-based PGA pro and merchandise rep who services pro shops across the state. “It has to make you want to buy something. The modern golf shop is big, has a lot of floor space, and great lighting.”

He easily could have been describing Kapalua’s newly renovated Bay Course shop, updated with custom koa woodwork for a warm, elegant feel. Or Ka‘anapali’s Golf Resort’s renovation, specifically their use of spot- and pendant-lighting that creates a snazzy boutique space. Speaking of which, I’d be remiss not to mention King Kamehameha Golf Club’s impressive retail—it commands 3,800 sq. ft. of the lobby. That gives some room to wander!

Savvy golf merchandisers not only stock the latest golf attire, but cross over to brands that generally appeal to travel and leisure. “The clothes are really happening. Golf has come into its own, especially in the women’s segment,” says Cathy Nagel, one of Ka‘anapali’s buyers. Nagel is responsible for introducing more cutting-edge lines, such as New Man, a casual-wear line from France; Trigelle, sportswear with modern cuts and embroidery; and Kye, which Nagel says goes “from the golf course to the nightclub.”

“The definition of proper golf attire is changing, especially with more female professionals entering the game,” explains Sylvester. To prove her point, she grabs a white-cotton shirt marked by edgier details: cinched cap sleeves, a sassy lace bib over a traditional neckline, and subtle peasant collar. She continues, “Even though it doesn’t have a traditional collar, this would be okay to wear on our courses.” Not ironically, the shirt’s label, Verdina, was started by two female professionals from Manhattan who were fed up with the lack of fashion in golf.

Repeatedly named Aloha Section PGA’s Resort Merchandiser of the Year, Wailea Golf Club features many of the posh, designer labels that you’d find in a high-end department store, mixed with niche lines like La Costa, for neo-preps, and Jamie Sadock, for matrons of metallic. I was pleased to spot some adorable handbags by Mien Yap,  a talented Maui designer, on display next to a Brighton. Turns out, this is no fluke. “We try to appeal to everyone, locals and resort guests, different nationalities. Our merchandise is not just golf specific; we carry a lot of gift items, too,” explains buyer Carol Olsen.

Trendy fashions haven’t completely skipped menswear, either. “Retro things are what we are seeing out there again. Plaid bottoms are back!” Olsen continues, “They’ve been updated a bit, but if you were to look at golf pictures from the ’50s and ’60s, its all back. Think Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack.” These are fashions geared towards the next generation of golfers. But, laughing, she explains the rule of thumb to me: if you are old enough to have worn it the first time it was in fashion, then skip it this time.

At Ka‘anapali I see evidence of this trend: a Red Jacket shirt flecked with a 1950s pattern, paired with a straw fedora with a houndstooth band. Nagel is excited about a hot new line they’ll launch this fall called Coogi—fresh from Australia, these clothes blend duffer with a street aesthetic. Even their bestselling golf shoe, ECCO’s Ascot, looks more like a trendy sneaker than a traditional wingtip.

“Tech” is totally in for apparel. Guys are looking for gear to give them that competitive edge, and the market is responding with products that come with promises of increased performance and new technologies. As Patrick Clary, a young pro based at Kapalua’s Plantation Course pro shop, sums it up, “It’s all about the technical fabrics right now.” Pulling Adidas and Nike off the rack, he shows me examples of specialized material engineered to wick moisture from skin and regulate body temperature. He holds up a bright yellow mock-neck: “this one even has an SPF rating.”

While the shops I visit have different lines, they all agree on one thing. “Under Armour has come on like a rage,” Olsen says of the beefy, jock sport-performance line that was started for football players back in the mid-‘90s. “They launched [a golf-specific line] at a show about a year ago and its quite popular now.”

This trend carries through to accessories. Ka‘anapali sells the Nike G-Flex belt that “enhances flexibility for optimal performance.” Clary introduces me to one of Kapalua’s top-selling shoes, a laceless Footjoy called the ReelFit Boa. As the name suggests, through some special new mechanism, the shoe contracts around the foot without having to be tied—I guess tying, or tripping on, your shoelace is a thing of the past.

There is even sunscreen that could help your golf swing. The opposite of most greasy sunscreens, Proderma—top-rated by dermatologists—gets tacky when dampened (warm palms will do fine), offering you a better grip on your club!

While trends come and go, there is nothing quite as timelessly sexy as a personalized member’s jacket. At King Kamehameha Golf Club, which is private, membership comes with a svelte-looking, white dinner coat, and a host of other ridiculously cool perks including free reign of the clubhouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, an 18-hole course that is never crowded, and a men’s locker room with a full gym, massage therapists, Japanese furo bath and a swanky lounge complete with a bartender named Guido. Try that on for size.

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