'Golfleisure,' Sun Protection and More: What to Know If You're Selling Golf Apparel in 2021
As we know all too well by now, the pandemic decimated live events, putting sports seasons at all levels on hold, requiring charity events to move or cancel, and forcing trade shows to go virtual. But there was one major event category that was less impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic than others: golf. Because it’s played outdoors in small groups or solo, social distancing and other precautions were easier to implement and follow. So golf had a pretty big year—and another could be in store.
“Golf is a category where there are not new products introduced, but new versions of products are anticipated by the consumer,” said Corey Wolfe, director of sales at Links Unlimited, the supplier based in Cincinnati. “Every year, each manufacturer introduces a new line to all their product lines like drivers, irons, fairway woods, hybrids, putters and rangefinders. So, coming off last year as one of [the] largest years ever for the golf category, I would predict that this category will see tremendous consumer demand like it saw in 2020, as the sport lends itself to being an activity where you can ensure pandemic guidelines are being followed.”
There are reasons for optimism we head further into 2021. The same goes for the golf season as it ramps up.
The past year has certainly been challenging, and golf events were not immune. Wolfe noted that annual golf events like charity outings, club events and more were canceled. Larger tournaments and events were moved or held with no spectators. But as the year progressed, modified events returned, leading to strong demand for certain golf products.
“Being more concentrated on the hard goods side of the golf business, the pandemic created huge demand,” said Wolfe. “From golf balls [to] bags, clubs and accessories, all [were] in high demand, and ultimately manufacturers sold out of many of these products.”
Vapor Apparel, the supplier based in Hanahan, S.C., is known for its performance apparel for the sublimation marketplace. With much of its apparel designed for the outdoors, it’s gaining ground in the golf market, too. Chris Bernat, partner at Vapor Apparel, said that his company has seen a spike in demand for its long sleeve UPF50+ polos.
“We have a loose cuff on ours, which allows for fluid motion and full protection,” said Bernat. “Personally, I credit Phil Mickelson for the increase in popularity. Concerns about skin cancer are real, which is one of the reasons we work with the Skin Cancer Foundation to ensure our products are meeting UPF50+ standards.”
Golfers can be subject to hours of sun exposure. That makes hats and sunglasses great options for golf events, but the protective angle could be a great way to introduce end-buyers to other promotional items designed specifically for sun protection. If you do, there are a few notable things to keep in mind.
“Every garment is different,” said Bernat. “Construction and material content will impact the longevity of the feature. Not all UPF50+ fabrics are made equal. Because of our focus on sublimation, we built in a mechanical stretch. This eliminates the need for spandex or Lycra, which can be a challenge for sublimation printing. This in turn makes our UPF50+ fabric one of the lightest in the marketplace. Ironically, our UPF rating increases with every trip through the wash cycle, but UPF50+ is the highest rating in North America.”
Another aspect to consider is the golf market’s shift toward athleisure, as Catherine Tremblay, manager of private brand merchandise for alphabroder Canada, Richmond Hill, Ontario, noted.
“The PGA has been talking about the idea of ‘golfleisure’ making gains,” she said. “It’s stemming from the booming popularity of athleisure apparel during the pandemic, and it’s trickling into the golf world, creating a wealth of more casual, sporty looks.”
With golf season officially on, Tremblay let us in on some other things to watch.
“Print and pattern is looking like it’s going to be a big trend in the full golf season,” she said. “While striping is always a popular look, we expect to see renewed interest in geometrics and other patterns as well—treatments like the ones seen in our Limited Edition Under Armour Playoff Polo or the Puma Golf Spotlight Polo.”
Quarter-zips are another popular item in this market, specifically styles that are “lighter weight, performance fabrications, that are cut in a trim, modern fit,” Tremblay added
If you’ve driven by your local golf course within the last year, then you’ve probably noticed how packed the parking lot is. In January, CNN reported that the number of rounds of golf played in the U.S. declined by 42.2% during the initial coronavirus lockdowns, but rebounded to finish 2020 up 6.2% year over year. John Krzynowek, partner at Golf Datatech, told CNN that golf is being played not only by regulars, but also by newcomers and players that are just getting back into the game.
Tremblay also noticed this shift in new players, and explained how that translates to promo.
“The pandemic has introduced many new players to the game, especially in younger demographics and women,” she said. “I’d suggest keeping the golf promotions youthful and fresh by utilizing on-trend fabrics and silhouettes. For example, ladies love a sleeveless silhouette, as it’s more comfortable and looks great layered under sweaters. [Styles] like our Devon & Jones CrownLux Performance Plaited Tipped Sleeveless Polo or our Puma Golf Rotation Sleeveless Polo are both great starts.”
Wolfe offered ideas for other products to think about, especially if the budget is a bit higher.
“We always like to emphasize that a golf experience is more memorable than just providing golf balls and other golf-focused items,” he said. “If the budget allows, do a putter or wedge fitting, develop a pop-up shopping area where the attendees pick out their items and then they are shipped to them after the event, or try a non-golf item that all golfers use, like brand-name sunglasses.”
One other thing to remember? Place your orders as soon as possible.
“All distributors should understand that golf is very popular across all channels, including retail and corporate,” said Wolfe. “So, do not wait to place your orders, as inventory will be constrained this year for many of the most sought-after products. If they have a customer that is golf-focused, they must educate them to procure the products now and not wait until later in the year.”