It's Easy Being Green
THE COLOR GREEN has always been closely linked to golf. There’s the deeply colored grass blanketing golf courses, often reputed to be reason enough for golfers to haul irons over hills, if just to practice their swing. There are the lucrative business deals made on the course and in the clubhouse, or the state of being “green with envy” for the wealth which hovers as closely to the sport’s reputation as an overzealous caddy might to his or her golfers. Golf’s many connections to the color green shouldn’t only tempt its players, though—a few facts make a strong financial case for the success of golf apparel.
Statistics from the National Golf Foundation (NGF) estimate 12.5 million American adults play at least eight games a year, while another 15.5 million play one to seven times annually. An additional 2.5 million golfers between the ages of 12 and 17 point to a long-term adult demand for the sport’s apparel. The NGF also notes the 16,052 golfing facilities in the United States, and the approximate $26.1 billion annually spent on golf-related travel. Furthermore, a 2006 Packaged Facts report stated the market for golf apparel, gloves and footwear was a $2 billion sector of the sport’s industry in 2005.
That’s a lot of green. The figures spotlight a quantifiable core audience attentive to the sport’s products, while golf’s undeniable ties to networking opportunities and travel indicate a higher level of product exposure to a business-savvy population. It all forms a compelling, continuing argument for the apparel’s—not to mention the game’s—rapt and mobile audience.
“Golf apparel is a ‘must’ in this industry. If you don’t offer it, you are only hurting your business,” asserted Lori Anderson, marketing manager at River’s End Trading, Hopkins, Minn. The company has been in the promotional apparel business for 25 years, and “golf apparel has been offered for almost as long as we have been in business,” said Anderson.
Vantage Apparel began incorporating the garments into its line in 1977. “The company’s first product offering had golf-appropriate knit placket shirts. The offering was somewhat limited, but included a basic pique and a basic interlock style,” explained Gina Barreca, director of marketing.
Basic golf shirts are still a stable promotional category, but those stocked with performance features make the items more attractive to end-users, and can imply the luxury generally associated with a golfing lifestyle. Barreca stated, “Performance fabrics are still the biggest story in apparel and make for some of the most interesting and value-added garments.” Anderson also contended that industry growth is in performance shirts. Both River’s End Trading and Vantage Apparel have added performance features to their apparel offerings. “We added an entire line of UV-protective sportswear last spring called SOLAR Shield,” said Anderson. “This line offers several golf shirts for both men and women with UPF sun protection, moisture-wicking and easy-care fabric.”
Vantage Apparel recently added moisture management technology to its Vansport line. “The performance line consists of basic and luxury knits, windshirts, jackets and even headwear,” explained Barreca. “We also introduced a convertible wind jacket/vest for ladies that has received excellent market reviews. It features a zip-off cape back, water- and wind-resistant fabric, a mesh lining and sporty side blocking.”
Bells and whistles aside, the sport’s association with business certainly contributes to the apparel’s continued success as a promotional product. “Golf tournaments are still one of the biggest events in corporate America,” said Anderson, “whether it be for an employee event, a customer appreciation event or a sales meeting. Golf is one of America’s favorite pastimes and everyone can participate. It’s great for groups, and for both men and women.”
Even as its popularity increases, golf is vastly more popular with men than it is with women. Of the NGF’s estimated 12.5 million golfers, 2.3 million are female. How does a company keep its female clients happy with golf gear if the number of women picking up the game is dramatically lower than that of their male counterparts? Both Anderson and Barreca stressed the apparel’s shift from merely athletic function to a lifestyle and fashion trend as the factor keeping most female end-users satisfied.
Barreca noted changes in women’s golf styles that have helped make the items generally more fashionable. “Necklines have become more feminine with various types of open placket options, invisible zippers or Johnny collar styles,” she suggested. “The overall fit and silhouette [of golf apparel] has drastically changed to be more contoured. We’re also seeing more sporty pullovers and country club-type sweaters that promise extended use to the wearer after an event.” Anderson added, “Offering specific women’s styles so the shirts are comfortable, have a feminine fit and a great color selection is very important. Women want their own styles and colors.”
The versatility of golf apparel also extends to its production price, while still allowing companies to attach their brand to the sport’s somewhat elite reputation. Regardless of the wealth golf generally implies, Anderson pointed out that not all of the sport’s apparel options necessarily translate into high price points. “For each category there is a certain market niche,” she said. “For a large, 500-person employee event, a generic or private label brand works great for meeting a specific budget. If a law office is hosting an event for its top-end clients, they may look for a strong retail brand.”
With continued popularity among consumers, not to mention its intimation of wealth and success, golf apparel’s customization through performance features might be a company’s best bet. At the very least, the clothing’s ever-changing combinations of style and function increase the potential for that sought-after, often elusive green.